“I hate my mother,” my daughter declared as we drove to the hospital. “She’s never going to get better.” She hadn’t seen her mother in over four months. There had been plans but it was always one thing or another. Or one thing after another. That’s the way it is with alcoholics. Time moves on for those on the outside. For the alcoholic, times loses meaning, as they slide deeper into addiction and desperation. Which leads to more drinking. And illness. I didn’t blame my daughter for her outburst. Nor did I correct her. It was the most she’d said on the subject since the last visit. The car rumbled through the soggy Texas hills . . .
It was dark when we arrived at the hospital. The lobby was deserted. The reception desk was abandoned. Unarmed, I amped-up my situational awareness. I asked a passerby for directions and found our way to my ex-wife’s room. A board on the wall illustrated her pain level with a selection of faces, ranging from happy to hurting. Someone circled the poker face in the middle. Judging from the actual patient, the choice seemed optimistic. The word “morphine” on the board provided an explanation.
As we entered a technician drew two vials of blood from my ex-wife’s arm. My daughter was non-plussed. She accepted her gift shop gifts with equanimity, without enthusiasm. As my ex-wife and her daughter talked, as the emotional atmosphere stabilized, my daughter spent a lot of time mugging at me. She was affirming the link that she never had to question, but did anyway.
Anyway, it was good to see the two of them together.
A pair of nurses arrived with a portable X-ray machine. My daughter and I waited outside my ex-wife’s room by the nurses’ station. While my daughter filled out a get-well card I’d bought for her at Walgreen’s, a dark-haired nurse motioned at my empty holster, which I’d somehow exposed.
“I hate guns,” she said, daring me to defend my right to keep and bear arms.
I pulled my shirt over the empty Kydex container.
“I hate hospitals,” I replied.
“Guns hurt people.”
I resisted the urge to say “so do hospitals.” If she was so close-minded about guns she was probably unwilling to acknowledge the malpractice haunting the halls surrounding her pod. But I wasn’t going to let her remark go completely unchallenged.
“People hurt people.”
The nurse took a deep breath in and let it out slowly.
“And sometimes people hurt themselves.”
I was surprised that she was so forward. Did she read the guilt on my face? Or was it always this way for family members caught in the cacophonous crossfire of addiction? I found the second question profoundly depressing. I turned to my daughter and praised her writing.
Later, as the three of us sat in the atrium sharing a couple of sandwiches, a young man in scrubs stood a few feet away. He looked up at the ceiling, some five stories overhead. At first I thought he was talking to someone on a balcony. I soon realized he was delusional. And mobile. He paced back and forth like a polar bear in a zoo.
“Don’t look at him,” my ex-wife counseled my curious daughter.
I did, deciding that the napkin holder would make a reasonable improvised weapon. I kept my eye on him, and thought about her comment.
Why wouldn’t you look at a man who might do you harm? Because looking at him might encourage him to make contact, and contact could lead to confrontation, and confrontation could lead to violence. But averting your eyes is no solution either. If he is going to attack you want to see him coming.
Alcoholics avert their eyes from . . . everything. The drink saves them from having to confront bad things in the past and the possibility, the inevitability of bad things in the future. And the more they escape into drug-addled denial the less they want to see what’s in front of their face. Or what’s behind them. Planning for events – good or bad – becomes a bridge too far.
One of the reasons I like carrying a gun: it encourages me to scan my world for trouble. I like being alert. As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I’m predisposed to it. By the same token, scanning for trouble forces me to value the times when trouble’s nowhere to be found. I reckon you can’t relax if you’ve never really been scared. Make that wary.
More than that, carrying a gun is a constant reminder of my responsibilities. It reminds me that no matter how I feel about myself, no matter what I’m going through, I have an obligation to protect innocent life. I don’t know why. I just do. It’s a duty that applies to the people I love. And the people I don’t love. And people I used to love.
When we got back in the car, I removed my Wilson from the glove box and reholstered. Lola handed me the spare magazine. She didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to.