Under the Influence

“Orland told me once”—that’s how many of my stories begin, reliving his words like eyes glued to a movie screen. On scenes of traumatic deaths, he was always there, asking me in his outright way, “Are you okay?” Ripping my eyes from the body under the sheet, I’d look him in the face. “Yes. Are you?” Nodding, and me thinking, We’ll laugh about this later; give it time. He said, “I will always read anything you write.” To my eager-to-please ears, that’s all I needed to hear.

Kathy brings me comfort coffee at shift change; she’s got my order memorized. Sitting in the office, slaying stacks of paperwork, she gives me a platform to blood-let my heart. She figured it out: I’m in love. She always knows, reads me like one of her patients, prescribing exactly what I need. I stopped wearing my collar brass after Karreena’s father died under my hands. Caleb said, “Now you look like me!” He’s the oblivious kind, but Kathy—Kathy regarded me with knowing eyes. Coming to her, one afternoon, tears pushing against eyelids, she listened. She listened and said, “You don’t deserve to be hurt like this.” How warm it felt to be validated.

Orland told me once: “Don’t find yourself a boy—find yourself a man.” Hunched over a pile of paperwork, I sipped grape juice from my coffee mug. On the side, it read: The More I Know About Men, the More I Love My Cat. Heart so raw it resembled butchered pig meat, I wondered if he perceived my newfound desire to be an old woman. I thought I found a man too.

Faith kept me sane, back and forth of who’s paying for this round of Burger King. In Martin Base, staying up late to hear her stories of her time in the desert, in Germany, in Kansas. She said, “One dark night, I was driving down the highway and smashed a black bull with the ambulance.” She’s lived dangerously, in an honorable and ironic sort of way. She doesn’t make me drive lights and sirens; instead, we discuss the cumulative effects of trauma.

Orland told me once, “I’ve been keeping my eye on you,” as I handed him my application through the counter window.  I only knew him then through a bond forged in blood. He grinned and maybe I already perceived: I was soon-to-be under the influence of people who make me feel real. 

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