My ventures from the room became more frequent and it was generally the same route. The nurse walked alongside me as I haltingly put one foot in front of the other moving down the hall past the other residents lying in their beds so much worse off than me. The guy with the metal halo around his head and casts on both arms and legs, the mummy with the bandages covering every inch of his or her skin, and the boy who looked okay, just asleep, but wasn’t either.
I looked in each room trying to make myself feel lucky, wheeling the whistling cart with the IV bags on it, the unwieldy contraption that went everywhere with me and where I had moments before hung a plastic bag half filled with the blood draining from my bladder. I walked, only because she was making me, and with each step the catheter took another yank. There was a metal disc on the wall waist high that my handler pushed as we approached a set of double doors. The doors opened and there was the Sun, the light that I hadn’t seen since I watched it go down behind the clouds eleven nights before while I waited to take the steaks off the grill in my backyard. Eleven nights since my last confident steps onto streetlight glared pavement after shifting a police car into park and running into the darkness. Eleven nights since a bullet ripped into me and tore me down into the weeds, eleven nights since I’d even known if the sun went down or came up again.
My hospital room did not have any windows, and I resisted when they offered to move me to one that did. I liked the dark because even though I could never get comfortable enough to sleep, it seemed like the darkness and the drugs made me sometimes think I was asleep. We walked through the lobby past a gathering of broken bodies and then reached the doors to the outside. They opened automatically as I stepped toward the fresh air in my hospital socks and inhaled as deeply as I ever had, fresh air. More like outside air, not exactly “fresh” yet I gulped in great helpings of it and was alive again in the natural warmth of the sun, breathing in. Air, cigarettes being smoked up and down the sidewalk next to me, the exhaust from diesel trucks stopped in traffic on the street in front, and the pungent smells of urine and blood and shit and bleach wafting over my head from behind me. I didn’t care, it was air and it was the sun and it was good enough. I took in what I thought would be sufficient to hold me over a little longer and walked back across the dirty sidewalk through the doors onto the petri-dish linoleum floor, back to my bed in the air-conditioned darkness with the knowledge that escape was not just possible, but imminent.
The nurses told me that the catheter would be removed soon and as long as I was able to “void” on my own, I would be able to leave.
The night before I am to be discharged, the catheter is taken out, and I’m elated as I hobble to the toilet in the corner of the room in my filthy rubber-soled socks and spray bloody urine in one hundred different directions. Void now, I am going home.
PB Johnson was born in Knoxville, TN and now lives in Illinois where he has worked as a police officer for more than twenty years. His writing has appeared in Green Briar Review, Gravel Magazine, Hoot Review and is forthcoming from The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.
Photography by Jury S. Judge.