God Bless You, Father Shine

The Cincinnati archdiocese assigned Father Shine to our parish as an assistant pastor around 1970.  He had been acting as a hospital chaplain, and before that served as a teacher in a boys high school.  A thin man with a large nose, pale skin, jet-black hair and sunken eyes, he trembled at the pulpit when he delivered sermons.  Sweat slicked his forehead and his hands shook when he raised the host at consecration.  He stammered, “B-b-body, body of Christ,” when he handed out communion.

Most of the congregation understood his terror of speaking in public and forgave him his faltering interpretations of Holy Scripture.  We felt sorry for a well-meaning man trapped in a job that ran contrary to his nature.  We also sensed a sweet nature hidden behind the nerves.  The man was ready to forgive sins in the confessional before a penitent uttered the first word.  He never spoke harshly or with cold judgment, and remained unfailingly patient and kind when dealing with folks one on one.

No one knew how the nuns and head pastor viewed Father Shine, but someone with a cruel streak gave him an assignment designed to torture him:  a sex-ed lecture for the eighth-graders.

We were ushered into the library and told to sit on the carpet.  No one told us the purpose of the assembly, but whenever our two classes gathered it usually meant a tongue lashing from the principal.  We were somewhat rebellious, and our budding sexuality sent one of the nuns into spasms.

It didn’t take much to bring Sister M.M. to her knees to pray for our immortal souls.  One flagrant problem that raised her blood pressure:  some of the eighth grade girls had tired of us boys and decided to take up with seventh graders.  Older hussies were seen walking with younger boys on the playground at lunch.  They held hands.  The horror.  The utter horror.

We were surprised when Father Shine shuffled into the room.  He sat down in front of us, but didn’t say anything for several minutes.  He appeared to be morbidly fascinated by the texture of the carpet.  A nun standing nearby whispered a few urgent words to spur him into action.  He looked up for a split second, returned his gaze to the floor, and wiped his forehead with a trembling hand. The nun whispered again, and Father Shine began his address.

“I taught for a few years at a Catholic school for boys in Cincinnati… Cin-Cin-cin-cin…nati…I, uh, the boys, uh….One day there was a dance.  The boys invited girls from a nearby high school for…girls.  Girls…Uh…I taught boys in Cincinnati…dance…There was this dance and girls were invited to come to our gym and…dance…And the boys, the boys…I taught at this school and…”

At this point Father flushed deep red and slumped to one side.  He covered his face with his hands and his shoulders shook.  I feared that he verged on a nervous breakdown.  The nun stepped in, put a hand on his shoulder and helped him to his feet.  She led him from the room.  End of assembly.

Father Shine recovered and returned to his duties as assistant pastor.  He said masses, heard confessions and visited the sick.  I was glad that his attempt to speak to us about sexual morality hadn’t damaged him in any permanent way, and relieved that we had escaped another tirade about a subject I found troubling enough when contemplating it on my own.  My feelings of relief were premature.

Eighth-grade classes usual went on a spiritual retreat to a park-like Catholic center south of town.  Sister told us, to our chagrin, that our retreat would take place on campus.  Her stern look and threatening tone warned me that my classmates and I would probably need a retreat from our retreat.

A balding priest wearing a black cassock, black shoes and socks, and black plastic framed glasses met with us in the library one morning.  He wasn’t afraid, shy, or embarrassed.  He appeared, instead, to be driven by outrage.  He barked at us for an hour about our sinful natures, and his face turned purple with anger.  He scorned our obsession with sex.  He sentenced us to eternal damnation if we thought about it, masturbated, or allowed ourselves to enjoy accidental sexual feelings that occurred at random moments.  The only Catholics allowed to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh were married couples (heterosexual, it went without saying).  And even these lucky few were supposed to reluctantly engage in the act for the sole purpose of making more Catholics.

