The rain was coming down in cold sheets all day today, and by mid-morning I had no choice but to go out into it. I’d stayed up late the night before reading the New Yorker on my new kindle, and potato had woken me up early, making sad puppy noises from his bed on the floor, shivering because I’d left the window open when I’d gone to sleep. I let him into the bed and he proceeded to kick me in the ribs with his paws like he likes to do and so I’d gotten up, checked my email and made breakfast, which I couldn’t even taste.
I am a dog walker. I tucked one Chihuahua into each bicycle pannier and set out, head down into the blowing rain, to my first client’s house. We walked to the library and I returned a book and then the Chihuahuas, now drenched and trembling, went back into the panniers and we biked to the second client’s house. It was raining harder now, or maybe I was just more drenched, as though I had taken a shower in all of my clothes. We walked to the park and in great circles around its circumference, Kinnikinnick darting from dry patch to dry patch, beneath the fragrant cedar trees.
We biked home, potato beyond saturated now, his head sticking anxiously from the bicycle pannier, his wispy white hair plastered pathetically to his small, trembling frame. I deposited the dogs in my warm, gently-lit trailer, turned on the classical station, and biked to school, where I took my Spanish final. Afterwards the instructor told me, in English, that my Spanish was poetic, and it felt like a great victory. By then the grey rain outside had taken on a heavy cast, the approach of four o’clock twilight. I biked furiously to the clinic for my appointment, gritting my teeth against the rain but also feeling that old invigoration, the one I used to feel when I would force myself to bike great distances in the rain, as if to prove a point. I left a trail of water across the carpet as I entered the foyer of the building.
It was the appointment in which I was to have the end of my cervix removed with a hot wire, but first I waited in the waiting room for close to an hour, consuming an entire reader’s digest (america’s most popular magazine!) and half of an US Weekly. At last I was shown into a small room and a beautiful nurse in fashionable scrubs asked me all of the questions which I’d already answered on my paperwork. She then confirmed that I was there for a consultation with the doctor and I said no, I’m here for a LEEP, I have already had several consultations, and she disappeared and I waited for a long time, and the only magazines were consumer weekly reports, which I did not read. I’d been wondering, for a long time, how I was going to pay for this procedure, which I needed in order to remove the pre-cancerous cells on the end of my cervix, and I’d gone so far, the week before, as to make a chipin account in order to fund-raise the money, which I’d felt somewhat embarrassed about, because my friends are just as poor as I am, and I feel awful taking money from them. But then, moments after I’d posted the account, the clinic had called and told me that I’d qualified for a program which would pay for the entire procedure, a program I hadn’t even known existed. Which was crazy because I’d spent the entire morning on the phone with them, being passed from one employee to the other, and had been given all sorts of conflicting information, until finally, while on hold to some awful Christmas music, I’d simply hung up. So hallelujah, I could have the procedure after all, and the medical industrial complex works in mysterious ways.
The nurse returned, and told me that we were moving to a different room. I sat in the new room and she disappeared. The chair I sat in was uncomfortable, and my back began to hurt. The radio was on, playing christmas carols, but then the christmas carols stopped, and an announcer began to discuss a shooting at the mall in Clackamas, which is a suburb of Portland. There was static and it was hard to understand, but I was able to gather that the shooting was happening right now, and that the announcers were outside of the mall, and that people were rushing out and screaming and things. The announcers’ voices were alternately level and enthusiastic, as though they were outside of a sporting event or a holiday parade. Two people confirmed dead, they said, five to seven people injured. Passers-by were enlisted for information- can you tell me what the gunman was wearing? Was it a ski mask or a Halloween mask? How many shots were fired? I was buying a hot dog in the food court, said the passers-by, helpfully. I saw a flash of gunfire, it sounded like pop-pop-pop-pop. I grabbed my young daughter and ran. My wife fell down but another man he picked her up, and carried her out. Two people confirmed dead, repeated the announcers, with enthusiasm. The gunman had a semi-automatic weapon.
