Driving. Waiting. Sinking.

In/direction by Dorothee Lang


Essay by Sean Finucane Toner
Photo by Dorothee Lang

A quick “goodbye” to today’s dialysis technician, a glance at the one I have a quiet crush on, and I’m out to the parking lot, to my Toyota Supra. During these dialysis days there is a dread that this may be the final time I catch a tabby crossing the street, follow a ripple of crows over Penn’s Woods, direct myself down this stretch of highway along the Schuylkill River. I’m in my late twenties, diabetic, down an eye and a set of kidneys. But I am oh-so-certain I’ll drive forever.

It’s spring – I should park and take in all the hi-hello-how-do-ya-dos of the season. There is a post-storm debacle of clouds – I should just daydream. Home is behind me — I should turn around and get one last look at Granny’s face.

Instead, I pull into a suburban Philadelphia mall. Spry, despite my post-treatment, cramping legs, I walk into the B. Dalton’s, head for the books on tape. My hope is to find something science fictional for the dialysis recliner, something with future built into every paragraph. No luck with decades-old Dune. I try William Gibson’s cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, instead. Different voices, but the song remains the same; “We will carry on, half-broken.”

I’m to the counter, I pay. No lingering at the spreads of coffee table books, no visit to that certain seductive corner of the magazine rack. With fifteen minutes of light remaining, I head for a fast-snack chain. I order a small Orange Julius – one quarter of the day’s water allowance. So foamy and sweet. The counter girl is cranky, brunette, matter-of-damn-fact in her movement. I pay, drink, leave. Goodbye frowny face.

Once out to my car, I open the sunroof, crank up The Wall, and am ready to zip past muscle cars and minivans alike. Go speed racer. I back out, make a right here, a left, and I’m about to pull onto the road. There is nothing special in these last thirty seconds. No smile on a husband’s face, no straggling boy-child stomping out a private rhythm behind his weary mother, no pissed-off pedestrian giving me the finger. Nothing human.

I see the first streak. a platinum shard across my field of vision. There are isolated flares of white, then more frequent, and a dazzling pop-pop-pop. This is familiar territory. This is how the right eye went – retina rupture.

Can I make it home?

I can’t, no way, not now with blood filling my left eye. Haltingly, I steer the car back to the vacated parking space and cut the engine. I’m cool. Clint cool from a diabetic lifetime of loss – Mom, girlfriends, vital organs. Pop-pop-pop. And now I’m “Here we go again – keep moving.”

Car ditched, hands sweeping in front of me, I paddle toward the Sears in deepening red. I sink silently in a blood ocean further away from surface light. Both eyes, now, are chum and I am eager to make it to safety before something massive and metal emerges from the murk.

Instead, I trip over concrete dividers, knock against car mirrors, finally stumble upon the curb. I’m mostly dependent on ears: a door hinge, the banter of exiting shoppers, the aluminum smack as I collide with trashcan.

The chatter I hear moves away. I angle toward where I heard hinge noise. Right hand out, I touch glass, knuckle my way to a door handle. I’m scared, maybe. Just a little.

Indoors, I hear activity at the Customer Service counter. “Miss?” I call. “Anybody there?”

It’s thirty seconds of that, before a woman replies with a skeptical “yes?”

“Ma’am. I can’t see. Can you get me to the pay phones?”

She pauses, says, “Sure.” She takes my hand and she moves backward, like a skating coach. We arrive, and she places my hand on the wall-mounted phone.

Focused, I finger my way to the coin-eject lever, then the coin slot. A quick feel takes me to the tittle on the 5 button, and I dial my uncle Bob at his golf course. “You’re where?” he says. “You’re what?” he asks. “Damn,” he says.

After we hang up, I remain in place. The helpful woman has gone, leaving me sodden and still in a world of minimal light. I am a broken-bodied son of broken-minded parents and it’s always been Lifeline Bob to the rescue. Only this time, the wait is a little heavier.
He is back at the golf course, retracing steps he’s made so many times before. He’s putting an employee in charge. He’s postponing lessons. He’s in the car on his way to provide help. And now the horn toots outside.

When I hear the door swing open, I know it’s him before he hits me with a “Dude. What happened to you?” His pitch is perfect, conveying a balance between “blindness schmindness” and an arm around my shoulder.

He leads me out, leaves me standing at his idling car as he and his employee set out for mine. I dwell, become the embodiment of waiting, fear my life will be one of constant biding.

When he returns, Bob helps me into the car by holding his forearm extended in front of his belly, a rail between us for me to hold onto as I edge into the seat. I’ve seen him do this with septuagenarian Granny and her even-more-senior sister. Now me.

Bob sets off. A turn here, a jostle there, and soon all that connects me to Earth is tire treading ramp, then interstate. There are no mile markers or exit signs or lane dividers. No trees blurring by to mark time. Music plays on the stereo, some oldie – the Four Tops or the Platters, maybe – but it is extra-ethereal. Just music and road and no way to be certain that anything else is there. I speak random profanities, ever-paddling and resistant, as I sink toward the moment when the wheels grind to a halt, the singing stops, and I become a universe of one.

– refers from “rendered” in the poem Rendered Mute by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

  1. Very touching! I love your writing style, Sean. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Wonderful writing, Sean. Thank you!

  3. Wow!

  4. How wonderful of you to share this pivotal moment with us.Thanks, Sean.

  5. Very powerful, Sean. Especially the line ‘ I…fear my life will be one of constant biding’.

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