Megan D. Henson
Dr. Sutton knew suffering. He had type 1 diabetes. His illness had been a similar experience to mine: it hit him suddenly and severely, like strep throat. One minute he was a regular 15-year-old boy eating Oreos; then he was in the hospital with an insulin pump sewn into his stomach.
It’s funny, really. In this line of writing you try to be so careful to tell the whole truth the way the truth happened to you. Everybody carries a different truth
With Dr. Sutton there’s the way he was and then the way I remember him, and I’m honestly not sure how well my truth resembles the actual truth. He was a magic man. He still is even though I haven’t seen him in years. The magician of my memory, so to speak. Anytime I need him there he is in my mind, as real as if he had his arms around me.
But I don’t trust this kind of vividness anymore. I’m on too much medicine to believe that kind of clarity. Nothing else is that sharp and crisp. He’s maybe become a character to me. I seem to know my characters more intimately than I know most people. He has transitioned into a creature of imagination, and imagination is much clearer than memory, and even more accurate at times.
For example, in my mind, whenever I saw Dr. Sutton, it was raining. A romantic, warm rain that sounded like typewriter keys clacking against his office window. And I daydreamed, while addressing my eating disorder, that the rain had found its way into his office. I could see it dripping down Dr. Sutton’s hair, onto his face and neck. He removed his glasses to wipe his face with the back of his arm.
I, the rain, am like no other, I thought, and I dripped down the back of his neck. I was the sneaky drop running down his spine, giving him goose bumps. It was erotic, I guess, or a feeding from his energy.
You’re going to have to accept your new limitations,” he said, looking me dead in the eye, his voice so gentle and soft, just above a whisper.
I don’t think I wanted him in a sexual way, exactly. It’s hard to tell. I was 19 and angry that my life had already been ripped apart at the seams. I was a virgin. My sexuality had not yet been piqued.
Dr. Sutton was an attractive man in his late thirties with a soft belly I adored for its innocence. And when I thought of the insulin pump, my affection grew even more. I wanted to kiss it the way that woman kissed Jesus’s feet and washed them with her own hair.
He always offered me a brown blanket and a cup of tea. We sat there in the dim light, listening to the rain. He took notes on a yellow legal pad.
He often hugged me after appointments. I always told him I loved him, and he knew what I meant and what I didn’t.
When I was sick, he came to the psychiatric hospital late one night to see me. I was already in my pajamas, and I got permission for him to see me in my private room. It was a bad idea. The room smelled like piss. My fluid input and output were monitored, so there was a hat on the toilet. That night the staff had been slack about emptying the hat, so it was full of urine that had been there several hours. It wreaked.
I don’t remember much about his visit, but I do remember the expression on his face when he regarded my 86-pound frame. He looked at me like I already died—like I was my ghost.
I felt sorry for him.
He said, “I always felt like you were hiding something from me.”
I didn’t know what to say.
One time I picked up a potted plant and there was a snake behind it, suddenly striking at me.
This is how I felt.
I often daydream of becoming a soft, furry, acceptable creature that could crawl into his breast pocket and fall asleep to the rhythm of his heart. I imagine the warmth of his body, the sound of his lungs filling with air. I imagine he cups me to his cheek. I hug his lips.
It is a child’s daydream, I guess.
Hopefully, for my sake, nothing more.
The elevator at the pain management clinic stinks of stale cigarette smoke. The carpet is burned full of holes. A “No Smoking” sign hangs on the wall. The patients shuffle, hobble, and lope into the elevator and it groans up to the second floor where it spits out the rotting flesh of the walking dead.
This is the zombie apocalypse, right here in Kentucky.
There is the heavy handicap door—too heavy to push or pull open by hand. You have to push the button, and then side-step the door as it swings.
The receptionists and nurses dart around, and the doctors—impatient and rude, one of them owning a horse that won the Kentucky Derby—appear out of nowhere to do quick procedures before disappearing again to some inner chamber. Everybody looks shell-shocked. The war on terrorism; the war on pain. It takes its toll on the bravest and strongest, eating people from the inside out.
My mother, a psychic, says that I’ll be able to let go of the pain when I no longer need it, but how will I do this when I can’t even identify its present purpose in my life?
The patients wait. Half of us look as though we haven’t bathed in a couple weeks. The other half couldn’t quite manage to change out of our pajamas. We cluster, in plush chairs, around a television that’s always playing Horton Hears A Who.
In other words, pure hell.
We wait out insurance claims, deductibles, prior authorizations, prescription refills with “do not fill until” orders, and disability checks. We wait out the bad days.
Every day is a bad day.
Anyone who says, “It can’t last forever” has not touched suffering.
We wait for muscle relaxers and opiates to kick in. Once a month we come here and wait. We wait at home the rest of the month.
I’m here for an epidural in my neck.
Apparently a disk is getting crushed by…something.
Apparently it’s really no big deal.
I’m impressed by this process despite my appall at my general situation. An x-ray shows the doctor where to stick the needle. He pumps a bunch of fluid in. I feel it soaking into every space of my chest cavity. I get angina.
Apparently this is normal.
I imagine this pressure is similar to what I felt in the womb. We all start out as female amphibians.
Some people are even born with webbed hands and feet.
They, like me, are unable to let go of the pain of change.
I turned eighteen that summer. Running the Rattlesnake roller coaster at Kings Island was my first “real” job after graduating high school.
The ride consisted of harnesses that came down over the person’s shoulders and chest, buckling him into the chair. It flipped upside down and created the sensation of the lower body falling.
I had become accustomed to the screams: The I’m-having-fun screams, I’m-gonna-piss-my-pants screams, the I’m-too-old-for-this-but-promised-my-kid screams. They reminded me of the way my mom, who owned a baby-sitting business, told me that you eventually learn the meanings of a baby’s different cries.
It was Friday around two forty-five in the afternoon. I stood there, leaning against the rail, yawning, glassy eyed. I had not had any lunch, thinking that I’d grab something on the way home. I was sick to death of amusement park food. It was too expensive.
I remember glancing at my watch.
I remember everything.
The ride stopped. A rather obese woman got off, shaking, and said, “There’s something wrong with this harness.” She walked me over to it. “It’s loose.”
“I’ll make sure we check it out,” I said, thinking that it was just that she was fat and stupid and imagining things.
I forgot all about it.
The scream I hear ringing through my skull when I lie down at night is different. It’s the one of the woman who, two weeks later, fell until silenced by the cement.
It was one thirty-two. I hadn’t had any lunch.
About the author:
Megan D. Henson is an MFA candidate at University of Kentucky. She wrote the Introduction for Americans Revisited Volume 1 by J. Michael Skaggs (Edgecliff Press, 2008), and her poetry has hung in many art galleries around Cincinnati. She lives with her husband and mean, but lovable, cat.