This old fast talking, top hat wearing ass black dude with a thick mustache and the highest blood pressure I’d ever seen in my life turned out to be my great uncle. His voice sounded familiar through the room’s curtain, but I had already seen two people from my childhood at work that day, so I was preempted to disbelieve a third. World record and shit. But then, considering the blood pressure I wasn’t so surprised it was that nigga. And for whatever reason I’d only recently started to notice how much he looked his brother, my grandfather, the man who sort of raised me. When I walked in the room he recognized me right away, and it felt like I was sitting on the steps at Glenloch street again eating blue crabs when he came home from jail. He barely aged, on the outside at least. I remembered sitting on the steps at his momma’s house, terrified of the dog next door that Toya (my aunt) and I were absolutely certain had to be a barking lion. He and my grandfather were smoking, both with those same faces.
“Hey Joy,” he said. “What you work here?”
“Nah I just be wearin’ these scrubs so they don’t question me.” I paused, kind of surprised about how relaxed and just… normal he was behaving. Like a spry young man, when I was in awe that he wasn’t having a stroke. “I would ask why you’re here, but it’s a little obvious. You don’t feel… off?”
He went on to tell me that his blood pressure was always high, and that he used to take his medication, but sometimes he ran out and it was too expensive, or he stopped for some reason he didn’t say–probably put the D out of commission. Apparently his brother was supposed to be there too, but he was at home waiting on his own stroke. He was another character I considered immortal since all the coke and Bacardi in the world not only didn’t phase him, he seemed invigorated by the touch of the bottle; he’d start glowing when he walked in the door and unraveled the paper bag. Never seen him happier. Their mother was in the hospital too, up on the med-surg floor where I worked sometimes, in fact the only reason he came in was because she demanded it.
And for whatever reason, that made me realize I would miss Philly, and the ED. I mean, at first I thought about all the damn salt and sugar I was eating, scrutinizing a diet that wasn’t far off from theirs, but then I got a cheesesteak and forgot about it. What I would really miss is that familiarity, the fact that, for better or worse, I would constantly run into memories whether I liked it or not. As I get older, being forced to confront my past: school bullies, relatives, ex-girlfriends and fake friends alike was helpful… If not for personal growth, then at least selfishly, for writing. And aside from intense graduate student brokeness, that might have influenced my decision to stay in the hospital more than I originally thought. And the other day in class at Notre Dame, when a professor said how he was referred to as a “faggot” by a high school student, I realized that I would have been more comfortable being berated in that way than I was that entire day sitting in class.