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March 11, 1999 - Image 22

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The Michigan Daily, 1999-03-11

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4B - The Michigan Daily - Literary Magazine - Thursday, March 11, 1999
Coming Clean
By Melissa Robb ins

The Michigan Daily - Literary Magaz

He's not really listening to me
anymore. He's given up tracing lines
from my mouth to my .breasts with
his eyes while I'm giving him the
long answer to his question of how
have I been. He's quit trying to look
sultry and sympathetic, quit trying
to put his hand on my unshaven
thigh or brush a strand of hair from
my eyes while I'm telling him about
how coming off heroin makes your
skin hurt.
"Everything's really hot and really
cold," I tell him. "It's like the air
actually hurts. Your eyes water and
you feel like you have to sneeze all
the time but you can't. And it's the
same way with everything. You try to
masturbate because you're too aware

of the seam of your blue jeans but
you'd hurt yourself before you're
granted the relief of an orgasm. It's
the worst feeling in the world. I can't
even describe it, really. And it's not
just physical, either. Your heart hurts
like that too. It's like everything
that's been numb for so long is
awake and pissed off at you."
Except for a slightly intrigued or
disgusted raise of the eyebrow over
the word "masturbate," I realize that
I've done it again. It was more than
he wanted to hear and I've lost him.
When the weight of his disinterest
settles in around me, I get vicious.
Why the fuck do they ask then, I
wonder, pissed at him and pissed at

"Do you have anymore beer?" he
asks, smoothing the sweaty paper
label back over the green glass bot-
tle from which he had been intently
peeling it.
"No," I say bitterly. Then, "I don't
know, go look if you want."
I'm pretty sure he'd have been on
his way if the fridge was empty, but
he emerges from the kitchen a few
minutes later, two full beers in tow,
decidedly a glutton for punishment.
"I'm sorry Adam," I say, before I
let myself look at his face. "I should
really be over all of this. I guess I'm
just not a fun date," I apologize,
though I think that he deserves it
really, just showing up at my work
on a Saturday night when I'm tired.

"You need to talk, you need to
talk," he answers carelessly. Then
just when I'm about to tell him what
exactly it is that I need or don't need,
he catches me off guard.
"Do you think you'd trade what
you know for what you went through
... you know, if you had to do it all
"Hmm," I mutter while I'm think-
ing. "I don't know. I mean, I seem to
have a knack for the hard way. I guess
I'd like to think that something was
worth all of the shit, but I don't know.
I wish I wasn't so damn cynical, now.
And some stuff ... some stuff wasn't
worth anything in the world. Do you
know I actually threw something at
my mother's head - a pot that she
bought for the Wandering Jew my sis-
ter got me for my nineteenth birth-
day? I threw it at her and put a big
hole in the plaster of her new house
and when she looked at the chunks of
jagged ceramic, all she could do was
cry. 'I went without lunch money to
buy you that pot,' she said. And I'll
never forget how she sounded when
she cried ... it was like a little girl
"Nothing I could have learned was
worth that, I don't care what it is."
Bastard, I think as I slowly return
from the scene of my crime to the
living room of my crappy apartment
and Adam tracing small pseudo-

sympathetic circles on the inside of
my bent knee. But it's my own fault
and I know it so I just decide to
sleep with him, make a mental note
to expect less from now on.
About 6:30 in the morning, he stag-
gers into the living room in his wrinkled
blue jeans to find me on the couch
watching M.A.S.H. reruns.
"What are you doing out here?" he
asks, sounding genuinely confused.
"You were taking all the covers and I
couldn't really sleep anyway. You
should actually go pretty soon," I say,
no longer even trying to hide my resent-
ment. "My mother comes to get me
really early on Sunday mornings and I
don't want her to see you here"
He's not trying anymore either.
Within a half-hour he's gone and I'm
pulling the dirty sheets off the bed,
making a number of silent promises
to myself.
Mom calls at nine to say she's on
her way, shows up around eleven-
thirty. It's only a twenty-minute
drive, but I'm accustomed to con-
verting my mother's time into the
cadence of the rest of the world.
"I wish you'd stay in one place
long enough for me to remember
where the hell your house is," she
says before she's fully through the
"I've been here a year already, mom.
See CLEAN, Page 5B




