I really didn’t want to move. Lying there, face down, just felt so restful. I don’t remember the last time I felt so tired and so resolved to keep sleeping. Or maybe tired isn’t the right word. Maybe it’s drained.
I mean, these ladies were shaking me awake. And I was fighting it. That never happens. It hurt. I hurt. It felt violent.
It was still pitch dark, but my eyes were wide open. I think, at least. I heard voices, there must have been four of five of them, all fussing around me. The distinct accent of Black women from the DMV area.
“We’re going to lift you,” one of them said, and grabbed me by my wrist. I felt the others scrambling around me, putting hands on my arms and waist. I didn’t bother to resist. I didn’t have the fight. I didn’t have the will. I just let them do what they were going to do, wishing it would end soon and they’d just leave me alone so I could sleep.
“What’s your name?” one of them asked. It was a different voice, a more assertive one. I still couldn’t see what was going on, but I knew she was in charge. I answered before I even knew what was happening or why she would ask for personal details at a time like this. What was happening? What did they want from me? What did I do?
The last thing I remembered was finishing a protein bar and trying to swallow some orange juice. And that hot, empty feeling that fills your whole body before its system crashes. Not quite thinking, I convinced myself I wouldn’t feel so clammy and nauseous if I just… closed my eyes…
“She might have hit her head.”
“She hit her head, come look at the mark on her face. She might even have a concussion.”
In the chair, they pushed me over to a different part of the room, which might have been a few feet away or a few hundred feet away. I didn’t know.
They asked me more questions and the lights started to come back on.
“Did you eat breakfast?”
“Do you have anyone here who came with you today?”
“Is there anyone you want us to call?”
“Do you want to go to the emergency room?”
By the last question, I was lying on a cushioned table with my left leg bent so it was the tallest point, the top of the mountain with the valley of me down below. The women, all of them, scurried around me, putting wet paper towels on my head and neck.
Pulse, 40 beats per minute. Blood pressure, some numerator over a denominator, but I never bothered to know what either one means or what they mean together. I opened my eyes to see one of the other ladies writing the numbers on a brown paper napkin.
She told me to keep resting, not like how someone who doesn’t yet love you accidentally wakes you up as he leaves your bed. This was a demand. Because this was not an option. “We’ll be back to re-check them in ten or fifteen minutes.” She seems alarmed and asked what my heart rate was before I gave blood.
“Fifty-six,” I said, feeling a little like a papier-mâché project as I moved the wet paper towel from my neck. I’m inordinately proud of my low heart rate. I earned it from running so much, from being pint-sized and efficient, a fine piece of machinery. I hear her say, “Oh, okay, so it was low already.” My ego did its stupid little touchdown dance, which is the first time I feel like a person again, and not just a tired, droopy bag of liquid.
The lady in charge asked if I wanted something to drink.
“Juice or water?”
She came back and put a bendy straw in my mouth, and I just pulled and pulled and pulled. She came back with a bag of popcorn I didn’t ask for, and I crammed fistfuls into my mouth, barely chewing, just wanting the salt to coat my tongue. Juice and popcorn, like I just got home from school, before I even started my homework.
Her tone, once again, suggested these were not options but commands. But still, saying please should be a reflex, more so than bragging about your heart rate. I overcompensated shamefully and shamelessly, saying thank you eighty times. These women were so in the zone, they didn’t even notice.
The lady in charge came back and re-took my pulse and blood pressure.
“You look better,” she said. “You have popcorn everywhere, but your color is back.”
Again, I said thank you. I didn’t wipe the popcorn off my face or chest, and neither did she.
They made me sign a form, acknowledging that I refused to go to the hospital, which is accurate, I guess, but it sounds a lot more confrontational than the sad syllable uttered by a person wilted into a pile on the floor. I just wanted to sleep, to rest, to sit quietly with my own popcorn and juice, I wasn’t willfully refusing treatment. But would you look at that, even in my subconscious, I had an unflappable desire to be tough and brazen and independent and self-directed.
I drank a full bottle of water on my five block walk to work and tried to pull it together. My coworkers asked how it went, and I lied with my chest out, egged on by the little brave sticker announcing “I Gave Blood Today.”