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Pneumonia: Episode one

Writing nonfiction has always come easily to me; even the most mundane events have inspiration buried inside them, which is why I cherish challenges to make events like workdays inspiring. Sometimes, however, the scene cuts itself short, and there’s no “angry blob monster” strategy to negotiate a nonfiction author’s writer’s block.

With that, I give you a piece about my college years. Critique, comment; give me somewhere to go aside from the obvious, a path my brain seems adamant not to take.

**

I lay down on the cement, which feels warmer than my body. I breathe in deeply, as deeply as I can, and my lungs begin to itch terribly. I exhale quickly, fearfully, but I waited too long. The cough comes, horrible and fluid.

I bask in the sunlight in deep fall. It’s fall, isn’t it? I close my eyes because my head is spinning, taking the sky along with it. I breathe again. I avoid the cough, barely.

Baylor’s doctors told me I have pneumonia. How long ago was that? I open my eyes and look around; I’m at Baylor Student Learning Center, home of their medical team. I moan as my head swells. Tears well up in my eyes.

My head hurts so badly. I tried to break it on the cinder blocks of my dorm room. It woke me up, the pain. I coughed and coughed and coughed, my diaphragm yanking my body into a fetal position. And then I turned to look at the entrance of my dorm room with that damn two by one foot vent. The never ending blast of cold splashed right on me, blew onto my bed unavoidably. Damn it to hell, my nemesis.

Turning back to the window, I shivered under my comforter. My head never settled down, never stopped spinning, never stopped aching. I had class today, my last class before Thanksgiving Break, before going home to my family. I banged my head against the wall instead.

I wanted to fracture the skull, the see pieces of it sliding down the beige blocks. I wanted to see the cold, malevolent wall painted in my blood and bone. I didn’t even manage to bruise myself, didn’t even chafe the dry skin. I was too weak.

Colt had come in and asked me why I missed class. I groaned, got up, and vomited in our sink. Or did I dream about vomiting in the sink? He asked me if he could take me to the doctors at the SLC. That was after I said I couldn’t drive there, couldn’t even walk there.

He had dropped me off at the entrance, but he didn’t wait around. If he had stayed, he might’ve hit rush hour traffic in Houston, four hours away. I opened the door and climbed out and off he went like a bullet in his sporty silver Civic.

Oh, my fucking head. I grab it with my hands, I shut my eyes tightly, I rub my temples, but nothing helps. Athena. Zeus. Oh, God, I’m about to pass out.

A female voice speaks over me: “Do you need some help?” It seems all consuming. It pounds inside my fevered head. The cement is cold. The sun is weak.

I open my eyes. It’s the nurse who had me wait two hours to see a doctor. “Grandparents,” I mumble, “coming.”

“What?” she asks.

I cough, regaining some strength. “My grandparents are coming.”

“Do you need a ride to the hospital?”

They had told me in the doctors’ office that they couldn’t drive me to the hospital, that it made them liable if something happened on the way. I couldn’t drive, though, can’t drive now, passed out on the sidewalk.

I pull out my cell phone and call my grandparents. This confuses the nurse, but she stands there politely. My grandparents don’t answer; I get their machine. It’s been forty-five minutes since they said they were on their way, though. I’ve made the trip from the college to their house before; it’s fifteen minutes, tops.

I struggle to put the cell phone away, pushing it forcefully into my pocket, and lift my hand to the nurse, which induces more pounding in my head. My hand only lifted just over a foot off the ground before it flopped back, limp with exhaustion. What’s happening to me? Fear sets in, and adrenaline starts to pump.

With effort, I sit up. My coughing nearly topples me.

“Do you need help?” she asks me again.

“Oh, God, yes.” My voice shakes. I’m on the verge of tears.

“Do you remember what the doctor said you had?”

“Pneumonia.”

Just then, my grandparents pulled up in the driveway. The nurse pulled on my arm, trying to get me up.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Garden Part One: Kallion, my dog, my child, my love

My first two-parter, now with picture goodness! I’ll post the second section on Thursday. Thanks for the feedback, the shares, and the views. 🙂 Also, just because you CAN post anonymously doesn’t mean you SHOULD. ;-p

**

I have a dog. Some readers will wonder what breed she is, what her attitude, etc. Others will stiffen slightly, remembering the times they brushed against the wall rather than letting that animal sniff their pleats. Still others will shrug: he has a dog, so what?

I got my dog in college. She had been abandoned in Waco, TX and picked up by the SPCA. She arrived in her cage six hours before the first time I saw her. Her youth and her timidity appealed to me, as did her size. Fifty-two pounds and six months old, the white Husky and German Shepherd mutt backed away from me and my friends in the little play pen. Her color was pure except for the freckles on her nose, and her left ear flopped while the right one stood erect.

I crouched, and her brown eyes looked back into my blues, and I wondered why she was so afraid. Had her previous owners beaten her, teaching her to fear humans? Had she been abandoned, left to struggle for survival still so young? Did she suffer from simple social anxiety, nervous of newcomers and new situations, both of which surrounded her in that moment?

Slowly she came to me. She nuzzled her freckled head under my right hand, and I felt her damp nose against my skin, a wetness I would come to know personally over the subsequent years. She trusted me so quickly, which contrasted so starkly with her fear. Her legs trembled underneath her. But she didn’t whimper, didn’t make a sound.

