Jeez, only one person knew what the "Way Back Machine" was -- or "Wayback Machine" or "Way-Back Machine" ... I never saw it in writing, so I don't know how to spell it. Didn't any of you watch Rocky & Bullwinkle as kids? I'm a cartoon fan and I don't think I'll ever outgrow it. I appreciate the Flintstones or even Bugs Bunny now more than I ever would have as a kid. Anyway, Mr. Peabody was a dog. He had a trusty sidekick, his boy, Sherman. They would set the "Way Back Machine" and go back to the days of Marco Polo, or the Alamo, etc. and find some positive way to affect history. Then the spot ended with some take-off on words.
I came back to Joe's room after a short walk and a trip to the men's room down the hall. I'd been sitting down for about five minutes. Joe started gagging suddenly. I stood up right away and pushed him onto his side, scared to death I wasn't doing anything right but not being able to run for help and him live to tell about it.
"Mim! Beth! Someone! Help me, dammit help me!!"
No one heard me right away. I kept screaming for help as I moved Joe over just a little more. He wasn't gagging, but there was this awful gurgling sound coming from his throat. I was wondering what was up with the respirator.
"Damn! Mim!! Beth!! I need help in here now!!"
Mim came running, with Beth right behind her, followed closely by a tech named Jerry. They saw me holding Joe up with my left arm while turning toward the door screaming for some help.
"He's gagging. I can't hear him breathing right."
Mim held him up and put her ear down.
"He's vomiting. Beth, I need something-something-something (don't ask me what she said, I'm not a doctor)".
Jerry must have been psychic, or else knew what was going on. He handed Mim the dohickey that she needed. I stood out of the way as Mim put in into his mouth. She leaned him on his side a bit more, then pulled him back, continued what she was doing, and then had Jerry help her pull Joe closer to the edge of the bed and hold him. I could see blood near his head.
"God, Mim, was he choking on and puking up his own blood?"
"Yes. His respirator must be irritating him badly. You did just right by getting him on his side. How'd you know?"
"You talking to me?"
"You did right, then. Your instincts are strong, Andrew. Beth, can you get a gurney and some clean sheets? Or hold him here and I'll do it."
"No, Mim, stay put. I'll get them."
She smiled at me on the way out. "Good job, Andrew."
"Outstanding job, Andrew. You saved Joe's life," said Jerry with a pat on the back.
I didn't feel like a hero. I felt total panic. Would I ever be able to be of any use to Joe without panicking? I realized soon enough that I had pissed my pants. I looked at Mim and then at my jeans. She bit her lip and shook her head.
"I gotta go clean up, Mim. I'm sorry. I'll be back in a few minutes. I got clean clothes in my truck."
"Take your time, dear. He's okay. So are you."
I walked out to my truck. The cold air immediately made my jeans cling to my crotch. I hadn't done this since I was four years old. I took my duffel out and brought it upstairs to the men's room. By the time I changed, Joe was just being moved from the gurney back to his bed. It took all three of the staff to do it without causing any injury to Joe. They handled him like fine china. Mim bent down to say something to Joe and to touch his chest. I didn't hear what she said, but she kissed his forehead before she stood upright again.
"I'm sorry it scared you so much, Andrew, and that we couldn't have come sooner. He's okay now. I'll have the doctor check him before he leaves tonight."
I nodded, ashamed. I couldn't make eye contact.
"Not one of us in this room hasn't done that before, Andrew. And under lesser circumstances maybe. You did just right for Joe. Please know that."
I broke down. It was the embarrassment, and it was knowing what happend to Joe. God, leave him alone. He's had enough. Leave him alone.
The nurses hugged me and kissed me on the cheek. Mim took me and stood me beside Joe. Beth stood on my right side. Jerry went to remove the sheets on his way out. It wasn't his job, but everyone around here helped everyone else.
"Rest easy, Joe. You're okay. Andrew was a true angel tonight, looking out for you. But you need to stop testing him. Your buddy wet his pants for fear. He came prepared, but you ought to be more considerate, okay Joe?"
She looked at me. I knew she wasn't scolding him, only cheering me in her own way. I nodded.
"Thanks you two. Maybe he'll let you tend to your real duties now, right Joe?"
"We'll check on you later. Get some rest, okay?"
I nodded. Hardly likely, but I wasn't going to say that.
I had been up about an hour. My laptop was on my belly and I was sitting back against three pillows while lying on my cot. I curled the fingers of my left hand around Joe's fingers. I looked at the scars on them, hoping that I wasn't hurting him by holding him this way. This hand hadn't been damaged much, in comparison, so it was probably okay. Even if it hurt, Joe would rather have the physical contact than not. I could pass him my energy this was as well as I could by touching his chest. But I liked touching his heart the best because it made me feel better. My general theory was that when I felt okay, Joe did too. I doubted a lot about what he felt while I was there. I still needed him to tell me what he felt, some day. For now I pushed my doubts aside and let him feel all he could of me.
I watched Joe's heart monitor. The rhythm was obscene. I didn't want to look at it, but it drew my attention and locked me on to it. Suddenly Joe's monitor sounded an alarm as I saw it go to flat line. My own heart leapt to my throat and I stood up to stand beside him right away. The shrill noise pierced my brain. Joyce and Carrie both came to escort me away. The crash cart was rumbling down the hallway. They came in and bodily moved me out of the way. We walked down the short corridor to the main corridor. I raised both arms and gently shook off the nurses. I walked slowly, with my head down, down to the main corridor to the end. I walked down the stairwell to the lobby. I did not want to be in the nurse's lounge again. I was sick of that place. Someone would find me later.
"Joe, come on man, you scare me to death every time you do that. Please man. No more. I can't take this. Isn't it enough that you're going to be here for another year? Can't you just rest and heal? I know you want to. I know your body is waging war against you, but ..."
I was too far away to be 'heard'. I couldn't connect with Joe outside. Anytime I was away from him, either at work or just walking around the grounds of the hospital, I felt adrift on a sea of lonliness and isolation. It was okay to be away from him for a while at night because I could watch the sky and listen to the night sounds. Joe loved the early night and, like me, hated the early morning hours between 2:00 and 6:00. Those four hours could seem three times as long.
