Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Nasal Adventure

Nasal Adventure

My cousin, his best friend and I were on our way to my apartment from my parent’s house. Driving my light blue VW bug southbound on Studebaker road, I saw the traffic light turn red as I approached Anaheim Street. I put my foot on the brake. It caught, but only for a second, before my foot hit the floorboard. A car, with children in the back seat, was stopped ahead of me. A VW van sat in the left turn lane waiting for the green arrow. Several cars were already lined up in the right hand lane. Several cars were traveling in the northbound lanes. There was no escape. I jammed the gearshift into first and then grabbed the emergency brake. I needed to choose what I was going to hit. Just before I was about to collided with the car in front of me, I jerked the steering wheel and aimed for the back of the VW bus. Crash! I saw stars. My car’s horn blared then stopped.
“Turn of the engine! Turn off the engine!” someone was yelling. “Are you alright?” asked a man in his 20s. “Do you have insurance?”
“Yes, I do,” I managed to say, as blood poured from my nose.
“Well, I don’t and there isn’t much damage to my van. So I’m not going to file a claim. I’m ought of here.” And he was gone. I heard a siren and then another. An ambulance had pulled up next to my car. Wow, I couldn’t believe how quickly it had arrived. I wondered if I had passed out.
A police officer stood next to the driver’s side door. “Can you unbuckle your seatbelt?”
“I think so.” I said, as I reached to my side. I struggled with the latch. My eyes were tearing and I couldn’t see very well.
“Let me help you,” said the officer as he reached over me and undid the latch. “Is this your car? Can I see your license?” was all I heard before I was being helped into the ambulance, along with my cousin and his best friend.
“You broke the steering wheel with your face!” my wide eyed cousin exclaimed as the ambulance left the scene of the accident with the three of us in it. “And you have a huge cut under your bottom lip.” Someone had put a large piece of gauze on my face. The shock was wearing off and being replaced by pain.
As the ambulance drove westward on 7th street, a moment of clarity lurched into my consciousness. I had an ounce of marijuana in my sock. My cousin, his friend, and I had been on our way to my apartment so that we could smoke some. I needed to get rid of it before the cops talked to me at the hospital.
“I need some air,” I muffled through the gauze. I gestured to my cousin to open the window. He gave me a puzzled look. The ambulance attendant was sitting next to my cousin’s friend, whose right arm had a compound fracture with the bones sticking out. I made sure that the attendant was not looking when I pointed to my sock. My cousin got the hint and opened the window. I reached across and tossed out the plastic baggy with marijuana. The attendant turned and asked me why I stood up. I muffled that I needed air. He came over to me and checked my bandages. The look in his eyes let me know he knew what I tossed out. I was hoping he wouldn’t tell the cops when we reached the emergency room.
Ten years lapsed before I sought medical attention for my deviated septum and overly swollen turbinates that resulted from my breaking the steering wheel with my face. The doctor explained that the procedure would require a night’s stay in the hospital. I asked him if I would be unconscious during the procedure. He told me that nearly all facial surgeries were performed under anesthesia. I asked him if I could be awake and have him tell me what he was doing during the surgery. The doctor smiled broadly. No one had ever asked him that before.
The day of the procedure, Denise took me to the hospital where we were ushered into the surgery ward. We were greeted by Nurse Ruby. Her eyes were light brown and intense. She stood a good six inches taller than me. Her bright red lips matched the stripes on her nurse’s cap. Her dishwater blond Texas big hair dwarfed her nurse’s cap. Her pristine, white uniform almost glowed in the sunshine coming in through the window.
She pulled the curtain along the side of the bed and began asking me questions in rapid fire succession. “Did you fast, like you were told to?” “I ate dinner very slowly last night. Does that count?” I asked hoping to put a smile on her face.
“Did you take any medications this morning?” she asked without smiling. “Did someone drive you here today? Is there someone at home to take care of you, if you need help?” She wasn’t waiting for a verbal answer before she went on to the next questions. An indication of a nod is all she needed. When she asked, “Have you voided today?” I didn’t answer and I didn’t nod. I just stared at her.
I was getting annoyed with Nurse Ruby’s attitude. She was acting like a bully. I imagined what she must have been like in junior high school, demanding that the timid girls give her the best part of their lunch. That is how she grew so tall.
“Well? Have you?” she asked, bringing me out of my imaginings.
“Voided what?” I asked. Denise rolled her eyes.
Nurse Ruby put her hands on her hips and said, “You know. Like peepee.”
I smiled. “Oh, you mean did I urinate? Why didn’t you speak English instead of hospitalese in the first place?”
When I looked over at Denise, the look on her face said, “Why do you embarrass me like this?”
“Take off your clothes and put them into this plastic bag,” Nurse Ruby commanded. “Then put this gown on and make sure the opening is in the back.”
I stood there waiting for her to leave. She didn’t. She glared at me while holding her clipboard of questions with my answers. I figured one good question deserved another.
