Elevators and Reality
The two-liner you throw away at a party; the set-piece narrative you indulge in with some friends. Morphine comes in standardised measures. It’s a catch-all, temporary fix. No pain in the moment. Ignore that wound, it’ll still be there when you sober up. Words can safely describe the way the night time echoes differently. The cold, still air and the sodium-orange wash over the roads — those lost details are inconsequential.
It’s harder to describe the way your blood pools in the cracked concrete of the pavement, how it sticks to your clothes and coagulates, how it steams and trickles, streams out of holes. To be terrified by holes in your body that you can neither feel nor believe is a surreal mental situation. As if caught up in a gritty almost-reality film, thrust into the role of protagonist in a ‘crisis response’ trope. What next? How to react? What’s the sensible level of melodrama here?
“I’ve seen this shit in the news,”
I thought to myself.
“There are movies just like this, complete with wobbly first-person perspective and everything.”
Everything after those ten seconds of adrenaline and blurry dark splodges thrashing blurrily is trite and mundane… at least, given the circumstances. You’ve seen the gaping fake wounds on TV, or in a half-arsed first aid lesson. You can guess the next few lines of the script: stewing in a crisp, white hospital bed, feeling sorry for yourself and entertaining an all-pervasive headache.
That first-person surreality is hilarious; so much so, in fact, that you might find yourself laughing after eventually being wheeled into the fluorescent, clinical white lights of the emergency surgery — having become another bemused member of the audience.
That sodium-orange glance of light, that sheen you barely registered, was less funny. How you feel about that ray of light — before, during, after — that feeling twists and curls and stretches and deforms, over time, mood-dependent. You come to recognise that ray of light by her stage name, ‘The Weapon.’ Sometimes a machete, sometimes an axe, you can be more or less fanciful. If you really analyse the wounds, you could infer her exact characteristics. Later, you plug that contrived detail into the carefully worded narrative that you’ve developed, in preparation for the inevitably imminent next performance of Christ What Happened?! (The Musical). Just enough detail to suggest reality and consequences. Little enough to be able to brush it off and move on to the next discussion point. All of these rationalisations — those choices of words from a list— doing a fine job of coating the experience in a layer of matter-of-factness.
The before was mute. The after was hilarious. The during doesn’t have a form. Just a mixture of instinctual responses, desperate shouting, blows given and received, subconscious trains of thought, adrenaline, other chemicals and emotions embarrassingly felt: vulnerability, anger, terror. The before was two dark, hooded figures in a dark street. The after was mint-green sheets, bandages and bright hallways. The during was just an incomprehensible mix of colours and shapes and primal feelings ‘and stuff’.
After the fact, it’s mangled muscles, funny scars and a curious story to whip out in moments of self-indulgence and quiet moments, with elevator-pitch sentiments. To describe it is to remove it from you, sketch it from afar on a tissue paper, and pretend it’s something else.
The play ends with the line:
“If nothing else, I’ve developed a healthy street paranoia.”
Another G&T, please.