We Knew What It Was By Then

by Garrett Socol

Glass doors sighed and shut, floppy wet mops dampened dirty floors, stretchers wheeled past like room service tables en route to hungry hotel guests. Under bright fluorescent lights, a middle-aged nurse in crisp white approached. She gently took my hands and quietly, solemnly said, “I’m so sorry.”
…..“Could you please increase his morphine?” I asked her. It was obvious his pain was becoming worse. The nurse nodded.
…..If was difficult to see him this way, but the difficulty wasn’t mine. He didn’t know where the gradual slide was taking him, where this vessel of sweat-soaked, urine-stained sheets would finally dock. Destination certainly not Barbados. Some of us knew where the journey would end; what we didn’t know was exactly how he would cross over from this merry-go-round gone amuck. Questions couldn’t be asked; the tour guide was on break. Drugs swimming through his barely thirty-year-old veins, it was only a matter of the enemy, a matter of time. Time made it worse, evil time. He suffered and gasped, cried out and hallucinated, struggled to stand up and escape, each day, each hour, more intensely, but with no self-pity. He was bravery personified. Only flashes of fear and occasional delirium illuminated the still boyish face.
…..The rich, limpid blue sky outside the large window wasn’t sky blue; it was azure.
But it still meant nothing. Friends stopped coming, they couldn’t bear to see him this way, a virtual skeleton with protruding bones under a thin layer of flesh, his arms a virtual kaleidoscope of blacks and blues and yellows from needles that plunged into his veins searching for blood. His body had become one giant side effect from the experimental drugs that were desperately trying but miserably failing, a barely living organism equipped with a T-cell count of exactly two when it should have been in the three digit range.
…..He was still the sweetest, most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, eyes as gloriously blue as the Atlantic, teeth white as the Swiss Alps. I couldn’t leave because he was still fighting day fighting night fighting dusk fighting dawn fighting morning fighting afternoon and all the moments in between, fighting but never complaining, though the battle was ostensibly lost and the war was heading toward its inexorable conclusion. No peace treaty, no compromise. Sleep was a gift, but a fleeting, turbulent, constantly interrupted one. He was still holding on, though the train had arrived at the last station.
…..What do you do when you’ve given up, but the nightmare hasn’t ended?
…..1988. We knew what it was by then.
…..We knew what to expect.

Garrett Socol’s debut collection of short stories, Gathered Here Together, will be published by Ampersand Books in December 2011. Coincidentally, his first novel, a wildly comic ride called Fame & Madness In America, will be released the same month by Casperian Books.


Comments are closed.