Living the Blues
I remember January 15th 2010 like a bad dream. I remember the sinking feeling when I heard 4-month-old Raja— an Egyptian mau/orange tabby mix —making the most savage of snarls as I applied bronze eyeshadow in my dated bathroom mirror. I remember Kenneth racing into my bathroom from the living room, eyes wide, Raja attached to his right arm with her teeth and claws. My mouth dropped at the same speed as my eyeshadow to the pink and green hexagon tiles on the bathroom floor. Shattering the NARS eyeshadow ironically named “Paper Tiger” which in the next few moments is precisely what I would be. Raja was flung carelessly from Kenneth’s arm back against the bedroom wall. He was panicked, I grabbed a towel and moistened it, applied it to his arm. I reassured Kenneth that his arm would be just fine, he just needed to relax. His rugby polo had blood on it, I told him to change his shirt, that he would be just fine. He told me he was “NOT okay,” I casually suggested he breathe, take a moment to catch his breath and recollect, I grabbed him a glass of water. As I walked back into the room I saw to my dismay he had not put on another shirt but was inside of his lockbox, catching the click of him loading his Kimber 1911 .45 handgun.
“What are you doing?” I asked alarmed.
“I need to go” Kenneth retorted.
“No, you don’t…calm down, drink this water I got for you” I gasped, stifling my fear and apprehension of what I had just witnessed.
He walks out into the kitchen as I am trying to reason with him. I am terrified he is going to hop into that tank of a truck and go on a killing spree, I’m terrified of what could possibly happen if he walks out the door.
Kenneth’s eyes are vacant and far away. I know he is not coherent, my voice is shaky but calm as I give up what’s left of my logic in front of the refrigerator. I did all I could to de-escalate — AGREE, Agree, agree.
“Kenneth, you are okay, everything is fine, please, please, PLEASE calm down, you are safe here.”
He smugly cracks a devious half crescent of a smile.
“I killed your cat” he states smugly.
“What?! — no?! Not on purpose” I reply despondently.
“I killed Raja!” he laughed
I was overcome with chills, my heart rate became rapid and that sinking feeling that was my intuition had become a knot in my gut and a lump in my throat.
“Why? — What?!” I gasped, “Why would you do that?” I stammered.
“Its just an animal”
“I love her, how could you? Why? I can’t do this, I can’t be with someone like that”
“How is an abortion any different??? Game Over Courtney!”
“An animal is more important to you than a human life?”
Tears started to break past my eyelids. The hairs on my arm stood to attention.
“I can’t… How could you??? NO, no, I can’t do this.
My tears and feelings came to a stand still.
I sharply inhaled a deep breath through pursed lips, back against the fridge, eyes fixed despite my distress.
“You can’t be with me?! You won’t marry me then?!”
My eyes darted, face and body fixed, voice at a whisper. I didn’t want m neighbors to think we were fighting.
“Shh!! Kenneth calm down, be quiet. You are acting really weird. Please please… no.. just no.”
“I can’t — I can’t do this…” my voice trailed. My de-escalation was pointless once my composure was broken.
My heart fluttered like the wings of a hummingbird.
Linear time distorted.
Slowly Kenneth’s composure followed mine. His eyes wide like a child, big, brown, and round. His voice soft:
“You can’t be with me?”
a short breath and a “No I can’t.”
I sighed regretfully
“I HAVE NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!!!! YOU PROMISED YOU’D HELP ME!!! YOU!!!! YOU YOU KILL EVERYTHING!!! YOU RUINED EVERYTHING!!!”
I stood stone faced and solid, back against the fridge. The tiger’s eye agate caught the light through the tear caught between my lashes in my left.
I didn’t know what to say or do. My heart swelled in my throat, so heavy and tight.
I eyed the kitchen door to my left with the faded peach lace fabric pinned to the window.
Kenneth put his jacket on over his bare torso, slipped on his flip-flops, and palmed my left shoulder with his right hand.
My hand shaking I told him I was getting him a glass of water from the faucet.
“I can’t handle this.” I squeaked.
