We got another new hospital here in McKinney a couple of years ago, and it’s pretty nice, as sickhouses go. I went there last year to have a couple of things done, and they took good care of me. Neither procedure was big or scary, just checking some things out and tweaking some others things. I think my wife was more nervous than I was. She’s never sure what I’m going to say when I’m stone-cold sober and fully in charge (ha!) of my faculties, so turning me loose on a room full of people while I’m drugged is truly terrifying for her. I think she encourages my writing habit because what I put on paper is easier to manage than what I just throw out to the wind.
I wasn’t writing when my wife and I met. I’d put the pen down several years earlier, and hadn’t found the courage to pick it up again. She listened patiently to my excuses for a while, but after we moved from South Carolina to Texas, she quit with the gentle persuasion and threatened to break my fingers if I didn’t write down the stories rattling around in my head. She was, of course, right; the creative outlet was something I needed. It didn’t take long, though, for her to say, “You writers are weird people,” for the first time, and it has since become one of her favorite refrains. She is again, of course, right.
One of the first things a writer (or artist of any medium, I suspect) learns is the need to maintain a filter between the creative part of the brain and the mouth. Polite society gets nervous when someone colors outside the lines, and most writers like to erase the lines and draw our own. That, as my wife frequently points out, makes us weird. Most of us maintain our filters well enough to masquerade as regular members of society, but, occasionally, something slips through, and the result is always fun to watch.
I was training a rookie agent soon after the new hospital opened, and as we rode past it one day, something slipped through. It occurred to me (out loud, of course) that, in all likelihood, someone drove past the construction site on a regular basis – weekly, if not daily – and watched as the building rose up from the ground and came to life, never knowing they would be the first person to die in that facility. It might have been a still-born baby, I continued, or maybe a shut-in or an out-of-town visitor, but probably, somebody passed by every day for almost two years, never knowing that theirs would be the first body stored in that morgue.
I knew the filter had failed when the poor agent stopped breathing and started playing with the door handle, even though we were moving at about sixty miles-per-hour. I tried to point out the logic in what I’d said. Without a doubt, someone either already had been, or soon would be, the first person to die in that building. It’s what happens in a hospital. I wanted explain how that one event spawned an infinite number of stories – who were the family, how did they react, how did the doctor react, how did the nurses react, what actions did any of them take later, how did those actions affect someone else’s future, did the dead person’s decisions throughout life cause their demise to come early, or were they ready – some begging, some demanding, but all of them stories needing to be told.
It seemed best to pretend it was a random thought and move on to something more mundane, so I left out the part about the stories and the fact that I had been wondering for months who that person would be and what would lead them to their final, dubious distinction. I must have made the right call, because that rookie agent is now a veteran agent. He helps me train new agents, and he lets me know when I’m using the wrong crayon to color on the wrong side of the line.
My wife, being crafty and creative herself, has accepted my different perspective with grace and understanding, though my recent venture into the realm of horror has caused her some consternation. She’s read through Chapter 22 of Mammon, though, and we’re still sleeping in the same bedroom. I’m just glad she was asking for a king-sized bed before I started this project.
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