I asked her about Kurt Cobain, if she knew what band he sang for. She looked at me confusedly. She knew the Foo Fighters but had never heard of Nirvana. We broke up the next day.
Two weeks later I was on my way to the hospital when she called. Seeing her name come up on my phone made me want to throw it out the window — not because I felt any amount of anger toward her, but because it made me feel anger at myself. She knew about Modest Mouse and that should’ve been good enough.
I couldn’t answer it, because then I would have to talk about why I was going to the hospital, and talking about going to the hospital might make me feel the emotions I’m so good at shoving down and compartmentalizing. Instead, I put on an old Nirvana album and listened to Kurt lie about not owning a gun.
His room was on the 6th floor. In the elevator I did a quick calculation about how many sick and dying individuals were housed in this building. Hospitals… oh shit. Lots of pitfalls. On pause. Awful possibles. Stop-able. Oh, holy hostile, inhospitable hospitals.
He was lying in a bed behind a yellow curtain with dozens of different colored tubes plugged into him. I immediately thought of a car at the mechanics with the hood popped and the engine scattered in pieces.
“How are you doing, old man?” I asked, summoning strength and trying to carry on as normal. Normal for me is avoidance through humor, cynical syllables.
“Oh, I’m alright,” He slurred through an oxygen mask. “Are you still dating that young girl? Lisa?”
Her name was Leslie, but I told him, “Yes. Lisa said to tell you ‘hi.'” I changed the subject. “Boy, you looking to rack up frequent flier miles with all these hospital stays?” He smiled but did not laugh.
I sat down and looked him over. It had been four years and there was flesh and spirit absent from the last time I saw him. His face held a grey scruff, his eyes were wild, scared things. I held his hand and it trembled, but it still had that impossible strength I remember from when I was young and held it just to cross the street.
He faded in and out of sleep as I sat with him. Time carried us gently, a brook trickling through a shaded gulch. There were bags of his urine and blood hanging off the side of the bed.
I stood up and went to the window. On the other side of a drainage ditch there was a sloping hill. I watched a man pull up in a pickup truck and unload a riding mower down a wooden ramp. He turned it on and began to traverse the hill, cutting the grass.
He woke up and looked past me, out the window. I went back to his side. He squinted and struggled to see what was happening across the way, staring intensely. Life went on. The gardener continued to ride his mower across the hill. Grass got cut. Elevators took loved ones up and down.
— My heart continues to survive vicious cuts.
He finally asked, “Is that a horse?”
I looked at the man on the hill, his blue L.A. Dodger hat on his head, underneath it a black mustache, and wearing blue jeans with grass stains. I could see Yamaha on the side of the riding mower. Behind the hill was a Conoco gas station. Next to it a billboard for Jiffy Lube.
I didn’t know what anything meant anymore.
“Yes, dad,” I told him. “It’s a horse.”