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Tiff Holland

Tiff HollandTiff Holland‘s poetry, fiction and non-fiction has appeared in dozens of literary-magazines, e-zines and anthologies. Her poetry chapbook Bone in a Tin Funnel is available through Pudding House Press. Her short fiction chapbook Betty Superman won the 2010 Rose Metal Press Prize. She teaches at Austin Community College.

 

Sign Language

 “You were signing before they woke you up, an L, I think, an I. It was hard to tell with all those tubes going in and out.”

lines, like, lights

A resident appears, asks me to squeeze one hand, then the other, to push my soles against his palms, to tell him how many fingers as his hands orbit my range of vision: here and here and here.

You are the first thing I see, standing wide-eyed beside the bed and my mother there, too. Both of you with the same expression.

“You should have seen your mom,” you tell me. “I told her I thought you were signing and she made the nurses check your lines and turn down the lights. She ordered the doctor around like a drill sergeant.”

My throat is raw. I tell you I sound like an old man.

lips, lick, lie

You get closer. “You know the first thing you said?” You are smiling like on our wedding day. I wonder how long I have been gone. “What the fuck happened?” you tell me.

My mother is gone now, giving us a minute? Looking for a doctor? “Where the fuck am I?” you finish. You shake your head and I know this gave you some comfort, let you know I was really back, but I don’t remember it. I don’t remember anything. “You should have seen your mom. ‘That’s how she talks’, she said.”

You are holding the railing of the bed with both hands, leaning in. On the chair is a library book, overdue, I think, lying open on the pages near the end. You are a slow reader. It has been a while.

library, list, lift

My mother returns. “You had us scared,” she says, but that’s it. She looks around the room as if to make sure everything is in order. Later you will tell me how she had one of her coughing fits and I dimmed her out, “COPD” I whispered to the nurse in the midst of my deep unbeing. She will tell me that she told you I might never be the same. You will tell me about the stroke and the seizures, the EMTs whisking our six-year old out to look at the fire truck so she didn’t have to see me like that. You will tell me about the helicopter that took me to the trauma hospital.

little, life-flight, limp

I have forgotten most of what happened before. I had a headache. You took me for an MRI. I spoke to the doctor on the phone. She told me I’d had a stroke. She told me to take an aspirin. I remember the white pill centered on the flat of my hand, and then the two of you beside the bed. You tell me the rest. You tell me about the thick white liquid that kept me asleep, that they turned off every two hours to ask me those same questions, run neurological tests. You tell me how many days I was away and how, the first night, our daughter told you she wanted to just pretend I was home, how she stopped at my bedroom door and blew goodnight kisses into the darkness.

I tell you I don’t want to know anything else. That is enough, but I start to remember, images, mostly. I remember the milkshake we had on the way back from the MRI, scooping the whipped cream from the top with a finger, licking it off. One night, watching some medical show on TV I see a plastic tube with a yellow ball and I remember blowing into one after I was extubated. We’ll go to the follow-up visit with my neurologist and I won’t know him at all but the narrow face of his resident will reassure me. I will develop an inexplicable craving for iced tea. After I drink an entire gallon I will remember its place on the hospital tray, upper right corner with a holeless plastic lid.

It takes a few weeks for me to remember what I was trying to sign. The closed fist of the “A” is so easy to miss. Alive, I was asking if I was alive.