Stream of social consciousness


Ray of light. KumweniCC BY

Sunlight. Blinding. Hotter than I expect after a week ensconced deep in the techno-bowels of the hospital. The netherworld. A parallel universe of tiny details and proportions. I remember a book where characters forgot the sun, were told it didn’t exist, that it was something they’d imagined, but I can’t think about that now, I have to get my husband—so uncharacteristically frail and fragile—out of this blazing reality and into the doctor’s office.

—Just wait there by your side of the car, I am coming, I’m coming. . . . Hold my arm, take your time across the sidewalk. I know every step hurts. I’ve got the door. Lovely waiting room, isn’t it. Near-empty. Relief. Maybe the wait will not be long and we can go home. He can rest. Except that he can’t rest. Cardiac arrest isn’t as brutal as being resuscitated. There’s a painful price for being brought back to life . . . .

—Sit here. I’ll check in. Two women behind the counter, working on computers. The woman on the left reminds me of someone but the one on the right is asking a question. My husband. He was released from the hospital two days ago. We were told to follow up with his regular doctor within seven days, thanks for getting us in. This woman on the right nods her head. Her hair is very black, long, pulled back. Over her shoulder on the wall is a sketch of the Buddha with the words GOOD VIBES.  

Our chairs face the TV. El Paso. A woman seated across the room by the windows, sunlight streaming in around her, looks at us: When will it stop. 

The woman at the counter, on the left: It’s racism. Clear, emphatic voice. I know who she reminds me of, now. Queen Latifah. Yes. Same face and eyes, shoulder-length hair. Younger. Less celebrity-ish but exuding confidence. She continues: This country . . . .

The girl next to the woman in the waiting room shifts in her seat. Must be her daughter. Pretty girl, hair in a soft bob of loose curls. Poised. Hard to say how old. Sixteen, seventeen? They’re the only other people waiting. 

My husband:  It’s white guys committing these mass shootings . . . .

Woman across the room (nodding): Yeah, they’re not black. We just shoot each other.

Queen Latifah look-alike: People don’t realize I am half black and half white. My birth certificate says Caucasian. My son is a lot darker and we can tell you plenty of stories about the different ways we’re treated . . . people don’t always know they’re doing it.

Me: Implicit bias. It takes a lot to go that deep in yourself, to see it. 

Queen L look-alike: Exactly. It’s part of you, how you’re raised . . . .

The woman on the left with the Buddha over her shoulder on the wall hasn’t looked up nor said a word this whole time and I am thinking, in the end aren’t we all shades of each other, don’t we all bleed red, doesn’t it all flow from the same source if we trace it far enough back? My own largely Northwestern European  DNA carries a fragment of Nigeria from generations ago, a story I long to know. Human genetics shows we’re all descended from one woman in East Africa. Mitochondrial Eve. “The mother of all living.” Genesis 3:20.  My husband, a minister, is olive-skinned, a tiny percent Native American, although he’s awfully pale at present and the underside of both his arms is bruised solid black. We all bruise the same . . . .

The woman who reminds me of Queen L is speaking about needed changes and education, referencing a county nearby with a racist reputation; the woman across the rooms tells the story of her daughter’s car breaking down there, how her phone battery was dead, how she walked to a store at the crossroads and the white workers wouldn’t let her use their phones.

—What did you do? I ask the girl.

—I got back in the car and left it running, I charged my phone enough to call my mom, and I prayed.

—I prayed, too, chimed her mom, the whole way there. Not that county. Not that county.

I listen, heartsick. I do not say it but “that county” happens to be where my Grannie was raised. My Grannie, who took me to a store to buy a doll when I was really little. When I picked a black doll, she bought it for me. In the late 1960s. A white woman from “that county” . . . suddenly the girl’s mother smiles: But there are still good people everywhere. Thank God.

The front door opens. A man enters. He’s huge. Like an NFL player. Gripped in his big brown hand is a clear plastic jug of water; it gleams in a shaft of sunlight and I think Water of Life as another door from the medical side opens and a small man, black hair in a man bun, comes into the waiting area to greet him with a Spanish accent. They’re workers of some kind, dressed in similar gray shirts, khaki pants. They embrace each other and my mind is too weary anymore to wonder why, what the story is. I just marvel. This is how the world should be, like it is in this room, right now. Brotherly love, one human for another, kindred spirits. United in a common purpose. Heaven must be something like this.

As the men vanish (for I don’t notice how or where), the quiet woman on the left at the counter calls the lady and her daughter up. They’re finished with whatever it is for which they came. They’re free to go. The woman comes over to us on her way to the door: It is very nice meeting you. I wish you the best. My daughter, she’s going to college.

My husband reaches his hand, his bruised arm, out to her: It’s a pleasure.

She shakes his hand. There’s only one thing I know to do. I stand and hug the woman. Her embrace is warm, tight. Genuine. Her daughter stands by, smiling, so I hug her, too. She feels small in my arms. —All the best to you, too. One day I will see you on TV and you’ll be helping to fix all these things and I will remember that I saw you here.

Her smile widens. So radiant. —Maybe so.

I watch her go with a pang of hope, bright as the sunlight, when my husband’s name is called to check the progress of his repaired, restarted heart.

So much pain, yes.

Gonna be a long, long process.

But healing.

20 thoughts on “Stream of social consciousness

  1. This is a beautifully written, Fran. The stream of consciousness format works when as you unfolded a delicate conversation. If every room was filled with people like this, talking to one another with depth an respect then, perhaps, the future would be nearer than I thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Carol. There was more to the conversation; I recapped the gist of it. Despite the delicacy of topic, I had an almost tangible sense of safety. It’s not lost on me that the setting was one dedicated to wellness and healing.


  2. You found light. You will keep finding light. I loved that you stood to hug these strangers. It fits with what I know of you from reading your slices the past few years. I feel the heaviness of all your family has been through in your words. I hope each day brings more light.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Each day does have its own light, some more than others. The lady who was there with her daughter emanated so much warmth; I was so moved by her story and her faith and her parting words that I needed to hug her. It’s what’s in the heart that matters – she shared hers so freely. Powerful. Thanks so much, Jess.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a beautiful post. These lines especially resonate with me today: “So much pain, yes. Gonna be a long, long process.But healing.”

    Prayers for continued healing

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have been in awe of your observational skills in the past, but this…how you are able to pull these details, make them relevant, all while dealing with the aftermath of your husband’s ordeal. Your piece brought me a glimmer of hope this morning, this calm oasis of understanding in an unlikely setting. Amazing, too, how you are able to connect with people you don’t know on such a deep level. Thank you for sharing their stories with us. May there be healing for your husband, and for our country.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I felt like I was experiencing something important in those moments – and I felt like this was really a microcosm of our country and the world, in that most people do not wish to do harm to one another but have goodwill and truly pray for healing. Hope was almost a corporeal presence in the room. Thank you for this beautiful response, Chris, and for your thoughts. ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It wasn’t until I finished and breathed that I noticed the title. How perfect, yes a stream, but a smooth one with lots of people to love and reasons for hope. I was struck by how even this small space becomes a community. We need to remember we live in communities who watch out for and care for one another. I am so sorry your husband is going through this. Healing can be hard.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Fran – you have taken my breath away. This is beautiful. This line, “This is how the world should be, like it is in this room, right now” made me want to say “YES” out loud in my living room. There, in the middle of your own moment, you found the moments that united others. Thank goodness for you. Thank goodness for them. Thank goodness for the hearts that have been restarted. I continue to keep you and your husband in my prayers.

    Liked by 1 person

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