“Please explain why do I have to wear this silly thing, with my butt exposed, when the surgery is going to be above my neck?”
The veins in her neck bulged out and she clenched her teeth. I would have offered her a cookie out of my lunch box to calm her down, if I had one. She grabbed her pen out of her pocket and wrote something down furiously on her clipboard. She looked up from her writing and down at me.
Through clenched teeth, she said, “I wrote that you are being combative!” She made an about face and walked away.
“You made her mad,” Denise said. “She doesn’t have time to play your silly games.”
I wondered how many people would read that I was a combative patient. And then I grinned. I had never been labeled as combative before. I was always a nice boy.
The hospital scheduler apparently made a mistake. He should have sent Nurse Ruby to ask me her questions after nurse Needle Spiker finished having her way with me. I have always been afraid of getting shots. They are painful and those needles always look like ten penny nails to me.
When I saw the tray with two syringes, I cringed and my breathing accelerated. The hospital gown made my buttocks easily accessible. The nurse gently slapped my left buttock while simultaneously injecting the right buttock. She had obviously done this before. Denise wore a mischievous grin as she enjoyed watching me squirm before the Nurse Needle Spiker drugged me with her needles. The nurse smiled. I grimaced and forced a smile back. The shot stung and burned. When the nurse left the room, I whined to Denise.
“You are such a baby,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt that much.”
I gave her the same smile I gave the nurse. It did hurt that much.
I followed the nurse’s instructions and laid down on the gurney. In a matter of seconds, I was smiling. My smile grew wider when Denise admonished me for embarrassing her in front of Nurse Ruby. An orderly came in and asked me how I felt. I grinned and began to giggle. I couldn’t stop. The orderly had come to take me to the operating room where the doctor would use his scalpel, drill, and other implements of destruction to cut into my nose, whittle away some bone and cartilage and then freeze the very innards of my breathing apparatus. And all I could do was giggle.
The orderly and a nurse somehow lifted me off the gurney and onto the operating table. The doctor put a blue cloth over my face. I complained, saying that I wanted to watch. He told me that he didn’t want things falling into my eyes. I didn’t believe him. I reminded him that he had promised to give me a play by play commentary as he cut away. Even though I could only see his eyes, but I knew he was smiling.
I was wide awake throughout the procedure, if you can call being intoxicated on painkillers, awake. I felt no pain, no needle stings, no drill grindings, and no knife slices. The doctor kept his word and explained each step in the procedure. I knew when he was chopping away some bone. It was reminiscent of the dentist scraping plaque from my molars. The freezing of the turbinates, far inside my nose, was the only hint of pain that I felt.
After recovery, they wheeled me back to my room. A pretty nurse came in and gave me a back rub. Denise walked in just then and said, “Well, they do take good care of you, don’t they?”
The following day, Denise took me home. I could barely keep my eyes open. I sat down in the chair that Denise had prepared for me to sleep in. She knew that I would not be able to sleep lying down. I quickly drifted off to sleep.
Above my head, the azure skies, dappled with cotton candy clouds, created the perfect canopy over the pool. At the instructor’s nod, I danced to the edge, bounced and sprang off the diving board. I soared high into the air, hands straight up. At the apex, I twisted, twirled, and turned my body downward. My eyes aimed for the target below. My toes straight, my body vertical, I put hand hands together and then sploosh!
The water gave me a gentle squeeze, letting me know that the dive was perfectly executed. I felt victorious. I turned as I reached the bottom and pushed off with my feet. The water swirled around my ears, and tiny bubbles sparkled under the water. A smile erupted on my face as I soared toward the surface. Two white stockinged legs hung over the side of the pool. Those feet wore white nurse’s shoes. I swam towards them. Nurse Ruby’s hands stopped me from reaching the surface. My face was only inches under water. Why is she being such a bully? I thought. Although I stretched to reach the coping, my hands couldn’t reach. The smile of victory vanished; chased away by the acceleration of my heart beat. As I tried to scream, I felt Nurse Ruby’s long fingernails scrape my throat. The wiggly bubbles slowed down, dulled, and turned cloudy blue and yellow. I made one last effort, kicking wildly, to free myself from Nurse Ruby’s grip and reach the surface.
Aughh! Bzzt,bzzt, bzzt, bzzt. The alarm clock rescued me. I twisted to my left side and tapped the off button. I twisted to my right side and grabbed a Kleenex. My throat was sore, my tongue swollen and dry. My nose was packed with gauze and it ached. I reached for a glass of water, next to the box of tissues and slowly took a sip from the straw. The pain in my throat gave way to the water’s relief. I took a big breath and opened my eyes wider. A smile came over my face as I remembered my escape from Nurse Ruby and my perfect dive, even if it was only in a dream.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Jeremy's Violin

Jeremy’s Violin

    “Hurry, Jeremy,” Denise, his mother, yelled from the kitchen. “You’re breakfast is getting cold.”