He spent the rest of the day with us, “celebrated” a mass featuring a sermon that underlined the grimmest points made in the prior assembly, and glared at us with arms crossed at his chest during a break at lunch time.  Father Damnation appeared to be standing in for a watchful, vengeful God.

The eighth-grade girls stayed away from the seventh graders that day, but resumed their assignations the next week.  We knew that Father Damnation wasn’t coming back.  And most of us had figured out that his reign of terror had been one more attempt to bludgeon us back in line.  There had been plenty of those, and we had grown used to threats and hysteria.

Looking back, I have to say that I’m grateful to both priests.  Father Shine showed me that there were some clerics in the church who genuinely cared for their congregants, who tried their best even when stretched beyond their natural limits.  Father Damnation showed me that the church ranks had their share of crazies and militants that were best ignored.

God bless you, Father Shine.  Get bent, Father Damnation.

REBEL REBEL

I wasn’t much of a rebel when I was a little kid.  I had strict parents who made sure that the consequences of defiance were costly.  They were good at “shock and awe”.  I was also given the impression (with continual reinforcement) that my opinion about any matter wasn’t the only one, and that my viewpoint was likely to be faulty based on my youthful inexperience and stupidity.

When I got a bit older I began to notice personal flaws in the folks in authority in my extended family, and while I usually kept my observations to myself and didn’t act on them, I began to give some value to my thoughts.  If my relatives weren’t perfect and got some things wrong, it meant that my opinions might be just as valid as theirs.  My aunts and uncles gradually understood that I was a quiet, observant child, and they seemed a little uncomfortable when I was lurking nearby.  They could see the wheels turning in my head as I studied their faces and listened to their talk.

My experiences in the Catholic church followed a similar route:  at first I was cowed into obedience by the supposed power of the nuns and priests over the fate of my soul;  then I started noticing that some of the priests were at times cruel, wrathful, self-indulgent, and that many of the nuns were frustrated and bitter living in the narrow confines of their rigid routines.  By the time I was fifteen I also figured out inconsistencies in church teachings.  When I was told that some things were inexplicable and best left to God, I realized that the faith was just a house of cards.  At some point a person had to choose to blindly accept the back story and fables of a religion, or strike out on their own and see what they could see.

I carried my habits of skepticism and close observation into art school and developed a strong dislike for those moments when instructors fell back on their professional mystique when their teaching got muddy and confused.  Some professors spoke in vague, enigmatic terms about their theories and practice as artists, and they reminded me of the priests.  Both sets of professionals appeared to be practitioners in cults.  And the art world in the 80s was divided into so many opposing camps that no one could claim any final authority.  If a professor looked down his nose at my realistic paintings, then I could find about twenty things to say about the weakness of his thickly painted, expressionist abstractions that looked like a knock off of Bill Jensen’s work.  There wasn’t any high ground.  We were all posers busy promoting our pet ideas.

Now I am an art professor.  In order to be effective I have to speak with authority and teach from an organized, logical syllabus that leads from one idea and technique to another.  I give students direct examples to look at and demonstrations on how to use media.   I try to avoid drifting into mystical artspeak.  I don’t want to be that hand waving, gobbledygook spewing professor who hides behind esoteric theories like the Wizard of Oz creating illusions of power and mastery from behind his curtain.

I’m fully aware that the creative process is impossible to codify and fully explain, but I create a bubble of certainty while my students are still trying to figure out how to draw an apple using a stick of charcoal.  I’m like a music teacher who sticks to the basics of classical music when teaching beginners while being aware that jazz and Indian ragas are valid, alternative forms of music.

At the end of every semester I usually point out that there are lots of other people in the art world who take a different stance from mine, that what I’ve taught them isn’t the only way of approaching art, that other instructors will contradict me and preach a different chapter and verse.  It’s up to them to choose what works best for them and means the most.  I invite them to rebel against me.