Carrie came out a half hour later. She walked up beside me and put her arm around my waist. She nodded but didn't say anything just yet. We stood and watched birds fly overhead. The sun was bright and it was going to be a warm day.
"Is he okay?"
"Yes. It didn't take too much effort to bring him back, but he's so weak. He's fighting, Andrew. He's got the will of an ox."
"Makes one of us."
"Andrew, you're loyal to your friend. Even when you don't feel like you're doing enough, you're doing more than anyone I've ever seen here. We nurses think you don't give yourself enough credit, but we know you love Joe and we know he'll live. Don't let him feel any negative feelings you have. He needs your strength. Don't falter, because he'll feel that."
"It's so hard."
"But you're doing it. You are the master of love and caring, Andrew. I mean that, and no false flattery either. I don't know a nurse here whose life you haven't improved. I look at my family in a whole new way. You taught us all. And you made Joyce into ..."
"... a little better person. Even when you'd all given up. See, I know a little something, too."
"You're a good decent man. You won't cut anyone down, will you?"
"No. I knew she hated me, but she hated herself more. I just made her like herself."
"I'll give you that. But you did more. I won't put you on a pedestal because I know you won't be comfortable there. Just know that I have a great deal of admiration and respect for you, my boy. You're a fine man. I wish we'd met under different circumstances, but maybe these are the ones that really matter anyway. Joe needs you again."
"Okay. Let's go upstairs."
The shrill noise intruded into darkness of the night. It drilled its way to my brain and made me incapable of moving. When someone came for me, I resisted. I had been sleeping on my side, facing the wall. I held on for dear life on to the cot. I would not be escorted out this time. She, or they, tried again.
"NO! Leave me alone!"
By that time, the crash team had arrived. There was no time for argument, only for action. I couldn't move, not if this was to be Joe's last few minutes here. I can't watch, but I can listen. I want to know what it takes to save my Joe. It was chaotic. The term 'all hell breaking loose' was surely written about what happened in a place like this.
I picked out critical words ... jelly, paddles, defibrillate, amps, Epinephrine, bi-carb ... "Clear!" ... and then the first shock from the paddles. I jumped as surely as my Joe did, felt the shockwave pass through my chest just like he did. My brain told me what happened. I had seen it in television programs and movies. I know what they were doing to my Joe. I was paralyzed. Tears ran from my eyes. I must have cried out. Someone tried to cover my left ear so I would not hear it. I pushed the hand away. I held my left arm up, pushing against the hand that tried to screen me from all of this.
"Clear!" ... and another shock.
I jumped, as if it were two paddles on my chest. I felt the sting of the electricity, the heat of the shockwave. I was pulled up from my cot again but I resisted even more.
"One, two, three, four, five ... one, two, three, four, five" as someone leaned on Joe's chest and tried to get his heart to pump again. The shrill noise moved from my brain down into my throat, chest and through my body. And they won't let me sleep with him because I'll risk tearing his sutures? Christ!!
"Come on Joe, come on Joe, come on Joe, come on Joe, come on Joe," I chanted silently, in rhythm to the person on his chest, tears running down my cheeks, staining the sheet beneath my head.
I lurched again, in time with Joe. I saw his sweet face in my mind. I saw it writhing in pain. I saw tears running down his cheeks. I cried harder. I wanted to scream but my throat was raw. I was terrorized by what was happening. To see it played out on television was one thing. To be this close to it made what happened on TV so far away, so unreal. My body ached. My chest felt like someone was squeezing the life out of it. My head ached desperately. Someone rubbed my shoulder, then my neck.
"Come on Joe, come on Joe, come on Joe ... I love you my Joe, I love you my Joe."
The chant was endless. The rhythm continued to match the person massaging his chest.
"Come on Joe, come back to me Joe, I love you my Joe, come back to me Joe, come on Joe."
"We got a beat ..."
There was a lot of shouting and more people running in and out. There were requests for instruments and instructions fired to people like cannon fire. The person grabbed the cannon ball and ran with it, doing what they had to do make sure Joe lived the rest of the night.
I lay staring at the wall. I didn't want to move. I couldn't think about turning around. I didn't know who was with me. Margie? Stacey or Betty? Could they be in the room when the crash team was there? No one said anything to me. I held on to my sheet and cried until I stopped. I shook all over, the sobs racking my body. It took an hour for people to stop running in and out. It took that hour for me to come back to earth, to stop aching so bad. As each shock was meant to give Joe life, I felt it was taking mine away. I finally closed my eyes. The room was quiet.
"Andrew, that had to be so hard for you."
"It had to be harder for Joe."
"He probably didn't feel it, at least not the way you did. You should have let me walk you out."
"I don't care, Margie. I'm not leaving Joe. All I think about any more is Joe dying here without me nearby and it won't happen. I swear I'm not leaving."
"You amaze me, young man. You put tears into my eyes and into my heart. I have only 1/10th of the understanding of what Joe means to you. I've never seen anyone like you. Andrew, I hurt so badly for you. You have no life outside of here. You lay here when your buddy may die, hearing all this, and I know it's torture for you to stay. My God, Andrew, how can you stand all this?"
"I love Joe."
"Yes Andrew. But it's not just love. You jumped in time to the defibrillator, exactly in time with Joe. You're so intertwined with his heart and soul. Love itself doesn't run that deep. You're so connected with your Joe. I heard you saying 'Come on Joe' over and over. Where do you find your courage?"
"I have none. I have fear. If Joe dies I'm alone for the rest of my life because I'll never accept love from anyone else. Joe is my whole life. God I hurt so much. My stomach is in knots."
"Come Andrew. Come and walk with me outside. You need some air."
We walked down the hall, down the few flights in the stairwell, and outside into the night. It was so still. There was a slight breeze and the humidity was fading. I looked up at the night sky and saw stars twinkling in the calmness. There was the thinnest cresent of the moon forming. I saw all the things that Joe and I would see when we walked alone at night, before going to bed. I shook in fear and then I threw up as I was pulled down to my knees from some unseen force. I didn't stop until there was no more in my stomach. Margie knelt beside me and held my head. I cried as I puked onto the pavement.
