I heard the siren first. Somewhere out in the city, there was a familiar sound. The dim grey light that filtered through the blinds, hinted of a day still an hour or so yet in coming. The soft fuzz evaporated from my brain as I heard the garage door open downstairs. One of the those remote control types, it makes a bit of a racket as the mechanism is really only inches beneath the floor of the bedroom.
The door was let down again, and I recall thinking: "Oh no. Perhaps I parked my car too close to the door outside, and it can’t be opened." I’ve done that before. So, assuming that there might be a knock at the door, and a polite, “Can you move your car back a few inches?” I waited in the gathering light. But only for a moment. The siren grew louder.
The faintest pulsing red shone from under the bedroom door. It was obvious. The ambulance was in front, and again the garage door opened. This time it remained open. Obviously, the car was not blocking its path. I knew that Mort, the tenant downstairs, was going to be taken to the hospital. Again.
Not again, I thought, having been through this scene in a dozen different places with a dozen different friends and acquaintances in the past few years. Should I get up and go down to offer help? What could I do? I had only met the man once or twice on brief courtesy visits downstairs when his mother had sent cookies up. She had come back from the East to care for him and his lover, Steven, during the month-after-month vigil. She was not able to stay indefinitely. At least, with morphine Mort had managed to live well beyond expectations.
“No one thought he would live till Christmas,” Mike said as he came up from downstairs with the news that Mort was dead. In the warming light of a March sunrise, he made coffee and took some downstairs to Steven. “Mort is still down there,” he stated. “Steven is washing him and changing his clothes.”
How odd, I thought. Surely all that will be done at the funeral home.
“Is he okay?” I asked blankly, not knowing the persons but feeling a dim sadness at the loss.
“He is crying.”
I got dressed. “I’m going to go in and watch Good Morning America,” I stated flatly. “Is there anything we should be doing?”
I have always liked morning talk shows. They are fun, simpleminded, easy to take. The hosts are wholesome, charming, and blond. This morning, I hit the mute button on the remote control. I just could not stand to see all the happy homecomings from the Gulf war. One more yellow ribbon and I knew I would throw up. It seemed all so contrived, so formula, so phony. No one ever thought for a minute that we would fail to blast those “camel-herders” back into the Stone Age where they belong. Now we get to blow our own horns. Maybe on a different day it would seem more meaningful. On this day it seemed all so shallow, sort of like the 1984 Olympics in LA. Half of the competition didn’t show, but we yelled and screamed anyway. As long as we won, it didn’t matter that there was no competition.
So the world is happy. The good guys are marching, saluting each other, making canned speeches. The overweight wives and their offspring are waving American flags and yellow ribbons. We are all so taken with symbols. The world is right after all.
The world is alright for some, but it is not alright for Mort. The funeral home people arrived and wrapped his body in white plastic. He was covered with a nondescript blanket as they carried his body out through the garage, and put it in a station wagon. Far away in Iraq, other bodies are being wrapped in plastic. Some don’t get plastic. Some don’t get parades and televised homecomings. But that’s okay. At least Mort had someone there to wash him and change his clothes beyond the time when he even needed it. Indeed, that’s what friends are for.