But there are semesters when I don’t give that speech.  I sometimes have classes with several students who seem to be questioning my directions and follow up instruction.  They watch me carefully and enjoy those moments when I say something garbled and awkward, when I appear frustrated and overwhelmed by the multiple demands on my attention.  I know that they’ve already taken me for something of a fool, as an illustration of the kind artist and human being they hope that they will never become.  These upstarts have an influence on the students around them, and by the end of the semester there is little chance that I can inadvertently brainwash any of them into believing that I am the sole authority concerning artistic matters.

At the end of the final class I watch the rebels trail out of the art room with smug looks on their faces.  They’re thinking, “I’ll never have to listen to that asshole ever again.”  And I think, “Karmic payback is such a bitch.”

 

 

The Curious Case of Mr. Peacock (Friendship Failure)

1983: Peacock turns to me and gets a slightly cruel look on his face. He tries to mask his caustic assessment of my character by speaking with a casually objective tone of voice. He says, “People have been asking where you’ve been and whether you and I are still friends. I tell them that you use up people, and when you’ve had your fill you just move on. That’s fair, isn’t it?” I stare at him and say nothing in return. But I cast my judgment on him as I silently conclude that he is a man who can never let go of people. He lost an older sister when she was killed by a drunk driver in an auto accident, and he has never fully recovered. Peacock doesn’t cut his connections with a friend or a lover when the positive energy and good will have faded away or burned out. He holds onto them even as he gets more bitter and critical, and doesn’t understand why an object of his obsession eventually flees.

Spring 1978: I pass through a broken door frame and skirt a suspicious puddle of ooze on the scuffed tiles of a dimly lit hallway as I make my way to his door. He lives in a tiny dorm room in Stewart Hall on the campus of the University of Dayton. I have a bottle of Rhine wine in one hand and a Janis Ian album in the other. Peacock lets me in and produces a joint, and we smoke, drink, and talk until early in the morning. The sound of the music takes on cleaner, sharper edges and sometimes echoes inside my head when the singer hits the high notes. When we get very drunk and high he tells me that he dated a girl in high school who later became a lesbian. He worries that he did something to push her over the edge. I point out that the probable cause for her conversion was the parish priest who got into her pants when she was 17. Peacock doesn’t listen and continues to stare sadly at the floor.

Fall 1978: Peacock discovers that I’m dating a girl named Anne. I’m still on the rebound from my disaster break up with Madonna, and ask her out in an attempt to have a relationship with someone who is less manipulative. Peacock thinks that my choice is hilarious. He teases me by imitating her goofball laugh, and continues his impersonation by saying, “Oh Denny, hyuh-hyuh, kiss me, hyuh!” I try to defend her, but he’s persistent and begins to mimic some of her facial expressions. I laugh against my will and feel both disloyal to Anne and embarrassed by our relationship. I continue to watch Peacock mock both her and me, and realize that he is putting Anne and me on the same level. I thought that I had done her a favor by condescending to ask her out, but as Peacock’s ridicule slowly deflates my ego I realize that she and I are equals, and even suspect that she is the better one of our two.

Summer 1979: Peacock is at the wheel of his AMC Eagle. He’s smoking a cigarette and nervously fiddling with the radio dial. We listen to a cut from Breakfast in America by Super Tramp, and when the music fades he gets serious. He tells me that nothing is sure in his life except for his certainty of his moral goodness. The only thing that Peacock knows with complete confidence is that he is good person and will always choose to do the right thing. I identify several flaws in his argument but say nothing. I wonder whether it will ever be possible to settle a disagreement or win an argument with him.

Fall 1980: Peacock, his buddy Mike, Sue (Mike’s younger sister) and her sour faced girlfriend sit around a kitchen table drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Peacock and I are both interested in Sue, but she’s making it obvious that her latest frustrations with attending college are her one concern. We slowly get drunk except for Mike. He hangs back and plays the part of our ersatz Daddy. He smokes a pipe and smiles benignly at our foolishness. We all end up at a state park sitting by a little lake at dawn. The drunken buzz is wearing off and the dull weight of a hang over starts to press down. We smoke the last few cigarettes in the pack and stare glumly at the sun as it peeks over the horizon. Birds begin to chirp all around us and they grow ever more annoyingly cheerful as they remain impervious to our group’s collective misery.