I had to title it that way, for two reasons; "Interview with the Vampire" was already taken and "The Friend Wayne", proper capitalization applied, is quite fitting. He is "The Friend" in every aspect of the word. I teased enough readers and now many of you are asking for the inside track on our friend of four years.
Joe and I met Wayne at our current contract. He's a man of offbeat humor, of a calmness you do not see in many people, of self-respect and respect of others. He classifies himself as a 'grunt', meaning non-supervisory/non-management employee, with no desire to be. He's a technical man, a software developer by trade, who wants to write code instead of pushing paper. Joe sits across the aisle from Wayne (well, under normal circumstances of Joe being at work), and I sit beside Joe.
We got together on Wednesday, the 16th. Today was the day for me to have a biopsy because of the results of my second MRI from a couple weeks ago. The MRI showed a second ruptured disc, at the L3/L4 level (the first one was at the L4/L5 level), swelling along my spine and a 'growth' of unknown origin and makeup at the lower right of my spine. Between worrying about Joe and back problems plaguing my every move, life is different (in a word) than I am used to. So my friend picked me up at Joe's place and went to the doc's office with me. I won't know the results for a couple days, and was determined not to worry about it -- though it hurt like hell and I ended up with 9 stitches in my lower back because the local didn't take and I moved abruptly enough to get nailed by the instruments. It was too soon to drive to work after my appointment, so we headed for the park to enjoy some sun and fresh air before being trapped in an air-conditioned office building for four hours.
Lunch itself was a battle. I ate half a Wendy's burger before I wrapped it and my fries up for later.
"Come on man, why can't you eat?"
"You'll throw up?"
"No, I'll puke."
"And the difference is?"
"I hate puking."
"What's your normal weight?"
"Damn Andrew! Okay, 185. Satisfied?"
"Yeah. You don't weigh 185."
"No. What's your normal weight?"
"And you weigh?"
"At last check, 162."
"This morning I weighed in at ..."
I was about to be killed by my buddy. I can hear screams from my friends that I talk to every day in E-mail too. Trust me that you would not be any different. I don't say that to be snide or to protect myself from your wrath. I say it because it's true.
"This morning I weighed in at 128."
"Christ Andrew. It's bad enough I'm 20 down. You got to eat man. What's Joe going to do when you kill yourself from malnourishment?"
"I do eat. Just not a lot."
"Can the doc give you something for your nerves?"
"Don't want it. I don't know what it'll do to the painkiller for my back. My body is not a chemical dumping ground."
"But you've been at this for over 14 months. When does it end?"
"And you've been telling yourself that for how long?"
"I don't think your tape picked up that shrug. Besides, that's not an acceptable answer. Before this burger, truthfully now or I'll beat you and like it, what's the last thing you ate, and when?"
"Tea and two slices of toast, last night at the hospital. Mim made me."
"Aren't you hungry?"
"Stop that! Answer my question with an answer, not a question!"
"What's fair for me is fair for you, man. You know me by now."
"No, chemo took my appetite last night. But I ate my burger and most of my fries."
"You've learned to be more disciplined than me. And it'll stay in your stomach how long?"
"I usually lose it mid-afternoon."
"I'm sorry. I know your cancer doesn't give you any breaks. You're doing better though?"
"Yeah. Doc says I could be in remission by end of summer. Good progress lately. Makes the fucking chemo easier to take."
"I know man. I know. Why didn't you tell me before last Sunday that you had cancer?"
"Not many know."
"Need to know ... people act funky when they know. And about my leg -- same reason."
"Do you keep this all to yourself?"
"Yeah, pretty much. No pity. Screw pity, I don't want it nor do I need it."
"But what about someone you can tell 'Hey, Andrew, I hurt today?'".
"Because it'll pass."
"What about the rest?"
"That's not an acceptable answer, man. I'm your friend. I have been for four years. I want you to trust me, man, to talk to."
"Andrew, you can't take on the world's problems."
"I don't want the world's problems. I can care about you. I want to. I can care about Joe, because I do."
"You're 32 pounds under your acceptable weight."
"And your 23 under yours."
"Okay Mr. Smart-ass. You gain ten pounds and then you can care about me."
"Mr. Smart-ass back to you. You at least stay even with yours, right now, or improve a bit if you can, and you can care for me".
"Hey, what's fair for you is fair for me. I'm serious."
"Come on asshole, turn off your tape. We got to get to work."
"I may be an asshole, but you love me anyway."
"It's a hell of a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it. Andrew, you're going to make my life hell, aren't you?"
"More than usual, you mean?"
"Whether you're going to let me or not, I do care for you Andrew. I would rather fight this fucking cancer for the rest of my life than to have to do what you do for Joe. I envy you the love you have."
"You know about love as well as I do. Katie was very special to you, all your life."
"Yeah man. But you still have Joe, even if he's in a coma. He's still here. Kate's gone now."
"No she's not, Wayne. I'll tell you what I tell Joe. She's right there, every minute of every hour, of every day, of every week, or every month, of every year. And she's looking out for you. Why else would we have met?"
"No man, luck doesn't run that good. We're connected; like Joe is to Chris, you are to your Kate. I'm the one who's lucky; the rest of you are all blessed."
"And you're not?"
"Yes, I am. You know what I mean."
Work was work, in the afternoon. Four hours came and went because there were plans for dinner and the continuation of the interview. We went to TGI Friday's for dinner, though eating was as bad as it was at lunch. I had baby back ribs and we split an order of potato skins. Admittedly Wayne wasn't hungry either but between the two of us we didn't leave any leftovers.
Dinner conversation was animated. I learned things about my friend that I didn't know.
"What's off-limits when we talk," I asked.
"Nothing. Ask and I'll talk."
"I'm reluctant, to say the least. But curious too."
"We've got a four year friendship. Lack of knowledge in the past is due only to my own fear about sharing. Sometimes a man's got to talk to make things right."
