On the third day that my mother sat at the foot of my bed, I could see the fatigue on her face. I didn’t want her to leave, but she seemed unable to accept the nurses’ offer to bring in a cot, and I felt she would leave soon. As has often been the case with me, I began to dread this in advance. I remember my first dreading-in-advance as having to do with the dentist of my childhood. Because we had little dental care in our youth, and because genetically we were thought to have “soft teeth,” any trip to the dentist was quite naturally filled with dread. The dentist provided free care in a manner that was ungenerous, both in time and manner, as though he hated us for being who we were, and I worried the entire time once I heard I would have to see him. It was not often that I saw him. But early on I saw this: You are wasting time by suffering twice. I mention this only to show how many things the mind cannot will itself to do, even if it wants to.
It was Serious Child who came for me in the middle of the next night, saying that blood tests had come back from the lab and I needed a CAT scan immediately. “But it’s the middle of the night,” my mother said. Serious Child said I had to go. And so I said, “Let’s go, then,” and soon some orderlies showed up and put me on a gurney and I waved my fingers at my mother and they took me into one large elevator after another. It was dark in the hallways, and in the elevators; everything seemed very dim. I had not left my room at night before, I had not seen that night was different than day even in the hospital. After a very long trip and many turns I was pushed into a room and someone put a small tube into my arm and another small tube down my throat. “Hold still,” they said. I couldn’t even nod.
After a long time — but what I mean by that, I don’t know in real time or terms — I was pushed into the CAT scan circle and there were some clicks and then it went dead. “Shit,” said a voice behind me. For another long time I lay there. “The machine’s broken,” the voice said, “but we need this scan or the doctor will kill us.” I lay there a long time, and I was very cold. I learned that hospitals are often cold. I was shivering, but no one noticed; I’m sure they would have brought me a blanket. They only wanted the machine to work, and I understood that.
Finally I was pushed through and there were the right-sounding clicks and tiny red lights blinking, and then the tube was taken out of my throat and I was pushed out into the hallway. This is the memory I think I will never forget: My mother was sitting in the dark waiting area there in the deep basement of that hospital, her shoulders slumped slightly in fatigue, but sitting with all the seeming patience in the world. “Mommy,” I whispered, and she waved her fingers. “How did you ever find me?”
“Wasn’t easy,” she said. “But I have a tongue in my head, and I used it.”