“‘Scuse me, you speak English?” the guy in the winter jacket asks me as he pulls his cell away from his ear. There’s some urgency to his voice, gravity.
In my neighborhood, I could, I suppose, be mistaken for a Russian or a Pole or a Serb, so the odds are decent that English is not my first language. But that I don’t speak it all? That seems a bit ridiculous. “Yeah.” There’s not much else to say.
“Let me call you right back,” he says into the phone as he snaps it shut. He drops the phone in the pocket of his jacket and pulls out an inhaler. “I live right over there,” and he points at a yellow brick apartment building, “and my daughter is at the clinic,” and he points in another direction, up the street toward the clinic by the college, and he pulls the medication part of the inhaler back. (more…)
Anthony wanted to know why I was obsessed with his window. We were driving back from Northfield, my attempt to shake some memories and conversation loose. Anthony is a big fan of air conditioning. Big Fan. If there’s a way to be uncomfortable, Anthony doesn’t like it. If there’s a way to remedy discomfort, Anthony’s for it. This is not tumor-related. He’s always been like this.
This begins the day before, when we’re on our way down to Northfield on Thursday afternoon. We’re driving, but we’re just back in the car, and we’ve got the AC on (for the cold air) and the windows down because we’ve just had lunch and we don’t want to sit in an oven while the AC kicks in. As we hit 65 MPH, I start to roll the windows up, as much for sound as for temperature. Anthony doesn’t just look at me. He gives me a Look, and reverses the course of his window back down.
This was a brief moment of interactive success. The whole time we were together, he responded perfectly well to all of my questions, but getting him to converse was like pulling teeth. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone who only answers.
The next morning as we’re on our way back up, I start to put his window up, remember my mistake from the day before, stop, and get the question. “What is your obsession with my window?” I explain my thought process – air, temp, noise, remembering that he likes to do with his own window what he pleases, and stop. So it went up, and then I quit. He was quiet for a bit, then, “I can respect that.” Stab at humor.
When Laurel came to visit me in the hospital after my encounter with my windshield, she said that she sat next to the bed and tried not to vomit for about fifteen minutes. My memory of our conversation only encompasses about five of those. I said thanks, she said sure. She expressed concern. I responded tiredly. I probably said thanks again. I do remember that it was like being under water. Really, really thick water. It was harder to formulate thoughts than it was to express them, and expressing them was pretty hard. What I understood to be five minutes took three times as long, as I drifted in and out of sleep, which gave Laurel lots and lots of time to think about holding on to her heaving stomach.
Anthony watches a lot of television. I’ve asked him if he’d be willing to write me, just bits and pieces, or draw. “I just can’t get the focus.” And in another conversational fragment, “Easy is good.” He’s on a lot of meds. He’s depressed. I think about the sensation of being under water and how hard it was to focus. Television can be a tool, not just an escape. Retreat. Focus. Emerge. If being under water is your general state, where do you dry out?
I wonder if that’s where Anthony is, between his nearly twenty pills a day, the tumor, and depression.
We had a cookout that Friday night, probably close to thirty people at one point, which is rather more than Anthony easily processes. Lisa arrived and tried to talk to him, but he mostly stared at the television and answered. About a half hour later, to her immense surprise, he was suddenly in the next room, at her elbow, asking her the questions. Then the noise and flurry got to be too much, and he went back to his chair.