Mike has this thing for greeting cards. Whenever we needed to get one for a birthday, anniversary, Christmas, mothers’/fathers’ day, etc., he would go out and pick out a small bundle and then come home with a big grin and show me each one with their little quips and jokes appropriate enough to tell a stranger’s grandparents. He has a small stockpile of unused greeting cards in the top drawer of our desk that he references to see if he has already chosen the perfect one. If not, he would go and buy more, only adding to the stash.
I do not share his adoration of those three dollar sentences in paper. In fact, I sort of loathe them. The jokes are always cheesy and make me frown instead of laugh. In order to find one that is kind of all right, you have to go through every single one of hundreds. I’ve gotten more paper cuts from greeting cards than anything else, so there is a danger element. The sweet words are never what I actually want to say and always sound forced, contrived, stuffy, and worn.
Never the less, over the years, if Mike and I had a fight or I just felt like being nice, I’d get him a card. Then I’d end up writing a book around the words that the company chose for me, spiraling and bending with little arrows explaining without words this sentence ends over there actually. I have two many words to express, almost always. I’d much rather make my own card or write a letter. I once made my friend Sarah a whole newsletter.
However, as it turned out, I did not bring along my whole arts and crafts station to Dartmouth, so I stood in one of the gift shops trying my damndest to find a card that I found to be cute enough in some manner to actually purchase.
I stared at the cards, picking one out at a time with thumb and forefinger, reading them, shaking my head no, and putting them back. To be honest, my original intent when entering the store earlier had been to find him a present of some sort. Something that conveyed hey, I’m here, wish I could do more to make you feel better, and blow jobs all at the same time. It turns out though, that rocks with words like forgive and peace carved into them, coffee mugs that say world’s greatest grandma, and mid-grade silver cutlery do not really express all of those sentiments.
What the fuck was Mike going to do with a crystal animal figurine in the shape of a dragon? What would anyone do with that?
So, I begrudgingly ended up in front of the greeting cards, and you know what’s really hard? Picking a greeting card for a connoisseur of greeting cards.
Mike was at that moment having another CT scan done in order to clear him to be moved out of intensive care. Every hour he was getting sharper, better, stronger. The healing process was quite awesome to watch (in an actual awe-inspiring way). The body transforming from half-dead to alive every minute, and he was coming back much faster than they had expected. They had told Mike’s parents and I that chances were we’d be there for longer than a week. Now they were saying we’d be out on Wednesday, making our stay a half week. Originally they had said we’d be just in intensive care until Wednesday. Now it was only Monday and we were -hopefully- moving out of it. Mike was doing well and he was doing well fast.
I glanced through more cards. You would think that in a hospital gift shop, that they would have the most “get well” cards, but no. Just like any other store that had an aisle dedicated to wishes of different kinds in flat one-liners and whimsical poems, this place too was overrun with birthday cards.
I’m not really sure why I felt the need to even get him a card. In the long run, it would probably end up in the trash. Unless of course, you’re someone like me- who saves every letter, card, hurried line of endearment, and then puts them in a shoe box with the word notes messily written on the top in sharpie- cards eventually end up in the trash, or the fire, or some other place that ensures thoughtfulness will be forgotten forever. Mike never kept cards, as much as he liked them. Call me a sentimental, but the words scribbled in a greeting card or messily written in a letter are far more meaningful and worth keeping than the words typed in any inbox or posted on any Facebook wall in a dully typed, monotone font. Really, the words I was about to compose to him would have been just as meaningful on a napkin, and the truth was, I was probably going to say all of these things to his face anyway.
… but Mike likes greeting cards and I like words. And for some reason, I felt I had to do more than I was doing. Because I couldn’t actually do any medical procedures, the next best thing was bestowing gifts.
Eventually, after having read every other card in the lot, it seemed, I pulled one out that had potential. It showed an old, grey-haired cartoon of a nurse holding a giant thermometer and an old man lying on his stomach. The nurse held the tool high and directed it towards the guy’s bottom and down underneath the picture, in a font that was supposed to portray casual it said you may feel a little pressure.
Ah, butt sex. A hint of that was actually better than blow jobs.
My frustration sort of waned, and I made my way to the register for purchase and to begin filling it with my own words; words that meant more simply because they were actually mine to give.
I filled the blank space in the card with my well wishes, words of admiration… and a few more sexual innuendos, because honestly, nothing says get well better than that. (Um, unless of course, it is for a child. Stick to well wishes for the children.)
I made my way back up to Mike’s parents, who both sat playing on their electronic tablets. The card I had for Mike was tucked in a spiral-bound notebook wedged in my purse, in order to keep it from being bent.
