1: Day Three
My body smelled something horrible. I haven’t noticed that fact until I was underneath the weak currents of my bathroom’s showerhead. After spending the past couple of days on energy that I didn’t have, my sore and bruised body felt as if it could not go on. The lack of sleep, food and pain was obviously taking it’s toll. I closed my eyes and let the warm water pour down my body. I was trying so hard to convince myself that this was just really a nightmare I was having and not reality. However, the pain and discomfort of my swollen face, mouth and my blistered hands and body were undeniable. Standing there with my eyes closed, flashes of the event flooded my mind. My grandmother, the fire, everything was coming in like a tidal wave and it was unbearable. Why wasn’t I fast enough? Why did this have to happen to her and not me? Why did we have that stupid fight hours before it happened? Mixed in with soap and shower water, the tears began to flow. Wincing ever so often as I pass the wash cloth over the sensitive areas of my body that were still badly bruised, the odor I smelled was slowly being replaced with the smell of Old Spice body wash.
Twenty minutes later, I stood there naked in front of the bathroom mirror. My right cheek was still red, raw and beginning to blister. My 2 front teeth were gone with three others barely holding on. The tips of my fingers were already blistering and spreading to the palm of my hand. There were blotches on the right side of my body that seemed to develop. Taking some ointment, I smeared them on my wounds and bandaged as much as possible. It will be okay, I told myself half-heartedly. I had spent so much time trying to figure myself out, trying to understand who I was and what I wanted to be in this life that I never excepted something like this to happen… and to all people, my grandmother. One minute I was posting a blog about using Twitter and the next thing I know I was in a borough that I never thought I would ever be in hoping that my grandmother was still alive. None of it made sense to me. Once again, the tears fall uncontrollably.
When I finally collected myself after several minutes, I began cleaning up the bathroom and putting on some underwear. Once I was finally dressed, I knocked on my mother’s bedroom door. She was up, just barely, sitting next to my grandmother’s unmade bed. She wasn’t ready to go to the hospital just yet, in fact she wasn’t even prepared to take a shower. She looked at me with a glazed look and asked me to run to the ATM to take out some money to pay a bill that was due that day and put some money on our metrocards for the trip out to see my grandmother. I agreed, took the ATM card, the bill and her metrocard off her bed without breaking a stride. As I was leaving, I told my mother to listen out for the phone and to be ready to go when I get back. She nodded, but it was obvious that she was in another place altogether.
The second I left my apartment building, I could feel the cool breeze hit my freshly washed face. Everything seemed ghostly as I moved out of the door and around a couple of tenants, a man and a woman, that lived on the top floor of my building. They stopped me in mid stride. By now, I suspected that the whole building was a buzzing about what had happened to my grandmother. “Hey!” said the woman in that sweet friendly tone that was almost to diabetic. “How are you? How is grandma?” I gave a shrug and told her that we didn’t know. I didn’t want to nor did I feel the need to share intimate details of my family pain to people that will add to the building gossip pool.
At this time in the morning, kids were running around a local schoolyard, people were making there way to the train station and cars were speeding down the parkway, but I didn’t notice any of it. My thoughts lingered on my grandmother. If this was any other day, I would be in school, my mother would be at work and my grandmother would be at home watching her stories with the bible in her lap and my cat Kimiko at her feet. It was a twenty minute walk to the bank from my house. I had to travel through a couple of long streets, go through a local park and past the busy intersection of Utica and Eastern Parkway. Surprisingly the bank was empty, a good thing since I was in no mood to wait. At the ATM, the card would not work. After trying twice more, I realize what the problem was… the card had expired. So I departed cursing to myself. Arriving home, I told my mother about the problem with the ATM card and she instantly lost it. “I can’t lose her…, I can’t… I’m not ready!” my mother kept mumbling through her tears while tearing through her papers. She threw a box on the floor in frustration and collapsed onto her bed in a heap, burying her face in her hand. I knelt down grabbed her. For the first time I need to be strong for her at a time when I couldn’t even be strong for myself. She sobbed on my shoulder as I fought back the tears. Grandma’s a fighter, I told myself. She will get better. She had too.
