"Do you smoke?"
"Not cigarettes, not anymore." I quit tobacco in January. Again. This is something I have to explain. One thing I don't like about hospitals and doctors is that there are too many things to explain. Things that make other people squirm.
Things that sometimes still make me squirm.
I recount how I started smoking at 11, quit at 21 for five years, then began a cycle of not smoking a few years, then smoking again, and back and forth. His head comes up sharply when I say "11", but he recovers quickly by making pen motions over the page.
"I do smoke pot," I tell him, when I've finished my tobacco history. He's written "twenty five years." I can't see what he's written, but I see the number in his mind. I see, too, his doctor training. How he stops from looking past the information, into the many judgments he could make about me. I am glad he does that. I instantly warm to him. Maybe a little too much.
I know he will not reach the "right" judgment, and that is, the one I believe to be true. He has such little information about me. And too much of it is tainted by what I suspect is a fetish for large breasts. Even having read my chart, he does not know enough about me to reach the "right" conclusion, or judgment. And it matters to me, suddenly, that he reach the right conclusions.
I know that I am attracted to him because I feel in my groin an ache that I have lived with for as long as I can remember. It is a manifestation of my feeling that I am separated from men, and from the love of men. That I am unlovable, because my father abandoned me when I was a child. This is the feeling that accompanies desire for me. This is the ache I used to mistake for love.
It is this ache that I believe is the reason I have been bleeding for the last six years. It is because of this ache, I believe, that I have to have surgery in ten days. It is mostly because of this ache that I have had more sexual partners than anyone I know that isn't a hooker, porn star, or promiscuous gay man. And mostly before I was fifteen. Mostly before I gave myself my first orgasm.
"Okay, how much pot do you smoke?" He is embarrassed by my direct admission. Or surprised. He flutters through my chart and suppresses a smile.
The ache melts into a kind of tingling warmth that radiates outward through my whole body. A part of me that I think of as the Terminator brain kicks in. A list of possibilities that feeds through my brain at every interaction. A list of choices in a drop down format. This is part of the attraction apparatus. Attraction, for me, is really about "more intense than usual" curiosity.
The information feed has started. At this point I am certain that I will entertain thoughts about sex with this man. Suddenly every previous observation has become important.
I have just been freshly measured at 5' 6, and he is shorter than I am. I know that this bothers him a little, but not too much, and never when he has white coat on. This man's god is death. The great equalizer, who comes to princes and magnates as well as poets and coal miners. Death is no respecter of persons.
I think for some medical healers the magick of medicine is what draws them. But for others it is a way to live in a world where all humans are the same. My foray through this hospital, especially because it is a teaching hospital with a very poor clientele, has taught me a lot about doctors. And what kind of people become doctors. This man is one of the kinds of people that become doctors that I like.
"I can't really afford to buy it," I explain about my weed habit. "But often people will give me a pinch, and I smoke a little every day if I can."
He is watching me with a genuine and unguarded smile. He is very appealing. In a few minutes he is going to have stethoscope in between my breasts and I take a little breath to absorb that now so that I won't when it happens. I've learned to anticipate and thwart the longing, but not the loss of balance. I know it is coming though, and even where and how it will erupt.
I frame his face carefully and I let the shutter snap on his smile, his eyes looking right into mine. I will be able to absorb a lot of knowledge about him, and perhaps more importantly, what he finds attractive about me, from this mental photograph later.
"Actually, right now my friend-- well, two friends, rather-- are giving me brownies, and I've been eating those." I know I am babbling, but I am out of control at this point. "Should I stop? Should I just eat or smoke? I've been doing both every day. I could do one or the other, or even stop until after the surgery."
I've now journeyed past babbling into TMI. I will, from this point forward until I regain control, go galloping widely through a random and probably too revealing land of peripheral information about me.
"You know I can't advise you about that," he admonishes me. He nearly clucks in disapproval. There is a definite disapproving, guttural sound in the back of his throat.
The reins of control-almost in my grasp-fly away, far out of reach. But I am momentarily suspended in silence. Behind that statement lies a judgment. I wait, still and silent, to see what shows up on the drop down list. The list is compiled by different parts of me that have lived different lives, and often in widely disparate-- even conflicting-- circumstances.