    Jeremy’s awareness swung from building to building on Spiderman’s web as his eyes jumped from one panel to the next in his comic book. He sat atop his loft bed. He heard his mother’s call. “Just one more page,” he whispered to himself as the aroma of bacon and eggs wafted up to his bed.

    Jeremy climbed down from his bed, carefully placing one foot at a time on the one inch diameter wooden dowels that his father inserted for foot pegs. He pulled his blue Levis off the chair and put them on. He tightened his belt with its silver winged eagle buckle and admired it. His violin case fell sideways when he pulled his light blue button down shirt from the chair. He picked it up and placed it on the chair’s seat. His hands stayed glued to the violin case. He opened it and then frowned. The glue line from the violin’s neck repair reminded him of last month’s clumsiness. As he wondered why he let his dad talk him into learning to play the violin, he heard his mother call him again.

    He opened his bedroom door and walked barefoot through the front room on his way to the kitchen. His five year old brother, Orlando, sat on the living room carpet tying his shoes in front of the corner fireplace. The aroma of burning pinion pine teased Jeremy’s nose.

    Two eggs and two strips of bacon arranged to look like a face stared back at him from his plate. He smiled. His mother brought him a glass of cold milk. He remembered that his orchestra class was working on a new opus. He hadn’t practiced and his teacher would know as soon as he would pull his bow across the strings. A warm piece of toast that his mother placed on top of his eggs pulled him away from his worries. He finished his breakfast and a thought emerged from his brain’s anxiety room. What if I forgot to take my violin to school today?  He dismissed that thought because the teacher would call his parents and his dad would bring him the violin, just like the last time he’d forgotten his violin.

While turning to get out of his chair and take the dishes to the sink he knocked over his half full glass of milk. The glass broke into pieces all across the kitchen floor. Orlando came running, with his mother close behind.

    “Keep Orlando out of here!” he yelled apologetically. “I spilt my milk. I’ll clean it up.” His mother escorted Orlando back to his bedroom. She returned and helped Jeremy pick up the broken glass. “You need to hurry or you’ll be late for school,” she said. “Just sweep up what you can, I will mop up the rest.”

    Jeremy dumped the glass into the trash and left the broom leaning against the table. He ran to his bedroom to put on his shoes. He slung his backpack onto his back and glared at his violin case. He picked it up and shook his head. He turned toward the kitchen and considered asking his mom to call the school to tell them he’d be late and he would miss orchestra class. She won’t go for it, he thought. He walked out the door, and trotted to school.

    He crossed the music room door threshold as the bell rang. He looked at the clock and sighed. He ran passed the orchestra teacher, Mr. Giles, who was busy spreading out sheet music on the music stand.  Jeremy looked at the teacher’s bow tie, with its piano keys and music notes. That is so dorky, he thought, as he took a seat in the back of the room, next his stand partner.

    “Did you practice last night?” Josh, his stand partner, asked.

    Jeremy put his finger to his lip indicating that they needed to be quiet. He shook his head and whispered, “No.”

    “I did,” Josh said as he clipped the sheet music onto the stand. “Mr. Giles is going to know and give you a bad grade. Do you know why? ‘Cause you’re stupid.”

    Jeremy wanted to take his violin and smack his partner over the head with it. Before Jeremy could respond, Mr. Giles started the orchestra playing the song that Jeremy hadn’t practiced. He struggled to keep up, looking at the notes, and trying to make his fingers move quickly to the right positions. The class ran through the song a couple of times with many stops and restarts. During one of those stops, Mr. Giles admonished Jeremy for lagging behind. Jeremy’s ears burned as he prayed to the clock begging it to hurry and end the class.

    After the orchestra rehearsed the song for the second time, Mr. Giles gave the students a ten minute break. He told the students that he had to go to his office to get the music for a new piece that they were going to learn.

