First Person

Illustration by Na Kim.

He texted me something during staff meeting. I didn’t answer until it was over and I had closed my computer and wasn’t looking at him anymore, and then I told him not to text me, please, for these weeks, like we had said. Then I was upset, and I drove to the other side of the lake, where I parked outside a trailer. It was for work: my job required me to interview people, usually showing up unannounced to where it was possible they lived, or didn’t.

A teenage girl opened the door. She was wearing a hot pink sweatshirt with purple sleeves, and her dog was black or dark gray with white on its face. It didn’t make noise as it went around her legs in the doorframe. I turned around, and it bit into the back of my calf. I yelled for a while, and then I was on the ground. Nothing hurt. I put my finger in its mouth to get it to let go, but it bit it. I screamed louder until I realized there wasn’t a point to screaming, because the girl was already hitting the dog with something, maybe a chair, and there was no one else to alert.

Then I was free, and the door to their trailer was open, and then I was inside, and I had closed the door behind me. Then I was leaning on the arm of their green couch, and then I was sitting on the seat of another, whose color I don’t know, because I was looking at the small lakes of blood on the floor. They were already congealing, and inside the pools were small flecks of white. I realized they were my fat when I saw similar pieces on the thighs of my jeans.

I called him. I told him where I was and that I had been attacked by a dog. He said, “Mm-hmm,” in a light tone, the way he talked to his neighbor when he helped him with his taxes, or to me if I needed help with my computer. There was another girl inside the trailer then, maybe the same girl, and she was looking at me with her hand over her mouth. She asked me what to do, and I told her to call 911. She was upset but she did it.

On the phone I asked him if he was still there. He said he was, and I started crying a little, then stopped, I think. I asked him if he could meet me at the hospital. He said he would, still in the same tone.

He stayed on with me while the medics came, two firefighters. They started cutting off my pants. They said, “I hope you didn’t care about these pants!” The one with scissors kept cutting, surprised, because more and more turned out to be missing from my legs. Another EMT came in after a while, and the fire chief, and a police officer. He stayed on and listened to me talk to the firefighters wrapping my legs in white pads.

He said he was going to start driving to me. Yes, he would stay on the phone. He was going to call our boss, actually, but then he was going to call me back.

The EMT gave me shots for pain; she said I was getting fentanyl, and also other things. The ambulance driver said, “She keeps laughing.” I know I was trying to be polite. He was standing outside the hospital when we showed up. We waved at each other as they carried me in on the stretcher.

In the room he held my hand while I lay on the bed and they asked me questions about pain and medications. It was possible he already knew the answers, but not the specifics: my approximate weight, and what I took for hormonal acne and for mood and to not be pregnant. The nurse looked at me when she needed me to put on a hospital gown, but I said, “He already knows, it’s fine.” He took my bloody shirt from me and put it in a bag.

He came with us when they wheeled me to the room before the OR, which was an unnatural frosty green, like fluoride treatment. There my bed was lower, and he could sit next to me. Sometimes he put his hands in my hair. I felt no need to entertain him. Our boss showed up there, too, and sat on the other side of my body, across from him. We let her see us holding hands. He kept moving his thumb and fingers around my palm, so I always felt the touch, and so it soothed me, or both of us, I don’t know.

Our boss asked me if I wanted to call my mom. I told her no, I would call her in the morning, when we would know more, so she would be less worried. I know he was there when I got out of the first surgery, but I don’t know anything else. I went to sleep.

He tried to come on time the next morning—the hospital was an hour from his house, visiting hours started at eight—but he got a flat tire and was there at nine. It was okay. He came with oatmeal he had made the way he knew I liked it, and with other things, grapes in a cooler, some books from my house. I remembered I had given him my key the night before.

I told him how this was making me think of my mom and stepdad, when he was in the hospital and she stayed, too. I told him the thing about them in bed together, and how the nurses called them the newlyweds even though they were older and had by then been married a while. I guess this gave him some ideas because soon he was sliding into bed with me, placing the IV cord over his lap. We learned how to turn off the IV monitor when it started beeping and said OCCLUDED, which just meant the cord was twisted and it was fine. He used his hand on my hair like one of those claws in the arcade game with the glass case full of stuffed animals, in and out on the top of my head. He told me my hair had been looking so lovely when he came in, and that he had made it all greasy. I told him it was okay and put my head in his armpit.

