I take another swallow of my coffee and rub my eyes. Just two hours to go. Then I can sleep and it won't be Valentine' s Day anymore. It' s been such a miserable day.
I had a rather grand plan. I was going to buy flowers for my girlfriend and have them surprise-delivered to her at work. After they had been delivered, I was going to sweep into Chicago by way of train (with several hours to spare -- I packed books and several other diversions to pass the extra time) and whisk Lisa off to one of the classiest restaurants in town (straining, if not breaking, my meager work-study budget). Then we'd go back to her place, probably fairly buzzed, and pass out. Or not. And then she'd drop me off at the train station on her way to work the next morning. Of course, it all went awry.
Because I'd be gone for the rest of the week, I decided to get my work done early and submit it Tuesday night by email. In doing so, I was only able to catch a few hours of sleep before having to board my train. I awoke, groggily, and oh-so-very-slowly eased into my computer chair, readjusting the tiny space-heater to warm my feet. I perfunctorily checked all my email addresses and social networks for new messages, and then grumpily shuffled off to shave. I'd been lazy and allowed my stubble to grow to near a full-on beard. But I'd be wearing a suit today, so it had to go. In a few minutes my face was smooth again, so I turned on the shower. While the water heated, I quickly fixed myself breakfast (a simple cup of oatmeal with a handful of raisins and a splash of milk) and threw a cup of water in the microwave to warm. I glanced at the clock and growled: the cab to take me to the train station would arrive in 15 minutes -- and I still had to shower, get dressed, check the train schedule, and pack. Everything had to be perfect today, so I couldn't afford to miss a single detail. And the way New Years went, I wanted to have to depend on Lisa as little as possible.
I walked back into the bathroom after wolfing down the eight spoonfuls of oatmeal that my meal consisted of and was confused by the lack of steam in the air. I tested the shower water with my hand and frowned. It hadn't gotten any warmer. I scratched at my beard that wasn't there and decided to give it more time. I padded over to the kitchen, cursing at how cold my apartment was (even the sweater that I was wearing wasn't enough to keep me warm) and grabbed the hot water out of the microwave. I then used it to brew medicine to quell the first mutterings of a fever. I took the noxious concoction back to my room, set it on my desk to cool, and returned to the bathroom.
I ran my hand under the shower-water again, but it STILL hadn't gotten any warmer. With a small groan, I realized that this was as hot as it was going to get -- what warm water that was left would be gone in seconds! I tore my clothes off and jumped in, biting back a shriek at the frigid water: what had felt tolerable to my hands was, to the rest of my body, decidedly not. I pawed the showerhead down, dunked my body in the water for a few breaths, lathered up, and re-dunked myself. Cursing the waterheater soundly, I savagely toweled myself off and tottered back to my room. While standing in front of my space heater, I shivered into my new special long-underwear -- bought specifically for this trip to an even more dread-frozen city than Saint Louis. I called the train to check the schedule -- it had been delayed by half an hour. Not so bad, considering all the snow, I decided. At least it was still running. I didn't bother rescheduling the cab. What was thirty minutes?
Well. After I got to the train station, I found that by 'thirty minutes,' they really meant 'three hours' . It wasn't until 11:15am that we pulled out of the station. This didn' t bother me though: in fact, it was perfect timing, by my estimation. Three hours late would put my arrival at just when Lisa got off work at 5.
When I got on the train, I found a seat and started to doze almost immediately. I woke up in fits and starts, passing time but not getting any rest. I finally gave up around 4pm. I spent the next hour almost beside myself with anticipation; I was getting rather eager to get off the train. Then after 5pm passed, I spent the next half hour getting more and more frustrated that the landscape hadn't changed from bleak snowy countryside to slushy metropolis. At 5:30pm, we started pulling into a station called Joliet. I asked a passing train employee when we were expected to arrive.
"A few minutes," was his distracted answer.
"Chicago?" I countered
"Oh. 40 minutes." And then he was off again.
Another passenger snorted with derision, "We haven't even gotten to Joliet! We'll be at least another 2 hours! Perhaps more, with this weather!" he added. I widened my eyes in surprise and bolted for the snack car, desperate to get another opinion. I hopped down to the counter and casually asked the attendant when the train would get into Chicago. I took great care to seem almost disinterested in whatever the answer might be: I wanted to truth out of him, not what he might think I wanted to hear.