Peacock likes girls with big chests who look like they grew up on a farm. Patti fits the description perfectly. She is staring at him from across the hall as our genetics class waits for the door to the classroom to be unlocked. It’s obvious that she wants him to ask her out, but Peacock continues to lean against the wall and look at her with an uncertain smile on his face. He never gets around to calling her up. A few months later he mentions that he’s in a close friendship with a woman who is engaged to get married. The day of the nuptials is coming up soon, and Peacock is upset because he knows that she would be much happier with him. And to make matters worse, the bride-to-be has just unexpectedly ended their friendly visits. A few years later he tries to charm the girlfriend of his roommate, Jack, and doesn’t understand when Jack takes determined steps to keep him away from his future wife. Peacock is sure that things would be much better, all the way around, if the better man won the lady.

Summer 1981: Peacock sits in a straight backed chair at a table near the front door of his rental house on Alberta St. I carry boxes down the stairs, cross behind him, and take them out to my Pinto wagon. He glares at my back when I walk out and at a point slightly to the left of my nose when I walk back in. When I stop and try to explain my reasons for moving he refuses to respond. After I carry my last load to my car I make one more attempt to salvage what is left of our friendship. He crosses his arms and sneers while I try to get through to him. I lose my temper, bend down and shout in his ear, “You never listen, you self-righteous prick!” I want to force him to break his silence, to hit me if necessary. A fistfight would be a better way of ending things. But he stays rooted to his seat, and I stomp out.

Summer 1995: I’m watching my daughter play on a swing set in a park a few blocks away from Peacock’s rental house in Kettering. Peacock has made the effort to rekindle our friendship after an estrangement of 10 years. We trade visits when he passes through Orlando and I come to Kettering to see my family. He seems to like my children, and we speak to each other with nearly the same friendliness and ease that we enjoyed back when we first met. He remembers incidents from the past that I can barely recall. He knows the names of a few of my girlfriends at the University of Dayton that have faded from my memory. It appears that he lived my life with greater intensity during those years than I did.

The conversation takes an unpleasant turn, however, when he brings up a few arguments that we had back then. He wants me to apologize and admit my fault, and I do that up to a point. He takes no responsibility for his part in our disagreements. We fall into an uneasy lull and watch Annie slide down a slide. He breaks the silence when he mentions that he is a member of a struggling congregation in downtown Dayton. He is proud that he tithes ten percent of his income and sits on one of the parish committees. They couldn’t do without him.

Christmas 1997: I’m sitting on a sofa at my parents’ house. The high fever that struck me on Christmas Day has abated, but I’m still weak. Peacock shows up with a box of fancy nuts and gives them to my parents. He talks with them in an animated way and pointedly ignores me. When he glances in my direction he has a sneer on his face that looks familiar.

I send him a card and letter on his birthday a few months later and he doesn’t acknowledge them. I never hear from him again. He has finally had his fill of me and has decided to move on.

Angst Vobiscum: Watching Cartoons and Thinking About Hell

When I was a boy I attended a Catholic parochial school from second to eighth grade and was given a  heavy dose of religious indoctrination.  It was unfortunate that I didn’t learn to ignore what we were being taught about heaven and hell, sin and salvation.  Most of my classmates just nodded along and waited for the lessons to end, but I sat and thought about them for a long time after.