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Continued from Page 3B
be the state-champions for the fourth consecutive
year, and I would become Student Congress Co-
President. We sponsored two blood drives with the
Red Cross each school year. I was 17, and I was able
to give blood.
They came in, like an army, and set up camp with-
in a matter of minutes. The Bloodmobile was parked
outside the front door to my school's auditorium. The
lobby was a long, curved hallway that was a perfect
site to place the beds on one end, and the interview sta-
tions and waiting area on the other. Their white and
powder blue uniforms bore a small, perfect red cross
over the heart, a subtle reminder of what the mission
was all about.
I helped with the setup, and agreed to take the nee-
dle in the middle of the day. I quickly acquired a com-
fort with the process, assisting with the early donors
and seeing how this all worked. At 1:30, I began my
first donation.
It starts with the form. It identifies by name, social
security number, address, a whole series of general
and personal questions, and finally, a signature. There
are about fifteen questions that need to be answered in
the witness of a professional nurse. I read through the
questions beforehand and some caused me to pause,
some caused a slight heat wave to rip through my
body. A question about drug use with hypodermic
needles, and I was thinking about a particular forest
behind a baseball field. And another question, further
down, connected to the year I was born, and a hidden
She smiled at me. I sat down in the protected, pri-
vate cubicle. "Are you a first time donor?"
"Yes. I'm a bit nervous."
"Well, there is nothing to worry about. I need to
check your vital signs and your iron count, but first I
need to ask you these questions. They are personal,
but they are confidential"
"Have you, in the past 3 months, been treated with
any antibiotics ..." She rattled the questions with
machine-like precision. I answered "no," without stut-
tering, to each one.
After cleansing my ear with an alcohol swab, she
thrust the small blue needle into my right earlobe with
the movement of a scorpion and quickly extracted a
few drops. As she placed the blood into a test vial with
her left hand, she had a thermometer ready with her
right; into my mouth it went, and then I was asked to
hold a cotton ball to my bleeding ear; she watched the
sample of my blood quickly sink to the bottom, a sign
that my iron count was good; then, she surrounded my
right biceps with a blood pressure gauge, began
pumping, took the thermometer out, recorded the
number, and readied her stethoscope.
"You've really got this down, huh?" I said as the
blood throbbed in my arm; she fixated her eyes on my
shoulder as she concentrated to hear the pulse.
"Hundreds of people a day, you get a good system
going" She made a few final marks on the form, and
asked me to sign it. "Well, Matt, it looks like you're all
set, you need to go over to that booth, and place one
of these two bar code stickers on the form. They both
look the same, but this one means 'yes, my blood is
safe,' and this one means 'no, I've reconsidered, it is
not safe.' You can still give blood even if you use this
'no' sticker, so that you don't have to leave feeling
embarrassed about not giving, but your blood will be
immediately thrown out. So just put one of them on
the form, then you can go wait over in those chairs,
and someone will be with you shortly."
"Thank you. Have a good day." I felt good so far.
She was reassuringly professional. I entered the booth
and almost without thinking, placed the "yes" sticker
on the now completed form. I actually forgot a few
It wasn't until they pulled the needle out and an
entire pint of my blood, a pound of myself, was being
packaged up and put into storage, that I remembered
my fears. I was laying on my back, holding my left
arm perpendicularly and using my right hand to apply

