I met Bill because a Spanish man was furiously masturbating for 8 hours straight 2 feet away from me.
I had broken my ankle playing dodgeball, or as I was telling people, “I fought a bear. And you should see the bear. But you can’t see the bear. Because he is dead. I fought a bear and murdered him.” I was on a lot of morphine guys, you must understand that. And as a side note I totally get morphine addictions. It’s the best. I could have broken a few more of my bones for fun while on morphine and laughed it off like I just saw a child fall in the supermarket after screaming bloody murder for more Oreos. It was pure hilarity.
I got to the hospital at a brisk 10pm and was told by a scary German doctor that I wouldn’t have surgery until the next morning. So after he massaged my bones around and my girlfriend at the time left for the evening I got wheeled into a room and they told me to go to sleep. What they don’t tell you is that they are going to wake you up every two hours to check your vital signs but they will only give you pain medication every 3 hours or so. So every time those horrible horrible people (they were great but when you’re in pain you say mean things to nice people) woke me up, the nurse and I would just sit there and listen to the man on the other side of the partition really giving it to himself. At first I played it off as normal because that’s what the nurse was doing. She was acting like she was sitting at a coffee shop on a bright sunny afternoon. Maybe everyone does this in the ER? I don’t know. I’ve never been to one. I could be the prude one in this situation. But, just to make sure I wasn’t a straight crazy person, I made sure to mention something to the nurse before she left to restart the countdown of waking me up again in two hours.
“Hey” I said “so, that guy?”
“Oh yeah. I thought you couldn’t hear him. He is here a lot. He doesn’t know any English and tries to scam doctors out of drugs.”
“Oh right, the masturbating, yeah he does that almost the whole time.”
It was at this point that I realized I was absolutely the crazy person because my response was verbatim, “oh. Well. Alright then.” And then she left. And he stayed. And I tried to sleep to the soothing sounds of what I can only assume we’re two birds of prey fighting for scraps.
The next morning my surgery was scheduled for 10am so they started to give me morphine at 9. It was the best, for the record. A minute or two into that magic erase liquid seeping into my veins like molasses in January my mother walked in. Panicked is the word I’d use for her. And justifiably. Her first born was in the ER. He hadn’t been since he was a baby. I get it. But again, I was on drugs.
There was hugging. And lots of “how’s” and “whys.” To which I slurred back one cohesive word – “IdunnoMom.” Then the silence hit where she just looked me over in anguish. Then that silence was broken by a Spanish man beating his crotch to a pulp.
“What’s that?” My mom asked.
“A Spanish drug addict jerking himself off,” I replied with a smile on my face and my eyes rolling into the back of my head.
My mom freaked out. She called nurses. She yelled at doctors. She yelled passive aggressively at the Spanish man which did not deter him in the slightest. He was persistent if nothing else.
Hours later my surgery occurred. More drugs. Some new pieces of metal holding my leg together and a lifetime of knowing when it’s going to rain hours before the sky darkens. All great things. When I awoke I was being wheeled into my new room which prompted me to break out into a rousing rendition of “on the road again.” Fun fact: you can scream in jubilation post-surgery and no one will stop you. Give it a hearty try if you get the chance.
When I got back to my NEW room it was 10pm. My mother had gone ballistic for hours which was just long enough for her to convince the hospital to put me in a single room turned into a double with a cloth partition in the center.
When everyone was finally gone I was left alone in a dark room with my ankle pounding and swollen with 2 hours until I could have any more drugs. And I started to cry. As you do when your life is taking a sudden negative turn you didn’t expect and you’re no longer on morphine. A few whimpers in I sniffed loads of mucus in hard (gross, but true) – and during said sniff the television on the wall across from my bed and in the middle of the room turned on. It was on Fox News.
“Bill O’Reilly is a fuckin’ moron.” A low raspy voice rang out into the void of darkness now lit by Bill O’Reilly’s forehead. I opened my eyes and looked over to the blue cloth partition. I had no idea anyone was over on the other side until then. Probably because I wasn’t hearing anyone violently whisper in a language I couldn’t comprehend while flogging his own bishop to no end.
“Ha. Yeah.” I wiped the tears out of my eyes like he could see them.
“I’m Bill. You are?” He asked like he actually wanted to know.
“How old are you Ryan?”
“I’m 22. How old are you?”
“Old enough.” Bill pushed his words out with force like if he didn’t sharp shoot them into the world they’d dissipate before he could say them. “What are you doing here? This a vacation for you? Palm Springs or this? Those your options?” Bill was funny.
