White Room

February 8, 2008
By Matt Hersha, Columbus, OH

He was alone, completely alone. There was not a soul around him, not a single human present, only the quiet sound of the breeze, addicting and satisfying all at once. He was in a brilliant white room, a cubic egg, protecting its resident until it was time to hatch. A small haze floated carelessly around in the empty atmosphere, as if a fire had been blazing inside for several hours, and had suddenly been extinguished, leaving behind only the thin, glassy glaze of smoke. In front of him was peace, shifting slightly back and forth, but not disturbing the unnatural bliss of the room, only making itself known, and then continuing on uniformly.

Josh woke up, reemerging from his sea of tranquility, unaware of where he was or why he had been there, but truly desiring to go back. A sterile environment it had been, so clean and biological, so radical; there was surely no such place in existence on the face of the Earth. Not with the development of television dinners and The Simpson’s.

“Josh?” questioned a soft, quiet voice, a sound which ricocheted blindly around inside his head. The location where he was currently positioned had not yet become evident; sound without context is a nauseating phenomenon.

“Oh, Josh!” The voice grew considerably louder with crescendo, echoing back and forth between Josh’s ears, forcing so much pressure onto his auditory nerve that he thought his brain was going to compress and implode. He knew the voice; he just had no idea wherefrom.

“You almost got away from us, Josh.” A new voice, this one from his right ear, stage left if he were sitting in an audience. The world was in front of him, and he was just a spectator, watching the action rise and fall skillfully with explicit accuracy.

A pair of arms closed around him, sending massive jolts of pain up his right arm, making him cry out in agony. Only he couldn’t cry out. There was something hard and plastic shoved down his throat.

Darn! He remembered where he was, who he was, who this person was and why she was asphyxiating him, why the pain was throbbing in his left arm. The throbbing pain! He had experienced it before. Memories flooded back into his mind, taking up space on the walls of his lovely little white room, an apartment in his head, where everyone he had ever met and everything he had ever done hung on the walls like portraits, waiting until Josh desired to consort with them. Had it really only happened yesterday? Was today yesterday? For all Josh knew, three hours or two days had passed since he had been shot.

“Easy, Mrs. Schultz,” the unknown voice, a man in surgical scrubs, said as he reached down and gently released Elaine Schultz’s grasp on her twelve year old son. “That arm’s got to be hurting him pretty bad.” Gosh, Josh thought, for a doctor you would think he would have more of an expansive vocabulary. What an ignoramus.

“Josh,” the supposéd-doctor said quietly, utilizing a painfully pitchy whisper, “My name is Dr. Germaine. I don’t want you to try and talk; I know that tube is uncomfortable and we’re going to try and get it out of there as soon as possible. But right now, I want you to relax until we make sure your mind still works. Do you remember what happened yesterday?”

Okay, so today was today and yesterday was yesterday. Josh nodded his head slowly, wanting to make sure that the tube wasn’t going to Heimlich him if it rubbed the wrong way or shifted position in his throat.

“Do you remember who shot you?” The doctor was speaking to him as if he were a three year old who could speak only in five word sentences and barely articulate basic human functions, but at the present moment, Josh was too concerned with his new “plumbing” to show the traditional, “appropriate” teenage angst, so he once again nodded. Who would have thought that a discussion on the American Civil War would lead to so much pain?

“Good,” Dr. Germaine said, nodding along with Josh. “Now Josh, I’m going to go talk with your mom and your brother, and then I’ll come back in and take that tube out. Mrs. Schultz, if you’ll follow me.” Taking her firmly yet caringly by the arm, Dr. Germaine led Josh’s mother, and subsequently his little brother, out of the room, leaving only him and the mundane beeping of the EKG monitor. Looking around, Josh observed the walls. These, unlike those within his tiny white room, were not incredibly warm and comforting. They were covered in blue and pink bunnies, which were certainly haunting to wake up to in the middle of the night. Plus, they were neon pink and neon blue, only adding to the excitement.

Lying back against the pillow, Josh turned onto his side (causing the tube to once again shift position), and tried to recollect the details. Sixth grade. Class. History. The Civil War. Argument. Josh. Grant. Kyle. Johnston. New day. Gunshots. Hospital. Strange doctor. Pain.

