A History of Simple Faints
The first responder is Happy De Niro, my dog, who after sniffing my face, licks it several times, lowers himself down beside me and waits. His leash is still attached to his collar. His front paws touch the edge of the sidewalk. He lies there panting in the warm afternoon sun, the black dot on the side of his brown face a bas relief, his tongue as pink as bubble gum. He smiles and there you see it, the vulpine grin of young Robert De Niro, around the time of Mean Streets and Bang the Drum Slowly. Don’t ask me how it works.
I had stooped low to pick up an empty Wendy’s soda cup, which I planned to deposit in a Hefty Bag. I carry them on our walks occasionally because the street corner near the community garden is littered by motorists who must come to a full stop there. Stopping gives the travelers enough time to consider whether they want to clutter the private cockpits of their machines or take a dig at Mother Nature. They have it in for Mother Nature apparently, so I sometimes have to clean things up.
From the stooping, I felt suddenly clammy and dizzy. From the dizziness, I collapsed into a clump of honeysuckle. The street runs east to west, but my splayed self faces south now, with just a view to Noel’s house across the street. I don’t hear Noel’s son beating his drum kit, and no one’s stirring about the yard. I’m out of luck there.
I start to think of times in my life when fainting would not have been a bad thing, how passing out would have been distraction enough to avoid further embarrassment. That sounds more foolish than ironic, I know, but I have suffered enough humiliation to believe that things might have been better in the short term if I could have induced the occasional medical emergency. Suffice to say that when I began not to feel that way anymore, this business started.
A dog barks to my right. Happy D springs to his feet and returns the barking. He may recognize the dog. But I can’t turn my head to see.
I cannot raise myself out of this nest of honeysuckle either. I might have been unconscious at first. I don’t know. I’m conscious now. Maybe the person walking the dog is someone I know.
I wish I could speak, yell. I’d like to say, “I just wanted to help. I just wanted to do my part,” but everything about my mouth is locked down.
The barking is closer now. I hear a young woman’s voice. Out of the corner of my eye I watch them approach from the west, the woman and her dog. I don’t recognize either one of them.
She speaks to the dog, “Shhh, Polly.” And Polly simmers down. She steps in front of me while Happy D. sniffs the smaller Polly’s behind. I want to tell him to quit it. They’re wagging their tails.
“Mister,” she says, “what’s going on?”
I squint in the too bright light. I’m feeling very thirsty. My mouth may be hanging open too. I do not know.
“What’s going on?” she says. Are you hurt?”
No, it was a gentle landing, I want tell her---No aches, no pain---but I cannot speak. I cannot say, “Look, I’m just a middle-aged man out for stroll with his dog, and I have collapsed into a honeysuckle bush. That’s the whole bit, nothing else going on here.”
Somebody else steps up, his dog racing ahead of him. I recognize him. He’s a Labradoodle named Barry. Happy D. loves Barry more than steak on a silver platter.
“Don’t tug, boy,” a man admonishes, and I’m glad to hear his voice. It’s Jerry Sullivan, the local councilman. We’re practically neighbors.
“What have we here?” he says. Jerry is a wide man and when he bends over me, I am grateful for the shade.
“Norman,” he says, “What on earth?”
“You know him?” asks the young woman.
“Sure I know him. He’s Norman White. He lives just a few houses…”
I may be smiling now because Jerry pauses, then continues. “Norman? Norm!”
Barry sniffs the smaller Polly’s butt and wags his stubby tail. Happy D. whines and burrows his nose into Barry’s neck.
“Will you look at them?” Jerry says to the young woman. “What’s your dog’s name?”
The dogs are a revolving cluster of fur and spittle spray now. I can’t watch them.
“Say,” says Jerry pointing to them, “where do you think they get the energy?”
“It’s a hot one, all right,” she says.
“Hello, still here,” I’m thinking.
“Maybe it’s heat exhaustion,” she says, finally looking back to me. “I wonder if we should move him into the garden.”
“He’s as pale as Hamlet’s ghost,” says Jerry. “But I don’ think we should even try to move him. If he injured anything falling, we could make it worse.”
Jerry leans in again, “Norm, what’s going on?” he says.
