Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Pecaw's Gift / Chapter 22 - Adopted, Again

The afternoon drifted into evening as another day marked the seemingly endless calendar of slow progress. Sinclair grew more frustrated with himself. He was accustomed to having things go his way; this was not in his plans. It had been two weeks since they let him start breathing on his own. He had weaned himself away from the respirator for only an hour and fifteen minutes. His body was reminded of the first time he had tried chopping wood in the mountains of Colorado. His arms were limp at his side and just looking up was exhausting him. He felt worthless and out of shape.

How long was it going to take him to relearn walking? Pat, the evening shift nurse, made small talk while she checked his blood pressure. She had gone through some rough times herself and could, even if it was only for a few moments, make him forget about his own rotten batch of apples.

“Pretty neat the way you can talk with that computer gizmo. Have you talked to the two girls on night’s yet? You know that they have damn near adopted you?” She talked on while squeezing out the excess water from a wash cloth. Sinclair was not yet able to stand in the shower. Most of the required daily duties to maintain his outward cleanliness were done by Bev; Sinclair being very conservative in his personal habits. Pat was so used to taking care of people that she continued to unbutton and wash, dry and rebutton the entire time.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met them.” Sinclair found that he was enjoying the fresh tingling sensation on his chest. There was just a hint of peppermint in the soap. His nose picked up the scent as the warm water evaporated and carried the fragrance throughout the room. He hardly noticed being bathed at first, then became more and more self conscious with each pass of the cloth. He seemed intimidated by the situation. Before his accident, the only women in the entire world that had seen his nakedness were Bev and his mother, and that was when he was very young. He blocked out the lack of privacy. Such formalities, he reasoned, had to be overlooked. He fixed his attention on a small spider’s web directly above him where the ceiling met the curtain track unit.

“What do you mean, adopted?”

“Well, there's this one, Launa. She worries for all the cops on the street. When ever one comes in all broken up like you, she gets all her maternal instincts into high gear. That oil painting on the wall; that’s her work. She put it up there just for you.” She talks and carries on like she was your mother hen. Sinclair eyed the picture. The use of colors was good, dark ominous clouds mingling with the ocean at sunset; but the picture was lacking a focal point. It wasn’t finished.

“Did she paint that? It looks very nice.” Sinclair did not want to criticize the work. He had tried painting and knew how frustrating it was to get his own thoughts to melt into the canvass.

“When Launa comes in she. . . well, she just wants the best for you. Working night shift is hard for the average “normal” person to understand. Launa uses those long quiet hours to make all of her patients feel special.” He had worked on all the different shifts as a police officer. Day shift had all the administrative type people; Captains, Lieutenants and twice as many Sergeants. They had little room for anything but statistics and protocol. Evening shift was too busy to let personalities mingle for any amount of time. By the time one “fire” had been put out, there was always another waiting around the corner. Pat was right, night shift let people cut through all the red tape and get their feeling out much quicker.

“Thanks; I’ll make it a point to stay up and visit some with her. Who is the other one that you mentioned?” It was nice to know that he was thought of, even if he didn’t know them.

“You mean Jody , she’s a perfectionist of sorts. While you were just on the border; you know, living or dying, she stayed hours on end to make sure that all your vitals were right on the money. She would sit here in this chair doing her cross stitch work. You know, flowers and things like that; they’re beautiful. I’ll bet she finished at least three of them while you were off in “Lala Land”. She told me that she couldn’t afford frames for them; she puts them in her cedar chest. Some day she’ll marry a rich doctor and they can have “instant nostalgia” on the walls of their home.

“I think she was in the other night. Is she kind of thin with dark hair; and real quiet?

“That’s her. She just got back from two weeks away at Army Summer Camp. It sure will be a surprise when she hears your voice coming from that speaker; sure threw me the first time. She’ll be so glad to see the progress you’ve made.”

“I suppose it is kind of a strange set up. I always wanted to be a ventriloquist.” Sinclair was still nervous as he started off, “I was in the Army for a while too. It wasn’t for me though; I was just eighteen or so and Vietnam was still in full swing. I joined the Reserve Unit. It was about the only way to go to college and not worry about the draft. It was okay, I guess. When I got out I joined the Department.”

“Yea, when I was just. . . what was it? Eighteen or was it seventeen? Anyway I was downtown with my kid.” Pat was very vocal with her gestures as her hands made large exaggerated swirls in the air. “He was only about a year old and had just started to have a mind of his own. Well he was pulling me this way and that while we were waiting for the bus. He kept wandering off.” Pat rolled her eyes back, pushed her hip out and slapped it all at the same time. “I was at my wits end. Some guy who was waiting there next to me; he was up to here with my kid too.” She was good at telling stories. With each thought a matching gesture accompanied her words. “Anyway, he suggested that I just pick him up and hold him. I still had my “permanent hip.” She animated the way mothers hold kids all day while doing their chores by shoving her hip out in front of Sinclair.

