The Serenes

September 12, 2014

“Hi, I’m Amber,” the young woman said, smiling and showing big teeth and holding an electric razor in her right hand, pushing up her eyeglasses with her left.

“What is that for,” I asked.

“I’m here to shave your groin.”

She might as well have said, “I’m here to dip your ‘boys’ in ice water,” for it had the same effect. My boys retreated in fear. Amber the groin shaver pulled up my hospital gown, put one gloved hand on the boys, to keep them from getting nicked, and shaved me until I looked like a porn star.

How do I know what a porn star looks like? Wikipedia.

To her credit, the young woman was as utterly respectful as I was undignified, horrified, stupefied. The cardio lab people were working on a large robot (so I imagined) which was going to snarf me into its womb, but Amber just swiped that hair from off my pudenda and I watched it float lazily in the air like, well—Amber waves of groin.

To all of you who knew this was going to happen and didn’t tell me (“they ain’t gonna put the catheter in your penis, Gene”), so I relaxed because you all lied to me, and then watched in horror as three different nurses moved the boys and taped them down, patted the boys and covered them with a towel as small as a napkin, and someone said, “That oughtta do it,” may you all get your groins shaved in a public place of my choosing.

And Sister Sister, in traditional nun garb with white tennis shoes and draped in a smock decorated like a day care garment, pranced around me and said, “I’m here for you.” She held my hand through the procedure, and kept asking, “Anything you want?”

I said, “Gin and tonic,” and she said, “Oh, we don’t allow that,” and the staff was silently snickering. Nuns, it seems, are literal, which is curious because they wear wedding rings signifying marriage to Outer Space.

The number one question put to me for forty-eight hours: “Did you have a bowel movement?”

Reader, I was determined to crawl to the bathroom if necessary. My bedside table had a urinal and a bedpan, and these implements taunted me. Men have been taunted by urinals since the Civil War, when the urinals were made of hand blown glass. I was prepared to have a heart attack rather than try to pee in front of Nurse Jenny.

After the procedure, during which I learned I have cardiovascular disease, who comes up and fist bumps me, but Amber. Who was the first visitor in my room? Amber. Whose eyes were liquid and serene and caring? Amber.

Whose eyes were shifty and full of mirth? Farmer Orville, watching the dedicated nurse trainee and winking at me.

“There are times a man wants his groin messed with and times he don’t.”

In the wee hours before the procedure, I paced up and down the hall, until I came to a large photograph of a line of American white pelicans, perched along Scotch Jimmy Island on the Mississippi River, near where I live. I stopped and mediated, and a hand came from behind and took hold of my left hand.

A Sister of Mercy, petite and utterly happy, moved to my side and we held hands. “It will be all right,” she said, her voice like harp strings. She had no idea who I was or what I was thinking about. “Tell me about these birds. What do your tattoos signify?”

By the time I answered the question, I forgot where I was. I loved this woman with all my heart. She was the epitome of love.

A cardio tech named Charles, a six foot six skinny black man, took my other hand and led me into the operating room. “I had this,” Charles said. “When I was forty. You will be fine. I was addicted to chasing women and smoking and drinking before my heart kicked me. Now I just chase women.”

It was a river: the Sister of Mercy to Charles to Nurse Becky to Amber to my cardio doc, Rama, to Sister Sister back to Amber to Nurse Jenny and on to my good friend Orville. I was held in orbit by these conductors’ smiles, on one of the worst days of my life.

This morning, D-Rama said, “This was something over which you had no control. This was genetics. Your Genehouse walk, you call it? You were going to have a heart attack and lie on a road in panic, possibly die. Your life has changed forever.”

I can thank my father for that—a final parting gift from a man who brutalized me when I was a kid.

And now I’m back home, three naps later, looking out the window at three mourning doves, perched on the clothesline above the finch feeder and night closing in, Scout the cat curled up in the chair in the corner and watching me, Reba the farm dog having sniffed my groin wound and Orville plied me with the last of the tomatoes.

Darkness descends.

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