"Agreed. You pick the topic. Tape recorder's running."
"Your biopsy today."
"Not about me, silly. About you."
"It's about me, via an indirect path. What's on your mind about it?"
"What'll be found."
"Instinct says I'm fine. It's an infection, or a past infection, a surgical flaw, a recent injury ..."
"What about the other possibilities."
"Can't think about 'em. Too distracting. Joe needs me."
"You need you first."
"No. Not yet. Some day."
"No. Joe's first."
"Would you tell me the results, when you get them?"
"That answer sucks. Whatever happened to 'yes Wayne'"?
"You carry more than enough."
"But not alone. I'm not that strong."
"Me neither, but Joe is the priority. I'd lose a lot if he died."
"Do you really think that's a possibility, after so long in the hospital?"
"Yeah. I want to be with him no matter what happens, especially if he dies."
"Then being away from him tonight must be getting on your nerves. You've been away since 9:30, somewhat over nine hours."
"I'll be with him later. I told him I was out with you tonight for awhile."
"I'm jealous of you, you know. To love, and be loved, from the depths of your heart. Warmth and comfort -- the best friend you ever had ... enviable."
"You're my buddy, you know. If it were you there instead of Joe, I'd be there. So would he."
"It's hard to do what you are, all the time you've invested, and not a lot in return."
"I know. That's the main idea, I know, but barely existing in a coma isn't life, not as the average Joe understands it."
"You know, don't you?"
"Yeah. I know a lot of things, but not nearly enough. There are still a lot of black holes. They get filled in as I talk to someone. Memories are blocked. Some things are better left unknown. Some are blocked by pain, physical and emotional both. Some are blocked by need to stay blocked."
"Does Father's Day coming up make you funky?"
"No. It's a greeting card holiday. Birthdays are the hardest ones. My son ..."
I saw the lump in his throat as surely as he felt it. It stopped him from saying anything; words replaced by a couple of tears streaming down his face instead. I turned the tape recorder off for a few minutes. He looked at my eyes and didn't flinch when I looked at his too. I kept my mouth shut because nothing I could have said would have meant anything at all.
He had grown up with Kate, since they were five years old. She was in med school after college, wanting to establish herself before she settled into a working marriage. Wayne would have waited forever if it meant being married to Kate, maybe raising a family, and being in love for a lifetime. A drunk driver took it away. Kate and their unborn baby died shortly after the accident, in the car. He didn't know for endless months what had happened. Total hospital time was one month short of three years. Like Joe, what was broken was not merely broken.
Wayne knows intimately about all of Joe's injuries, both times, because he's been broken beyond words too. He lost Kate around the time Joe lost Chris, in the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season. The connections in this life continue to fascinate and amaze me. I don't know a lot, but when he'll talk, I'll ask, carefully, if only to know what makes my friend hurt so he can talk to me anytime. Shared pain, it is said, is pain halved.
We went back to Wayne's place for a while to continue our talk.
"The cancer came after your accident?"
"Yeah. I think because of the accident too. It's too coincidental. Joe feels the same way, doesn't he?"
"Yeah. He's part of a research project at the National Institutes of Health in D.C. about trauma-induced cancer."
"Me too, only through Dana Farber Cancer Center, in Boston, and Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City."
"Definitive findings yet?"
"No. Lots of theory, but nothing to stand on."
"I knew you were out for a couple months last year, but I had no clue it was for your leg. I'm trying hard not to say 'I'm sorry'. I don't know what it's like, so the words would be useless. Joe ..."
I stopped. Joe's surgery terrified me to no end. I'll never feel good about it.
Wayne knew this. He looked at me, with understanding.
"You get used to it, in some fashion. I'm playing basketball again, and walking everywhere I want to go. I may be a runner again some day. Katie and I used to run in 5K and 10K races all over the place. Couldn't get enough of it. The cancer itself stopped me from running, long before surgery ever did."
"Can I see?"
"It'll be different, Andrew. You've seen amputees on TV probably, but not up close. I don't want to make you scared."
"I've seen Joe's. It took me over a week to want to, but I pulled back his sheets and looked."
"I'll have to take my jeans off."
Wayne sat on the floor and took his sneakers off, then pulled his jeans down and off. I looked at how his artificial leg was attached. I was surprised. I looked up at him, while he watched me looking at his leg. He moved his hip just right and the prosthesis popped off, releasing air pressure. He had most of his upper leg still. Joe's was obviously going to take a different type of prosthesis.
"Do you still get the 'phantom limb' sensation that I've read about?"
"Yeah. I don't sleep with my leg on, and it still feels like it's there. I could almost wiggle my toes and feel the sensation back."
"Is it sensitive?"
"No. It used to be terribly sensitive. I hated wearing my leg because it hurt so much at first. But I just had to keep using it so I'd get used to it. You can touch it. It doesn't hurt."
I put my hands on either side of his stump. It felt odd, but I wanted him to know I wasn't afraid. I wasn't, really, but I had never seen an amputated leg up this close. His skin was warm and the scars were all but gone. He'd lost his leg about six weeks before Joe was hit the second time, so it was 16 months ago.
"How do you feel about this?"
"You're asking because of Joe?"
"It's emotionally draining. I won't lie. It's going to take Joe a long time to get used to this. Everything I know about my friend says he's strong and of good character. He won't let it get to him for long. He'll feel better once he gets the artificial leg too. It's a challenge, which we both know he thrives on. Don't worry, Andrew, he'll be fine."
"You had no choice, my friend. I don't envy you making the choice. Joe's going to know you love him, no matter what shock he feels. I want to help. I'll stand up for you if I have to, to tell Joe. He's got no real reason to be angry with you. I'd feel uncertain like you do, too, but he'll be fine. He doesn't know about my leg. I've told the barest minimum of people because everyone would rather say 'I'm sorry' than 'What can I do to help you?'"
I sit holding my Joe's hand. I ran my thumb across his knuckles as I sat staring at his face. I was reading the comics to him. I feel something happen. I don't know why or how I felt something change. Then a second later his heart monitor shows a flatline again. I retreat to the corner, trying to merge with it so that I am left alone. I see Mim at the door. I shake my head slowly. I'm not leaving. I didn't run four days ago, I'm not running now. I'm not hiding. She holds out her hand for me to come. I shake my head and look only at Joe.
