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" Change or Die | 2008 | The Breaststroke "

01.24.08 2:37 p.m.

Love is much like a wild rose, beautiful and calm, but willing to draw blood in its defense.  

-Mark Overby


Drawing Blood

The oddest sensation I have yet experienced is opening my eyes to a circle of nurses touching me and the few seconds before I realized why.

"Did I faint?" I ask, needlessly. I am on the floor of the doctor's office, but I truly don't know what fainting is supposed to feel like, having never had occasion to do it before. The nurses had drawn my blood for testing and things got a little fuzzy around the edges, then aqua and very far away, as though I looked at the world from the bottom of a pool. I labored to breathe. The nurses told me to put my head between my knees and placed a garbage can in front of me, ostensibly because vomiting is a predicted reaction to wooziness. I suppose I remember them trying to move me into another room, but it was like sleeping. I had the sliver of a dream, I felt warm and ethereal, and then opened my eyes to these women in various pastels.

"I am rubbing your chest to wake you up," one of the nurses tells me as though I am going to question why I am being touched by a stranger. In this situation, it feels best to simply go with the flow. Yes, whatever you are doing is medically necessary and I am really in no state to question your judgment. Please refrain from stealing my wallet, thanks.

"I'm sorry I fainted. I've never done that before. I hope I wasn't any trouble?" I don't know how long I was out and am actually too disconnected to ask them, not that I am sure I would like the answer. At the very least, it was long enough that every nurse in the office came to my side and looked more than slightly concerned for my welfare. I smile up at the one in purple, who had been drawing my blood, who had tried to chat to me about work to take my mind off the needle in my arm. She tells me that I am their first fainting of the year.

"We are going to lift you up now. Slowly."

"Okay," I agree. "Thank you. I would appreciate that."

"And we are going to put you in a room with a chair that reclines."

"That would be lovely."

One of the nurses squints at my formality. "Would you like something to eat? We have doughnut holes in the other room."

"Oh, don't go to any bother on my account, really. Some water, though, would be nice?" Even I wonder at this reaction, though perhaps something genetic gives me British tact when confronted with situations in which I am helpless. The nurses are more than willing to accommodate my request and insist upon taking me the seven feet to the private room in a wheel chair. I am down to 155 pounds, I doubt these eight couldn't simple nudge me in the direction of the room, but I don't care to make a fuss. I could not have walked there on my own, even crawling would be a struggle.

Emily reacted badly when I offhandedly suggested to her days before that I would be getting a blood test for the peace of mind of any future partners, who will obviously have had access to this saga so far and whom I would find positively batty for believing me at nothing more than, "I don't actually think anything happened where I would have been exposed to diseases." I need to do this not as an insult to her virtue, but as a confirmation of mine.

My doctor found the whole situation comical, which is one of the reasons I like her so much. She came into the examining room before the test to give me a prescreening and her first question after I unfurl my purpose is, "You're not gay, right?"

"No, I'm very much straight." But, I realize, I referred to Emily as my former partner, not my ex-wife. I explain this as well, that this had long been the term I used, though one gently borrowed from the queer community for its accuracy. Our union was never state sanctioned, either, yet she hadn't been simply my girlfriend in three years.

"I thought so, but some of the girls were asking," she says, referring to the nurses. I wonder at this, why I am being discussed, but then justify that I told the secretary my reason for a blood test and it certainly had to get passed on.

She went through various other questions with me, all required, she assured me. She delighted in the fact that I actually happened to know a good amount about the transmission of HIV and safer sex practices, but I do have almost a decade of sexual activity under my belt, as it were, and a former partner who interned for Gay Men's Health Crisis. One does tend to pick up a few things. When she admonishes me for have had sex with Emily using only spermicidal contraceptive sponges, she audibly guffaws when I immediately retort, "I had assumed I was in a long term, mutually monogamous relationship at the time - despite evidence than would suggest otherwise - and we certainly could have dealt with any unplanned pregnancies, should one have arisen." Apparently, cow country does not breed people in their late twenties who think this way.

The nurses hold me hostage in the office for an hour. I sit in the reclining chair and gradually get my strength back, bolstered by the jelly-filled doughnut holes the nurses feed me out of pity. I feel so strange, not because of the shock of having lost consciousness or the paltry blood loss, but because I have no other option but to be here, dizzy and weak because blood testing follows heartbreak. In my groggy state, I imagine the nurses finding tiny fragments of crystallized cardiac muscle floating in my blood that never managed to reintegrate into the whole.

Soon in Xenology: Coping. Dates. Ideal Wives. Melanie.

last watched: Juno
reading: Franny and Zooey
listening: A Light of Some Kind

" Change or Die | 2008 | The Breaststroke "

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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