Well, Josh said sarcastically to himself, it’s good to know that my mind still works the way it should. Sarcasm told to one’s self is a very tough sell, and generally has a disappointing effect. You think it’s going to be wicked awesome, but then you’re left thinking, “Did I really accent the right vowels and words in my head, assuming that the sound that was not made was made properly with the correct articulation.” That was, however, a different conundrum for a different hospitalization.

Dr. Germaine, who most likely drove a very nice car, reentered the room, unaccompanied. “This procedure – taking out the tube – can be disturbing for family members to see.” Dr. Germaine clearly had a well developed and keen bedside manner. At least he didn’t laugh to diffuse uncomfortable situations. Doctors who laughed were just cruel…hilarious, sometimes satirical, but horribly cruel.

“Almost got it,” the doctor said, adopting the face of a struggling shot putter the instant before release. “There. Well, that wasn’t so bad was it?” he exhaled, patting Josh on his neatly cropped blonde hair. Josh followed the doctor’s hand with his glassy brown eyes as it went through the air and landed on Germaine’s forehead, brushing away a few rogue drops of sweat. Nice to see the procedure was so stimulating for you, Josh thought.

“Feel okay?” Germaine asked. [Beat] “Throat a little dry?” [Beat] “Don’t want to talk?” [Beat] “Well, I can take a hint. [No, you really can’t.] I’ll let you get some rest.” The doctor walked out of the room, but stopped abruptly.

The two cops nearly pounced on him.

“Can we talk to him now?” the first cop asked, failing to hide the strain in his voice.

“No, he’s resting,” the doctor said.

“Come on, Doc,” the second police officer whined, “we’ve been here for an hour, and it’s the wife’s birthday.”

“Look, I don’t care if it’s your quadriplegic, dyslexic, bi-polar diabetic son’s Bar Mitzvah; you’re not going to talk to him.”

“You’re Jewish?” Cop One asked Cop Two. Cop Two shook it off with an air of disgust, and said:

“The other boy, the one in 215, is stable. The only reason he’s here is because his hillbilly of a father insisted that the school resource officer snapped his wrist. Frankly, he won’t shut up; driving us up the friggin wall, he is. I can take him, but I need him,” he emphasized, gesturing toward Josh, “to identify the kid as the shooter.”

“Not now,” the doctor said. “Go home, take a walk…pet your son, I don’t care. All I know is you’re not talking to my patient.”

Frustrated, the two cops decided to go down to the café to have a coffee or two, hoping the “Good Doctor” would change his mind. Dr. Germaine, having fought what he hoped would be the last battle of his day, retreated to his office, collected his briefcase, backed up his computer and went home to his wife (it was their anniversary, and the cops questioning Josh would have forced him to stay late, something that surely would have agitated Mrs. Germaine).

Night set in on the hospital, causing an eerie silence to float through the halls, creeping up through the floors and finding escape through the windows. Who would have thought that silence could be so mobile?
Josh’s mom and little brother came in one more time that night; he elected to pretend that he couldn’t talk, and advised them (via notepad) to go home and sleep. They accepted his order, and left Josh alone to his monotone thoughts.

Looking over at his clock, Josh could see that it was midnight, the absolute dawn of a new day. Hoisting himself up, he looked around the room, realized that any six year old tenant would have wet his hospital gown by now, and inched his way off the bed. There was pain, of course, but not in his shoulder. The pain from the bullet had morphed into a dull throb which simply refused to go away, resembling the sensation following the pulling of several teeth in one sitting. The pain was in his wrist. Every time he moved, his I.V. was pulled or pushed in one polar direction or another, causing sharp, violent stabs of pain to radiate up through his nerves.

Cursing Sir Isaac Newton, Josh was able to defy gravity, pull himself up onto his feet, and eventually began to move forward. After a few steps he stopped, turned back, and wrote a note in the slight chance that his telephone-addicted nurse decided to do her rounds.

“I left this room on my own will, most likely against medical advice -- Josh Schultz”
Putting down his pencil, he began the trek through the lonely, cold, sterile halls of the hospital.