“I can’t go anywhere else!” he pleaded
He then reached into the pan and started eating the meat and grabbed the glass of water out of my hand. Chugged the water and began breathing heavily
“I feel fine, I feel good now!”
He lunged for the door I maneuvered my way in between him and the door. His hands and mine overlapped as he fumbled for the knob as I locked the deadbolt.
Then my mind was blank, he reached in his left pocket of his jeans(he was a lefty) and I stammered “NO! NO! nononono! The next thing I remember was shots ringing in the tiny kitchen. I remember thinking instinctively, I hope one of the bullets doesn’t ricochet and hit me. I saw the window on the kitchen door shatter as I crouched and covered my ears. Kenneth’s eyes widened and I saw his consciousness come back into focus during that split second. I was so afraid he was going to drive off and hurt someone or go on a shooting spree. Then he left, just like that, booked it out the door past his truck and up J street. I heard more shots fired up the street and heard him yelling something about “mama I’m coming home I’m coming home”
I almost went out the kitchen door, but thought better of it thinking he would return and come back in through the kitchen. I went into the living room to grab my purse, because woman always needs her purse. As I extended my right arm to scoop up the purse I was appalled to see a gaping hole in my forearm. “Oh fuck!” I thought, “he got me after all” I saw the trail of blood from the kitchen to the couch and grabbed my hoodie and awkwardly tried to tourniquet my wound. I hopped over my tiger throw rug so as not to get any blood on it and opened my front door, I stood cautiously in the foyer while I opened my mouth to scream for help. As the first vowel spilled out so did blood, teeth, tissue and various bodily [things?] I stumbled over to the other side of the Duplex to see if Pete was home, I was shrieking help as loud as I could. I was no longer thinking about Kenneth, Raja, or anyone else’s well being. Even though I’d heard Pete while putting on makeup in the bathroom he did not answer the door. I was shocked, I couldn’t understand why. I ran across the street to Kris’ house but her car was not there and the house was dark and vacant when I had gotten to the porch. I zigzagged down Mark and Erin’s house on the corner, I fell to my knees as I ran, a pothole betrayed me about 25 yards south of my foyer and I skinned my knee to save my right arm. The scrape was the first pain sensation, it felt worse than the melting, the visceral effect of the skin on my left knee being peeled back was a shock to my system that was already coping with my right forearm and head. I paused and caught my breath for a moment. Thinking of my meditation and yoga learning I fixed my eyes on the kitchen light. Door ajar, still gaping like the whole in my face, my kitchen, what would happen to my kitchen? The light on blazing, my arm feeling like it was incinerating, my body like a furnace despite the chilly January night. Something was so eerie about the light shining through the broken window in the kitchen. Thoughts flooded with my blood out onto the street. I thought to myself,
“My house?? —No that’s not my house anymore; not my life anymore, everything changes; how long? Maybe 6 months?”
My fragments were interrupted by my shattered self-narrative—
“Oh No not again, I can’t die again! I don’t want to have to do this next time! Next time?”
The light blared on and conjured up memories of pain repressed.
“If he kills me now I will have to will have fix it next time.. I don’t want to do this again, I have already been through this too many times… This narrative is tired, I’m tired, so tired.. Focus Courtney focus.. you can do this, just look ahead, keep your eyes open.”
Safety planning 101. I felt a cold sweat break in the January fog and I fought for presence. My thoughts competed with the presence —
“Oh you want to think this thought!!! Don’t let go of this thought!!! This thought is so good!!! Think this think right now and drift away on the thought cloud…”
Gratefully my ego chimed in
“I can’t keep running up and down the street alone, I can’t keep living like this”
The X chromosome in me that is my mother pictured myself curled up on the kitchen floor bleeding to death alone, giving up, surrendering, closing my eyes forever, but my soul would not allow it, it shoved away the fear and I decided to go forth in my quest for help from my fellows. I stumbled and panted up the stairs to Mark and Aline’s kitchen door. I rapped on the door while yelling and a bleary eyed Mark answered the door as his mouth dropped, “What do I do!? What do I do?!” he stammered bewildered at the probably disturbing wake up call that was my face. I fatigued and impatient demanded an ambulance, then a chair, and a glass of water to drink as I collapsed into the chair. I attempted to chug the water but my tongue would not allow me to swallow, I remember the plumes of alizarin crimson polluting the water in the pint glass. I ordered myself to breathe as I extended my arm over my head to quell the river of blood that was pooling at my feet, I tilted my head back as I dumped the liquid over myself starting to close my eyes but quickly realized I would never open them again if I gave into the warm tingling repose of the dark. As I focused on breathing, keeping my eyes opened and maintaining my consciousness I noticed a crowd had gathered around me of 10–15 spectators. Hearing the murmur of the crowd “Who is she?”, “What’s she on?”