“I don’t think he can speak,” the young woman whispers, as if she’s breaking devastating news to my next of kin.
Happy D. is next to me again. He licks my knees, thanking me for Barry and Polly.
“Look,” she says. “He’s loving him. That’s sweet.”
Two teenage boys pedaling a tandem bicycle roll up to the stop sign. The boy on the back carries a boom box in a harness type of situation. From it blasts nothing but bass, a sonic version of an elephant stampede. The boy in front signals to him that they are stopping. He gets off and walks back to the other one. He steps behind him and shuts the music off.
Jerry introduces himself to the boys and the young woman as Councilman Sullivan. The young woman tells everyone her name is Julia. The wandering squires are Sean and Justin. The dogs run by, chasing each other, their leashes unreeling like broken tape measures, the leash handles bouncing along the sidewalk.
“Cool dogs,” says Justin of the boom box.
When Jerry asks if anybody knows First Aid, Justin volunteers his friend. “Sean was a Boy Scout,” he says.
Jerry smiles. “That’s good.”
“So what’s wrong with the guy?” says Sean, pointing a finger at me.
“Yeah, what’s wrong with the guy,” Justin repeats. “Has he been drinkin’ or something?”
“What?” says Jerry. “No, not at all.”
He shakes his head and clears his throat: “Please,” he says to Sean, “Maybe you can tell us something from your training?”
“Oh, no boss,” he says. “I don’t remember any of that shit.”
Frustrated now, Jerry asks if anybody has a cell phone.
They all pipe up.
Oh God, I think, I know what’s coming now. Don’t do it, Jerry. Please, don’t. Look, I want to tell them all, somebody just prop me up and give me some water. I’ll be fine in a few minutes. I may not be able to stand on my own right away, but I will be able to speak. I will ask somebody to put Happy D. in the shade of the garden while I get my bearings. Nobody needs to stay with me. I’ll be fine. This happens to me. I don’t know; my blood pressure sinks out of sight. I have a history of simple faints. It’s damned inconvenient, but for you it should be no big deal.
Jerry’s not getting anywhere with the phone. That’s good__ Let it alone, Jerry. Please. Do not do the thing you feel you must, the thing that any decent person would do under similar circumstances. The attention it brings will cause me tremendous stress, which in my experience, only prolongs the effects of the fainting.
Justin helps Jerry find the dial pad on his phone.
Julia has placed a cool, wet cloth on my forehead.
That’s right, I remember, Eureka! There’s running water in the community garden. Now we’re getting somewhere. Maybe Sean, the errant Scout, will remember his basic training. Hydration is more basic than First Aid, right? It’s essential for life! How hard is that, young man? If this were happening in any movie made before the fifties, I’d have that glass of water already. Water was the antidote for any emergency, any shock. Why I’d be swimming in the stuff by now.
Jerry’s punching in the numbers: 9-1-and 1. Damn his responsible hide! Still, it’s no time to panic. Even if they’re prompt, I figure I have ten to fifteen minutes before the EMTs arrive to poke, prod and ask me endless questions to which I cannot reply. Then they will put me on an ambulance cot and eventually hook me up to blinking and beeping machines that will track my vitals all the screaming way to the hospital.
Please Jerry, Julia, Sean and Justin, for the love of God, just bring me a glass of water!
The young men begin to drift back to their bicycle. “You’re all set here, chief?” Sean asks Jerry.
Julia looks around and considers the wrestling dogs, “They’re going to get awful thirsty if they keep that up.”
Jerry waves goodbye to his young constituents as they pedal away, their music notched up to a respectful roar while Julia continues, “I’ll go see if I can find a water dish in the garden.”
“Good idea,” says the councilman.” I think I’ve seen some in there. Look near the hoses. I’ll just stay out here with Norman until the rescue comes.”
“Be right back,” says Julia and she leaves with Polly, Barry and Happy D. trailing her, even he joining the procession into the shade of the garden.
Oh my friend, I say to myself.
Jerry bends over me now. “Don’t worry, Norm,” he says. “We’ll get you straightened out soon enough.”
I know I’m lost when I hear them in the distance, the sirens. Soon the spectacle will begin.