Thursday, July 23, 2009

Orange Girl

She has absolutely nothing to do with the brain damage. This I am certain of. The first time I saw her I was fine, absolutely, perfectly fine. Now she is my constant silent companion. Well, she is not really my companion. I just enjoy looking for her and feel like I have won some sort of prize when I find her among the other people. Her name is Amanda. Actually, Amanda is what I call her, just to keep things simple. To me she is Amanda the orange princess.

Baggy orange sweat pants that hang down over the elastic and onto tiny, white velcro shoes. Her clothes are clean, she is well taken care of. Not poor, no, she is not poor, not like some of the children who come into the hospital covered in dirt and little else. I have grown to like her silly leopard print sweatshirt. While shopping I find myself looking for that pattern, hoping to find my own silly shirt. I had a leopard print bathing suit many years ago. I think I was ten. I’ve seen pictures.

I suspect that Amanda is deaf, possibly also dumb. Whenever I have tried to talk to her my effort is met with a blank stare. She is always looking straight ahead. Could she be blind as well? Her little face holds the intensity and complacency of an eighty seven year old man. Endless possibilities for expression remaining blank, unseeing and uncaring. This may be how she would seem to the casual observer, uncaring. I am not a casual observer.

Amanda is always peeling an orange. What a strange occupation for a three year old deaf, dumb and blind girl to have! Occasionally I catch her placing a small sliver from one of those plump little oranges into her tiny mouth. I’ve never seen her chew or swallow the fruit. It is as if she places it on her tongue only to relish the flavor and not to sustain the body.

I go to the hospital almost every day. Sometimes I’m there to see one of the sixteen thousand doctors who want to fix me. Other times, I think the doctors only want to study me. Being studied sucks. I feel like a million piece puzzle in shades of gray. Those study doctors, they only want to put all the pieces into the right spot in order to create a flat gray surface.

Knowing how bad it feels to just be studied I try not to let Amanda know, I try not to make it obvious that she is my puzzle, my leopard print puzzle.
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Thoughts of wizards, witches and buckets full of water penetrate my otherwise unpleasant thought processes, forcing my lips to smile. A can or two of yellow paint... Oz comes to Hong Kong.

The alley is between two fruit vendors, just beyond the meat & fish market. A deep breath confirms my aromatic preference for fruit and flowers over the mountains of flesh just around the corner. A tornado of color, disguised as people, produce, product, has been rushing past me for hours now. My feet hurt, I am seriously entertaining the thought of mutiny.

The camera in front of the man understands my pain. I can wait here while he goes back to the meat market for a few more shots. A quick kiss and he is off to immortalize the moment. I am alone in an alley and he is content with only his camera for companionship. What a perfect moment to be caught forever on film. I have no doubt the result will be a treat for the eyes.

Another deep breath and I begin to relax. I am standing there, watching the lives of hundreds, thousands, of people, pondering the essence of existence, mine and theirs, wondering what matters and what does not. I once saw a play, in Atlanta, I think. Faust. Toward the end everything moved so quickly that I was unable to comprehend the meaning. There was a message and I missed it. Could I be making the same mistake now?

There is a fair amount of foot traffic in my alley. Exotic people purchasing exotic fruit and those less than exotic moving toward the building at the end of the alley, many of them carrying recently purchased flowers. I am not alone, nor am I an any danger. As my eyes follow a basket of flowers leading a little old man and his cane I notice that there is a sign on the door of the building. Ruttonjee Hospital. My little alley is also a place where people come to for help.

Her leopard print shirt instantly catches my eye. As I watch she grabs an orange from a basket and looks up at the woman I assume to be her mother with a determination that is almost exclusively reserved for little ones. Suddenly the little thing turns, replacing the first orange, runs to the other end of the display and decides upon this, the perfect orange. I feel myself falling instantly in love. With the orange or the girl; perhaps a combination of the two? A princess and her orange!

I stand there trying not to obviously stare at the little girl pealing her orange. She knows I am watching her. Defiance reigns on that dot of a face. Each piece of rind falls to the ground once it is liberated from the fruit center, piling up at her feet. I begin thinking of the thousands of oranges before, wanting to know the thoughts of this princess and transporting myself back to a time when all that mattered was finding the succulent, sweet and tangy pulp within and savoring it.

"What type of orange is that?" I ask the returning photographic genius. "I don't know." he says and starts to walk away.

"No, look at her." and he does, and he sees. This is one of the things that matters.