“Mama, take your time and look for your new card and if you can’t find it, we will find another way to get the money out of the bank” I told her. As my mother started to collect herself, the phone rang. The Caller ID display on the television scrolled: STATEN ISLAND UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL with a number that I didn’t recognize. It was a mad dash to grab one of the headsets in the house, which I was hoping would work.
“Hello, may I speak with the daughter of **** ***?” asked a soft-spoken woman.
“Um… that’s my mother. Is everything alright with my grandmother” I said with my heart beating a mile a minute.
“Yes, Yes… she is still stable. This is the grandson, right? Kenny?”
I nodded, forgetting that she could not actually see me.
“Yes, that’s me” I answered as I handed off one of the headsets to my mother.
“Hello!!!” my mother chimed in.
“Hi, Ms. ***, I was just telling your son that everything is … still the same, I just wanted to know if either you-“
“We’re definitely coming” my mother interrupted.
“Oh okay, good… I am the Social Worker here at the burn unit and I would like to meet with you when you come here today about your mother and the fire…”
My mother and the social worker spoke for a few more minutes as I listened on. She gave us her name and number at the hospital and after we hung up, my mother took a deep breathe and started the search for her new ATM card once again. After a few minutes, she found it with a sigh of relief. I grabbed my jacket once again and repeated my journey to the bank, this time leaving my mother running around the house trying to get things done. By the time I arrived home once again, she was dressed and made us lunch for the day. At this time, we were now ready to go to Staten Island to face what was to come.
Until this moment in my life, I never had a reason to go to Staten Island. To put it frankly, there was never a reason for it. We were still working out the timing of each ferry, when they arrive at the terminal and how often an hour do they come. When we arrived, there was a crowd forming at one of the doors. Some how we maneuvered ourselves through the crowd of people to get as close to the door as possible. With in minutes half of the terminal was overflowing with people. When the ferry docked and the double doors open it was like this race to get in the boat. Since I was faster, I half walked, half ran inside and got a seat for us in the front of the boat. I held my mother’s hand on during the boat ride. As I stared out of the window, I could not but to take in the beauty of the city. It was weird. At the age of 28, I felt like a kid again when I went with my mother to the statue of liberty… but of course, this wasn’t a good trip or a trip that we wanted to take at all.
Within 30 minutes, we docked and after the ferry departure, we dashed along with the crowd to one of the bus ramps for the S52. It was the only bus available to take us directly to the hospital. As we waited, I sat on one of the benches holding onto my bag and the lunch back my mother had prepared for us. A little girl walked past holding onto her mother’s hand. She stopped, pulled her mother’s hand and asked her: “Why his face all messed up?” Her mother grabbed her up and pulled her along, telling her that it wasn’t nice to say things like that to strangers. At that moment I felt like the Elephant Man, because I forgotten that I had I bandage covering the right side of my face. I did look like a freak, didn’t I… but my wounds were not as bad as my grandmothers were.
As the bus turned the corner, we mounted into one of those hybrid buses and started traveling through out the hill, slopes and communities of the Island. One second you are in the projects of Jersey Street, then you are staring at million dollar homes, the suburbs, a very lame downtown district and more projects. It was something I had never seen before, because it was all within blocks of one another. After almost an hour on the bus, were we in front of the Staten Island University Hospital. The sidewalk was littered with discarded cigarette butts, nurses smoking and people chugging down coffees. Wild Turkeys just walking by wobbling around while people gawk at them. I seriously thought I was heading into the zoo and not a hospital. We entered the lobby, made a couple of turn and started down the corridor to the unit my grandmother was in.
“I am going to use the bathroom” my mother told me as she handed me the lunch bag. I nodded and told her I was going to go on ahead. I entered the Burn Unit ICU and after washing my hands, I went to my grandmother’s room and stopped dropping my bags. My mouth dropped in horror. The bed in the room was stripped bare and the machines were turned off. “WHERE IS MY GRANDMOTHER???” I screamed with tears beginning to form in my eyes. “WHERE IS SHE???”