Here in a Valley Low (2)

The hospital is a dockyard for the drowning.

Those on the waters are laid upon wheeled vessels, and disappear down long well lit winds. Those at the edge of shore send off the ships with as much courage as each can muster. But they now know what manner of creatures swim in that sea.

Everyone looks at each other as though they are trying to be the last happy memory. Everyone looks at each other as though for the only time. Everyone looks at each other not knowing how.

The hospital is private and Catholic. So it has money. There are renovations being done in the old building, new wings shine down taped off hallways. At any time you are subject to get kicked off an elevator for a patient on a gurney, or a construction guy with a palette of drywall. So many sections of the hospital are closed off, that sometimes you get off on a floor and find yourself on the outside of where you need to be.

Entering elevators begins to make you uneasy. They become rockets to divorced moons.

The surgery recovery ward is a fishbowl of motion. RN’s (this hospital can afford them) drag bulky portable computer stations from room to room. Patients float down halls, not sure what to expect from their next step. Self assured doctors lead clipboard underlings by invisible tether. Technicians fight to summon some sense of urgency, for every thousandth end of days alarm of the day.

Everyone is handcuffed to an unwanted cellmate. Everyone is watching someone else’s show.

The small rooms with beds allow only curtained memories. No one is capable of a full narrative. Days can be sliced into stills. A pained face here. Some type of spurting liquid there. A lightbulb or moon that waivers between frame. People hurrying. People in stolen repose.

In this small collection of boxes is every version of the scene when we are waiting, when we sometimes have to go, and when we sometimes get to stay. It only makes sense that the collective conscious gravitates from phosphor lit flashbulb moments, to a manageable hazy mean.

My sister faces all of these things with the demeanor of a wounded war medic. She asks the right questions while swimming a morphine drip. She is ridiculously patient with the ridiculous worries of others. But she would hate me saying anything, so I’ll leave it at that.



People bumble in and out of the patients rooms in the columned breathing space of set schedules. They either acknowledge you or they don’t.

Courtesy in a hospital these days is the iceberg tip. A thousand things have to align: not having all your qualified RN’s in a ward laid off and replaced by cheaper people who either give less of a shit, or don’t know enough when to; not overstocking patients, regardless of fit for your facility, to maximize insurance profit; a goddamn livable wage; free parking. So many things have to happen to allow a human being who works at a hospital the requisite energy to remember to say hello (this one can afford it).

Most facilities, you fall slowly in love with those that give you anything.

And so I am falling slowly in love with the woman who comes in to sterilize the room and turn it over for the next patient. There is an uncle/cousin/brother/sister/aunt/friend who falls deeply in love with this woman in every room she has to enter in this place. Every time. Every day.

To make it worse (for her) she is stunning. She is tall with tightly spun yarn hair. Her body has a casual but explosive muscularity. As she pilots through space, the threat hangs, that the drab hugs and curves of her uniform will shatter into fractions of nothing. She talks in a Slavic-ian-ish-? accent. Not Russia, but around. Her voice has the slightly buried nasal quality of someone who can’t hear. She is self conscious when she uses it.



Her eyes are weary, but everyone’s eyes are weary here. Her eyes are weary but not tied to this place. She has no investment, it’s just another shit job we spend our lives doing. Her reasons for paying bills and rent and driving old cars in winters are outside this room. Outside this building. Where her body can flex and roll. And not need to be some other’s way they think it should.

And that is probably why everyone has a crush on her. She mirrors a common well for sorrows, but remains a road trip from your own particular property fire.

We talk, really, only once. In a rare moment when no one else is in the room. A small green lighter and a crumpled foil gum wrapper spill out of her pocket onto the floor before me as she moves by. I reach to hand it to her, but she beats me there.

Now you know I smoke.

She says softly. I shrug and remember the countless jobs and buildings I would rather fill my lungs with all the smoke anywhere, everywhere, than spend five minutes of my free time in.

Now I know you chew gum.

I offer. She returns half a smile. She points to the empty bed.

Your family?

My sister.

Ah, it is a hard thing.


I say because I can’t think. She has turned toward me, as any human does in conversation, but I can’t help but be struck by it. Struck by the break in spacing. Struck by the turn of the lines.



It occurs to me that in this room we are all astronauts looking down at the Earth. That in this room we see endings. And endings encapsulate people, they put a shape to the whole of a life. There are no goodbyes but death, every other one continues the timeline of that person. Leaves open the possibility of return. And for most humans a possibility is more an assumption. Of course I’ll see you again.

Until you don’t. When a person dies, especially right before you, you can see the cumulation of their works as a whole entity. A complete body in space. It floats before you as if you were its moon. And like any complete work you can question the swirling paths, the boundaries and territories created by our principles and designs, or whatever the particular lines that we all abide.

In those moments the world snaps. You will look out a window, and a stop-light will be a blinking float. When you return to your job, it will seem an odd way to spend time.

Everything in the lab where the world often breaks has to be spotless. Everyone has to flow in formation. Follow a hierarchy of decision and division of space. So when chaos comes, you can kind of tell what’s not.

This beautiful woman turned toward me a few feet from where I sit. Where her small green lighter landed. She should be six feet back. In the doorframe. Saying have a good night before turning to go.

Where she is standing now, lightly tracing her porcelain arm, I’ve never heard her say a word. For four days. I’ve never seen her face in this light and frame. Never felt the weight of her near. Never waded in the sweet and sour of her everyday.

I have two boys.

That face says. I am staring at this poor woman’s face. I don’t know how long I have been staring at this poor woman’s face.


My brain decides to say. To be fair, I couldn’t think of anything better.

A flash of dismay passes her brow. I wonder briefly if she ever actually gets to talk to anyone in this place. This starlet of escape in the land of emotional woe.

She gathers herself and steps back to the doorway.

You have a really good evening.

And walks out to the hallway, pausing, for a doctor with their head in some charts, to pass.


I see her a few more times before my sister checks out. She continues to say hello and have a good night when she breaks the light from the doorframe. She looks me straight in the eyes every time. And every time, I let myself linger in hers.