I try not to bargain with God. I’ve prayed and cried and begged to heaven in a most imploring fashion, but I try to avoid the old “God, if you do X, I promise I will NEVER do Y again!” routine.
Still, there are moments I have resigned myself to bargaining desperately with our creator. Earlier this fall for instance, when I found myself on the floor of a locker room with my two children and a herd of four-year-olds in leotards, swearing to God I’d never have impure thoughts about a certain person who was Not-My-Husband again if he would just turn the tornado around and not blow the ballet school to Oz with us in it.
It didn’t hit us (thank you, Lord) and in the crystal blue afternoon that followed the storm, I felt a little silly – but I’ve kept my promise just the same.
Prior to that, it had been eight years since I last bargained. As of tornado day, I still hadn’t lived up to my end of that deal. I needed to get serious about my vow.
To say I was promiscuous in my teens and early twenties would be an understatement. I’m afraid I had more than my fair share of dick (and your fair share…and yours…) and I wasn’t always smart about it. Thrilled to be caught up in the moment, I was frequently, um, unprotected, as I fell into bed, or on the floor or a soft patch of ground with these men.
When I was 22, I was living with a guy I thought I would marry. It didn’t work out that way but that’s a story for another afternoon. That spring I started to get sick. It was just little things – a cut that took forever to heal, a cold that lingered on and on, a strange rash that made my forearms itch.
Looking back, I am sure it was a combination of frequent late nights and too much alcohol mixed with the grime from the restaurant where I was working and the stress of my final semester of college. But, when I looked in the mirror and saw dark circles under my eyes and my pants getting baggy, all I could think of was AIDS.
‘It would serve you right,’ I thought, my Catholic conscience smacking me like a ruler. ‘That’s what you get for acting like a whore.’
I drove myself to the local health department, cold with fear as a tight-lipped nurse drew my blood. Then I waited with clenched teeth for two weeks until the results came back.
It wasn’t until my name was called that day and I started the long walk from the waiting room to an examining room that I started bargaining. The nurse who’d met me at the door looked around and asked “Didn’t you bring your support person with you?”
I thought surely that meant I had tested positive and she was afraid I would kill myself on the ride home or something. So scared my hands were shaking, I followed her down the hall. In my head I was screaming though, sobbing to God. My thoughts ran together in a blur that sounded like the old Mexican women at church reciting their rosaries in rapid Spanish.
‘OhmyGodIamsosorry! IamsosorryforbeingaDAMNwhore. Please don’t let me have AIDS, God. Please don’t let me have HIV. WhathaveIdone? PleaseGod. Spareme…’
What could I offer that fit the situation?
‘If my test results are negative I will give blood every month. Every time they’ll let me! I will give my good blood to anyone who needs it. Please God. Please…’
And then we were in the room and the nurse solemnly shut the door behind her. I don’t remember what she said, just that my peripheral vision had shrunk to nothing and all I could see was the filmy rectangle of paper in her hand. Without an ounce of ceremony she thrust it at me and I saw that the results were negative.
I left the health department like a death row inmate with a full pardon. Now there was the matter of my promise to consider. Give blood? Shit. Why had I offered that?? I’d only given blood once before and it was terrible. I’d nearly thrown up, I almost passed out…man.
For eight and a half years I avoided my bargain. And I felt a pang of guilt every time I drove past a Red Cross office, every time I saw a blood drive sign. I was always too busy, or I was pregnant, or I needed my strength for some “important” thing I had to do that day.
Then, not a week after the tornado at the ballet school, God brought the blood drive to me. It was almost a challenge, like he was saying ‘Are you too busy to ignore this NOW?’
I was standing at the reference desk of my new library job when the Red Cross people showed up. They started rolling in gurneys and carts of blood bags and little flats of Nutter Butters and Ocean Spray. The man in charge walked up and placed some signs in my hand.
Blood Drive Today! No shit!
“Could you put these up for me?” he asked. I knew the time had come to uphold my end of an overdue bargain. There was no getting out of it this time –God had finally come for the blood I promised almost a decade before.
When I called my husband and told him what I was doing he said “Babe, there are easier ways to get cookies and juice. Didn’t you have it rough the last time you gave blood?” I told him it would be fine, that I’d asked the man in charge what I could do to make it easier and he told me to drink a lot of water.
“That guy’s full of crap!” my husband laughed. “He just wants to see you piss yourself when you pass out!” Lovely. Thanks for the encouragement, honey!
I was ready to donate. After answering all their questions – No, I have not had a tattoo in the last 12 months, No, I do not have tuberculosis, syphilis or malaria and No, I have never taken money, drugs or other payment for sex since 1977 (that last one is my personal favorite!) they got me on a table.
I remembered a few things I learned the first time I gave blood. Like, don’t watch when they stick the needle in your vein and don’t watch the blood as it’s filling the bag. Don’t watch other people’s bags either. Just relax, gently turn the foam pad in your hand to keep the blood flowing and it will all be over in a few minutes.
I kept watching the clock, because after drinking all that water, now I had to pee. As soon as Kent, my kind nurse, said I was done, I sat up to leave. I would have rushed back to my office, but they caught me and made me sit at the cookie table. It’s a good thing too.
As I sat, rapidly downing a Cranapple, I started to feel flushed. I didn’t want to wimp out and complain so I drank my juice and tried to eat a cookie. My head began to swim. At first I thought I could make it stop on my own, but then I had trouble chewing. My tongue wouldn’t go where it was supposed to.
Kent glanced over from where he was hooking someone else up with their blood bag.
“Lisa? Hey, Lisa, you o.k.??”
“I…think so,” I managed slowly, but my thoughts felt like oatmeal. The room had grown darker and the air was thick with tiny sparkles.
“You don’t look o.k.” he answered and hurried towards me.
As I started to slip sideways off my chair my husband’s words flashed through my mind and I almost laughed. “Don’t pass out and piss yourself! Don’t pass out and piss yourself!”
Kent grabbed my shoulder and helped me walk, on jellied legs, to a curtained gurney. It was in a hallway at the back of the library and I’d never been down there before. Feet elevated, they wrapped cool, wet paper towels around my wrists and neck. It felt so heavenly. Laying down, I lifted my arm to my head and noticed with mild concern that my skin looked positively green. Dizzy and sick, I closed my eyes.
When the nausea passed, I opened them again and started with surprise. I was staring into the eye of a giant penis.
My university is full of art, some purchased but much of it donated. The library is home to several of the larger pieces because we are one of the few buildings with ten-foot ceilings.
Tucked away in the back hallway where I lay, they had hung an eight-foot lithograph of a man, a very angry man, mouth open in a roar and wearing nothing but a dark glimmer in his eye. I’m all for some nudity, but I think the piece was so disturbing they decided to hide it back in that hallway where no one – except me in my delirious state – would have to be accosted by it.
It was too much. ‘I gotta get outta here,’ I thought, and slowly sat up, gauging my readiness to walk. I was still light-headed but I’d be damned if I was going to hang out under the angry penis any longer.
And then it hit me. I gave blood that day to make good on my bargain and wound up under a crazy naked man? The very thing that had gotten me in trouble in the first place? God sure has a sense of humor.
As I snuck away, I chuckled at my crazy fortune – and then frowned. Suddenly I felt very sorry for the next woozy person the Red Cross left in that hallway!