As a writer I enjoy this part of myself. As a babbling, incoherent patient in a teaching hospital, in a small (and suddenly rather warm) room with a cute anesthesiologist, I do not so much like this part of me. For one thing, it seems that my inner 13 year old runaway is in charge at the moment.
She is the one that caused team control to lose it. She is the source of many of the squirming answers and uncomfortable admissions I have to make openly and honestly in order to get the proper medical treatment. She really hates hospitals and doctors, and she has a big chip on her shoulder about really nice, cute, middle class guys who go to college and become something respectable, like a doctor.
Nice, middle class, respectable, cute guys were her worst humiliations. They used her for sex, like other men did, but would never openly acknowledge her- or if they did they would blame her for their own out of control transgressions and desires.
The doctor is not like this. This is obvious to all the parts of me, even the lost street girl. In fact, I think my chart was probably somewhat painful for him to read. Something that is confirmed later in the language he uses when asking me to confirm certain situations in my past. He has a kind heart.
But the little runaway is powerful. And she has had a lot of time and prompting to emerge today, between the long wait at the hospital and also on the journey here.
It is an incredibly long and tedious bus ride to the hospital-- a ride through the biggest and best trash dumps and landfills in the country, and some of the most unhealthy industrial neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Neighborhoods that are very similar to those that I lived in when I was a runaway out here in 1979.
And on the bus another man had looked at me with an unguarded and admiring smile. A man that belonged to the world of my runaway days.
He'd hit my radar before he sat down. He was the wrong build and age for me to be interested in him, but I knew him straight away. And I knew he would be interested in me. I'd met him many, many times before.
I knew that he'd gotten out of prison within the last three months. I knew he had been in some sort of car or motorcycle accident and had a pin in his leg. I'd felt it when he'd walked by. Heard the slight drag in the left leg; the way the resonance of the blood, muscle, and bone had been disrupted as he walked.
I was wearing my sparkly LOVE t-shirt. In retrospect not a good choice. There were several vencinos along the bus route where streetwalkers could be seen plying their trade. I really needed a sign that said "not a hooker" the way a chick with curved belly fat needs a sign that says "not pregnant." You're pretty sure, but it would be nice to have a clearly spelled out sign.
Like the doctor it would be close to impossible for Ex-con to come to the correct judgment about me. And I was too aware of him. The bus had been alternately really full and mostly full. A lot of people had been getting on and off. I'd paid attention to none of them. Until now. And I am still not able to veil my interest in this type of man. Not completely. Not yet.
Ex-con's butt had barely touched his seat before he was mentally crawling all over me. I have developed a "recognition and response" protocol. Ex-con is too familiar to me not to feel a reaction to his interest. Also, to the teenage runaway, a man like this would have been protection (from other men like him) and social connections-- and possibly food, cash, drugs, cigarettes, and somewhere to sleep.
In the past, this man's interest would have been a valuable commodity. And for most of my life any interest from any man soothed the ache of longing I seemed to always feel. I needed male attention so much, and I so lacked in boundaries (both emotional, and now I realise too, psychic) and esteem for myself that I would often end up with predators because of that need.
No man needs a woman more than a rapist does. My need for male attention made me a beacon. A flashing neon light.
Ex-con is nuzzling my neck. I can almost feel him. His desire is almost strong enough to make him astrally project. Men who have been in prison frequently need touch more than sex. They need to be held. They need softness. And often they are incapable of intimacy other than sex.
Not just because of prison, but because of the kind of men they are. A lot of cops cannot express affection or tenderness. It's too "soft". Macho men on either side of the law or society are more afraid of their feelings than anything else. They are not afraid of physical violence,or unhappiness, or stress, or hate, or pain, or loosing their freedom. But they are terrified of intimacy, love, forgiveness. And then in the case of prisoners, they are all locked up together, making each other "tougher", angrier.
I can almost smell prison on the men who have been there. It leaves a tangible mark. Sometimes even after many years, the scent lingers.
More than my breasts, or sex, or maybe even a blowjob (maybe), this man wants to kiss my throat and touch the back of my neck, and the soft hair there. I will not qualify these observations with "I believe" or "I think". I know this to be true. I am more certain of it than I am that the sun will rise tomorrow. I would bet whatever money I had on it, if there were a way to race it.
Ex-con has said hello to me, and despite his sunglasses, I can see that look. The million dollar look. The look I used to spend all of my time searching for-- or trying to create or manipulate into existence.
