Turning White: Image

Posted on March 15, 2012 by

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(Warning: The language in the following entry may be offensive to some readers with tender eyes and fine sensibilities. Proceed with caution.)

The nurses at the table nearby at the hospital cafeteria, when they weren’t whispering about the fat man eating three cheeseburgers, gossiped about a recent admission. A black man had been found wandering around the countryside with his eyes gouged out and brought in by ambulance. Just as soon as I finished my cheeseburgers, and fries, and jumbo Coke, and pushed away an untouched salad, I followed one of the nurses back to her floor and found his room just to hear his story.

“You want to know how I’m doing?” he replied when I found him, head swathed in bandages. “A’ right, those motherfuckers got my eyeballs, that’s how’m I doin’. I’ll be tapping around with a white cane while they’re showin’ ‘em off to make an example of my black ass.  Some motherfucking Witness Protection Program they got here. You want to know how I’m doing? You can see how I’m doing and I can’t see who the fuck wants to know. Y’got me any a that morphine?”

“You’ll have to ask your doctor for morphine when you see him,” I said, impersonating a hospital staff member.

Now, I knew that he was never going to see a doctor whether one came or not, for he was more blind than a bat. Bats at least have got their sonar to help them get by. He couldn’t even see that the Colorado Springs policeman, placed for his protection, had abandoned his post outside the door. I expect he’d have a conniption about that, too, if he knew about it. His chart, which I helped myself to, claimed his name was Tyrone White and that he was stable.

He had a monitor by his bedside, as I had by mine a couple days ago, patrolling heart rate and pulse. It did not indicate the condition of his spirit. The nurses could only note non-compliant, and, combative in the chart, I wanted to know if there was anything else that could be said about him.

“The readings say you’re doing quite well, Mr. White.”

“Fuck Mr. White,” he said. “That fuckin’ name is some motherfuckers’ idea of a bad joke. If you think giving me a new name and putting me in this hick town is gunna turn me White and make everything all right, then you’re a chump.  Now they got my eyeballs in the drug dealers’ Guinness book of fucking records.  I’m telling you I need some more a that morphine.”

“Please, Sir,” I said, “There’s nothing I can do to get you more morphine.”

The hospital, that temple of science, keeps nothing but drugs around with which to tend to a wounded spirit. But it may be just as well. For many, healing the spirit is not what they want.  All they all want is drugs.

“Shit, where I come from you can get anything you want. Morphine, heroin, weed, crack cocaine, you name it.  You don’t think I never done that stuff? Any time I want. I used to sell that shit. If I still be selling, I wouldn’t be lying in this bed right now. Oh, no, I’d be having it going on.”

It would be easy to hate this man who so well impersonated evil. But evil at a distance always turns out to be pitiful humanity when you get up close. Then if you look closer at humanity, like you would a magic eye picture, you might even catch a glimpse of The Divine.

“You were in the Witness Protection Program?” I asked, trying to see The Divine in him more clearly. It wasn’t coming in too well.

“Motherfucking Witness Protection Program made me what I am today,” he declared, not caring who heard. It seemed he would say it to anyone who would listen.

“I was sick of the city, you see. I had it going on, but I was still sick of it. In eighth grade I be wearing tailored clothes and buying everyone lunch, but you can’t go out on the street without strapping three guns on y’. I’d wake up in the morning and I’d have a piece in my hand before my feet hit the floor ’cause there’s a war going on in The Projects. Fucking Bagdad. I shot at people and people shot at me. There’s plenty more’d like to shoot me. When you’re at the top of the heap, everyone wants a piece of you. In The Projects everything’s about image. You can’t be letting people see you look weak or you’re dead. Well, I was getting weak; I was getting weak and sick of the whole thing. So I was out of there, man.”

I know the reason I eat so much: it’s to hide the person I am. I don’t really need to eat three cheeseburgers for lunch, I’m not that hungry, two would do; but I’ve got to keep up appearances as a fat man. When people see a fat man, they think they know all about him, but of course they don’t. They don’t know anything about his broken heart. I aim to keep it that way and keep people, especially myself, away from my broken heart. It’s all about image everywhere, not just on The Projects. Yes, I know that my fat can and probably will kill me, but it also makes me, the part of me that counts, invisible.

He went on: “I was fucked up all the time, you see. When you’re selling crack cocaine you’re also smoking it and you don’t give a shit, you’d just as soon kill or be killed. I went into rehab a couple times, but when I got out, it’s right back to the same thing. I wasn’t feeling myself. I wasn’t getting anywhere. Then they comes and picks me up. They wants me to name names and places where they’d be, almost like they knew I was getting sick of it. Then I think, here’s the man who wants to give me a ticket out of here. I say, a’ right, I give you the names you want, just get me the fuck out of here.”

You don’t think I’ve ever wanted to get out of this fat body? Unzip it like a set of coveralls and step out? Every time I lose my breath I do. Every time I can’t get out of a chair. Every time I can’t tie my shoes.

“But nobody gets out, ever,” he said.

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