I shouted out, “I’m a singer! I sing! I sing blues!”
“Why are you just standing there?! Why won’t you help me!” I belted. I ripped off my shirt and was feeling a surge of heat and I felt breathing becoming more and more difficult. Where was the help? Why was it taking so long? I begged for someone to please hold my hand, please. A maternal woman came forward named Melanie and gripped my hand, I was overcome with a feeling of relief and connection to finally be touched, consoled, reassured that help was on its way. I touched my face and felt where my upper lip had been shredded all the way to my cheek, “My lip! it used to be so pretty” the self conscious little girl whimpered. “Don’t worry,” soothed Melanie “the doctors will fix that.” Out of all those nosy bystanders only one had the guile to reach out and bear some of my burden with me. I later would meet her daughter at the Creperie. Finally an officer came down to question me and record my victim’s statement.
“Really?” I couldn’t believe I had to give a statement before I received medical attention, or the fact that medical attention wasn’t even there yet and I was only 4 blocks from the fire department. As I spurted out blood and struggled to communicate the officer kept asking “could you repeat that ma’am? I can’t understand you.”
Frustrated with how ridiculous and surreal the situation was and to have the officer state the obvious. I reached in my mouth to try and pull out the bullet lodged where my right 3rd molar had been so as to make it easier to speak. The officer said “Ugh, I wouldn’t do that miss.” My finger touched my tongue, there was what was obstructing my speech, my tongue was severed in half.
Unfortunately this would be the theme for the rest of this impossibly long night. Competency was not going to be upheld by the police force nor the medical system. I had to finish my statement painfully before I was permitted to be treated by the paramedics. My annoyance was building, though i’d been walking around and moving with ease the paramedics insisted I be strapped into the gurney to be lifted into the ambulance which pushed my pain over the edge, my adrenaline was wearing off and the paramedics were refusing my demands for morphine, stating that they need a toxicologist to run my blood samples to make sure I was not on any substances that would cause a contraindication. At this I balked, how dare they accuse me, make the assumption that I was under the influence.
“If I was on any substances I would be DEAD RIght NOW!” I shrieked.
“I am O positive, a universal TAKER of blood, and if I die of shock before your toxicologist shows up to do his job it will be on your conscious that you denied a sober dying girl blood transfusions.”
The nurses dumbstruck decided to wheel me off to the radiology lab, denying my request and further pushing my pain into the abyss. The radiologist was more insensitive than the doctors and nurses. Seeing the gaping hole in my arm he grabbed my index and middle finger and with the other hand my forefinger and pinky and pulled them apart asking
“Does this hurt?”
I howled and kicked, the pain was excruciating. I was sobbing now the pain was killing me literally.
The radiologist had two nurses restrain me and hold me down while I screamed. One of the nurses had the audacity to exclaim,
“EWW! You’re spitting blood everywhere.”
At this I thrashed and was free of their grasp.
At last the toxicology report had come back clear and I was finally permitted to have a morphine drip.
This perked me up considerably and I felt better able to manage the pain as well as manage the lack of accountability of the staff around me. I was getting really sick of having to repeat myself and luckily my Aunts Salena and WIlathi along with my grandfather had showed up. It felt good to have them grasp my hand and give me love and encouragement. Up until now I’d felt it was me against the world. My grandfather, whom I adore, even made me laugh. telling me,
“Well you won’t be pretty anymore but you’ll always be pretty to me.”