He scratched his beard and thought for a second, "An hour? Hour and a half?" At my look of dismay, he amended, "Hey look, I'm just the bartender. You should probably ask a conductor." Who lies.
First, I called the restaurant. I explained my situation, and they happily agreed to push my reservation to 9:30pm. Then I called Lisa. Through the awful static, I got the impression that she was already at the train station. Belatedly, I told her the news (three times before she could understand me), and that she should go home or get coffee or something. She said something about wanting to see a doctor, which I urged her to do. She said something noncommittal and then we were disconnected.
At 7pm, we finally pulled into the station. As I breathed fresh air again, I triumphantly called Lisa. If we left right away, we could still make our new reservations. I laughed at Fate, who seemed bent on daunting my every romantic move; at least in terms of Lisa. Fate laughed back.
While waiting for me, Lisa had collapsed in Union Station -- completely trumping my well-deserved martyrdom. She was promptly rushed to the closest hospital. I only got half of the name through the cellphone static that constantly strangled our phone-dependant relationship. Nonetheless, I tore through the station, asking directions, and finally jumped in a taxi. I was in such a hurry, that I clipped my jaw on the door, and though it left my head ringing, I was able to successfully convey to the driver that I needed to get to the University of Illinois hospital. He promptly dropped me off at the Rush hospital ER. Luckily the correct hospital was only a few blocks away and I swiftly jogged there.
I found the ER without much difficulty. I met with the hospital staff and asked if Lisa had been checked in. At the mention of her name, the woman behind the desk as well as two of the others nearby immediately perked up, turned their heads, and asked my relation to the girl. They buzzed me in, asking me all sorts of questions. They implied that she had suffered some sort of memory loss and couldn't recall any of her information. I frowned at that and filled out a form. I put down her name and her cell phone number. I didn't know her address, and the nurse raised her eyebrows at that. I explained that she had been living with a friend and had just recently moved into a new apartment, which I had never been to. I smiled helplessly, and cranked up the charm. After another minute, she ushered me into the room that they were keeping Lisa, explaining that she wanted to leave against their advice. They didn't know what was wrong with her yet, but she obviously couldn't leave -- she couldn't even stand up on her own! Could I please convince her to stay? I promised that I'd try as I found her lying on a stretcher.
"Happy Valentines Day," I murmured with a sad smile and picked up her hand.
"Ha. Oooh, don't touch me." she said, and shivered.
I drew my hand back, puzzled.
"Pass me that blanket? They want to keep me here," she muttered, "I keep telling them it's just a fever, but once you mention a heart condition, everyone freaks out."
I could only shake my head, while unfolding the blanket I found by her feet.
"You know how I pass out every now and then..." she continued, but trailed off.
The first thing that I could think to say was, "Your address. The nurses said you couldn't remember it?"
She grinned sheepishly, "I'm not a very co-operative patient," she explained without explaining.
I chuckled for her and pretended to accept her 'explanation'. We talked for another minute or so before I left at Lisa's behest. Supposedly to go fetch her car, but I suspect she just didn't want me to see her all hospital-gowned up. She suggested that I leave my backpack behind, and though I was reluctant to for some reason, I was tired of lugging it around with me for the past half-day. A nurse walked in, and as she was commenting on the latest urine sample, Lisa wryly asked me to please go get the car. I left my backpack behind.
As I walked towards the subway, I tried to make sense of what was happening. Lisa didn't seem that bad off, her fever didn' t seem much worse than mine; was this some sort of stunt for attention? An elaborate way to avoid a potentially awkward dinner? Did she think I was going to breakup with her tonight?
I got back a couple hours later. I walked up to the desk, and the lady behind it remembered me and let me back into the ward with a smile and a wink. I grinned and returned the wink. This time around, I met more of the hospital staff, including an affable fellow by the name of John. I stayed with Lisa for only a few short minutes before she sent me off on another errand; this time to retrieve her phone charger from her apartment -- about an hour away. The nurses were exasperated with her for not providing any information concerning her local address, and I was equally exasperated that her directions to her apartment involved more landmarks than street names or building numbers.