The nurse returned, this time with the doctor in tow. The doctor seemed well rested and made eye contact, which is always a good sign. She pulled her little rolling table up to me and told me that she could give me valium, vicodin, something stronger in an injection. Also flower essences, acupuncture. She had me sit up in the stirrups and placed a heating bad on my abdomen. Another woman entered the room, beautifully dressed and in heels, and began to stroke my forehead. I suddenly realized that I was not in a low-income clinic, but a real doctor’s office.
How bad does it usually hurt? I asked.
Not bad for most people, said the doctor, mysteriously. I’ll give you an injection in the cervix, to numb it.
Can I just take an ibuprofen? I asked.
The women disappeared and a moment later the nurse reappeared with a juice box, a Dixie cup of animal crackers, and four ibuprofen. I don’t eat gluten but I realized I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and I was hungry so I ate the entire cup of animal crackers, reclining in the stirrups, while the radio continued to talk about the shooting.
Have you apprehended the shooter? Asked the announcer of a police spokesperson.
The shooter has been neutralized, said the police spokesperson.
Can you tell us what he was wearing?
We cannot share details of the shooter at this time.
Are there still people inside of the mall?
Yes there are still people inside of the mall. We have many police officers in there, they are going through the mall, they are dealing with all of the people that are still there.
Those people over there, lined up against the wall, all those people free to go?
Those people maybe are providing information. We will have more information in a later report.
After an indeterminate amount of time the doctor reappeared. Are you set up for the LEEP? She asked the nurse. The nurse looked confused. The nurse and the doctor left the room again. I pulled the sheet down over me. I’d been soaked in the rain all day, and I was cold.
The announcer was talking to a woman. What did you do when you saw the shooter, asked the announcer.
I was in the food court, said the woman. The shooter was maybe on the second floor, by the Macy’s. We heard the shooting, so many shots so fast we couldn’t count. Everyone was screaming, it was crazy, it was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me in my life. Everyone was running for the doors.
Were people helping each other? Asked the announcer.
People were helping each other, yeah. We were running out through the barnes and noble. The doors there are small. Everyone was running and some people fell down. I felt bad, like I should help those people up, but I was scared. I felt bad though because those people who fell, people walked over them. I feel bad now, like I should’ve helped those people.
You did what you had to do, said the announcer. You did what a lot of people would have done.
The doctor reappeared and lifted up the sheet. She did some things and said, does that hurt. I started to cry and the beautiful woman, whose job it was to stroke my forehead, handed me a box of tissues. I think my cervix is broken, I said. Do you want to stop and take something? Asked the doctor. Yes, I said.
A moment later the nurse reappeared with vicodin, valium, and another box of juice. Then it was me and the radio, waiting for the drugs to work. The action at the shooting was over, 82nd avenue was backed up like a parking lot, busses were being rerouted. Highway exits had been closed. I shut my eyes and felt as though I’d nap. How do you feel, asked the nurse. Druggy, I said.
The procedure was absolutely worse than I could have imagined, drugs be damned. It felt like being stabbed in the cervix while being burned in the cervix, while simultaneously having my cramping uterus torn in two. I cried like a baby, bawled really, tears streaming down my face while saying fuck fuck fuck fuck. At last the local anesthesia that the doctor had injected took effect, just a moment before she finished.
Seamus picked me up afterwards and let me cry for a long time in his truck, and then we went out for Cuban food and ate beef tongue and coconut cake which, mixed with the valium, created a sort of euphoria in which I was finally freed from the crushing weight of the day. And at last I was free to return home to my dogs and my warm trailer, and to curl up in my bed and put my face in Kinnikinnick’s soft fur, and smell her good creature smell, like warm dog toast fresh from the toaster, and Potato squeaked his rubber squeak ball in my ear, squeak squeak squeak, and everything was right in the world again.