My sister Carla suffered from a similar inability to tune out the nuns and priests.  In second grade she received a scapular, a brown patch of cloth with a holy image on it.  It had ties and was meant to be worn around the neck.  She and her classmates were told that they couldn’t die in mortal sin as long as they wore their scapulars.  It was a stay-out-of hell lucky charm.  They were given an instructive little story to go with their magic present: “Suzy got a scapular and thought that she could do anything she wanted to do and still avoid eternal damnation.  So Suzy got mean and rude and did increasingly horrible things:  she kicked old ladies; she shoved her sister down a flight of  stairs; and she stole a cupcake from a bakery.  As she ran out of the shop, laughing merrily as she licked the icing off the top, she didn’t notice the bus rounding the corner.  Suzy ran out into the street right in front of it.  The bus crushed her and as she lay dying on the hard cement she thought, ‘It’s okay.  I’m going to die, but I’m not going to hell.’  And then the ties loosened and her scapular slipped slowly off her neck.  She saw it lying beside her as she drew her last, horrified breath.  The end.”

Carla couldn’t fall asleep that night, but sat up in bed terrified that she might end up in Hell if her scapular fell from her neck while she slept.

When I was in fourth grade we were told in religion class that if we damned someone, even if we just thought “God damn you” without saying the words out loud, we had committed a mortal sin.  One moment of mental frustration and spite could earn the offender the penalty of eternal flames (unless he confessed to the nearest available priest before a marauding bus ran over him).  I took this piece of information home and brooded over it with a growing sense of foreboding.  I had a quick temper and a little brother who annoyed me.  We shared a tiny bedroom.  The odds didn’t look good.

I had never considered the possibility of damning anyone before the lesson, and even though the thought of committing that sin had been implanted by my teacher, I knew that I would be held accountable in the end.  Incitement couldn’t be used as a defense. And sure enough, late the next day, my brother did something sneaky and mean to Carla when the three of us were out playing in the front yard.  Maybe he hit her with a downed tree branch and hurt her.  Maybe he said something nasty.  I don’t remember.  I got angry at him for his behavior, thought the dread words and attached his name to the end of the phrase, and sentenced myself to be cast into the Pit.

I looked around me after thinking my bad, bad thought and wondered why nothing seemed different.  No one noticed any change in me, and I was treated just the same as before.  Why wasn’t I shunned?  I had committed a sin that was in the same category as murder, rape and desecrating a church, and there I went about my business for the rest of the day unmarked and unscathed.  I ate a cheeseburger for supper, listened to my parents talk as we watched Lawrence Welk, did the dishes and got ready for bed. I was a tiny bit relieved that there were no immediate consequences, but was also aware that God knew what I had done.  And though I might fool everyone else, HE knew just what kind of little boy I was. I didn’t bother to go looking for my scapular in the cluttered dresser drawer where I had carelessly tossed it a few months after getting it.  I knew that it wasn’t worth the effort to dig it out.  I could tie it with triple triple knots and it would still fall off my neck at my moment of reckoning.

The next day I woke up early on a sunny Sunday morning.  I fixed myself a breakfast of chocolate milk and a pop tart.  I sat down on the carpet in front of our television set with my brother and sister and we tuned in “The Tom and Jerry Show”.  This was my favorite cartoon.  I loved all the violence and vengeance.  And as I sat there laughing when Tom chased Jerry up a drain spout and got stretched out to ridiculous proportions, I had the nagging feeling that something was terribly wrong.  Then I remembered that I was going to Hell.  Jerry whacked Tom with a pool cue.  I grinned at my brother even as I realized that I was eternally estranged from my Lord and Savior.  I nearly snorted chocolate milk out of my nose when Jerry stuck Tom’s tail into a light socket and burned it to cinders.  But when I stopped laughing and choking the crappy feeling of dread returned.

I managed to resolve my spiritual dilemma during the car ride to church.  I knew that I could never go to confession and admit what I had done.  The parish priest was a grim giant of an old man who intimidated the adults as well as the children in the congregation.  I couldn’t face him in the darkness of the confessional booth even if it meant that my cowardice sent me to Hell.  I told myself to forget about the whole thing, that I couldn’t possibly be held accountable in such a terrible way for thinking a couple of words, and that I must have misunderstood what the teacher said during our lesson.