She had it perfect, the image was without flaw. “I was wearing one of those tube tops, you know the kind, from back in my hippie days. Well I had my huge purse on the one side and him on the other. Next thing I knew; well, there I was standing in front of a Foley’s Department Store in downtown with my boobs hanging out for God and everyone else to see. I was so embarrassed. I turned around to hide myself from the people at the bus stop, only to find there were at least eight or nine more watching me from inside the store.” Pat continued to recount the entire story. Her face was full with the delight of having entertained Sinclair. “I didn’t know what to do; drop the bag, the kid or both. It was terrible. The guy who had first suggested that I hold the kid pops off, “I guess that wasn’t such a good idea after all.”

Sinclair could feel the awkwardness of the moment as the air moved across his wet skin and quietly evaporated his self confidence. He dared not look away from the web. Her boldness was only a shield, but he did not know it at the moment.

“When’s the last time you got any?”

“Any what?”

“A big guy like you, come on man. . . “

A blush came over Sinclair; it was like a blast furnace had hit him in the face. “Its. . . ahhhh . . . been a while.” Not wishing to say anymore, he tried to change the subject; but couldn’t think of anything at all.

“Its okay, I wasn’t trying to get personal, Hun.” Pat had a course raspy voice from years of smoking. Her sarcasm made it sound more like one of the guys at the station. Then after a short pause, it softened and momentarily she let her true self emerge; vulnerable and very much afraid of life. “I just start talking and I never know what’s gonna come out. I’m sorry if I bothered you with that last remark.”

“No harm done, it just caught me off guard, that’s all.” Sinclair wasn’t accustomed to discussing such an intimate topic with a total stranger, much less a female. He studied her for a few more minutes and began to relax, just a little, but enough to know that his “being” wasn’t threatened. If anything she was helping him talk about something that was bothering him. He had not mentioned his concerns to Bev. His body was as good as useless and he didn’t know when “normal” function would return. He wanted and needed a complete relationship with Bev. At night he remembered all the romantic moments of his life. A look of despair took over his countenance.

“Hey, don’t worry about it” Her voice brushing his fears aside like a seasoned bar tender, “Bev won’t let you off for too much longer. Just remember that you love her and she loves you. The rest will take care of itself sooner or later.” The basics had never sounded so unattainable before.

Pat glanced at herself in the mirror as she propped his head and fluffed his pillow. The image of her youth was no longer there, “Thirty three isn’t as much fun as twenty Three”, as she reflected on her own short comings. It had not been an easy life. She had raised her family of three without the benefit of a husband. She had picked herself up by the boot straps at a very young age. Not wishing to ring up hamburger orders the rest of her life, she made it a goal to finish high school. She then went into nursing and made it a point not to stay in one area too long. She didn’t want any part of her life to become boring. Whenever she started to feel too comfortable with any one aspect of the job she would immediately transfer to some new field. She hated regular shift hours, they made her feel trapped. She worked as a floater, one or two nights in the Emergency room, a week in SICU or whatever else became available.

The idea of being “stuck for good” made her feel claustrophobic. Pat never wanted to be that closely associated with normality. She was doing it her way and damn proud of the results. The world may not be perfect; but what the hell, she took what ever it gave and made it work

“Looks like I could use a little make up to hide some of this shine.”, talking out loud to herself and not really asking for any comment in return. Reaching into her lab coat pocket, she took out a small plastic compact, placed it on the edge of the desk and brushed some of the soft pastel powder onto her cheeks. The irregular shape of the dark brown tortoise shell container did not balance well and slipped off. She tried in vain to grab it. Sinclair watched, unable to offer any help as the micro-fine powder separated itself from its container upon impact. His reaction was not to be expected from such a simple accident. Beads of cold sweat formed immediately on his forehead and he began to tremble. He slipped away from reality as the small clump of tan facial dust disintegrated, forming a cloud of tiny free hanging particles.

He closed his eyes to block out the thought, but found that he was watching still more of the same explosion. No; not the same cloud of dust, it was different. This was the edge of the railing that had broken loose just before he fell. He could see the rusty piece of steel as it tore away the fragments of cement. The precise moment was frozen, locked away in his memory as if on “still stepped” motion picture film.

“ ‘ you ok? Hey, its okay, just some dime store make up.” Pat knew that the make up case was only part of a much greater whole; pressing the “alert” button at the same moment. She thought to herself, hoping that nothing had sprung loose, at least nothing physical. She suspected some kind of severe mental disturbance, brought about by the falling make up case; but dared not be so foolish. The nature of his injury, the blunt trauma head wound, made such a simplistic diagnosis tantamount to a group of witches stirring toad skins in large black cauldrons to cure warts.

For a moment his speaker was silent as Sinclair was lost in the past. Then as the fear in his soul found a clear channel, a direct line to the computer, it screamed out the terror that had laid claim to him for so long. Pat covered her ears, trying to shut out the pain. Not that the hundred plus decibel range that was pounding her drums wasn’t fierce; it was the primitive howl of an injured animal. Her heart grieved as the panic from within him escaped.

The room filled with SICU staff, all busily engaged in checking Sinclair. Pat had half a moment to remove herself from the professional situation. “Its all right; you’re safe now.”, wringing her hands as she rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet. Pat joined the list of those who had adopted Sinclair.