Here we are: post #2 of nonfiction november. The word is split and we are delighted to have a piece by Aisha Sabatini Sloan.
split (split), v.t. [SPLIT or obs. SPLITTED (-id), SPLITTING], [MD, splitten; akin to MHG. splizen; IE. base *(s)plei-, to split, crack], 1. to separate, cut, or divide into two or more parts; cause to separate along the grain or length; break into layers. 2. to break or tear apart by force; burst; rend. 3. to divide into parts or shares; portion out: as, they split the cost of the trip. 4. to cause (a group, political party, etc.) to separate into divisions or factions; disunite. 5. in chemistry, a) to break (a molecule) into atoms; separate the components of. b) to produce nuclear fission in (at atom or atoms). v.i. 1. to separate or divide lengthwise into two or more parts; separate along the grain or length. 2. to break or tear apart; burst; rend. 3. to separate or break up through failure to agree, etc. 4. [Colloq.], to divide something with another or others, each taking a share: as, winners split. 5. [19th –c Slang], to inform on an accomplice; peach. n. 1. the act or process of splitting. 2. the result of spitting; specifically, a) a break; fissure; crack; tear. b) a breach or division in a group, between persons, etc. 3. a splinter; sliver. 4. a single thickness of hide split horizontally. 5. a flexible strip of wood used in basketmaking. 6. a confection made of a split banana or other fruit with ice cream, nuts, sauces, whipped cream, etc. 7. often pl. the feat of spreading the legs apart until they lie flat on the floor, the body remaining upright. 8. [Colloq.], a) a small bottle of carbonated water, wine, etc., half the usual size, often about six ounces. b) a drink or portion half the usual size. c) a half pint. 9. [Slang], a share, as of loot or booty. 10. in bowling, an arrangement of pins after the first bowl, so separated as to make a spare almost impossible. adj. 1. divided or separated along the length or grain; broken into parts. 2. sixteenths, and not in eighths: said of a quotation smaller than the normal trading unit.—SYN. see break.
That night, I watched a woman nudge her husband, who seemed to have broken his leg. He followed her gaze and looked with horror at a man nearby, who had two metal clamps sticking out of his neck. It was hard to tell if the clamps were supposed to be there, or if he’d been impaled. When the man with the broken leg was finally called and his wife wheeled him away, the man with the clamps looked at us and muttered, “That looked bad.” Hannah held her middle and I read to her from an article about Kanye and Kim.
The next day, on the emergency room’s TV screen, a CNN anchor reports on the typhoon in the Philippines, about a moment when “the dust died down.”
When I am not craning my neck to look at the television screen, I am trying to read Karen Armstrong’s biography of the Buddha. He left home when his son was born. The Buddha was worried that his attachment to the people he loved would bind him to a life of sorrow: “Some of the monks used to compare this kind of passion and craving for perishable things to a ‘dust’ which weighed the soul down and prevented it from soaring to the pinnacle of the universe.”
A scream from the children’s waiting room sounds just like a parrot, irritating the woman with a swollen neck. Months ago in my notebook, I wrote, “Limbo allows for enlightenment, but if you’re not prepared, you’ll experience it as projection of all your demons.”
Across from us, a woman laughs at her own confusion. The sound of a bottle falling in the vending machine was just like that of a body hitting the floor in a hallway or bathroom. After absorbing the shock of the sound, our eyes meet and we giggle, a moment I’ve been craving for hours. This atmosphere is vaguely competitive. People scan one another for injury as they wait for their names to be called. Before we gave up and left last night, we had been waiting for three and a half hours. Some people had been waiting for nine.
Hannah said it felt like her stomach was being sliced by knives. For three and a half hours, her face switched back and forth between the way the cartoon face looks at numbers nine and ten of the pain scale. And then, the knives stopped. Everybody has heard a story of a ruptured appendix: the sudden end of pain opening out into a body full of poison. So upon waking, we get dressed, pack a lunch, and come back.
CNN discusses what we have to worry about next. “Disease,” somebody says, “a secondary disaster.”
