From a great distance I hear the panicked voice of my teen-aged son calling out to my wife, “MOM! I think Dad’s dying! COME QUICK!”
I can't see anything and my hearing is dull, but I hear my wife’s anguished cry as she sees me, and I vaguely feel her putting her arms around me and telling my son to grab something to stop the bleeding.
“There’s so much blood,” she says fearfully, “but from where? Son, call 911!”
With detachment I catalog the things I feel my wife doing to find and stop the bleeding, and I hear her relaying information to my son, now on the phone with Medical Dispatch.
“Mom, they want to know where he’s bleeding from,” his voice says.
“My God,” replies my wife’s far-away voice, shocked, “it’s his wallet. He’s hemorrhaging out his wallet!”
I start to drift now, their voices wafting over me like tule fog.
“Male,” my son says to the phone, “I think he’s Twenty-Nine,”
“Dammit, Son!” my wife snaps, “That’s a lie and you know it! Quit repeating that to people!”
“OKAY, Mom! Sorry! Geez! No, I don’t know, maybe Thirty-one. How much does he weigh? I think about two hundred pounds . . .”
From my vantage point in the middle of my long tunnel to the light, I pause to think this boy needs a raise in his allowance.
My wife and son keep talking about me like I’m not there, and I hear my son tell her the ambulance will arrive within twenty minutes.
“NO!” I shout, “Too expensive!!”
My wife’s hand puts itself on my brow. “He’s moaning,” she says, “I think he knows we’re taking good care of him.”
I fall into a fugue state, with my wife’s and my son’s voices back and forth in counterpoint, his low voice saying many of the same things my wife’s higher voice just said . . . It feels much the same as sleeping in the car.
GOOD LORD, THE CAR! In an instant, I remember the car repair bill from Monday, and then the other car repair bill from Wednesday, and then the new repair bill from my wife’s car today...!
I gag. I hear my wife say, “We’re losing him!” and my son say, “How can we lose something that big?!” and then I drop into a Chilean Mine of unconsciousness.
In my insensate state, I remember. It is searingly painful, and the pain is coming from my already-tenuous sense of financial solvency. It feels like a demon tore through my soul to get at my wallet, though my wallet makes for a meager meal. A demon eating my wallet is like Charlie Chaplin eating his shoe.
I remember. The memories come at me in an aggressive rush, like a cell-made shiv coming at my eye in the prison lunch room. I remember:
The end of my work day, staggering out to my car to find some jackwagon had parked a truck on it during the night. I remember paying my deductible to the polite repair guy with the nervous giggle and predatory eyes. I remember the Gawd-awful rental Kia Optima I drove during the repair, and the downward spiral of self-esteem that deepened every time I got into the lumpy front seat. I remember taking my newly-repaired car for waaaaay more maintenance than I had budgeted for. I remember my wife’s expensive transmission repair. I remember it all; it is a combustible blitz of economic pain.
The little bit of financial health I have is dear to me: this feeling of pain and loss is - I dunno, it feels like I spent my life’s savings on a genuine Rembrandt, only to get it home and accidentally spill paint thinner all over it.
I awaken to hear the beeping of my life-sustaining machines, and a doctor speaking. I know it’s a doctor, because the first thing I hear him say is the Primary Doctor Lie: “Oh, he’ll be perfectly fine,”
As long as he can learn to live without limbs
As long as we keep his brain and his ears perfectly preserved in this surrogate human head
As long as we keep him slaved to the yoke of his brutal, never-ending management job at least eighteen hours a day
As long as we keep him out of direct sunlight and water him twice a week to keep him moist
“As long as you and the children can provide him with the care he needs,” the doctor finished. “He’ll need some time away from financial responsibilities - for example my exorbitant bill,” he chuckles.
Beep, says my machine.
“...and the bills for the anaesthesiologist, the dendrochronologist, the urologist, the malacologist, and Craft Services.”
“So I can’t ask Dad to pay for my Prom Tuxedo rental?” asks my son, “Or the corsage, or the limo?”
“No, no, you must keep him calm and relaxed. So Mrs. Reddoch, you shouldn’t tell him about all the new furniture just yet. And when the bill comes from your new Home Depot charge card, it would be best for you to take care of that quietly. Although I must say, the pictures from your kitchen remodel were certainly impressive,”
“And, of course, you will need to find him a Sugar Mama.”
“Oh, Doctor, must we?”
“Absolutely. We will consider it akin to Physical Therapy. You must understand that your husband’s Scottish heritage renders him genetically resistant to spending money. Right now his wallet-to-soul connection is weak. Another shock - however small - could rupture it again and cause him to bleed to death on your expensive new carpet. He needs to re-socialize himself with a genuine Sugar Mama who will take care of all expenses while he rehabilitates.”
“But Doctor, how do we get an appointment with a Sugar Mama?”
There is a long pause, and a deep sigh from the Doctor. “You don’t get an appointment. Your husband must attract a Sugar Mama in the wild.”
“Oh, Doctor,” says my wife in a hushed tone, “he’s doomed!”
“Now, now,” comes the soothing tones of the physician, “it certainly won’t be easy, but with some preparation, even your husband can do it. First he needs to drop about fifty pounds.
“At least fifty,” agrees my wife, “and are you able to install hair plugs while he’s still asleep?”
“That’s a great idea, Mrs. Reddoch,” says the doctor warmly, “and we can also laser his eyes, which is very, very expensive!”
“When he wakes up,” continues the doctor enthusiastically, “you can get him right onto a treadmill and listening to some etiquette and charm podcasts, so he can have a chance (however slim) at luring in a Sugar Mama in her natural environment. May I also suggest Yoga classes to learn some grace?”
BEEEEEEEP! BEEEEEEEEEP! BEEEEEEEP!
“In no time at all, your husband should be out and about, attracting someone from that wealthy class of older women who can still see him as a younger man - in short: rich women with poor eyesight and failing judgment! Women like Susan Sarandon or any of the Gabor sisters who might still be hanging around. Why, Liza Minelli might even be between husbands! Just because he’s too old to be a Boy Toy doesn’t mean he can’t be Man Fun!”
My hero son’s voice shouts out, “Doctor, STOP! You’re killing him!”
I can hear the tears and the righteous anger in my son’s voice - he is my one advocate in this room.
“Sure, Dad has low standards and he would do sexual favors for wacky old ladies in exchange for cash, but think of what you’re saying! Dad would rather DIE than be tied down and read poetry, or endure the shame of walking a teacup chihuahua on a diamond-studded leash! He may have shamefully eroded morals, but every man has his limit.”
“Well,” says the doctor slowly, his resonant voice reverberating off the window, “He’s going to need some kind of income soon. Looks like your mother parked in a reserved spot; your dad’s going to have to pay a parking ticket, towing costs, and impound fees if he wants to get your car back.”