Or, How I Nearly Killed Myself Sleeping.
Throughout my life I’ve had a strange relationship with sleep. I like it but it seems I’ve been very busy during my supposed down time. But then I’ve also fallen asleep at odd times. Like in a sound proof room while auditioning a sax player; at a job interview after the guy stepped out; at school where, just outside the window, they were building the new school and it was blasting day. I fell off my chair for that one.
I’ve thrashed and talked and not slept. I’ve slept in the finest beds and the backs of vans rolling down the road. I fell asleep while waiting for my match to be called at a tennis tournament. They found me minutes before I would have defaulted. I’ve slept with women who’ve given me shit for snoring. In return I’ve given them their choice of ear protection.
I was in a military hospital. When you’re a kid being in a military hospital is a life changing experience. And not just because you’re so fucked up you have to be in a hospital. I saw all kinds of wounds from all kinds of guys (sorry women, it was a mens only ward). I talked to men who were going to have face to face conversations with loved one to tell them life would never be the same again. I’ve taken that with me. Shit goes wrong in life as it has in mine but whenever it does I think back to those guys and the things I saw and the conversations we had and say,
“Someone is always worse off.”
I know because I’ve seen it.
No matter how fucked up their lives all these men were great to me. There was a funny demarcation line about going into the military. Injured officers would sing the praises of a life in the military. Push the fact that my father was an officer. I didn’t miss the fact that none of those guys had weeping wounds and owned all their body parts. The grunts sang a different tune. They’d get together and plot on ways to keep me out of the service. One offered, in the spirit of brotherly love, to cut off my toe. One of the nicest things anyone’s ever offered me.
I was in for a while so I got to see how things worked. The overworked staff was efficient and caring. Most of them had rotated out of battle zones to this pretty damn cushy assignment. A ward full of fucked up men with fucked up lives. The after photo of what they’d pick off the battlefield.
I was sleeping one night with the sounds of pain and rustling around me. When I told friends after I got out about the almost constant moaning at night they asked me if it was creepy. They all thought it was quite odd when I said no, it was comforting. Because that’s the way I knew they were still alive.
I wake up one morning and look around. I saw something I’d never seen before. The entire ward was empty of patients. Some of the beds had been moved out. It was odd to have that silence. That was creepy. I sat up and a corpsman saw me. He’s walking up to me laughing.
He tells me everyone was evacuated because of the fire. I figure he’s joking. Trying to get me going. I figured it was some military thing and he was busting my balls.
“Don’t believe me?” He said. “Look out the window.” He pointed out the window behind me.
The entire facade of the building was scorched. It looked as if there were two floors effected. I looked down and there were still a couple of fire trucks finishing up. I looked back at the corpsman and he can see I’m wondering why they didn’t move me.
“Everyone was up. Even Quiet Paul. The noise was so loud it woke up people off the base. Everyone in the hospital was awake. But you just laid there.” I’m staring at him still wondering why they didn’t move me. I wondered if some of the brass heard what the grunts were telling me so ordered me to remain as kindling. “We just figured anyone who could sleep through all the noise and fire and smoke was dead. We’d take care of you in the morning.”
Yeah, I’ve heard that before.