Room 215. The bright metallic sign seemed to be pulsating in front of his face. The door to the room was open, and inside he could see two beds. One was inhabited by an older gentleman who appeared to be in for some bronchial infection, a condition which would have never ailed someone Josh’s age, but could probably kill anyone who wore orthopedic shoes.

But there, in the second bed, was Kyle Glass, sleeping peacefully with a thick cast on one hand and a handcuff around the other. At least he had to put on a hospital gown, Josh thought, basking in his one pleasure. And he has an I.V., too. I bet the bone went right through the skin. Nice!

Shifting his feet forward, Josh was able to make it to Kyle’s bed.

“Sleep tight,” Josh said, making his first sound in hours. His voice surprised him: It was lower than normal. “Please, let the bed bugs bite.”

Kyle’s eyes shot open, scared by the sudden sound in the room. Seeing Josh looking back down at him, he relaxed, not judging Josh, who was smaller and leaner than he was, to be much of a threat. “Oh,” he said. “Hey, bud.”

“You know I actually liked you,” Josh said, letting his eyes focus. “Everyone else hated you, and yet I was the one person that didn’t mind your existence. So of course, I get shot in the arm.”

“Look, it was nothing personal, man,” Kyle yawned, closing his eyes and leaning on his good arm, the one in handcuffs. “You upset me. I didn’t like what you said. I wasn’t attacking you personally. Sometimes, in order to make a point, good people have to get hurt. They have to take a bullet for the team.”

“You weren’t attacking me,” Josh said, calmly. “Do you even know who I am? Here’s who I am. My name is Josh Schultz. I was born on October 8, 1994, right here in New York City. My mom’s name is Elaine, my dad’s name is Jeff, and my little brother’s name is Drew. I live in Alphabet City and yet I hate alphabet soup. I like to watch television when I’m not doing homework. I hate reading. I prefer fruits over vegetables, although when you mix them together I really can’t tell the difference. I love to eat cookie dough but can’t stand to bite into a hardened chocolate chip cookie. Pizza really isn’t my thing. I once owned a Barbie doll when I was three years old and named her Dave. I believe that Harry Potter is a jerk who abuses his friends and who isn’t very articulate. I don’t think J.K. Rowling is a whole lot brighter, either. I love history, particularly the Civil War. I believe that Lincoln had a brain and knew what he was doing. I had a friend named Kyle. He moved to New York from Virginia. He liked the Civil War, too. Only he had a difference of opinion. I liked Kyle, he was a pretty good kid, talked with a funny accent, but it was fading. This nice funny kid Kyle shot me in the arm. That made me feel quite differently about Kyle.” Josh leaned in, close to Kyle’s face. “Everything I say, like, believe in, love, own, care about, think about, breathe, touch, they’re all me. Me is just some big broad umbrella term that encompasses all the nouns that make up my life. From art deco to Call of Duty 4 to the Home and Garden Network, it’s all me!”

Josh was forced to pause, having exhausted his supply of air.

“And I’m the guy,” Josh said, “who controls your pain threshold.” Josh reached down and twisted the needle in Kyle’s good wrist. Kyle grimaced, allowing fear and pain to flash in his eyes.

“And this is Harry Potter,” Josh said, smiling, “letting you go.”

Josh stared down into Kyle’s eyes, allowing meaning and passion to transfer down through osmosis from one enlightened young man to one pessimistic extremist. Content, Josh closed his eyes, floating back into his own little white room. He was angry. Peace had deceived him, standing as a mirage between him and truth. He felt exhausted; it came upon him almost casually. His eyes closed slowly, and he drifted away dreamily.

Josh awoke in a sterile environment that was unfamiliar to him. The breathing tube, the intravenous delivery, these were things that were familiar to him. Yet, there were subtle differences. There were several anomalies. To his right was a doctor in a white laboratory coat; on his left stood the two cops he had seen earlier. And on his right wrist, the one unaffected by the bullet, was a pair of stainless steel handcuffs, chained nonchalantly to a railing on the bed.

Well, Josh though, I guess the white room was a lot more deceiving than I gave it credit for. I guess I can’t be surprised.

When the day comes to a close, most good turns into evil, and the bad is canonized as oppressed truth.

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