    Josh took the opportunity to remind Jeremy how bad he made them sound.  Jeremy stood up, turned around, ignoring him. He put his violin down on his chair. Josh asked him if he was going to the dance on Friday night. Jeremy shrugged his shoulders without turning around. Josh laughed. “You’re probably too ugly to have a girl dance with you anyway.”

    Jeremy laughed, turned back and punched Josh in the arm. “I’m a lot better looking than you are!”

    “That don’t matter to me,” Josh said. “At least, I ain’t afraid to talk to the girls.” Josh pushed Jeremy back while they both laughed.

    Jeremy lost his balance and fell onto the seat of his chair, right on top of his violin. He jumped up. “Aw shit! The neck is broken again. My dad’s gonna kill me! He just paid to fix that neck two weeks ago.”

    “I’m sorry,” Josh said as he hung his head down.

Mr. Giles walked into the music room unnoticed because the students were all looking at Jeremy who was holding up his broken violin. Mr. Giles tapped his own music stand. “See me at after school, Jeremy. I know you can’t play with that broken violin. If that’s a rental, maybe they will give you a replacement. In the meantime, take the sheet music and try to follow along, pretending you are playing your violin.”

    All of the other students’ eyes burned music notes into Jeremy’s face. After listening to a recording of the new song by the London Symphony and going over the music a couple of times, the class finally ended. Jeremy picked up the violin case and lugged it out of the music room.

    All day long, worry took a ride on his violin case. It sat on the narrow end of the violin case writing questions and comments and tossing them to Jeremy: Where are you going to hide? How can you fix this mess? You’re dad’s going to kill you. How many chores is he going to give you so you can work it off? I bet he won’t let you watch TV for a year. On and on, the notes kept coming.

    After his last class, Jeremy walked to Mr. Giles office. He stood in the doorway; his backpack weighed his shoulders down. The violin case drooped from his left hand. He crossed his legs. Mr. Giles sat behind an old metal desk. He motioned with his hand for Jeremy to come in. “Sit down, Jeremy.”

Jeremy hung his head down low. He sat on the edge of his chair; his backpack preventing him from sitting back. His worry tiptoed across his violin case, across his lap and began squeezing his stomach muscles. Jeremy watched as Mr. Giles finished writing something on a pad.

    Mr. Giles looked up and brushed his thin fingers through his thick black hair. “Didn’t you break that violin three weeks ago?”

    Jeremy looked up and then put his head down again. “Yes. Josh and I…”

    “I don’t care what you two were doing,” Mr. Giles said. “The burden of unbridled youth is too great for a teacher to bear sometimes. Let me see your violin.”

    Jeremy opened the case and brought out the two pieces. He struggled to stand against the weight of his backpack. Jeremy used both of his hands to hold the two violin pieces together. He walked to Mr. Giles desk and laid the violin on top of the papers. Mr. Giles picked up the violin and smiled.

“This is a good break. The violin shop can fix it again; I’m sure. In the meantime they can loan you another violin.”

    Jeremy stood by the side of the desk. He crossed his legs. Mr. Giles gave him back his injured violin. Jeremy had been hoping that his violin was unfixable, untunable and only good for firewood. “Thank you,” Jeremy said as he put the violin back in its case.

    He had intended to go straight home, but thoughts of an angry father made him walk very slowly down the hall toward the exit next to the administration office. When he reached the administration office he peered inside and saw his school counselor. He walked in and told her that he wanted to drop orchestra class. When she asked him why, his fear of punishment whispered in his ear. He opened his violin case and said, “My parents can’t afford to fix my violin and they told me to drop the class.”

    The counselor studied Jeremy’s face. He imagined that she could see the word, false, written across his face. She looked at the clock, pulled out a Change of Class Schedule form and had him sign it. He thanked her and walked home with a big smile on his face. The smile ran away as soon as he saw his dad’s motorcycle in the driveway.

    His dad greeted him as soon as he walked into the front room. He gave Jeremy a hug and asking him what he did in school that day. Jeremy smiled back and said his usual, “Nothing.” 
    He went into his room and looked back to make sure that his dad didn’t follow him. He sighed. He looked around his room and put his violin case next to his desk. He stared at it. It stared back at him and tossed worry into his lap. How am I going to tell them I broke the violin again?

    He removed his school shirt and pants and put on a tee-shirt and shorts. His dad was in the greenhouse feeding the fish in the pond. He’s in a good mood, he thought. Maybe I should tell him now.

    “Jeremy!” his dad yelled from the greenhouse. “Your mother told me that you broke …. this morning.” He didn’t hear what word came after broke, but his worry convinced him that the word was violin.

    “What?” Jeremy asked. He clenched his teeth. He crept from his bedroom, through the hallway, across the den to the greenhouse. Mr. Giles must’ve called her, he thought. “When did she tell you?”