“A nurse should be here any minute to bring us to his new room.” His father said. I smiled. A new room meant we were one step closer to home. It also meant that Mike was not in danger of dying. I think most would agree, the happiness that comes with that is not easily expressed with words especially those someone else penned in a greeting card.
The nurse did finally arrive and began leading us out of the intensive care waiting room and down a plethora of different hallways into the new wing, making our way for the new place I would be sleeping for a few days. We walked mainly in silence. Everyone was tired, including the nurse probably, as they all worked twelve hour shifts at Dartmouth.
“He’s already in the room. The last CT scan told us that we definitely didn’t need to intervene with the bleeding or the skull fractures, which is really great news.” The nurse said interrupting the silence. “At some point today, they’re going to try and get an occupational therapist up here to get him walking a little bit.” She beamed. I can imagine that giving news like that is a relief just as much for the nurse, as it is for the people it is meant for.
301 B. That was the room we had been assigned. It was built for two people, yet at that point no one else was in there. A curtain sat dividing the two sections.
A new nurse, once again, came in and introduced himself, explained the plan for the rest of the afternoon and evening, and asked us if we had any questions. We didn’t. Mike’s parents announced that they were going to go out and find a hotel room for the night and invited me along.
“No, I’m just going to sleep in here.” I stated.
“Actually ma’am, you can’t sleep in here. It’s a privacy issue. Once another patient is put in here they may not want the nighttime company.” The nurse answered me without having been asked.
“Fine, I’ll sleep right outside the door.” I pointed out of the room. He stared blankly at me.
“That’s the mother hen right there. She doesn’t leave his side. She roosts.” Mike’s father added with a chuckle.
“She’s just taking care of him, Dennis,” Mike’s mother said in his father’s direction before turning to face the nurse. “She’s been really wonderful.” The nurse looked at me.
“I’m either sleeping right here or right outside the door, sir. No disrespect to you or your colleagues.” I shrugged my shoulders in a deal with it manner.
“You can’t really sleep here…” He looked outside into the lobby. “Or outside the…”
“I’m not leaving.” I interrupted. My foot was down. He turned his face back to me.
“Um, okay. Well…” he paused and thought for a minute. “Why don’t I see if there is a single room available and get you a cot? I can do that probably. Let me just check for you. We’ve been slow these past few days.”
The sound of the word “cot” nearly made my body melt with potential relaxation. I grabbed his hand and thanked him, gushing gratitude. A cot. An actual place to sleep. Be still my heart.
He left to go see about us switching rooms, and Mike’s parents rose to go see about getting themselves a room. As soon as everyone was gone, I sat down next to Mike and pulled the greeting card from my purse.
“I got you this. It’s not much, but I figured why not?” He took the card from my hand and slowly, carefully, opened it. I watched his face as he read each word. No matter what I write, because words are so important to me, I’m always overly concerned by what a person thinks of it. Sometimes this is true of a simple text message that I send out.
“Thank you,” he smiled and put the card down. While I was a person of many words, Mike was a man of few. His silence was something I had come to understand over the years we had spent together, and if there was one thing I had learned about Mike, it was that he was always grateful. No matter what he had been given. I allowed that thought to be enough with the thank you.
Out of habit, after he had leaned back and closed his eyes, I took the card from his lap, and went to throw it in the trash can across the room. He opened one eye.
“Don’t throw that out.” I stopped. What? Mike never kept cards or letters or anything of the sort. “I want to keep that, Becki. Put it in your purse.” I smiled. As silly as it seemed, it made me feel good. I looked down at the card.
“It’s because of the butt sex reference, isn’t it?” I gave him a sarcastically quizzical look. “That’s why you want to keep it.” He closed his one eye shut again and let a grin travel through his lips.
“I actually would have preferred a reference to blow jobs.” He paused. “But it was a nice try.” He laughed, which turned into a cough, which turned into a wincing face of pain. I stared at him, slightly irritated, not sure if he was being serious or not. He opened one eye again.
“Relax, I’m kidding.” He chuckled a little. “I just want to keep it because it’s sweet.”
I reached down and placed the card back into the spiral bound notebook in my purse, silently full of pride that for the first time since I began writing Mike words, he actually wanted to keep them.
… even if it was because of a sexual reference.
We sat in silence for a while while he dozed in and out of rest. We had visitors coming later and the doctor had warned us that he would probably be drained after it. I sat next to him flipping through an Elle magazine that I had purchased simply because Britney Spears was on the cover. I realized quickly that I had purchased a five dollar advertisement book basically; words and images to convince me to buy jeans and perfume and makeup as opposed to any articles.
“That was a good card.” Mike suddenly announced, eyes still shut tight. “You should write letters to more people. They’d like them.”
And then we sat in silence. Sometimes silence is the only thing that explains.
(To be continued yet again…)