I remembered a rainy morning leaving North Dakota, feeling depressed and very low, despite a giant shimmering cheerful rainbow stretching across the northern horizon. I drove all day west on Highway 2, into Montana, on The High Line, through patches of fog and drizzle, under more rainbows, past the white crosses that marked where people had died along the road. My spirits grew as I headed west. There was a lot of empty space around me—signs of human presence, sure, but everything was very spread out and junky-looking. I liked it. In the afternoon I hit Havre, which seemed a mighty town after the emptiness of the plains. I stopped and had a beer at the Havre Daily Saloon, and years later that made me smile. The Havre Daily Saloon: not much of a bar, but I liked the name of the place—I like the idea behind it. Thinking about it while I sat in the dark in the hospital made me happy.
The problem was, of course, that I was dying—dying not at the normal day-by-day rate we all die at, but much faster than I would have preferred had I given it any thought—and so one evening I had ended up in the emergency room, pierced by a badly-placed IV, listening to a man in the next alcove scream, “Oh God! Ohhhhhh! Ohhhhhh!”
Two youngish doctors—interns, residents, whatever—stood next to me, a man and a woman. The man appeared to be from South Asia, the woman from Latin America. They just stared at me with their flat brown eyes.
The screaming man beyond the curtain kept screaming. “Ohhhhhhh God! Ahhhhhhhhh!”
Finally the man said, “No one’s done his rectal exam yet.”
He was looking at me, dying.
The woman was looking at me, too. She shook her head. She said, “No.”
I looked up at the ceiling, wondering if it would be the last thing I saw. Bight lights, florescent. The top of a pale green curtain shutting my gurney off from the screaming man and the rest of the room.
I thought, Well, this is it. The end!
“Ahhhhhhhhhh! God! God!”
I thought, Goodbye!
The male doctor to a step back from my gurney. He said, “You do it.”
Then he quickly ducked away beyond the curtain.
The female doctor frowned at me.