"Just hold my hand for a little bit. And tell me I'm fierce."
~ my patient at Grady
You used to wear bow ties. That's what you told me. Flamboyant bow ties--real ones, of course. "None of that bullshit clip-on mess," you'd told me with a raspy laugh. I squinted one eye, twisted my mouth and did an inward chuckle. You saw my chest rise and shoulders shake even under the yellow contact isolation gown. Since you could see that I was amused, you egged me on by raising one eyebrow. This time my laugh was audible.
"I'll never see clip on bow ties the same ever again."
"So going to be judging them from here forward, right?"
"Totally." After that we shared a collective giggle.
The morning had been rather eventful for you. Biopsies and procedures invaded your young body, all necessary evils to getting all that is ailing you under control. And even though you'd been dealing with this for a few years, I could see beyond your cachectic frame and scary lab results. Your eyes never lost their boyish mischief. And when I explored, you let me right in.
"You know? I'm not like a lot of people," you told me one day. "Like, I've never been really afraid of my diagnosis of HIV. Hell, by the time I found out, it was already AIDS. But that isn't the part that bothered me. It's just the being sickly part."
"Being sick is tough." That's all I could think to say. So I looked at you with your long, sprawling eyelashes and waited to see what you'd say next.
"Being sick is tough. But being sickly is worse. I can get through little bursts of being sick. But being sickly has always been my worst nightmare. I have shit I want to do." I smiled when you said that because I sort of dug your transparency and smatterings of profanity for some reason. It made me feel like you felt comfortable enough to speak freely.
"I never thought of it that way."
"Yeah. I like being fierce. Suiting up and booting up. Walking through Lenox Place with a mohawk and a temple taper."
"In Lenox? Tell me more." I leaned my elbow on my knee and rested my chin in my hand.
"Bay-baaaaaay." You shook your head and laughed. "Honey I used to be killing it. America's Next Top Model didn't have shit on me. I'm talking European cut suits with short ankles and polka dot socks. And I would just do the damn thang."
"So you'd be at Lenox werking it, huh? WERK with a 'e', right?"
"Yaaaaaasssss, hunty! Yaaaaaassss!" You snapped your fingers from your bed. Both in the air at the same time. "Everythang on FLEEK."
That time I threw my head back and let out the biggest laugh yet. I'd learned of this slang term "on fleek" just recently in the hair salon. Though I had no idea why anything would be "on fleek" I did know that it meant that whatever it was was just right.
We talked a little more. Some about your hospital stay and management but more about you and your life. After about twenty minutes in your room, I knew it was time for me to get going. "I have to go finish making my rounds. Tell me, is there anything else I can do for you before I go?"
You stared at me for a beat and then sighed. "You know what? Yeah, there is."
You reached your thin brown arm out toward my direction with your palm flat and open. Then you trained your eyes on mine, your beautiful brown eyes searing mine. "Hold my hand," you finally said.
Without even flinching, that is exactly what I did. I hated that a purple latex glove separated our hands from actually touching. But you didn't seem to mind. You spoke again. "Just hold my hand for a little bit. And tell me I'm fierce."
When you said that, I think you originally meant to be a little funny. But something about that made my eyes immediately sting and fill up with tears. Yet, still. I obliged you. I stared at you and imagined you as you would want me to see you. And I saw it. You in a real bow tie made with fancy paisleys all over it. A light blue seersucker suit with high water hems to show off your designer socks and wing tip shoes. Your signature mohawk fresh from the barber shop. And that mall lobby clearing out to become your own personal runway. I even saw Anna Wintour, Kanye West, and Gwyneth Paltrow applauding you behind oversized shades with cameras flashing all around. Yes. I saw it all.
I squeezed down on your hand hard. "Baby, you are more than fierce. You're on FLEEK."
A tear rolled down your cheek when I said that and softly you responded, an anemic and barely audible whisper. "Yaaaaasss, honey. Yaaassss."
After that I left your room. Then I went to the nearest bathroom I could find and cried and cried.