There’s a little blue flash that goes off in your head. It’s similar to that which you see after someone’s surprised you with a camera and your eyes squint against the blinding light, but this wasn’t the case. What just happened? Oh yeah, someone just punched me in the face.
I actually caught it at the very edge of my vision and for a moment that lasted less then a second I understood what was about to happen– I even said it to myself. Why can’t the brain react quicker than comprehension? Maybe if I had grown up studying karate or Buddhism my body would have taken over control, but I’m not versed in the Eastern arts.
Daily was screaming, “what the fuck?!?” somewhere on the outer stretches of the universe but I was just standing there staring without seeing. It didn’t hurt but my head felt stuffed with cotton as my brain rattled back and forth through molasses. Thoughts swam slowly to the surface and I reached up to my temple where blood met my fingers. This was confirmed a second later by my friend who magically produced a rag and pressed it to the wound. I looked around and saw no one, certainly not the person who just cold-cocked me. The two kids who had been standing there, ostensibly listening to the manic rantings this act of violence had interrupted, shuffled off in the distance. They seemed to have been caught off guard like me.
People walked up as I stood there holding a rag to my head, blood running down my face. I noticed my tooth wasn’t completely there. Probed with my tongue and it was broken. A stranger walked up asking if I was okay and I said I was alright, grinning– sucks about the tooth tho. Someone else walked up asked if I was alright, there was some screaming in the direction of wherever whoever had disappeared.
The first stranger was talking a million miles an hour, a million miles away. “That guy’s been up and down the street screaming for the last hour. I’m so sorry about your tooth. Are you alright? Can you get home?” Daily was already steering me in that direction, trying to take the six pack from under my arm. How did I not drop that? How did I not drop myself? The stranger was sincere but I wasn’t sure how to deal with him, just wanted him to go away. I assured him I was okay, trying to end this ceaseless chatter; he eventually wandered off in a state of excitement. I guess I’ve seen things happen that have wound me up before, so I couldn’t really wish him ill. He was trying to be nice, to do the right thing.
Daily couldn’t get the gate to open so he handed me his keys and I worked the lock. Up the stairs, into the apartment, put the beer away. Daily got my roommate and his girlfriend out of their room, telling them what had just happened. My other roommate, her boyfriend and their friend got me a clean rag and talked about stitches. I smiled at them with my broken tooth. My roommate’s girlfriend left to get her car and I drained what whiskey was left in my flask. I looked at myself in the mirror, smiled at myself.
Clustered in the gateway waiting for the car one of the local hard luck cases came up, hand outstretched, asking how our evening was going. I smiled at her, blood smeared down my face, and told her I’d had better nights. She looked at me incomprehensibly, hand still out, and lingered for another moment until it became obvious no one was gonna give her anything. My ride showed up and we went to the ER.
First I insisted on trying to go to urgent care as my insurance has suggested this is where I go. The sign on the door had a phone number but the security guard indicated we could just go across the street to the hospital. The guards there flipped switches and opened electronic doors. The waiting room was dimly lit and full of sick people. An admissions nurse took a look at me and I smiled for him. He said they couldn’t do anything about my tooth but they could do stitches.
I met another nurse who looked at me then started getting paperwork together, typing on her computer. Instead of bothering with explaining my name and everything I tried to give her my insurance card but I kept losing it in my wallet or handing her the wrong one. My head was still fuzzy, which at least kept me from feeling any pain. The bleeding had mostly slowed down. She asked if I’d been in a fight and I told her what had happened. She wrote down ‘assault’ on my admissions paper. It looked so foreign. We estimated a time and called it 10:30, then I was sent into another room where the admissions nurse took my blood pressure and asked what had happened. For the first time in memory I didn’t spazz out as the device tightened around my arm. My blood pressure was fine.
Back in the waiting room we waited. I had my picture taken on an iPhone so friends could see what I was up to. We cracked jokes and looked over pamphlets about how to make the most of your hospital visit. My roommate got me an icepack because he said my eye was swelling up and we played with that. People went to smoke or get drinks– I didn’t really feel like either.
Daily worked on his presentation scheduled for the next day but eventually had to get some sleep. Everyone left, asking if I needed anything brought back. I suggested a book, but as soon as they had gone I started thinking about leaving myself. A family came in, two older Russians, their six-year-old girl with a SARS mask on, and their teenaged daughter. Okay, so I ogled the teenaged daughter but she didn’t look as impressed as intrigued. The little girl was brought back with one of the parents, the other parent went to watch The Nanny in the corner and the teenager waited for a minute until it became clear they needed translation.
Nurses wheeled out a person of unidentifiable sexual characteristics. Old, yes, and unhappy. The person specifically had them wheel the chair directly across from where I sat, and was left to stare at a wall. There was some coughing and a large clear plastic bag I sincerely hoped would not be used for anything. Other people came and went but I don’t really remember anything about them, I just know I could see me through their eyes. Oh, there’s a tough guy who bit off more than he could chew. The fact that I had a little whiskey on my breath probably didn’t help matters.
My roommate and his girlfriend came back and we lingered for a while. I checked in with the admissions nurse to see how likely it would be that a doctor could see me anytime soon. I was given a bleak situation with number of patients larger than rooms. I asked him if the stitches were really necessary and he didn’t seem to think so. Of course, he also had told me earlier that he had chipped a tooth once and filed it down himself. Should I stay? He said that personally he would wait all night for a tetanus shot. Okay then.
We sat for another five minutes, or ten or an hour. My sense of time was a little off, but I know it was closer to three than two. The admissions nurse called me back behind the counter and explained he’d spoken with a doctor and been cleared to give me the shot. I thanked him profusely, promised to keep moving my arm, and we split.
It’s been weeks. I still don’t feel comfortable walking around so I went back to my parents house and reclaimed my bike from the cobwebs and dust of the garage. Probably not a bad move anyway– three other people I know from work joined me in May’s month of being hit. They were all robbed, tho, and fared worse than me. I was just walking down the street talking with a friend. That talking is probably is why I chipped my tooth, by the way.
My brain won’t let go, although it has become less hyperactive. I search for some reason but can only come up with horrific movie cliches. Was I mistaken for some sort of police informant? Did whoever hit me think I was someone else who he had a grudge with? Is it really just a case of wrong place wrong time? Daily said that if he had cut in front of the guy and I had cut behind it would have been him I was sitting with in the hospital. The first stranger suggested he had been up and down the street ranting. When I first passed him he was definitely pumped up and moving erratically. But my brain still searches for reason and the only possible reasons are all bad.
Would it be better if I had seen him? Searching for his face every time I was going somewhere, looking in windows, always watchful. Probably not, but at least then I wouldn’t feel sketched out every time I saw someone around my size, maybe a little bling, maybe a little hip-hop. Would he recognize me? When I’m laying in bed trying to fall asleep I sometimes have a memory of that one instant where I recognized, just barely, that I was about to be hit. I know people have been through worse– hell I’ve seen worse. I’ve had knives pulled on me, and I’ve been surrounded by kids with bats while someone’s little brother tried to get me worked up, I’ve had guys come up from behind me trying to jack me. I’ve walked by a crime-scene at night only to find out the next day it was my neighbor laying dead on the sidewalk, and I walked by the same time the next night. I’ve seen the paramedics pull a body out of a car that smashed through a bus shelter, already dead from a gunshot. But my brain still hasn’t let go of this.