And I remembered a precedent:  when I was five I heard that an actor on a TV show got fired, and I thought that his termination meant that his boss tossed him into a bonfire and killed him.  I was very relieved when my mother cleared up my confusion and told me that the actor was alive and well.  I convinced myself that this damnation business was a similar case.

So I sat in our pew with a fairly clear conscience, sang the songs, rose, sat and genuflected at the right times, and went up for communion.  The sun still shone through the church windows and no angels descended from heaven with flaming swords to smite me when the priest placed the host on my tongue.  The last traces of guilt, fear and dread began to dissipate, and by the end of the day I felt just fine. The Scapular Slipped

Snapshots: donating a kidney circa 1984

My brother is in intensive care. He was admitted to Miami Valley Hospital early this morning suffering from shortness of breath and severe fatigue. His skin was yellowish gray. He is diagnosed with kidney failure and a staph infection in his blood.

The next day Tony’s urologist allows us to stay in the room while he hooks his new patient up for a dialysis treatment. Muthiah lifts the sheet and takes a needle connected to a clear, plastic hose connected to a complicated machine and inserts it into Tony’s groin. Tony winces in pain from the stick; blood starts to flow into the hose. Muthiah leads us, my father and mother and sister and I into the corridor and tells us about Tony’s condition in detail. He can get by for a while on dialysis, but Muthiah proposes a kidney transplant as the best option for long term survival. He asks us to consider being tested for tissue compatibility. We are all somewhat stunned by the doctor’s speech. And while the doctor doesn’t direct any attention to me more than the others, I know in my gut that I am the best candidate.

I’m in my apartment overlooking Irving Ave. staring out the window. It’s a gray day in late February and I’ve just gotten off the phone having received the news that I’ve been waiting for for two months. The date of the surgery has finally been set, and I’ve got a couple of weeks to get things squared away at home and at work. I’ve been preparing for this moment ever since the test results came back in December telling us that Tony and I are nearly perfect matches. I’m surprised, however by a chill, numbing sensation that is spreading from the center of my chest outward. The phone call brought with it a premonition that I would die on the operating table, and the fear that I’m feeling is different from the hot flush of wavering dread I usually get when facing a physical threat. This kind of fear feels cold and heavy, and it eventually settles deep in my guts where I know it will stay until this whole thing is over.

I’m sitting in a hospital bed in a double room on a floor of Miami Valley Hospital dedicated to kidney cases and pre-op patients waiting for abdominal surgery. My roommate was taken in for gall bladder surgery earlier in the day, and I watched as he prayed intently with his minister to prepare himself for whatever eventuality his operation would bring. I am an agnostic, but find myself envying the man his faith. I have been beset throughout the day by Catholic priests of the unctuous variety who have decided to pray over me (at my mother’s behest) without my consent. I feel that I’m doing them a favor by listening to them drone on and on. A former army chaplain wanders into my room that evening after supper and he is looking at a list. He has just visited my brother in a room across the hall, and he is confused by my last name. He thinks that I’m another kidney patient, and can’t believe that two members of the same family are suffering from the same malady at the same time. He laughs when I set him straight. He speaks to me in a straight forward manner for a few minutes and says a simple prayer. I am comforted.