Photo 159

Her sweetness as I’m writing this post

I couldn’t take her home that day. The SPCA has a policy that animals have to stay with them at least three days, and they had to spay her besides. The day of her operation, I waited in the anteroom, really just little Texas shack attached to a series of tiny monastic cells that a little statue of Saint Francis watched over. The brown wood-panelled walls and dirty linoleum tile muted what light made it through the soft linen curtains, amplifying my worry.

I felt anxious and worried. The procedure had run late, or maybe just the vet performing it, and my legs hopped up and down uncontrollably. I wanted her to be out of that place; I wanted her with me. Already I wanted to protect her from the pain of the world even though, indirectly, I was the one who had put her on the table.

Does understanding these emotions really require a dog person? Do cat persons understand what I went through? Can I ask for a little empathy from parents to picture a little puppy as a little child, afraid and frightened and alone, vulnerable without your care? Or is everyone with me, shaking with me in that stuffy little room?

I already saw myself as her protector, as the one assigned to allow her to experience the world without taking more damage than necessary. I already loved her in some small way, but not as a thing to pet and feed and walk on occasion; rather, I loved her as if I were a parent. No, there is a little abstraction here; I loved her as a guardian. I am not a father and cannot describe the differences (if any exist) between how I feel towards Kalli and how a father might feel towards his child. I love her; I want her with me all of the time. I want to do what’s best for her, and I want to protect her from the harm in this world without sheltering her from the world as it really exists. How do you balance those desires, to protect her and to give her free reign?

I'm chill, daddio. Promise.

I'm chill, daddio. Promise.

The second I got her inside the industrial loft I lived in, she puked a yellow liquid all over my roommate’s green decorative carpet. We had laid it under the Ikea living room table, about five feet from the front door and in between the two off-white cloth couches, and Kalli lurched for it, begging for anything not cement so that the liquid would drain into it. I laughed, but my roommate didn’t react as smoothly.

I called the vet the same day and asked about her health, but they said that she was just reacting to the anesthetic. Days went by: Kalli continued to vomit, and I began to lose confidence in the SPCA’s vet. Kalli wouldn’t eat at all, either. When I spoke with the SPCA again, they suggested that she was just having a hard time adjusting to her new environment and that I should spend more time with her or leave her alone so she can get settled, whichever.

I stayed with her for four days straight. She slept in my bed with me, cuddled inside my fetal abdominal curve or behind the bend of my knees. I researched several tricks to get her to eat: microwaving the food or mixing it with beef broth. Neither worked. I became frustrated with her when she turned away after sniffing the food, yelling out my whys and why nots with violent hand gestures before sinking back in to resignation that for some reason I wasn’t going to be able to keep my dog alive. She continued to waste away.

After ten days I took her to another vet, convinced that the SPCA had pegged her symptoms wrong. The PetsMart (Banfield) vet took simple stool test and basic blood work, which revealed that Kalli suffered from intestinal worms and stomach parasites, respectively. A shot took care of most of her symptoms within hours; the vet recommended that I feed her bread and baby food for the first few days to get her digestive system on track. She began to eat, and I nearly cried. For the curious, she preferred squash baby food, and to this day bread remains one of her favorite treats.

Kalli in Cambridge, MA circa 2006

Kalli in Cambridge, MA circa 2006

Once she fully recovered, I hardly ever had her on a leash. Those of you not from Texas may feel tempted to think of it by its cliché, open ranges and big trucks and cowboy hats, but I lived in busy college-student filled apartment complex and let her out off the leash. I took her out at two in the morning when no one else was around (Baylor is a fairly boring school, after all) and taught her that curbs were boundaries and that I meant it when I said “Come here.”

I had to teach her how to negotiate stairways because she was so afraid of steps; the first time I walked up a small set of five that I normally bypassed, she looked at me from the bottom as if to say, “Good for you, but I’m not following.” I spent thirty minutes to get her up those little steps. I took the time and taught her what she needed to know. I also learned about her, such as when to trust that she’d listen to me and when to take tangible control (Squirrels and rabbits are a dangers, especially since I’ll let her chase them in parks but not in suburbs.).

Did she learn to obey my commands because I gave them frugally and only with reason? I never hit her to make a lesson sink in, and I never gave her treats—she only ate bread aside from her normal food, and I offered that freely, not as a reward. Therefore, I had no positive and no negative feedback to give her aside from my affection and admonition, neither of which really have affect unless you admit that maybe the ways in which people describe dogs’ emotions aren’t just personification. Did she learn to obey my commands because she loved me, perhaps because she was aware that I had taken care of her during her sickness or because I spent time with her as a family member might, as a friend might, as a pack member might? I’d guess the answer lies in that emotional milieu somewhere, but maybe that’s just me.

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Author: Greg Freed

This post won the WOOF contest from PlotDog Press on July 24, 2009.

Other winner:
Zorlone – After Thought – A poem of regret.
Dragon Blogger – Sweet Songs of Youth – Poem about childhood love and innocence.
Jennifer M Scott – Among Lilac – A poem of decisions.

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing