Two female vampires were waiting for me outside of the door. One held a clipboard.
No, I don’t have an appointment, I informed them. I haven’t donated in a very long time, I said. I don’t like the idea of a thick needle stuck into my vein, draining my life force away.
They giggled. Long black fingernails brushed my arm for reassurance.
I was scared, but I was a cowboy. I strode inside, hung my faux leather Stetson up on the wall then leaned back into a padded seat and waited.
I promised Lucy the phlebotomist that I hadn’t recently had risky sex or shared any dirty needles. Would you be willing to give a double red blood cell donation? she wanted to know. It would take twice as long and double the recovery time.
Sure, I agreed. Whatever it was, I wanted to help. I also desperately needed proof that I could handle it. This was a stepping stone to other things – larger, older, and more complicated – I needed to deal with.
I lay on the table and glanced over at the gypsy woman next to me. I recognized her. I’d seen her around. There was something interesting about her, something in the way she held your eyes when she spoke. Today she wore a low cut top, and blue skirts with silver bells and clappers. I nodded hello and tried not to hold on too long to her exposed thighs, neck, and cleavage.
It was hard. It was Halloween. And it all had to be meaningful in some grandiose way. But that was stupid. I was merely going through the motions. I had wasted time conquering other fears. I’d jumped out at thirteen thousand feet and pulled my own chute. I’d wandered up trackless desert mountain peaks. I recently asked for the twenty-eight year old police report from the hit and run accident that had killed my father.
None of it helped. I wondered why I thought that it would. I was still numb. And lately I couldn’t seem to quiet the stinging chatter in my mind. Losing my grip had become a palpable anxiety that I worried was now noticeable.
I bit my bottom lip. Lucy the phlebotomist was a no nonsense woman with broad shoulders, but she was gentle too. She placed a soft rubber ball in my palm. I squeezed. Her hands were warm. She told me that she hiked in the Santa Cruz Mountains with her three German Shepherd rescues. She must have noticed that I listened too intently to every word she said and that I never once looked over at what she was probing under my skin.
There was a needle inside my veins. I lied to her. I told her that I was fine. I stared around, taking in biohazard waste containers, boxes of nitrile gloves, and refrigerated cabinets slowly, one thing at a time.
Gypsy bells rang softly as my neighbor rose. She shouldn’t have left so soon.
Suddenly I was all alone. I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t going to panic. I watched through the window as the late arrivals rolled through the lot. A Lexus driver on his cell phone dropped his little girls – kindergarten, second grade – off at the curb with an awkward wave. He wore sunglasses and an unchanging expression. I was glad that he wasn’t my dad.
My father was strict, fun, wild, and complicated. He was killed two days before turning thirty-eight. We buried him on his birthday, only a week before we were to depart on a cross country trip. Instead of souvenirs from the Slusher Family trip of a lifetime I spent the money I saved on a black and white television. I sat alone in my room and watched reruns. I kept it all inside. I grew up. Suddenly I was also about to turn thirty-eight too. Suddenly I had a family of my own. Suddenly my baby girl was nine years old, the same age as I was when my father died.
The past swelled up under my skin. I had trouble sitting still. If I penetrated the sadness, anger, resentment, and frustration that I had held onto for so long I wasn’t certain that I could keep it all together. Numbness had been my lifelong treatment, but its effect was waning. I was experiencing a turbulence that couldn’t be navigated on autopilot anymore. Like it or not I was waking up.
Lucy the phlebotomist reminded me to continue to give the ball a little squeeze. I closed my eyes, squeezed, and felt a rising sense of accomplishment. I didn’t know what it was exactly that scared me about giving blood. I didn’t mind the sight of my own blood. Maybe it was the penetration into a place that I couldn’t see. But – whatever it was – I was going to make it. At least I could do this one thing. I felt the beginning of tears and willed them to grow. I wasn’t ashamed. But almost was the best I could manage.
When it was all over with, I sat up, drank some O.J. and finished a granola bar in two bites. Instead of waiting a few minutes to recover, I grabbed my sticker and two more for the kids, and the door slammed behind me as I got the hell out of there.
BE NICE TO ME. I GAVE BLOOD TODAY.
Back in the car I pulled a few hairs as I ripped off the bandage.
The little red dot underneath was so small.
published 26 October 2013