A young nurse’s aide comes into my room early the next morning and shaves off my pubic hair. She appears to be embarrassed. My penis looks forlorn and ridiculous without its mane and I am embarrassed too. I am hooked up to an IV and a nurse starts a drip of a sedative that is supposed to calm my nerves. My parents and fiance are with me in the room and they look grim and nervous when they think that I’m not looking at them. Another nurse comes into the room just as they begin wheeling me out to the hall. She is the mother of a woman that I had dated for about a year, and although the relationship with her daughter ended acrimoniously, she is here to see me off. I’m touched and comforted by the sincerity of her concern. My gurney is pushed down several branching hallways and my family and fiance are left behind. I am left alone (without any explanation from the orderly who abandoned me) in an old, cluttered room off a deserted corridor that looks like it had once been a laboratory of some kind. Several minutes pass by and the sedative is no longer working. I’m eventually collected by a nurse who wheels me into a cold, white tiled room where I will be given anesthesia. I am told to lie down on a hard metal table that feels like it has been chilled to near freezing. The anesthesiologist walks into the room and discovers something amiss and starts to throw a tantrum. He yells and tosses sheets of paper around, and the nurse standing by my side looks distraught. I’m terrified that this man will be administering drugs to me, but manage to lean over to the nurse and whisper, “This guy is a real asshole.” Her face breaks up for a moment as if she’s trying to suppress a smile. The doctor calms down and walks over to me with the biggest needle I’ve ever seen in his hand. He tells me to lie on my side and curl up in a ball. He injects my spine. The needle stick feels uncomfortable, but not all that painful, and then there’s blackness.

I wake up in a recovery room. The room is full of people lying on gurneys, moaning and crying out in pain. There’s a bag of blood and a bag of plasma on an IV pole by my bed, and I watch the plasma drip, drip, drip down a hose and into my arm. I’m in intense pain. My guts feel as if they’ve been torn up and clumsily sewn back together with strands of barbed wire. A male nurse appears above me and says something to me that I can’t quite follow. My attention is focused instead on my rapidly filling bladder. The pressure from its expansion is causing fresh, new sensations of pain at the base of my guts. I ask for a urinal, but can’t manage to pee. I ask for a catheter because I much prefer to have something shoved up my dick than to continue feeling that my bladder is about to explode. The surgeon, who is somewhere else in the hospital, has to be found and consulted before I can be given relief, and ten or fifteen long minutes pass as I watch the plasma drip and feel my bladder expand. The nurses finally get approval, and when the urine is finally released the relief is so intense that I feel that I’ve died and gone to heaven. I’m still in a lot of pain, but I’m getting somewhat used to it. But then three nurses approach my bed and tell me that it’s time to change the linens. When I roll on my side as ordered my bruised intestines shift inside my abdomen and the pain becomes excruciating. I scream. I’m aware that the scream is making everyone else feel uncomfortable, but while I’m inside that noise and that release of emotion I feel all right. It’s worse when I stop screaming and I hear them tell me to roll on my other side. I know what’s coming.

They leave me alone for a while after the bed has been changed, and the pain returns to normal levels of hellishness. There’s a clock on the wall that’s broken. It is 3:00. It is always 3:00. One could get the impression that one has been condemned to a world where time stands still and suffering never ends. The patients around me are still groaning and crying out, and they appear to corroborate that impression. My fiance Judy and my mother visit me and I vaguely register their looks of concern. They appear to be suffering just as much as I am. A male nurse comes by after they’ve left and asks me if I want a sponge bath. He gives it to me, and the bath turns into a massage, and I’m disturbed by the little smile that creases his lips as his hands work their way over my body. I’m completely helpless and I begin to question his intentions, but the pain and the medications are probably driving me a bit loopy and paranoid. Later on the nurses decide to change my linens once again, and I suspect that they’re rolling me around for some other purpose. My sheets are fresh and clean once more after I’ve given them another round of screaming. A female nurse who looks like an angel leans over my bed and tells me that she admires me for what I’ve done. I think that this is one hell of a way to meet good looking women.

I am taken from post-op late that evening and put into a bed on the same floor where I had previously been. Nurses come into the room and take my vitals every hour or so, and I can’t get much sleep. I’ve been given some morphine and am resting in a warm cocoon of comfort for as long as the dose works its charms. An older nurse, an LPN, comes in around three in the morning and takes my pulse. She rearranges my blankets and pillow and makes me feel much more comfortable. I give her a smile of thanks and she warmly smiles back at me. I fall asleep and the day is finally over.

*My operation went amiss and I almost died on the table. The pain I felt went beyond normal levels because of surgical complications. Surgeries today are done using laparoscopic techniques and are much less traumatic.