Sunday, February 21, 2010

910. Dark and swirling

Written in my writing class a few weeks ago:


The day after graduating from college, I got on a plane with 62 other members of the choir and flew to Europe for the very first time. I was in a state of constant amazement, photos in books suddenly concrete, strange food and languages everywhere. I barely slept or ate as we sat on a bus for hours in between singing Bach or football songs in great cathedrals or quaint Italian town squares. But even though we were 22 years old and indomitable, we were still human—and finally, one day, an evil flu crept through the double-decker bus and attacked us one by one. It hit me in Venice, around which I stumbled in a dreamy 102° fog.

Our next stop was Zurich. My desire to photograph every monument and painting in Europe with my little Instamatic camera was quickly fading. One afternoon, burning with fever, I got some communal petty cash from the tour leader, told no one where I was going, and asked around on the street in halting German where I might find a doctor. I was directed to the emergency room of a hospital just a few blocks away. I walked in, filled out some forms, and took a seat in the waiting room.

But just as they got up to me, chaos—a dozen gurneys rolled in covered with bleeding, crying people, until the ER looked, through my fever haze, liked one of the circles of Hell. A plane had crashed; another made an emergency landing. One by one they passed by, as I sat for hours.

Finally it was my turn. By then, just by virtue of sitting still, I was starting to feel much better. I was led into a cubicle, and the doctor began to speak in Swiss-German; I didn't understand a word. Finally he resorted to pantomime. He started pulling off his sweater, pointing to mine.

"Take yourself apart," he said, in halting English. I was suddenly very relieved, and very glad to take myself apart.


(These ten-minute in-class writing exercises are incredibly hard, and invaluable. I hadn't thought about this experience in about 25 years until‚ after a discussion of "bein has'mashot," the in-between places, in the story of Jonah, the teacher gave us a list of writing prompts including the "the dark and swirling world around me.")

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