    “She called me when she got to her office. She told me to tell you to mop the kitchen floor and to look for anymore glass.”

    “I’ll get the mop,” Jeremy said smiling with relief. His dad didn’t know about the violin afterall. He turned around to walk back into the house.

    “Wait! Jeremy.”

    Jeremy’s stomach did a summersault. His hands began to sweat. Worry climbed up his stomach and whispered, “He does know.” Jeremy turned back to face his dad.

    “Get the flashlight from the garage and get down real low. Scan the floor with the light. The glass will sparkle. Use the masking tape to pick up the tiny pieces of glass.”

    Jeremy walked through the greenhouse and into the garage. His lips spread into a relieved smile. His dad really didn’t know. And that was good.

    That evening, his dad asked him what piece of music he was working on. Jeremy told him that he didn’t remember the name. He ran to his bedroom and returned with the sheet music. We got this today, it’s a new piece.

    “Make sure that you practice. I didn’t hear you play last night.”

    Jeremy went back into his room. The handle of his violin case looked like a big mouth that taunted him with a grotesque smile. He walked over to it and flipped it over making it resemble a big frown. His father wanted to hear him play. Jeremy looked out the window and saw his neighbor walking with a trumpet. Jeremy remembered that his neighbor was working on a duet in band.

    He picked up all of the glass, vacuumed and mopped the kitchen floor. When he finished he told his dad that he was working on a duet with his stand partner, Josh and that he needed to go over to his house to practice.

    “Be back home in an hour. We are going to Little Anita’s for dinner tonight.”

    Jeremy ran out of the house, violin case in hand. By the time he arrived at Josh’s house he had contrived a plan. He pulled a blank cassette out of his violin case and put it into Josh’s cassette player. He told Josh to play the new piece and to mess up a few times to make it sound real.

    Jeremy returned home feeling like he had stolen something and gotten away with it. Whenever one of Jeremy’s parents told him to practice, he would go into his room and insert the cassette. He returned one time to Josh’s house to update the tape. His dad had mentioned that he was still playing that same piece of music. All went well for six weeks.

    “When is your next concert?” Jeremy’s father asked one evening at dinner. “Our next door neighbors want to come.”

Jeremy’s facial color took on a lighter shade. He looked at his plate. “I don’t remember the day.”

    “Tell me tomorrow when I get home from work.”

    “OK.” Jeremy hadn’t thought much about this. He really didn’t know when the next concert would be. A friend had told him that when he needed to get out of something that he made himself vomit. Jeremy considered that option.

    Even though Jeremy brought in the mail every day and placed it on the kitchen table, he hadn’t noticed the letter from his school inviting his parents to the parent/teacher conference. His parents had read the invitation last week and were going to attend that evening. Jeremy’s job consisted of babysitting his little brother and doing his homework. When Jeremy’s parents left the house Jeremy walked into his room. The violin case sat next to his desk. Orlando walked in and asked Jeremy to play his violin. Jeremy smiled and told him that he would play cards with him instead. When he went to get the deck of cards a realization jumped from his violin case and onto his chest. He hoped that they wouldn’t talk to Mr. Giles.

    When his parents returned from the Parent/Teacher conference they found Jeremy in the living room, sitting on the floor, playing fish with his little brother.

    “We saw all of your teachers,” his mother said. “They all had good things to say about you.”

    Jeremy kept his head down. He waited.

    “We found out when your orchestra will have its next concert,” his father said. His parents didn’t move.

    “Look at all the cards I have,” Orlando said, holding them up to show his parents.

    “That’s good, Orlando,” his mother said. “Are you winning?”

    Jeremy’s eyes filled to the brim. His throat tightened. They know, he thought.

    His dad spoke first. “How did you practice with a broken violin? We heard you?”

    “I asked Josh if I could record his practice,” Jeremy said. “And that is what I played when you told me to go practice.”

    His father turned around, bit his lower lip and looked toward the kitchen. A laugh struggled to get loose.

His mother spoke second. “Why did you drop orchestra without talking to us first? And why on earth did you carry that broken violin to school every day?”

    Jeremy’s tears flowed. “I didn’t want you to get mad at me.”

    “Didn’t you realize that you would get caught, eventually?” his father said.

    “I always knew I’d get caught,” Jeremy said. “But once I started taking the violin to school every day, I didn’t know how to get out of it.”

    “What do we do with him?” his mother asked.

    His father winked at his mother and said, “Well, carrying a broken violin to school for six weeks and worrying himself sick is probably punishment enough, don’t you think?”