Dispatch 12 (Oct. 9, 1998)
Midway through lit class, we were rehashing the Louise Erdrich
"Life is Hell and then your husband goes and kills himself after the molestation
charges" motif when I heard the muffled ringing of my pager coming from the front
pocket of my backpack.
I checked it after the sound stopped and it was
Ginas phone number, which Id come to recognize by now, followed by a
The professor (not the same as the independent study maven
who started me on this happy project) is casual about comings and goings, so I got up and
walked to a downstairs phone booth.
Gina answered on the third ring.
"Heather?" She sounded half-asleep, her voice
"Yeah, its me Gina. Whats up?"
"Im sick. I cant get out of bed. Can you
I looked at my watch. About 20 minutes left in class and I
had no real commitments outside of studying and a library trip for the rest of the
"I can be over in a half hour."
She told me she couldnt keep any food down and she
thought she might have a fever. I told her Id bring a few things and to stay in bed.
I stopped at one of the campus bookstores on the way, and
despite the overpricing ($3.25 for a simple spiral notebook?), I bought Pepto and a
32-ounce lemon lime Gatorade bottle there. I didnt buy any Midol its
Standard Heather Equipment, regularly stocked in my backpack.
The sun had appeared for the last part of the week, but a
cold front had moved into town, sweeping away the heat and humidity. Its the closest
thing to spring or fall here a dip into the tall 70s or short 80s and then it gets
cold enough for coats. By March, the heat comes back.
At the door to Heathers co-op, an heavyset blonde
girl Id come to recognize at Jennifer opened the card-coded door. She was watching
Jerry Springer and it must have been early in the show because everyone was still in their
I knocked at her door.
"Come in," I heard from within. The door
wasnt locked. I let myself in, hearing first the hum of a fan pointed to Ginas
She was lying under heavy blankets. A backpack of hers lay
near the door, the contents of it books and notebooks, were spilled out like the
curve of a rainbow.
It was dark, or as dark as it could be with sunlight
peeking through the edges of the curtain shed closed.
Next to her, on the nightstand, were a bottle of
prescription pills, a half-full liter of Diet Coke and wadded Kleenex tissues.
I went to her bed and sat. The fan thrust its cold air at
"Are you all right?" I asked. "I brought
some stuff for you."
I pulled out the pink bottle and the Gatorade from the
plastic bag and placed the items on the nightstand. She looked at them, disinterested.
"Im not good with Pepto," she said. "Usually I just throw up
"So youve been throwing up?" I asked.
"All day and last night. A couple of times. I
didnt sleep too well and I think I have a fever."
I did the mom measurement, placing my palm on her
forehead. It was cool and clammy.
"I dont think you have a fever," I said.
"Why do you have the fan on?"
"I was sweating all night and hot. Then Id get
"Are you coughing and sneezing?" Heather Yi has
not a degree in medicine, but she knows from flu. And I have allergies too.
"No," Gina said. "Just nauseous. My stomach
has been upset the last few days."
"Oh," I said. "Because of what we talked
She nodded. Her eyes were puffy, from lack of sleep or
crying or both. They were bloodshot. Her face looked drawn, the edges of her mouth hanging
as if pulled down by hooks.
"So you think youre maybe making yourself
upset?" I asked.
"I cant sleep, Heather. My stomach is all in
knots. I just wanted to sleep or cry. I think Ive done a lot of both."
She began to cry a little then, making little high-pitched
I placed the back of my hand on her cold cheek and stroked
it. Id been thinking a lot about her this week, wondering about her state of mind,
what she might be thinking, or if shed bounced back from it with Gina Resiliency and
was thinking about it less than me. I had stopped thinking of her as Gina, the girl who picks up guys in bars, who makes me look like a frump when she
dresses up, who has treated me badly and who I didnt know to trust. For now, I was
seeing a wounded person, frightened, sick, pathetically dependent on me. It made my
sympathetic. Or maybe powerful. Maybe I wanted to see her this way.
"Its okay," I said, brushing back her hair
with my fingers. "Its all right, Gina. Thisll all pass."
"What if I wanted a baby?" she moaned.
"Would that be terrible? What kind of mother would I be?"
I told her what at face value seemed like a lie, but maybe
wasnt. "A good one," I said.
"My body was trying to tell me something," she
said. "It was ready. And now its making me sick. Making me throw up."
I changed the subject, worrying that she was turning to
self pity, making it worse. "Wheres your roommate?" I asked. "Why
isnt she here?"
"She was here this morning. She made me tea earlier.
But she had a test today and had to go."
"What have you eaten?"
"I tried to eat a sandwich, but I threw it up,"
Gina said. "I tried some crackers and that was a little better."
"No Diet Coke," I said, reaching over to the
bottle on the nightstand. I capped it and put it in the mini fridge. I opened the cool
Gatorade and handed it to her. She sat up slowly and took a small sip.
"Better?" I asked.
"What started this?"
"I couldnt sleep the night after we
talked. I just kept thinking about it." Her voice sounded a little stronger, as if
the drink had cleared her a bit. "I wondered about my parents, my father. About Juan.
What they would say and how they would react. I got scared."
"But nothing happened. Its okay now," I
"I called Juan. We had a fight. I think I blame him a
little." She waited a few moments before continuing, as if measuring her thoughts.
"He wouldnt be a good father and Im angry because of that."
"He doesnt have to be a good father right
now," I said. "Youre not, you know, pregnant."
"But I was almost in that situation," she said,
explaining as if to a child. "He wouldnt have been responsible. Why am I with
someone that couldnt have taken care of me in that situation?"
Lust? A pretty boys face? He can dance and has some
artistic talent? Opting for gentleness, I said instead, "Because you love him?"
"Do I?" Gina said.
The fan hummed, filling the space of the silence between
us. Gina fell back onto the pillow, her hair nearly covering it. "Im sorry I
made you come over."
"Its fine," I said, sensing the
conversation was about over. "I hope you start feeling better."
She rolled over, facing me. "Do you think Im
Carefully, I answered. "I think youre upset.
Youve been through a heavy situation and now youre shell-shocked. Its
"How would you have reacted?" she asked me.
The idea seemed pretty foreign to me. Im a control
freak, and sex has always seemed a little to me like a carnival ride with no
"Off" switch. Ride At Your Own Risk. "I really dont know, Gina,"
I said, and meant it. "Ive never given it much thought."
She rolled over again, this time facing the wall.
"Ill see you, Heather. Im sorry you came all the way over here."
I hovered near her bed for another few moments. I
wasnt sure if I should do a motherly pull up of the blankets or say something
reassuring. Instead, I took the cowards route and made for the door.
"Bye Gina. Get better."
I opened the door to the hall, unleashing outside light
into the darkness. I turned and the shape of her under covers was shaking.
I exited, closing the door behind me.