With a significant bit of cellphone-mapquest-help from Paul, and moral support from Niarcas, I eventually made it to Lisa's apartment. It took me a while to decipher her map, but eventually made my way inside the building and into her apartment. The lights didn't work. I sighed, and rifled through my pockets. After a bit of work, my frozen hands thawed enough for me to get at my cellphone. Using it as a flashlight, I set to work at looking for Lisa's charger. By now, my fever was in full swing. Every time I stooped low to examine a dark bundle of cords, I was overcome by a deeply unpleasant wave of sickness. It took me a few moments to wrench control of my body back from the shiver-shudders that gripped it. After a good bit of time and little bit of luck, I eventually found Lisa's phone charger. Victorious, I dropped to the floor to rest. As I sat in the near dark, my eyes adjusted to the dim light trickling in from a distant streetlamp. This was my first time at Lisa's place. She had never let me inside her Saint Louis apartment (supposedly because it was too ‘messy' ). This became a problem when she grudgingly had to leave off her frenetic packing to spend a little time with me (as opposed to letting me help her pack). I resisted the urge to get up and go through her clothes drawers, cabinets, and desks. My sudden and intense curiosity was quickly put down by my conscience. Though I would probably have been able to get away with such an invasion of privacy under the guise of 'looking for her phone charger,' I couldn't do it. I couldn't betray that paltry measure of trust that she'd granted me with the key that I held in my hand. I sighed, heaved myself to my feet, and left; locking the door behind me.
As I drove back to the hospital, I turned the situation over in my head. Why did I doubt that Lisa was actually sick? Did her behavior resemble my kid sister's when she was lying? Mine? Was it because Lisa begged me to not tell her parents? Something in her demeanor and the timing of everything screamed false to me. Perhaps I was just starting to doubt everything she said because of all the secrets she kept.
By the time I got back to the hospital, visiting hours had been over for ten minutes. The new lady at the desk seemed rather grumpy and indeed insisted that I couldn't be let back in -- and that I'd have to come back tomorrow. I maintained that I needed to see Lisa, at least to get my stuff back and give her back her car keys. She glowered at me and finally offered to call the desk upstairs, but it wasn't likely that they'd say I could come up. I dubiously agreed and she rang them. No answer. She frowned (I think she wanted to be able to dismiss me out of hand right then) and said I could try back in ten minutes; but her tone made it clear that she'd ensure the answer was 'no'.
Rebuffed, I walked back to the waiting area and plopped into a chair. Then my despair eased as I remembered that John said he'd be working until 3. I called the phone number that he had given me earlier and asked for him. Much to my chagrin, the voice that "greeted" me was the grumpy lady from behind the desk. With a smirk, I lilted my voice slightly -- masking the fact that that I was the fellow that she had turned away earlier.
"John who?" she asked, audibly narrowing her eyes.
At this I was stymied. I tried describing him, but the best I could come up with was, "He had brown hair? Oh, and he was wearing blue scrubs. And was using a pen that had four colors! It was a great pen."
The lady paused, "Could it have been Dr. Watson?"
I had no idea, "maybe."
The grump sighed, obviously annoyed, "Let's try this another way; what's his patient's name?"
At first, I didn't answer. If I told her that I was there for Lisa, we'd be back at square one. But what other option did I have? I had no other way of getting to John. In the end, I told her, and after a moment she found him.
"Who what? Who is this?" asked a guarded male voice.
"Erm." I tried describing myself, "That Indian guy in the black coat. I really liked your pen?"
"OH RIGHT. Gotcha. what's up?"
I'd like to say that Lisa was at the forefront of my mind. That I was desperate to know the state of her condition. Sadly, this wasn't the case. Firstly, I didn't think that she was really sick. Secondly, if she was actually sick, she already had people taking care of her and there wasn' t anything that I could do to help. Thirdly, I would be royally screwed if I didn't get my backpack back. But I knew that the nurse would expect me to be beside myself with concern, so the first thing I asked him was, "How is Lisa? Can I see her?
"Ah. She' ll be fine, she' ll be fine. Erm, it' s past visiting hours, so I can' t let you in to see her, but if you come back tomorrow morning around 11, I' m sure she' d be real glad to see you."