The crash team arrives. No one knows (or cares) that I am here. They set to work on my Joe. One woman hops up on his bed and starts the heart massage.
"One, two, three, four, five ... one, two, three, four, five ... one, two, three, four, five ... "
The defibrillator is warmed up. The paddles are prepped and placed around his heart.
Damn how I hate that word. I'll probably never use it again.
Joe's body, and my heart, jumps. Television is fake. This is real. This must hurt him brutally. Even if he can't feel it, this must hurt him so bad.
"One, two, three, four, five ... one, two, three, four, five ... one, two, three, four, five ... "
"Come on my Joe ... come on my Joe ... come on my Joe ... come on my Joe ... come on my Joe ... "
"One, two, three, four, five ... one, two, three, four, five ... one, two, three, four, five ... ", she counts endlessly.
I can't understand half the words that fill my ears. I feel like I'm on another planet, far far away, beyond Star Trek and beyond Star Wars ... to a place we can't even imagine. I watch the people working frantically, babbling gibberish that only they can translate. Except one word.
Another jolt. A chance at life for Joe, but what is it doing to his surgical wounds? Mim comes to me. She puts both arms around me, faces me, and lets me put my head down on her shoulder.
"Andrew, please come with me," she whispers.
"No. He'll die, Mim. With or without me, and I'd rather it be with me. "
I can't cry. I'm willing Joe to live, for his heart to beat again, for him to breath normally, to never need the respirator or the paddles or the needles and tubes. I want the surgeries to end and for his body to heal. The violation to him has been absolute, at least physically. I don't know what has happened to his mind. I want my Joe to come home with me so I can be his love and he can be mine. I don't want to be his lover. I want to be his love ... his heart-mate.
I pull away from Mim and I walk to Joe's side. There is little room, but then again, ask me if I care. I take Joe's hand. I bring it to my lips and I kiss it gently. It's still warm. The crash team works as if I'm not there. The woman massaging his heart makes eye contact with me, continuing her counting rhythm, nodding at me once and winking.
I let go of Joe for a moment. When he stops his body spasm, I resume holding his hand. The heart massager continues her job. I watch them all and they watch me.
"Come back to me, Joe. I love you."
I said the words out loud. I hoped that everyone heard, amongst the chaos. Bring my Joe back because I love him. If Joe dies, you kill a very large part of me, at least the part that matters to the world. So don't kill me.
I lay on his bed again a half hour later. I lay on my stomach, smelling his pillow, drawing whatever I could from his scent and the warmth that still hung there. I lay on my back again, crossed my legs at my ankles, put my arms behind my head and closed my eyes. Joe had been in surgery long enough that his chest was open again. The surgeons would probably find another leak in his valve. I thought again about the type of damage the defibrillator could do when used so much to get Joe's heart pumping again. I saw his body react to the shock. I felt my heart sting in shared pain.
I sighed, knowing that this was going to be a long surgical routine for Joe. I never knew how long. I didn't know exactly what they were doing this time, though I assume repairing took first priority. I wondered if they would give him a pacemaker. After so many flatlines, and weeks of arrhythmia, I didn't see how he'd come out of the operating room without one. But then again, what do I know?
"Hi bud, how was it at work today?"
"Great. I got the beginning Excel class wrapped up. They all did good with the exercises, so I guess I really did teach 'em something."
"You're a good teacher, Andrew. You know your classes always do good."
"Well, how they do on their jobs is even more important, but I feel good about this one. How was your day off?"
"Good. I spent it outside listening to music and reading. Nice to shut the brain down for a day and let the body heal from the chemo of the week."
It was Friday night, about 6:00. I was glad for the workweek to be done with and to get to be with Joe for the weekend. We had not been together, except at work, since the weekend before. Joe put his arms around me and we kissed. I held on to his cheek, keeping him close to me so we could kiss longer. He wasn't about to let me go, so I didn't need to worry about it. He was going to broil some swordfish for us, but it could wait.
I took him and laid him on the sofa, laying on top of him and pushing my crotch into his. He was already hard. I wasn't far behind. We unzipped our jeans and I slid into the opening of his briefs.
"You're glad I taught you that man?" he asked.
"Oh yeah. Little Andrew likes being with Little Joe. We might need a shower before dinner."
"How about a nice cold one, right now?"
"Fuck you, you're as horny as I am."
"Watch your language, kid. It might make me hornier."
So I whispered things into his ear that were guaranteed to make him hotter. He rolled me on to the floor, pulled my jeans and sneakers off, and thrust inside me in one motion. I put my legs high up on his shoulders, bending myself in half, as he entered me. He smiled down at me. I gave him "The Face" just because I could. He pumped into me harder and faster. Knowing Joe could come almost any time he wanted to, I didn't care if he gave up his load right away, before the evening even got going. He slowed a bit and bent down to kiss me softly.
"I love you, Andrew."
"I love you too, Joe. I missed you today."
"Are you saying that because I'm screwing your ass?"
"I'd say it if you never screwed my ass another minute."
"But this is good sex man."
"Yeah, and you're the man I love because of love, not because of sex. Are you testing me?"
"Yeah. I know how you feel about me, man. I always know. I love you for caring so much about me."
He slowed down a bit, making love to me instead of fucking me. I liked both, but slow felt really good. My ass swallowed his dick whole and I felt his balls against my butt as he leaned nearer my face, giving me a deep kiss.
"I will always care for you my man. You're my life."
"You're my soul, Andrew. You're the reason my heart beats."
"Aw Joe, don't make me cry while we're making out. But don't ever forget what you just said."
"Never. Where do you want my load?"
I opened my mouth.
He fucked me a few more strokes, pulled out, straddled my face, and put his load into my mouth. I sucked his hard meat and drank his juice. It was thick, so I knew he had not jacked off for a day or two anyway. Sometimes we jacked off together during the week, as young friends in high school do. As long as we were together, even just holding hands was enough. Sex was great. Love and being close was better. I didn't ask much of my Joe. But now I wanted to be inside his ass. It had to be waiting for me. Joe liked me returning the sexual favor, especially if he had done me first.