What he sees I can not say. Perhaps he sees all the oranges of his past or projects all the future oranges in his life? Perhaps he is allowed a glimpse into the quiet determination of my little princess, a reflection of self? Perhaps he too falls instantly in love. Perhaps we two can find help in an alley that is also the entrance to a hospital.
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He gave me flowers that day, beautiful tulips of white, pink, orange and green. Then he died. He died and I have brain damage. Not exactly the ending I wanted.

The doctors won’t let me leave Hong Kong. Something about the cabin pressure of an airplane worries them. So I stay. I had them put his body on a plane back to France and here I stay.

My daughter calls almost every day. Mostly I let the phone ring, she leaves a message: “Mom, mom, I know your there. Please answer. I’m getting so worried about you. The kids would love to see you. Please come to San Francisco. I can buy you a ticket, just to visit, so the kids can see you, so I can see you. OK, call me back and let me know, please.”

I’ve told her a hundred times that I’m not allowed to leave. She doesn’t listen, never did.
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Some days I sit at the corner of Queen’s Road and Spring Garden Lane, where it happened. I can sit for hours. The Lady gave me a chair last time I was there. She said I could use the chair when I came to pray, I think she said pray. I can sit in the chair and watch the traffic as it passes by. All I have to remember is to put the chair back inside the wall of windows when I leave.
I love my new chair but sometimes I still like to sit on the sidewalk. I stay right against the windows so that no one accidentally runs over me.

Amanda is never here. I wish she would come here with me. I talk to her anyway.
Sometimes I count the convertibles, or red cars, or delivery trucks, whatever strikes me as interesting. I can count anything I want. Sometimes I just count the flowers across the street, so many beautiful flowers.

Going to the corner has a calming effect on me. If I am confused or sad or just lonely I can go to that corner and find peace. Before the accident I never realized the healing power that a building or piece of sidewalk could have on a person. I know so much more now.
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It was hard when he died. It doesn’t get any easier, not yet anyway.

At least a dozen times I have thought about taking all of his things, clothes, music, furniture, everything, and getting rid of it. If I could somehow find the strength to do that, to move forward, maybe then I would feel better. Maybe then I would move on with my life.

Then I think about my face, the scar across my forehead where his camera hit me as it flew out of his hands. I imagine his body flying over the red convertible and slamming onto the ground just before the delivery truck ran over him. I didn’t actually see the delivery truck run him over. What I do remember is the sound. Thousands, possibly tens of thousands of pounds of steel rapidly decelerating as it obliterates one woman’s reality makes a very distinctive sound. I imagine a bullet sounding like that truck, a bullet the size of a small house.

I’m not certain I am ready to move on with my life. What is the correct amount of time for grief? I asked the lady at the library, I think it was the library, perhaps it was somewhere else. The lady was never able to give me an appropriate answer to my question.

I had a cup of mocha in my hand and an English newspaper on my lap, USA Today. Amanda was sitting across from me in an overstuffed, purple, leather chair. She kept hiding her orange in the massive folds of leather the color of eggplant. Leather worn and stretched over decades of use apparently makes for a good game of hide and seek.

The chair reminded me of my mother’s house, when I was grown. Nothing was perfect, everything was well worn, old, and, perhaps even tired, like me. In a place where nothing fits together nothing is out of place. __________________________________________________________________________________
Yesterday I was sitting on the floor in our apartment, putting together a puzzle of the Eiffel Tower at night. He gave me the puzzle for my birthday in November. 2,500 pieces. I find it strangely relaxing to sit working on a puzzle and listening to music, Franz Ferdinand. There are candles burning, their lavender scent reminds me of walking the streets of downtown Niort in the rain. It is almost like being transported to another time, another city, another me.

When you have brain damage you can never be certain if what you think is happening is really happening, at least I can’t.

I know it was fake, knew it as it was happening, my imagination playing tricks again. It has to be my imagination. After all he is dead. But, also, because just before he showed up, knocking at the door, I was wishing he would come home. Willing him to appear and make everything better again is what I was doing. Hoping for the impossible, wanting something so badly that my mind made it happen.

First there was just a tapping sound, as if someone were out there knocking on my door. The noise startled me; I was confused for a minute. I decided to just sit there and work on the puzzle. Sometimes if I pretend the illusion isn’t bothering me, if I focus really hard on reality, then the hallucinations will go away. Dr. Hun taught me that.

He is knocking hard now, calling my name, wanting me to open the door, wanting to talk to me, to see me, to know I am safe.

I scan for a single exterior piece among the two thousand plus pieces, looking for the one piece to finish the border. The border is the easiest place to start, because all the pieces have a single straight edge. After a few minutes of focusing on the puzzle with my back to the door I sense a presence in the room. I didn’t hear the door open, or close, the “presence” is just my imagination. I know that if I don’t focus all of my attention on the puzzle, the one thing I know to be true, I will become lost in another fantasy.