I clucked my tongue, "I see. Well, the thing is -- I won't be in town at 11. And I left my backpack in that room that she was in. And I need to give her back her car keys before I leave."
John's voice carried a small tone of regret, "Oh, well my hands are tied, I don't have any power now that she's been admitted. Normally you'd just have to wait until morning; but you have extenuating circumstances. Let me think. Your best bet is to call the charge nurse, yourself. Do you have a pen?"
I took down her number and thanked him wholeheartedly. It felt really good to have someone on my side. I called upstairs, laying out my whole sad story for the charge nurse; she accepted it without any protest, and in a manner that implied to me that she didn't care much one way or the other; so long as I was brief, "Oh you just want to grab something? Come on up."
I walked back to the front desk, armed with Charge-Nurse Marcella' s name, expecting to have to fight to be let up. Instead I found no one at the desk. I looked around and caught sight of the surly police officer, who grudgingly wrote me a pass and ushered me on my way.
I wandered through the dark hospital halls and ran into a knot of what seemed to be Residents; each not more than a year or two older that me. They were a lot friendlier than I was prepared for and gave me directions to Lisa' s room. I thanked them and slipped inside.
"Heyyy," Lisa faintly greeted me.
"Hey," I replied tiredly.
She twisted her head to see me better, "Why aren' t you wearing a mask? They let you in without a mask?"
"They think I have Scarlet Fever."
"Whoa..." I didn' t know what to say. Suddenly I felt debilitatingly guilty for not believing that she was sick for most of the evening, "That still. Exists?"
Lisa gave a bitter chuckle, which was clipped short by a cough. I held her hand. Then I nearly dropped it, realizing the potential danger; but to my credit, I didn' t. Whatever harm to be done was already done. She was no more sick now in bed than she had been earlier this evening; I was suddenly thankful that I hadn' t kissed her earlier in the day.
"Who all have you told that I' m in the hospital?" she suddenly asked me.
"Hm. Paul, Niarcas, Igor…" I thought back over my phone conversations for the evening, "OJ, Natasha."
"You didn' t call my parents, did you?"
"No, you asked me not to earlier," I began, "and you' re an adult, so it' s your choice. However, I really think you should call them."
"I know, I know, I will. But not now. Not until the doctors know what' s wrong with me for sure. I don' t want them to worry unnecessarily."
"Alright then," I continued to revise the less-than-forgiving opinion I had formed about her behavior. I sighed and sat down.
"You know you should break up with me, Jeff. I'm a horrible girlfriend. I'm a weakling. I don' t have time to call you."
I didn' t want this. I didn' t want her to be saying the only things that could douse the small bit of anger that I was using to protect myself. It was easier if I could be mad at her. But now that I knew that she knew that there was a problem, maybe she' d take steps to correct it. Except. She wasn' t taking responsibility for not ever calling me or answering the phone. The anger kindled anew, and I held it close.
"Actually, you should wait to see if I die," she continued offhandedly, " You should at least stick around and see if this kills me, because then you could say that your girlfriend died of Scarlet Fever, and wouldn' t that be a great story?"
I only smirked at her and ruffled her hair, " Go to bed. I' ll call you tomorrow morning."
And so I left. Lisa had offered to let me keep her car for the night and sleep at her apartment; but it was very far away and I only had another five or so hours to go before my train left. I figured that I could just go to the train station, find a chair, and sleep until then. So I called a cab, which took me to the train station. I tried the main door, but it was locked. And the next door was locked as well. I continued my circuit of the building until I found a small guardhouse with a man inside. I asked him which entrance was open and he replied that none were -- the station didn't open for another three hours. And just like that, I gave up. I surrendered to the gloom that had been gnawing at me all night and trudged back to the cab. I didn't have any place to go. It was far too late to call my brother's girlfriend and crash at her place. I briefly considered just waiting outside, but decided that the cold would probably kill me (by now, it was negative-six degrees outside). Luckily, the cab driver that had brought me to the station had watched all of this, and came back when I flagged him back down. He asked me where I wanted to go. I asked him if there were any nearby hotels. He didn' t know. I considered driving around till we found one, but decided it wasn't worth the effort. I'd only get an hour or two of sleep and risk missing my train. I resignedly asked him to take me back to the hospital. He thought for a second and suggested we go to Greek Town. There were a few 24-hour cafes there, and when the station opened, I could just walk back. So we went to Greek town.