I rolled him onto his back. I had to search around a moment for the lube but I found it and put some inside his ass, playing around with my finger to make sure he was well-lubed. I squirted some on my dick and then eased it into him as I put his legs around my back. I held on and fully entered him. As usual he opened up wide for me and then clenched around my cock, holding me inside him like he'll never let go. His hole was warm and moist. I felt the ring of muscle massage my dick as I pulled it about halfway out and then pushed it back in. I kissed him as I let my cock give him pleasure. I tingled all the way into my balls. I don't care how many times I've done this to him, or will do again, but it feels like the first time every time. Maybe it's because we like love as much (or more than) sex, but it just adds to the pleasure when we are locked together.
"Oh buddy, I'm not holding off on this one. I gotta fill your ass because it's too good to move from here."
With that I shot my load inside of his sweet ass. Cream shot full force from my balls, through my shaft, and up his hot hole. I shook all over and closed my eyes, pumping into him until I had no more to give. I lay on top of him and left my dick inside him as long as it would stay.
"Did I tell you yet today that I love you?" I asked.
"Yeah. But tell me again."
"I love you. Couldn't love you more if I tried."
"We'll have to fix that, then, won't we?"
"I hope so."
I opened my eyes. I felt the wetness inside my jeans. I didn't even touch myself. Joe could do it to me, in a public place like the hospital, with my eyes closed, and not even have to be here. It didn't take much lately, because I had so little time to jack off by myself. I smiled to myself and closed my eyes again. No one was around. With Joe in surgery, the nurses left me alone because they knew I'd rest on Joe's bed. We would change his sheets together before he came back from recovery.
I was still awake at 2:10 when Betty came in and told me that Joe was just now arriving in the recovery room. She said he would come back here to ICU after 4:00.
"Will you sleep for awhile, and let me wake you later?"
I nodded and closed my eyes. When Betty came back, I woke long enough to move to the cot and drifted off again for an hour. Sleep wasn't long; even short stabs at it were better than nothing.
I came in and threw the first load of laundry into the washer. I poured some OJ and sat in front of the entertainment center, waiting for Wayne to arrive. I put together six CDs -- England Dan & John Ford Coley; Sting; Billy Joel Volume 3; and three Yanni's for the end of the evening.
When the music was loaded, I lay back on the sofa and waited for Wayne to arrive. He was there at 6:30. He'd brought dinner with him, knowing he wouldn't have to fight with my appetite. Eating with someone was easier than eating alone, but eating was not an act of pleasure.
I put out plates and glasses while he took a fresh roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, fresh peas, and corn on the cob out of the various containers.
"You spent the afternoon cooped up in your kitchen, man?"
"Yeah, because I like you. I don't cook for just anyone, you know."
"Thanks, man. I appreciate the effort."
"You look like you actually slept more than an hour last night. How'd the Ambien work out?"
"It worked well. I fell asleep shortly after I took it and didn't hear anything until 7:30 this morning. I woke a little groggy, which isn't supposed to happen, but maybe it's because my body is just weird."
"If it helps, it's not a bad thing. If you're like me, you don't want to count on the meds, but to have them there is okay."
"Yeah, it won't be an every night event, but when I need some help, I'll use them. Can't believe how peacefully I slept. It must have took me down deep too because I didn't remember any dreams until just before I woke up. Normally I dream the whole time I'm sleeping."
"Me too. I'm a light sleeper. My cancer made me that way. My Kate and I used to sleep so soundly we could be robbed in the middle of the night and we'd never know it, even if they took our bed."
I smiled at him. He had good memories of Kate and he shared them when he felt like he could.
"You okay about being away from Joe tonight?"
"Yeah. He had a better afternoon than even yesterday. Me being away on Sunday nights is just part of the routine. He knows I need to sleep in his bed to be well. The nurses check on him and sit down to talk with him. I think he even is relieved to hear a different voice once a week."
"You're a good man, Andrew. Your dedication to Joe amazes everyone. I'm not amazed any more, just thankful you have the ability to do it. I hurt for you sometimes."
"Who took care of you, after your accident? I know you don't have any family."
"My nurses did. And my friends came around often enough, but nothing even close to what you're doing for Joe."
"Everyone needs someone, even if it means putting your life on hold."
"He'll love you all the more, man. The price has been high. I wish you'd take a class again though, so you'd have something else to distract you."
"I will, again, in September. It feels like I won't ever finish, but I can't put my mind to it until Joe's healing."
"Maybe this will let him, finally. Then he has PT and rehab ... it's a long road. I want to help when you'll let me."
"I guess I've been selfish ..."
"No man, not in the least. What you do for Joe no one else could. You're not just with him. You're part of his soul and his heart. No one can do that, not even the nurses. I know, I've been there. I got the physical support I needed, but I got none of the heart that you give to Joe. People don't want to spend the time with someone whose sick, or injured, like you have, because it really does mean giving up your own life."
"Easy for me, because Joe is my life."
"And your love, your pain, your sleepless nights, your humor, your character ... you've made me a better man, too. I've had time to look back at the things we've done in four years. I know you've blessed my life, so I can only imagine how Joe feels about you in his."
"I don't really want to say this, because I don't know how you'll react ..."
"There isn't anything that you can't say to me, Andrew. You know me by now."
"I feel for you like I do Joe. You read in my last journal how I got close to Joe, out of hurting so bad for him. I hurt for you, too. You shouldn't have had to feel all the things you have."
"Life happens, man. Circumstances, places, fate ... but I'm here."
"And I haven't been touched, except for my back. Where's the fairness there."
"It's not about fairness, man. It's about what you do when you're given a chance. I wanted to live, even it if meant being without Katie."
"But I see you and I know you're fighting your own demons. I feel it. You're a good friend and I've gotten to depend on you, especially at work, but I don't want to leave you with an impression Joe is the only one I can care about."