pressure to the hole in the center of my inner elbow.
Then, I started seeing forms in the black dots on the
ceiling tiles overhead. My arm was feeling dead, heav-
ier than the rest of my body, and there were all these
little eyes looking down on me. They didn't blink.
They just stared. I felt a bit light-headed, and I told the
nurse. She sat me up, and I almost passed out. They
immediately put me into the canteen, a bed set aside
behind a curtain, where they laid me down, and kept
a watchful eye with genuine concern.
I was actually fine. But it was nice to lay there qui-
etly, away from all the action outside. Before long, a
delightful old man wearing the uniform came back to
check on me.
"Would you like some cookies and juice?" His
voice sounded like warm cinnamon and lemon tea.
"Oh, yes"
"Orange juice or apple?"
"Be right back."
He came back with a little plate of the softest cook-
ies I'd ever had. He opened up a container ofjuice and
set it beside me.
"Thank you."
"How are you feeling?" He asked with a slow smile
and placed his weathered hand on my forehead. "Oh,
you're temperature feels just fine."
I could have fallen asleep under the gentle weight
of his hand. I decided to talk to him. His name was
Paul and he'd been volunteering with the Red Cross
ever since he retired.
He told me of some horror stories back in the can-
teen: Small people actually passing out, throwing up,
screaming. These were rare occurrences, but he was
making me laugh with the excited way he told the
tales. I asked him if he gives blood too.
"Actually, I've never been able to donate,' he said,
and looked off into the corner of the canteen. "But my
mother used to be a nurse, and I was introduced to all
this through her."
He left, and I decided to get up and move. Paul said
good-bye to me on my way out. I thanked him and the
other nurses. I was feeling much better, and I reveled
in my accomplishment, forgetting all the past anxiety.
June, 1994
"Hey honey, you got some mail," mom called from
upstairs as I got home from practice.
It caught me off guard. There on the dark, hardwood
kitchen table lay a small pile of mail. All I noticed was
the one on top, the one with the bright red cross embla-
zoned in the upper left corner. What? Why?
I pretended not to see it. I pretended not to notice
the sun coming out from behind the clouds, through
the windowpanes and intensifying the whites and reds
on the table. I pretended not to notice the way the lin-
gering chlorine on my lips flavored the large glass of
water I was drinking with my eyes closed. Like
demons, memories of Jim and Antonio swirled in my
mind's eye, and they were constantly poking me,
spilling on me. There were fires burning.
But, before I finished the water, I opened my eyes,
and sat down at the table with a deliberate slowness. I
broke the seal of the envelope and removed the water-
marked paper folded in thirds. For a moment, it sat.
there on the hardwood while my finger circled the rim
of the half-empty glass.
I opened it quickly and skimmed even faster, filter-
ing for certain acronyms: "Congratulations! ... your
blood helped ... ONEG ... hope you will give again"
I exhaled. I read it again and discovered that my
blood type is O-negative, the universal donor. The let-
ter explained how my blood was probably used, and
mentioned nothing about any retroviruses, any com-
plications. The Red Cross pleaded with me to contin-
ue donating, explaining that my blood was very valu-
able since virtually anyone's body could accept it. I
quietly celebrated this little victory. My body felt
clean, lifted, and at ease. I finished the glass of water.
Months later, I got my first phone call from the Red
"Hello, we are calling because there is a recent
blood shortage. We have on record that your blood



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type is O-Negative. Could you possibly donate soon?"
I could, and I would. The calls would continue as
November 5, 1994.
May 2, 1995.
November 17, 1995. In the Union Ballroom at the
University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. My first time
donating outside of my high school lobby. The change
of scenery was disorienting, but only temporarily.
March 26, 1996.
September 10, 1996.
November 18, 1996.
February 6, 1998. Alice Lloyd Residence Hall. I
was feeling fine. Slightly nervous about one of the
upcoming questions, though not letting that stop me.
The setup was a bit cramped, but cozy. I filled out the
sheets, got caught up on my reading of Toni
Morrison's "Song of Solomon," and waited for my
turn at the screening interview.
She smiled at me. I sat down in the protected, pri-
vate cubicle. "Are you a first time donor?"
I was already pulling out my Frequent Donor card
as she asked this.
"Oh, this is your eighth time! It's your first gallon.
Wonderful!" She left for a moment and returned with
a small gold pin to commemorate.
"I'm sure you know all this, I need to check your
vitals and check your iron levels but fist, I need to ask
you these questions. Your answers will remain com-
pletely confidential."
"Yep," I replied with a sigh. I was anxious to get this
scene over with. Before asking anything, the nurse
went through and circled every "N:" It is a common
habit. The nurses often do this to expedite the process.
Everything was going fine. She glided through the
questions and almost didn't even listen for my
answers. Honestly, I wasn't listening to my answers
either, because my heart was beating heavier and

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