“I broke my ankle playing dodgeball. Although I’ve been telling people I fought a bear.”
“Yeah I’d stick with that story. The first ones not so great.”
“I caught the ball though! That’s what counts. I got the guy out and held onto the ball through twisting my leg like a pretzel.”
“Yeah, well. Alright then. Still. I’d stick with that bear story of yours twinkle toes.” Bill was really funny.
Bill and I talked for the next 12 hours straight. We covered everything. My College years. His prison years. His Harley collection. My Kia Sorrento. His family. My family. Bill O’Reilly’s stupid face. Favorite kinds of rocks. The best and worst nurses (the tall one my mom yelled at was the worst. She was bad at sponge baths. Scrubbed too hard.) How morphine rocks our socks off. His terminal cancer. Everything.
The chemotherapy didn’t work for Bill. He said it made him sick and he’d “rather be dead than do all that bull shit again.” So that’s what he was going to do. “I got 3 days. Maybe 4.”
I wanted to ask if that scared him. Thankfully I didn’t have too. “Good riddance!” He raised his voice slightly and coughed. It was lung cancer from smoking since he was 13, hence the John Wayne-esque tones coming from his tar ravaged throat. His words, not mine.
We only stopped talking for an hour in the morning when Bill’s entire extended family came to say goodbye. Bill reacted like they were going to too much trouble…like they were trying to pay him for lunch and he was shoving the credit card into the waiters face assuring them that he’s got this. His brother had ridden Bills Harley to the hospital and parked it outside so he could look at it from his window and say one last goodbye. I don’t know why but that’s the part that still makes me cry sometimes.
Bills wife was long gone. The room consisted of Bills brother, a gigantic balding man with a goatee and a riding vest on. His cousin was also there. Also huge. Also bald. Same vest. There were 3 other impressively large guys he called brothers as well but they weren’t and they also had the same vests on. One older woman whom never said aloud who she was to Bill was there as well. She only talked about whiskey. Bill loved whiskey and she just so happened to bring some. And by some I mean a lot. Bill was pleased.
As the family members cycled in and out of the room they would say hi to me when they got to my side of the partition that was still blocking my view. When they’d say hi Bill would yell “that’s Ryan! He fought a bear!” Bill was really very super-d duper funny.
At the end they all cried along with Bill. Through the tears I could hear Bill over and over “y’all are being pussies and it’s wearing off on me.” They’d all laugh quick and then go right back to sobbing openly with each other. When they all left I didn’t say anything for a few minutes. I didn’t know what to say.
“What do you want to do, Ryan?”
“What?” I was startled by the conservation. Bill wasn’t crying anymore. He was back to spitting his words.
“You’re young. What do you want to do now?”
“Well, I guess I just want my leg to heal.”
“No!” He shouted it. “After that you idiot. You have an after. So. What is it?” I had an after and he didn’t. That’s what he meant. I thought about it quickly.
“I want to be happy.”
“Oh yeah?” You could hear the smile while he talked. “And how you gonna do that?”
“I honestly don’t know.” I honestly didn’t.
“Do you want some advice?”
“When you’re really really sad just put your hands up in the air and scream like your life depended on it. It releases endorphins into your brain or whatever. You’ll feel better immediately. Also get a dog that loves you.” There was a few seconds of silence. “And that’s pretty much it.”
“Thanks” I said. You could hear the smile in my voice. “I will.”
My eyes grew heavy from not sleeping the entire evening and I slipped into a deep sleep while watching more Fox News in silence. Two hours later they woke me up and handed me crutches. I was leaving the hospital. I put on regular clothes and stood up for the first time in three days. I lumbered on over to the wheelchair and through the sweat and the pain I got myself into it. The nurse started to push me out.
“Wait!” I said turning around to say goodbye. I was in such a daze of drugs and pain that I’d almost forgotten.
But when I turned he wasn’t there. “Where’s Bill?” I asked the nurse in a panic.
“Oh him? It’s time for his sponge bath so he’s down the hall. I’ll say goodbye for you.” I reluctantly accepted her offer and was wheeled down the hallway.
As I was adjusting in my seat and waiting for the elevator to come I heard some screams from down the hall.
“Ow! Owwww! Woman I’d rather see my ex-wife than you.” His voice echoed through the hallway. “You’re the god damn devil!”
And I smiled. Because I never saw him but I knew him. And he knew me. And I never had to say goodbye. But mostly, because I knew that giant nurse was scrubbing him way too hard and he would hate it if he knew I told all of you about it.
And I miss him.