"I've never felt neglected by you. The routine at work is good and I love the time we have together. I'd be the same way as you though, if someone I loved were in need. The only thing I wish about you is that you'd take care of you first."
"No, not 'can't. Been there, done that. You don't want to, because you feel disloyal to Joe."
I didn't say anything. Wayne wasn't the first to tell me this.
"Andrew. Look at me."
"Can I hold your hand for a minute?"
I reached out.
"Joe is going to love you always, Andrew. There's no need to doubt that. You're going to love him with all your heart because that's what you do best. If you let me, I'm going to be here anytime you want. You got my phone numbers and E-mail addresses. I care for you, man. I care a lot. You've given constantly for 15 months and you've gotten so little in return. If holding your hand for a minute will let you know how I feel, I want to."
I folded my fingers around his. I did, automatically, what I do with Joe; rubbed my thumb across his knuckles. I continued to look him in the eye. He was my second best friend and he knew it. I had had many years of good friendship with him.
"I like it. It feels good to hold a hand that holds mine back."
"You know I don't want anything from you, except for you to keep letting me be your friend. I know Joe would like to know you're not locking the rest of us out."
"I wont lock you out, friend. If you don't know that I love you for who you are, then know right now. I do love you, with as much of my heart as you need. I don't give much to you because you wouldn't take it, at least not much of it."
"You give more than enough. You haven't talked to me any differently since I showed you my leg the other night. You don't show me that you're mad at me for not sharing that info before. You let me talk about my Kate."
"You're not different, Wayne. You're unique and special. You've touched me. I thought about you this morning when I woke up. I felt you close, even though you weren't there."
"Actually, I was. I drove out to the hospital and sat in the lobby."
"You could have gotten someone to find me."
"No. I just wanted you to feel that I was close by. It's enough."
"Thanks. You make me feel good."
"You haven't mentioned your biopsy, either. Did you hear anything?"
"You don't want to talk about it."
"Nope. It'll take my attention away from Joe. I can't do that, not yet."
"But something's up?"
"Yeah. Nothing that I can't put aside for awhile though."
"Honest. I won't do anything stupid."
"Okay. I'm here when you will let me in. It's not a bad thing to think about yourself, too."
"I know, but not now. Not with Joe needing more than I do."
"He loves you, Andrew. He can't tell you, except by living, so you know he's telling you."
We finished our meal and did up the dishes. It was nice outside, so we sat on the balcony for awhile, listening to the music. I sat next to Wayne, looking across the back yard to the sky. Clouds were rolling in, and my back said we were going to get some rain.
"Can I hold your hand some more?"
"People will talk, Andrew," he said with a smile.
"As if I care. Let's take good care of each other. I know you haven't held a hand in too long."
We sat with our fingers intertwined, our arms dangling beside our chairs. I rubbed his knuckles some more.
"You have an amazing habit."
"I need to touch things. It's not just holding hands with a friend who cares. It's about being close to you. I don't want a friend who is emotionally removed from me or himself."
"I like you doing it. I agree with what you say, too. You're right, I haven't held a hand since my Kate died."
"Does it hurt to talk about it?"
"No. Not if it's you I talk to."
"Tell me, friend. Tell me everything."
We sat and he opened his heart to me. As we talked, I held his hand tighter. I found, eventually, that I had taken his hand and put it to my chest. Tears ran down his eyes as he told me about being hit head-on. The man was not hurt in the least. He was so drunk that he had not known what he did for three days. He spent 10 years in prison for manslaughter. He told me what it was like to see headlights in your lane, to know you were going to be hit, but helpless to get out of the way. I felt what it was like to be in a car tumbling down over an embankment, end over end, side over side. I knew what it was like to feel all your bones break. I watched him watching Katie as she died beside him. I felt the outrage of knowing a young drunken driver changed Wayne's life in an evening of thoughtlessness. I knew what it was like for him to try to walk again. He talked to me without me interrupting. His monologue was almost an hour. I sat and held him. He touched me to the depths of my soul. To know that a friend was in a car accident was one thing. To feel the thoughts of it as it was happening was quite another. My eyes never left his face. Tears streaked my face.
"Kate told me that day that she was pregnant. I was ecstatic to know I was going to be a father. He would be 12."
"I don't know for sure, but my instinct told me I would have had a son. It wouldn't have mattered because any child we had would have a lifetime of love."
"Will you marry again some day?"
"Yeah. I don't want to be alone forever. For now I'm content. I've been taking my time to decide what I can and can't handle in a relationship, or marriage. Some day."
"Are you angry?"
"Yeah. I think if I ever met the man who took my family and my life away, I'd break his neck. I wouldn't hesitate. And I wouldn't feel bad that I did it either. I think someone owes me that much."
"No. You can't take a life that way."
"I could try."
"No. Not ever."
"Andrew, you don't understand ..."
"Yes I do. Ask me about two teenage boys."
"But Joe's still here. He took my wife, someone I knew since I was five years old. He took my child. He nearly killed me, and now I have no left leg and chemo."
"And your life."
He didn't say anything. Tears ran anew down his cheeks. He closed his eyes and put his head back, thinking about what I said, but being angry and afraid anyway. I cried too, knowing that his pain was worse than mine because he lost a lot more. I held his hand to my face.
"Come inside man. Come and let's be okay together."
I took my sneakers off. It was a moderately cool evening, so I left my T-shirt on.
"I want you to hold on to me, friend. Like Joe does. I need it and I know you do."
"Andrew, I've never held a man before."
"I'm not a man, Wayno. I'm your buddy. Lie on your side and make some room for me. I'll help you."
And he did. I lay on my left side on the sofa, almost in a fetal position. The tears continued to stream down his face as he shook. He held me from behind, the way I like Joe to hold me. His chest was warm against my back. My ass molded to his crotch. His arms held me around my chest, not with sexual intent but as a buddy trying to help his buddy get through the night in one piece. We were going to help each other. He need to take, and I needed to give. I wanted to take, too, because no one had held me close in over a year. I could die from lack of affection.
I put my arms on his. He touched my heart, then moved his hand away quickly.