At the first cafe we found, I got out and paid him. It was a cozy little place that was brightly lit and sparsely peopled with a few drunken college kids wearing prom-clothes. I grimly chuckled as I realized that they hadn't just left a formal -- it was Valentines Day. I bought a coffee with my last dollar (the place didn' t take credit cards). And, though I had decided to nurse it as long as possible (so that they wouldn' t kick me out), I couldn' t help but drink deep. The coffee was very good and shook off most of the chill. The caffeine rubbed the edges of my darkening mood smooth. After a while, I crossed the street to the other café where, rumor had it, there was an ATM. Not only was there an ATM, but they accepted credit cards! So I bought a hardy Gyro breakfast and started typing about how terrible my day had been. By 6am, I was about ready to leave and headed out.
While I was leaving, I ran into a homeless woman who asked me for change. This evening of being something of a vagabond had left me sympathetic to her plight and, as I had just gotten some funds from the ATM, I handed her a ten-dollar-bill. Her eyes widened with surprise and she thanked me profusely, taking my hand and blessing me in the name of Jesus and Mary. She then did something I've never ever seen a panhandler do in my life: she walked across the street and bought herself breakfast with the money that I had given her.
I smiled to myself sadly as I replaced my wallet. Having gained some perspective, I re-wrapped my head and headed off to the station.
About halfway there, I was bowled over by a fist of icy wind and retreated inside a supermarket to warm. I could have sworn the station was much closer than this. I removed my head-coverings, blew my nose, and decided to get directions and make sure I was headed the right direction. There was a Starbucks inside the store, so I decided to ask the cashier.
"Excuse me, miss?"
"We' re not open yet." The girl didn' t even turn to me as she spoke. I chuckled to myself and wondered what I found so amusing. I was probably just drunk on sleep deprivation. I waited patiently for her to finish her task and notice me. After about a minute she finally did, with a start, "What?"
"Do you know how to get to Union Station?"
"Oh. Well," and she thought for a moment, "You could take the Hamilton 84, but I' m not sure if that' s running yet. Hm. There' s also the Washington 55, but that doesn' t take you right there."
"Oh, well, I was actually planning on walking there, not taking a bus. I was told it was just down the street."
For a moment, she just goggled at me, " You' re WALKING there? In that?" She pointed outside.
I took a moment' s satisfaction at her disbelief and horror. Eventually, I wrangled the directions out of her and continued on my way. After a small while, I made it to the station, opened up my laptop, and finished typing my story.
So it's been a little over a month since that terrible day. Lisa and I broke up yesterday. Her behavior had become so dismissive and incomprehensible that I finally sat her down for a 'serious talk.' Over the past couple months my feelings had shifted from hurt to anger to indifference. If she had been in town sooner and we had this talk earlier, I would probably have been willing to work it out with her; but by now I really didn't care enough. So as I was getting ready to let her down easy, she beat me to the punch. Sort of.
Much to my relief, she explained that she had been treating me this way in an effort to get me to break up with her. She said that she liked me and so she was unable to be overtly mean -- so instead she just ignored me. She didn't like feeling guilty over not having time to spend on our relationship. Though I'd like to say that I'd have preferred that she had just been 'mean' and be done with it -- it would have made our current arrangement impossible.
As I have experienced in the past with two other girlfriends, Lisa and I are now in an 'open relationship.' In both cases prior, this arrangement was just a way for one person (the person whose idea it wasn't) to endure as painful and bloody of a break-up as possible. I did this to Claire, and Rachel did it to me. And now Lisa proposes the very same thing. Although my reaction last time was something to the effect of, " Oh dear god, NO;" this time around I was far more amenable to it.
Of course, it occurred to me that her explanation was a cover for her pride, but I haven't been able to come up with any better possible reasons for her to have acted the way she has. Still, I'll be watching her closely for any signs that this really isn't what she wants after all.
[i never saw her again after the ...redefinition of our relationshiop --9/19/07]
and yes -- she did actually have Scarlet Fever. Which is like Strep
Throat, but worse.