There was a question: Should I go to another hospital? It would be hard, because the hurricane was coming. I stayed, and he stayed with me until my second surgery. He tried to stay until after, but they kicked him out, so that he’d make it home before the storm. I remember two things about the post-op room: I thought the two nurses, a man and a woman, were the kindest, most wonderful people I had ever met. And the woman asked me,

“Who was that guy waiting for you?”

I told her something.

“Well, he seemed like he really loved you,” she said. Her eyebrows were raised. “A lot.” As though to say, Did I realize? I should know.

He was the primary visitor, the only one technically allowed, with COVID. He was back the next morning even though there was no power in his house. When there was nothing to talk about, we read to each other from the books he had placed in a pile on the table beside my elbow. When I had to go to the bathroom, he aligned my walker in front of me and unclipped my wound VAC from the edge of the bed, carried it behind me like a train, turned around when I peed. I liked to watch him, legs straight and spread, wound VAC between them. He brought me my facial cleansers and moisturizers from home and arranged them by the mirror. When I wanted to wash my face he held me from behind and I bent into the sink. I laughed, because it was the same but different. My hospital gown was only loosely tied behind me, and it hung in flaps when I moved. It felt more funny than romantic, which to me felt romantic.

He was there when the doctor came and removed my bandages and looked at my wounds. He and I looked together, not sure what to expect. They were a spectacle, Frankensteinian, all black insects of stitches and some spaces in my flesh the doctor told me they “couldn’t rearrange” during the second surgery, so they remained, uncovered and raw. We turned my legs over, marveling. He had once told me my thighs were so lovely.

When he left, he kissed my face: not my mouth but both its corners.

My mom came to stay with me for a few days. I learned to recognize when he mouthed “I love you” in his mask, from across the room, when my mom was there—by the rhythm of his cheeks pushing up and the shape of his eyes. He often said it more than once, looking at my legs, then at me. “I love you. I love you.”

I first wrote this while I sat in bed in the months after, once he wasn’t there anymore and I was upset. Initially it was very long, maybe a hundred pages, or more than that. It had a part where we were friends, and a part where we dated, and a part where we stopped, and then the attack. When I read it a few months later, I saw that the part after the attack was very short, probably because it hadn’t happened yet, and I didn’t know how things were going to go. But then I guess at some point I changed it, or added to it, because when I read it again after a year there was an ending about how I left New Orleans and we don’t talk anymore.

It was still very long, and I didn’t like it. First I took out the part where we dated, because I couldn’t remember what had really happened and what I had made up, and because I didn’t like reading it and didn’t want him to read it, either. Then I took out the part where we were friends, because that was my favorite part and not for other people. Then I took out the part where we stopped being friends, because it was short and sad and didn’t make sense if you didn’t know the other parts. I kept this part, and this description of him, which I like:

He used to get upset when I would introduce him as my coworker, rather than as my friend. Rather, he feigned being upset: he’d pull his shoulders back and lift his arms to let them fall down, hands slapping against the sides of his thighs, a pantomimed huff.

“Sorry,” I would say. “I mean, you are my coworker.”

But he was right: he was who I texted when I needed a pickup from the airport. It was always good to see him there—tall, slight belly, in some strange outfit, the strangeness a little hard to name: the linen blend of his shirt; the minor shortness of his shorts. The flavor edged on foreign, and thrifty—clothes he might have bought from a camping store or at a bazaar, but which were still originally mass-produced. Seeing him after time away was always strange, as though I were seeing someone new—his torso of a different proportion than I remembered, jeans a different wash. For a moment I could judge. I found myself uncomfortable with any negative impression, interested in any positive. We were so closely linked that I felt, in some way, observing him was observing the style of my own life. The air in the airport, too—it was always more humid than I expected, Louisiana, the only air in which I had ever known him. He would bring me food, in a bowl covered by a plate, and beside him I ate cooled ratatouille or rice and beans in the twenty-five minutes it took to get home. I ate it even if I wasn’t hungry.


Devon Geyelin lives in Nashville.