"I'm sorry Andrew. I didn't mean to."
"You better mean to. You know what I feel about my heart, and my energy."
"But I can't take it from you."
"Yes you can. It's like an untapped well, my friend. It's deep enough for you and for my Joe. Touch me, friend. It'll even out eventually."
"Come on Wayne. It's not sexual either. What are you worried about?"
"I'm afraid of being unfair to Joe, of taking more than I need ... or deserve."
I sat up for a moment and then lay back down on my right side, facing Wayne.
"God Andrew, don't hurt your back."
I lay in place, carefully. He had put his arms against his chest again. I took both his hands in mine.
"Wayne, we're friends. I want us to be friends for as long as we're able to be. You are second only to me than Joe. Hear me ... 'I love you, with my heart'. Do you understand?"
He shook his head.
"Are you afraid of those words, of feeling that someone can love you?"
A nod, and tears.
"Katie doesn't want you to be unloved."
Another nod. And more tears. I wiped them away with my thumb.
"I love you, Wayne. You're my friend. Your hurting ends now, forever, if I can do that without sounding so smug."
"Joe's with me, right now. You think he'd want you to continue hurting, alone?"
He shook his head again.
"Love isn't just sex. You know that."
He nodded, wondering what was on my mind.
"Then I love you. I don't need anything from you in return but for you to love me back, without fear."
"I don't know how."
"Then we'll learn. Love is from in here."
I put his hand on my chest. He resisted. I looked at his eyes and did not flinch.
"Take what you need."
"I can't. You need it for Joe."
"And you need it the same way Joe does. It's okay. Please let me love you. Please let me care."
He put his hand against my chest. I took off my T-shirt. He withdrew his hand again.
"The shirt is a barrier. I want you to feel my heart the way Joe does."
He put his hand over my heart. I put my hand on top of his. I closed my eyes. For my friend I wished peace and knowing that I loved him too, as unconditionally as my Joe does. For my friend I wanted no more pain. I wanted him to know he could take and give.
He was looking at me when I opened my eyes. He knew what I was saying inside. He smiled at me, with a mild frown.
"When we're together, I need to hold you and for you to hold me. I want you to know you can take from me and to give back to me when you're stronger. I'm tired, Wayno. I need to be held and a hug from a nurse goes only so far. Do you understand that it's mutual?"
"Yeah. But I'm scared."
"I know. Tell me about it."
"It's not because you're a guy. I don't care about that. I'm not homophobic because I too have gay friends. Anyone who cares about that is caring about the wrong stuff. But you got to understand I've felt no affection for anyone, not deeply, for too long."
"I do know. You need to feel love, giving it or taking it. Is anything going to stop you from hearing I care deeply about you?"
"You can't bury them."
"The feelings have been buried."
"I watched you the other night when you left work before I did. I stood in the window because I saw you when I walked by. You knew you were going home alone."
"It's the way you carry yourself. I know when you're happy, and when you're not. I felt like a shit that you were going home alone and that I wanted to go to be with Joe."
"But you need to be with Joe."
"Yes. But not seven days a week. There's room for you."
"Don't you dare say 'but' to me. There's room for you. There's room for Joe. Joe takes more of the room, admittedly, but you know why. I'm shifting the percentages. Joe gets five of my nights. You can have the other two if you want them."
"Andrew, that's too much time for you to be away from Joe. Sunday night you need to renew yourself, by yourself."
"No. I need you. And I want you to need me. "
He didn't say anything.
"Wayne, let me in."
"All the more reason to let a friend in. Hold me, both of your arms around me."
"Andrew, I don't ..."
"Yes you do."
I put both my arms around him and held him close. I stroked his back. I told him to relax. I let him nuzzle his face into my neck. He put his arms around me after a few minutes and drew me close. We closed our eyes and let the other in. The energy flowed equally between us. I felt it flow to me, and I pushed it back.
He looked up at me.
"Did you feel that?" I asked.
"Yeah. It was a wave of warmth."
"THAT, friend, is what it's all about. If you really felt that, then you can't be afraid any longer. And you got to know what I mean when I talk to you about love."
"I did. And I do."
"Then stay right here. Let's sleep. I'll make sure you get home on time in the morning."
He nodded. We slept soundly all night. I felt no disloyalty to Joe because I was doing what Joe would for a friend. This wasn't sex, nor need it be. This was feeling the love of friendship and two hearts that needed to stop hurting so bad.
*** PS: I found some W O N D E R F U L lyrics to put in Part 8, from a song I heard on the radio this afternoon. When I went looking for them and read them, they made my heart get all mushy and the mush drained out of my body via my eyes. Go figure. ***
The following are the lyrics for a song called "Snow on the Sahara" by an Indonesian artist named "Anggun", pronounced 'An-goon'. The song did not get a lot of airplay, though I've seen it on VH-1 a few times. Her song itself is very haunting, as you might imagine from these words. To me they speak one thing -- my Joe, please come back to me:
Only tell me that you still want me here
When you wander off out there
To those hills of dust and hard winds that blows
In that dry white ocean alone
Lost out in the desert
You are lost out in the desert
But to stand with you in a ring of fire
I'll forget the days gone by
I'll protect your body and guard your soul
>From mirages in your sight
Lost out in the desert (desert desert)
If your hopes scatter like the dust across your track
I'll be the moon that shines on your path
The sun may blind our eyes I'll pray the skies above
For snow to fall on the Sahara
If that's the only place where you can leave your doubts
I'll hold you up and be your way out
And if we burn away I'll pray the skies above
For snow to fall on the Sahara
Just a wish and I will cover your shoulders
With veils of silk and gold
When the darkness comes and darkened your heart
Leaving you with regrets so cold
Lost out in the desert (desert desert)
If your hopes scatter like the dust across your track
I'll be the moon that shines on your path
The sun may blind our eyes I'll pray the skies above
For snow to fall on the Sahara
If that's the only place where you can leave your doubts
I'll hold you up and be your way out
And if we burn away I'll pray the skies above
For snow to fall on the Sahara
For snow to fall on the Sahara (to fade)