It’s getting kinked somewhere, I can hear him muttering.  It’s amazing he even found the vein, the kid’s so edematous.  So wrapped up in his big procedure, Seth is, that he hasn’t even noticed that I’ve come back, much less that I had gone.  Gone to talk with Mrs. Lu.  Gone to shield her from the butchery Seth was intent on performing.

I groped for words in Mandarin, heck, even in my sorry ass Taiwanese, I was so distraught.  And she…she was hysterical.

Maybe he feels the heat of my scrutiny.  Looking up he sees that I’m still fuming.

What’s up with you?  I’ve gotta learn, he snorts.

My stare is scathing, burning holes through him.

You bastard.  You are such a bastard.

He snorts back – goes back to forcing in the guidewire.

I’m repelled, but come to think of it, I did exactly the same thing two weeks ago on the multiple gun shot wound.  But this is different.  Or is it?

I wonder if I’m overreacting.  Making a sin out of a little insensitivity on his part.

What would Rosalyn say?

Actually, I know what she would say.

You think too much.

I perk up from my trance and there he is.  Still going at it.  A fucking central line.  All for a little fucking practice.

I try to concentrate on the face in order to burn it into my memory.  To immortalize Ben as I would want to be immortalized.

The mouth is cavernous.  It beckons – rounded to an “O.”  The eyes are so proptosed.  Bulging as if to say, Why don’t you just let me die?

Ben was last here a month before.  Brought in after tumbling head first off his bike.  Probably speeding away in some passion of anger or heartbreak when he hit a bump.  Brain CT’ed, we were just observing him for a while.   He, twitching there in pain, waiting for his mom…grandma…dad…whomever, to come.  To show that they cared.

A call home for informed consent and it was found out that Ben was not living there.  A truant, he was.  The girlfriend cried over him when the nurses told them that they weren’t coming.

God, to be worshipped like that.  It makes me think of the day before I got my med school acceptance letter….late.  Sarah told me that Wren had tears in her eyes when she heard me screaming at my mom over the phone next door.  Screaming, having been screamed at by her for not getting into med school – so she thought at the time.

Is that all you ever care about?

Who said I even wanted to go to med school?

I can take care of myself.  I don’t need your money.

Wren hardly even knew me.  And yet her heart pored over me.

I miss that feeling.  To be cried over.  Actually, it was the same thing with Sarah when we first started out.  She had fallen in love with my suffering.  My martyrdom.

Maybe  I do think too much.  See myself in other people.  See associations that don’t exist.  Sure, we are complicated creatures.  And individuals, at the very least.  I know that.  Sure, I hardly even knew him.  But Ben and I – we are kindred spirits.  I’m almost certain of it.  To think Audrey Hepburn is a babe. (Well, maybe it was Ingrid Bergman for him.)  To dream of previously unimagined worlds and existences, to the forlorn strains of bossa nova. Maybe, it ached.  His whole body ached to memorialize the poetry of his life on paper.  Maligned by the masses.  Laughed at.  Scorned.  We would always be misunderstood.  Like the daydreamers and revolutionaries that perished before us.

Well, this time…today, Ben Lu would be carried out of the ER and I would be standing there…alive…a sell-out.

Somehow he had lept off the pier without being seen.  Swam out as far as he oculd go, not sparing any energy for the return.

Don’t they have lifeguards or something?

It must have been something though.  At the mouth of the river, bridgeheads overlooking the lake in grandeur.  Morning light from cracks in the sky.  The spires of Navy Pier.  A swan dive against the background of a downtown skyline.

Meanwhile, battleships – the clouds edge above.

My shift is done.  The body lays in a bag on its way to the morgue.  I step out and there is Rosalyn waving me from triage.

For blocks we walk without a word.

Train wreck today? she pipes up as we’re crossing Pauline.

A few more steps we trudge.  The feet are heavy, the mind is numb.

Why are you with me?

She semi-circles around, eyes quizzical, sparks raining down on her from the tracks above.

You know?  I squint as my head is throbbing.  Today, I came across someone who did what I could never finish.

I wipe my eyes as she’s getting blurry.  Hard, I am trying to hold them back, but the tears are just streaming, obscuring everything.  Stoplights, taillights.  They’re all running onto  slick pavement like watercolors.

Yeah, sure I’m happy now.  Or so I think I am.  But I’m a failure.

Cars are beginning to pileup over on Harrison.  An occasional pedestrian glances at us curiously.

I mean, look at me.

Look at me, through sniffles.

Steam is enshrouding her from a grate behind.  Toxic is the smell.

I once thought I knew what I was living for.  Or at least living against.

Now I don’t even know what I am.

Rosalyn obviously doesn’t know what I’m talking about.  She’s looking sweet and embarassed.

There he goes again.  Beating himself up.  Silly, sentimental…melodramatic fool, she is thinking.  My Jim.

Come over here, her arms call out to me.

She enfolds me and I’m bathed in this warm space between her heart and a tight leather jacket.

No words pass between us as she is rocking me in her arms, cooing at me and I’m even more convinced that she doesn’t understand.  And that bothers me a bit.  But, it’s over anyhow, I realize.

Tomorrow, next week, next month.  She will tire of me and my melancholy.  As residual as it may be.  As much of a shell, my deep sadness is of its former glory, it will sicken her.  And yet it’s this habit that I haven’t been able to shake since high school.




These are the words I am mumbling as her head rests on mine, my face buried in her armpit.  She’s probably thinking how queer it is, but she doesn’t dare call me on it in my throes of grief.  For brooding is beautiful for so long.  And then there is this instinct to breathe, this struggle to live that takes over.  This I am thinking as a couple passes arm in arm and the cars inch along.  As the El train rattles by once more and as the downtown lights share the sky with the stars, burning brightly as they’ve done since the beginning of time.


Jim Tsuiki Lai

University of Illinois College of Medicine