When I feel his hand on my shoulder heaven and hell collide within me. Heaven; all I want is his touch. Hell; I know this is not real. Tears fill my eyes, making it hard to focus on anything. I can see the lone straight edge among the thousands of jumbled pieces, as I cautiously reach for that special piece everything becomes a blur. My eyes are no longer reliable.

Five senses, people have five senses that, when properly utilized, make up their reality. Sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. “Melissa, look at me.” My eyes refuse to open as the music continues: “I know I won’t be leaving here, I know I won’t be leaving here, I know I won’t be leaving here, with you . . .” My ability to hear what is real, gone.

I think about Amanda. She lives life without being able to see or hear. This thought gives me strength. If what I see and hear is not reality then I will pretend not to. I curl up into a tight ball on the floor, as if I were sleeping. Dreams are easier than illusions.

I can feel his touch, a touch that can never be true. I hear his voice, whispering to me, causing the music in the background to fade into nothing. The scent of lavender that I found so relaxing is gradually replaced. Garlic and cigarettes. I can’t believe he is smoking again. Even death can’t stop that addiction.

The rest of the afternoon is mostly a blur. I know that my imaginary lover, my dead lover, stayed for a long time. I know that he talked of pictures, plane rides and accidents. I can vaguely remember him yelling at me, shaking me, holding me and crying. He said I should not love him. He told me to go back to America that I would never recover here.

When I awoke several hours later I noticed two things almost immediately. The first was not too surprising, my tongue was swollen. Sometimes, when the pain and confusion is too much, I bite my tongue. There is something about the localized pain combined with that salty flavor that helps me to put everything back into perspective. When I was in the hospital I learned that trick.
The other thing was that the television and radio were missing. How could I have been robbed while curled up in a ball on the living room floor?
__________________________________________________________________________________
Dr. Hun told me today that I’m getting better. He said that I don’t have to come to the hospital every day, I can come just when I feel confused and one of the nurses will help me. It was the only time I’ve ever seen him smile, smiling when he told me I was getting better every day.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him about yesterday. He was so proud thinking I was fixed, thinking he had fixed me. How could I ruin it for him? What kind of person would I be if I took that away?

The nurses don’t know what they are doing. I can never imagine a set of circumstances that would necessitate my coming to them for help. They are not helpful, they treat me like I am crazy. You would think that trained professionals would be better equipped to handle someone with brain damage in a way that doesn’t make them feel crazy! No, I will just stay away from the hospital for a while. I still have my corner.
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It turns out that I wasn’t robbed. I had, somehow, taken all of his possessions out of the apartment. This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened, little losses of time are normal with my type of injury, but it was the first time I accomplished something useful while in that state.
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I am not calm. The healing power of my corner is forever shattered. There is a poster taped to the window. Amanda as I always see her; standing before the hospital in that silly leopard print shirt, peeling an orange. “Who killed me?” written below the picture in six different languages.

I run, run away, run, running from Amanda, she is everywhere. Running down Spring Garden over to Cross Street, then onto Wanchai Road, I see her face. Even when I stop, hiding in an alcove on Johnston Road her eyes remain on me, forcing me to see what I had worked to hide.
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He gave me flowers that day. Beautiful tulips of white, pink, orange and green.

It was turning into a sunny day as we drove down Queens Road.

We had just left our favorite coffee shop; Pacific Coffee Company.

We were driving his BMW convertible, red.

The traffic was fluid; it always is early on Sunday.
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My mocha is still too hot to drink so I blow cool air into that tiny whole at the rim of the lid.

“Like a child” he says as he shifts gears and begins digging into his backpack behind my seat. “You look just like a child, a silly, beautiful child.“ I smile, I can do little else.

Finished rummaging through his bag, he pulls out his camera and turns it on. Laughing I take the wheel as he points the lens in my direction.

Screech.

It happens quickly, the blink of an eye, snap of the shutter.

Whack.

Blood running down my face.

“They will execute me, if I stay I die.”

“Go then, quickly.” My words are flat, mechanical.
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14 comments:

Holder said...

oh, wow, Michelle! This just stopped me in my tracks.

Mrs. Who said...

So intriguing...

Anonymous said...

.... so where do you take it from there?..... are you thinking screenplay?....

Eric

Jean said...

dayummmm!

Anonymous said...

.... seriously.... this is very good.... have you seen the crap on tv lately?...... with a few touchups, this could be on tv....... definitely.....

Eric

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