I give him my own look: a raised eyebrow, bored, stern, accompanied by the "I can NOT believe that this here man is speaking to me from his little head? What is he thinking? Oh HELL no!" sneering sigh.
But I don't get up and move. I pretend to sleep and surreptitiously lap up his attention. His desire is ferocious and respectful, if disappointed and a little sulky. I know that he will carry me with him for awhile. I will be taken out and examined frequently for a few days, maybe a week. I might have even hastened a trip to a massage parlour, or an ex-girlfriend.
The ex-con on the bus will examine me much more thoroughly than I will examine the good doctor. But I file the snapshot of doctor's smiling face for future study, and continue my babbling and extraneous confessions through the rest of his questions.
I am mostly silent as the doctor moves the stethoscope over my chest, his left hand resting on my right shoulder, his fingertips just grazing the skin on my neck, trapping a few soft hairs. I speak only as he shifts, so that I do not feel too strongly his sensitive fingertips rolling those hairs over my skin.
Is this irony or karma, I wonder?
When he reaches over me to place the stethoscope on the side of my left breast, part of his hand resting nonchalantly on the outer curve, I am worse than the vampire on the bus. I breathe every bit of him in, including his wedding ring. I could probably tell you his wife's name; I most certainly could tell you his favourite position.
I am here in this hospital because I have never been able to negotiate a nurturing relationship with men sexually or romantically. I have allowed many men to use me for their own needs at the expense of my safety, and of my health and welfare.
I finally catch up again with galloping runaways. I have come to the root of both my discomfort and my attraction. I can separate them now.
In most situations where I am uncomfortable with myself it is because I have allowed another person to matter more than myself. I have allowed either a real or projected opinion about me to cancel my loving and accepting feelings for myself.
Whatever this doctor actually thinks about me I cannot let it throw me off balance. Not even for a second. The ache eases, the pressure is off, the runaways are under control again.
It occurs to me suddenly that he might think I am from the hospital board or some sort of "checker". He has listed the protocol for each thing he has done. ("I'm washing my hands before we begin." "I need to make sure you understand these instructions." "You know I can't advise you about that.")
So maybe he doesn't think I am trying to manipulate the system or instigate a lawsuit. That I am not some grifting, biker chick with a neck brace attorney on retainer. My suspicions about other people are usually fed from my own criminal history. My past is laced heavily with guilt.
"Even though you haven't had sex in while, I will need to run a blood pregnancy test. And we need your blood count. You will have to go the lab after this." He smiles apologetically.
"I know you been patient," he says, misunderstanding my look. "It won't take long. The lab is fast."
It's not that. "I have tiny, rolling veins, and I haven't had any water since I got here." Four hours without liquids. I've had to have blood taken from my thigh when needles had ruined both my arms and hands. There should be a plebotomy award for drawing my blood.
He is extra concerned and alert. He definitely thinks I am spy. "Did they tell you not to eat or drink before this appointment? Because that was incorrect." Papers are rattled in my chart, looking for the evidence of this heinous crime.
"No, no." I make a referee movement with my hands to stop him searching further. "I have to ride the bus and it takes so long to get here. Then when I did get here I was always worried that if I left and went down to the vending machines I would miss my name being called."
He looks genuinely amused. He turns to the computer. "I have to check your labs from the last visit really quick, I need to do that."
He flips around some screens to a DOS looking page filled with numbers and codes. He pauses and turns around, holding out his hand to me.
"I want to shake your hand," he says, smiling. "You are the most honest person I have ever met."
We shake hands.
"People say that to me a lot," I tell him. "Why did you say that."
He starts laughing. "Because you were so honest 'yes, I smoke pot and I will take it any way I can get it. ' " He quotes me, still laughing. "Then you said the truth about why you didn't drink any water."
He is smiling and looking at me with that admiring puppy dog look again. My head swoons.
I'm in love with him for the next five or so minutes.
"Are you going to be my anesthesiologist?" I ask him before I leave.
"I might be, why?"
"I read that people are very sensitive to subconscious suggestions when they are under. So while I am under I want you to talk about how I am going to be a millionaire after this operation is over."
"Where did you hear that... you won't remember anything... not even subconsciously... that's not true...." Blah, blah, blah, western medicine speak.
It was a nice crush while it lasted.