“Suppose,” the Buddha said, “I start to look for the unborn, the unaging, unailing, deathless, sorrowless, incorrupt and supreme freedom from this bondage?”
A nurse calls for a man who does not hear her. When she asks him point blank if he is who she’s looking for, he says yes. “Let me help you, my friend,” she says, her tone softening as she saunters behind his wheelchair and begins to push.
Earlier, CNN featured an interview with Sarah Palin. She was trying to explain why it wasn’t racist for her to use the word “slavery” to talk about Obama’s health care law. The night before in the ER, Hannah asked if she could help a woman with dyed red hair. She looked confused, facing the men’s bathroom with her temporary wheelchair and all her belongings on the floor. “I’m just trying to get away from the sound of Piers Morgan’s voice,” she said, as Hannah grabbed her purse and I picked up her steaming cup of hot chocolate, following her to the other side of the waiting room.
Now, they talk about women and children begging in the streets of the Philippines, though the streets are becoming increasingly dangerous. “That seems odd,” I say, looking at the footage of wood planks and discombobulated faces. “Everything is the street now,” Hannah says, finishing my thought.
Armstrong writes, “Adam and Eve lived in harmony, unaware of their sexual difference or of the distinction between good and evil. It is a unity that is impossible for us to imagine in our more fragmented existence, but in almost every culture, the myth of this primal concord showed that human beings continued to yearn for a peace and wholeness that they felt to be the proper state of humanity.”
We all gaze at the ultrasound together. It looks like we’re looking up through the ocean at the water’s surface. “Some see monsters, some see animals,” the sonographer laughs. “I only see organs.” She has an Eastern European accent. It makes me anxious to look at all these murky, unidentifiable shapes, so I sit down and hide from the screen behind the sonographer’s body.
“How long did it take you to you get used to the sound of screaming?” I ask the woman who pushes Hannah’s stretcher from one room to the other. She responds, unphased, “I have two kids, so.”
Outside, there are cop cars. I think of the little boy who was staring at us the night before. He had come in with a family flanked by policemen. He and his sister were left alone in the waiting room for close to an hour while their family disappeared behind closed doors. All of the sudden, the children stood up from their seats. As if on cue, the double doors opened. Two adults came to retrieve them.
As I drive to the Vietnamese restaurant for our dinner, it feels later than it is. I feel nostalgic for the ER now, and hurry to get back to it.
While I am not in the room, the doctor comes to check in on Hannah, and takes a phone call about another patient. “The bullet went in his back and came out of his neck,” she reports when I return.
I live across the street from the hospital, and often bike through the emergency room’s parking lot on my way home from work. Each time, I think with a commuter’s impatience about how long someone is pausing at the stop sign, sometimes shouting out loud.
Today at work, I was nicer to my students. Not on purpose, but out of exhaustion or surrender. As I traveled through the ER’s parking lot, peering into the newly arrived ambulances, I experienced the space anew. As a point of fracture. Something swollen. A kind of seam.
Aisha Sabatini Sloan grew up in an apartment building five miles from the ocean. Because the blue condo at the end of the block with porthole style windows was built around the same time that she was born, she always assumed she was going to be given one of the apartments for free.
And a little something extra: here is an oddly appropriate Volvo Ad–featuring Jean Claude Van Damme, two semis, and a soundtrack of Enya–that just came out this week:
2 responses to “split”
Really love this… the way it moves is the way the mind moves, or life moves. The connections we try to make with what’s here and now and what we hope, or at least have a passionate interest in, is the spirit. Wonderful details about the people in the ER. I love “I’m just trying to get away from the sound of Piers Morgan’s voice.” And really, the “feel” of an emergency room: one’s own worry, need for distraction, need for help on all levels.
I love what you say here about the movement of our mind and life, Carol. How we are in the present and also how our mind drifts to other people’s presents, to the past, to what may be. It seems all of those are contained in any given moment and I agree. I think Aisha captures that so beautifully here.