Roary had lived more than a little before that day, so I guess the sense that he was invincible was maybe over when the pain started. He said that the trouble had been in his stomach, that he had waited too long to see to a doctor for it, and that there had been a rupture. He had been advised of a chance of death, and of the urgency of an operation. Roary said that he had been told the specific percentage of patients that didn't survive the procedure, and that he knew the number still, but said he would rather not repeat the figure. Probably he had been scared some. Roary said he had cried that it all should be over, but that that hadn't helped much, and that in the end you fall asleep before much happens. The drugs do that to you.
It was after he was awake again that he pulled at the needles stuck in him. In his nose, on his arm, and on down below. He said the nurses know that you will do this, and rush in when the machines show you as awake. I guess most folks start pulling at what is connecting them up to the fixtures and the nurses have to get in there and make them stop. Roary said he thought that that was part of the reason those big lady nurses from the Ivory Coast were always around the waiting station. They were capable of holding a man down and keeping him from doing the things that would harm him, and they had no problem throwing a little weight around to go about their aim.
Roary said that the pain had been a lot, but that it was his neighbor in the room who kept him from bellyaching too much. He said that this neighbor wouldn't cry out in the night, but instead waited until the mornings, when the nurses tried to bathe him, and that he would curse at them and flail his arms out in punches. The man would scream shrill threats and mostly resist what help was offered him. Roary said he remembered the man's sister had come once and sat next to her brother. She had asked for his calm, and let out small tears. She wondered in whispers if he remembered her, while the patient mumbled in return only about evil of the nurses. Roary said that the scariest thing he ever knew were the past pictures of this man, his neighbor in the hospital, decorating that side of the room. Closely combed hair and a suit of subtle tone, a man sitting in finery. A sense to a life that was gone now except in that it was held to a wall with pins. There had been smiles in the past, where now there were hurled imprecations.
It had been awhile, in that room. Roary said that he hadn't been able to leave for some days. That the window near him wouldn't open, that that bothered him, and that most times he tried not to move, because a turn or a touch drove pain. Roary said most times he thought about what he would do when he got out, and then when that was too sad, about what he had done the right way already. He said you look for happiness where you can find it when it seems too shy to come out.
Roary said that when they pulled the needle from his left arm, on his last day in the ward, there had been a sting. Today he wondered why, when he thought about it, because most times the prick of a needle only stings on its way in, he said. But this one had cut on the way out. Maybe they had pulled it too quick and jostled the hold. Roary didn't know. But for several years now, he told me, he had dug the nail of his index finger into the skin of his other arm until it hurt. He said he would do this without realizing, that it happened when he felt alone, and that he only thought about it later. He said that what the pain had meant for him was that he was free. He could leave. Roary said that that feeling, weird as it was rendered, was the one he wanted back. "I'd drive a prick in myself if I knew I could get it out that way again" he'd told me.
Recently I made it back to Piemonte. It had been 8 years since the last visit. I wanted so badly to get back there but life and its hold, as well as my own inabilities, kept me away. After too long I arrived back to where, as I think, God created a land of vines for those who love wine. I gave myself a pinch.