God it’s freezing in here. What the hell are they doing? I can’t see a thing. I hope this isn’t a sign of how this guy’s going to treat me.
I really don’t know how this happened. Don’t they understand that I need time, that anyone would need time to recover from what we just went through? I can’t go out there. This is crazy. How did I let this happen?
We had been down the coast. Steve loved the beach. He’d woken up early, again, and wouldn’t lie still in bed. I wanted to snuggle for a while, insulated from the crisp chill that had settled over the doona during the night. But he was up, and once he was up there was no point fighting it.
He had rushed madly about our flat, gathering up old clothes in his arms and ramming them into an overnight bag.
”If we go now, I can get a surf in before brekky”, he’d enthused between dashes out into the icy morning to pack the car.
Steve was always so impetuous. Much as it drove me mad, I loved that about him. He knew how to set a flame beneath even the most dreary day. This bleak Saturday morning fit that description all too well.
Despite the cold, he had insisted on driving down with the roof off.
“Part of the landscape, not staring out at it. Ya might as well be watching telly”, he’d recited for the umpteenth time. The traffic was pretty good over the Westgate and down towards Geelong. I don’t know how he didn’t get constantly stung for speeding tickets. Maybe he did, and just kept it from me. I’d never have known.
Steve had started getting frustrated on the Great Ocean Road. It was just getting light, revealing perfect corrugations in the deep blue ocean. He’d been OK at first, cracking a few gags as the convertible crouched through the bends, our skin numbed by the frigid, salty air.
A bit of tension tended to sharpen Steve’s razor wit to its acerbic best. He’d been on fire, firing one-liners as we sped along. To our left, the vast tracts of whitewash had been surging over rocky shallows. I’ve always found the ruggedness of that coastline beautiful. His frustration built as we raced on, past another gravel car park full of decrepit station wagons, boots gaping. Getting more and more agitated as we passed guys stripping off dripping steamers, ratty old towels around their waists. Bloodless feet numb to the stones.
Hammering on, miles above the speed limit, Steve’s growing tension had gnawed at the space between us. I’d tried to calm him but he would not be placated. Another rubble car park with a lone, loyal girlfriend reading a book, windows misted from the heater inside. I could relate. Except for the heater.
Then we got stuck behind the caravans.
Steve hated caravans. He had been banging on about how the Great Ocean Road is a breeding ground for the plague of grey-haired retiree baby boomers that has beset this country. How their overblown sense of entitlement extends even to the nation’s highways. How they’ve reverse mortgaged and reinvented themselves as wannabe James Dean rebels, soaring into the sunset in their luxury four wheel drives, security underpants nestled into heated leather upholstery. Just them and their cup holders. Filling the air with fumes as they ‘got in touch with nature’ and buggered it for the rest of us. Kitchenettes full of low salt, low GI, sugarless food. Really pushing the boundaries.
All he needed was his surfboard and the great outdoors, he’d boasted.
While he ranted, the wheels of Steve’s convertible had meandered back and forth across the centre line. I’d kept quiet, gazing up at the canopies of two hundred year old gums. Silently willing the caravans to pull over in one of the few passing lanes. Almost ropable, Steve had flashed his lights, swerved out to get a line of sight, then zipped back in as a huge semi thundered past, scattering leaves and dust throughout our car.
“At least we’re living”, he’d declared, wiping at his eyes. “Not like these friggin’ cadavers at the wheel ahead”. Still I’d said nothing. Hoping he would wait until we had a clear stretch to pass.
The screech of rubber as we slid across the road had been deafening. Then the horizon had flipped and folded and then he was gone. No goodbye. No second chance. He was gone and I was on my own.
Now they expect me to just start anew. He might have even approved. Him and his bloody ‘seize the day’ mantra. Instant gratification. It doesn’t work for everyone, you know. With a chill I think how Steve felt, lying on the embankment after the accident. Listening to him sob that no one would come looking for him as the life bled out of him and seeped into the cold, damp earth.
I can’t just go out there and just start a new life with this new guy. Do they really think this is going to work? Flown down here, paraded out in front of these people. Watching me, touching me, waiting to see how I’ll perform. They haven’t told me anything about this guy. What about his history – why’s he here?
What do I want? No one has ever asked me, you know. I’m not exactly sure. I think that I just want to have someone and to give them the best of me. Give them the support they need. To be wanted.
God it’s cold in here. You’d think they’d at least turn the bloody lights on. Outside, machines ping and peep rhythmically. Then an authoritative voice barks. “OK, bring her out!”
The sudden flare of light when the lid opens is blinding. I gather myself and gaze up out of the container.
Above, 3 long fluorescent bulbs blaze against the grey, industrial roof. The stainless steel hood of a dormant light hovers above the box. Its brushed steel melts reflections of people I can hear but not see into a shapeless globule, from which they drip and float off into smaller blobs, like the bleed of ink in a lava lamp. I shiver, wondering whether I am up to it. I don’t have much choice, really.
A pair of hands, bloodied and gloved, reaches in and gently lifts me out of the container.
The sense of urgency is palpable amongst the gowned and masked figures surrounding the operating table. Kidney shaped bowls full of gleaming instruments rest on trolleys around the surgery. So much blood. As I am carried over the white tiled floor, I contemplate the electric green oscillations reporting on the adequacy with which these men and these machines are discharging their temporarily assumed duty to keep this man alive.
In the middle of it all, there he is. The recipient. Intubated and unconscious. In need.
Aren’t we all?