With this I was not amused, I gave him the finger and smugly said,
“That is the last thing I want to here right now, fuck off”
“I love you dear, I’m no good in these types of situations, I’m glad to see you’ve still got your spunk, you’re gonna be just fine.” he replied
My aunts were busy micromanaging the staff. I was to be airlifted to either UC Davis in Sacramento or San Francisco.
The night was foggy and now at 2 am we were waiting for the aircraft to be prepped and ready. Then I had to choose between my aunt WIlathi and my aunt Salena because they both couldn’t go. It felt like Rosemary’s choice, both of them being so important and caring for me. I chose WIlathi.
At this point I was in such a ridiculous amount of pain I was delirious and drifting in and out of consciousness.
Of course right before I’m to be wheeled into the ambulance to be taken to the airport an officer with a camera shows up and snaps a few pictures then asks me,
“Are you pregnant?”
“Well we got him and he eluded that you were pregnant — ma’am we’re going to have to ask you to take a pregnancy test.”
“SIr I don’t think its really necessary to have my niece pee on a stick right now as she’s obviously lost alot of fluids as it is.” my aunt WIlathi interjected
With that I was on my way, one of the more irritating nurses looked and me at me in awe and said,
“You are so strong!”
I wanted to tell her how I hadn’t realized until tonight how much incompetency infuriated me and her insubordination along with everyone else’s could not be excused by complimenting me, though my jaw was so swollen I could hardly do more than breathe and keep my eyes open so I wouldn’t slip through the cracks of this plane I so desperately felt the need to remain in.
En route I tried to keep my brain busy, I thought of my poor kitty Raja, I quickly changed the subject. I thought of the dirty dishes in the sink, I thought about the steak fajitas still in the pan on top of the stove. I cringed at the idea of all the people going through my house, imagined them ripping everything apart. I thought about the kitchen door being left ajar, oh wait the window was shattered anyways. As I rattled through my mental to-do list gone horribly wrong I was rudely interrupted by the airbulance paramedic absent-mindedly bumping into my arm, sending shock waves of pain radiating throughout my body, my nausea was reaching a fever pitch and it took all the strength I could muster to not vomit. My aunt WIlathi saw me glaring at the paramedic when the paramedic murmured to herself,
“Oh my God it feels like I’m doing this job for the first time, I keep forgetting what I’m doing.”
“You do realize she is conscious and is listening to every word your saying, DO YOUR JOB!”
I had never been so grateful to have Wilathi in my life up until that moment.
I felt the agonizing pain of the pressure of the cabin pressing down on my body as we descended to land in Sacramento at 4:38 am PDT. As they hoisted the gurney into yet another ambulance I was getting really sick of all the jostling that was happening to my body, I tried to say something about it but it came out so garbled I wish I hadn’t wasted the effort.
Of course these paramedics HAD to inquire what had happened to me. Oy I thought to myself would this night never end? I didn’t even now how I’d made it this long without a blood transfusion.
When we arrived at UC Davis emergency the paramedics asked if I wouldn’t mind medical students in the ER. I summoned up the last bit of strength to convey that no way in hell did I want students holding my life in their hands. Wilathi tried in vain to to uphold this request.
As I entered the ER there were 15–20 people in scrubs asking everything from “Are you okay?” to “What happened?” I was the case study of their medical careers and despite my request every medical student in the hospital seemed to want a piece of the action.
To my chagrin UC Davis had not received my x-rays so they needed to be redone. Luckily when one of them asked “What time did this happen?” my aunt Wilathi told them the first 911 call had been at 10:17pm. I looked at the clock and it was almost a quarter after 5 am. I was rolled over onto my side and a sound escaped my mouth froze everyone in the room, my aunt Wilathi grabbed the doctors who were holding my down on my side and ripped them off of me screaming, “STOP!!YOU’RE KILLING HER!”
With that she was hauled to the back of the room and I saw a blood bag being hooked up to my IV. I knew I could close my eyes now. I’d done all I could to stay alive and I was just too exhausted to care anymore if I woke up again.