Twenty-Four Hour Cafe

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

In a somewhat Victorian sense, I was not altogether a well child. In middle school I was prone to fainting spells, and in elementary school I “saw stars”--blots of rainbow ink swimming in my visual field. The latter I took as some divine sign of my specialness and therefore I attended them as one might the monthly missives from an estranged lover. I was chosen, by whom I didn't know or think to ask.

When the fainting spells struck I would usually end up in the nurse’s office, per her suggestion laying belly up on the examination table and waiting for the whiteness to pass. I don’t know if white is the way I remember it, or if I just described it with that word--white. The ceiling in the nurse’s office was (probably) white, but it was whiter then. The white threatened to take over and leave me behind. I think at the time there was some irrational connection with my mother’s epilepsy, as though I had somehow inherited another neurological malady. Though I remember it being explained as low blood pressure or hypoglycemia. Though it’s quite possible that I only misremembered “low blood pressure” as “low blood sugar,” hence hypoglycemia. As I write this my girlfriend points out that if it was hypoglycemia, as it very much sounded like, why was I laid on a table and not given food?

Sometimes they would strike away from any medical channel into which to be shunted. I didn't get them often enough to very well understand what was happening, so one time when I was walking to school with my best friend, it was at first with mild confusion that I noticed that I was salivating excessively. As I swallowed gulp after gulp of spit, I knew that something was wrong. I recalled that this had in fact happened before, and ended with my staring at the ceiling in the nurse's office on the brink of vomiting. How did I explain this to my friend? It's difficult to say how one feels sick when there's no outward sign to point to. I'm not sure I did explain. Maybe I just walked the rest of the way to school, and somehow the episode passed. Maybe I said to him suddenly that I had to sit or lie down for a bit.

These spells of nausea, lightheadedness, and what felt like near-death have since stopped, and so remain a mystery. No retrospective investigation can occur, and my memory is more of the sensation than of the medical discourse, if in fact there was much of any. Which makes the spells glare all the more brightly white.

There was only once I can remember that I was taken to the emergency room. In the middle of the night I couldn't breathe, or only just, gasping. Here’s where I struggle to remember: Was I sick with the flu already, and had been having respiratory difficulty of lesser magnitude up until that point? Had my parents been watching for things to escalate? Or had I not been sick at all, suddenly falling prey to an attack of breathlessness at that horribly urgent hour of the morning?

In any case, they took me off to the emergency room. I can’t remember how the hospital staff treated me if at all. They may have simply examined me and found that it would pass--my air passages would only constrict so far and not kill me. Or maybe they gave me drugs. (Those are obviously the only two options.) I think, like the dancing lights, the emergency made me feel special. In this case it wasn't divine attention I got, but the next best thing at that age: attention from my parents. I felt, in my mortal frailty, that I mattered. That I had power.

Confirming this, afterward my parents took me out at some four in the morning to a twenty-four hour coffee shop. At least, that’s how I choose to remember it: that there was such a place at all. It was too early for any other kind of eatery to be open. Wasn’t it? I remember it being warm (I believe it was winter at the time) and cozy with carpeting and comfortable couches and arm chairs. Though there was nobody else there, it felt more like a hippie community center than strictly a coffee shop. There may have been a menu written on a chalk board in effervescent multicolored strokes. There may have been baked goods wrapped in clear plastic. I don’t think I drank coffee then, but I do remember drinking something, more because I recall the sense of recovery that a hot drink brings than I do the actual imbibing of anything.

I've asked both my parents about that night and neither seemed to know anything about it. They remember the trip to the emergency room. "Yes, and then we went to a twenty-four hour cafe, remember?" They don't. It seems that I'm alone in my memory of this place. There's nobody else I can ask to confirm my vague yet sentimentalized memory. What was that place that we went to, if indeed we went at all?

I remember it being somewhere along the north side of Siskiyou, the main street downtown, between Puck's Doughnuts and the post office. Or maybe not. To me it somehow feels both downtown and secluded away. My grasp of its geography is so loose that it seems pointless to ask anyone if they remember it being there. I certainly don't know what it was called. It's the scene of a poignant memory, but it's lost. The town's changed commercial landscape has not just veiled the scene from me, as Mix has The Fudge Factory, or countless other storefronts that have changed over the years, but has annihilated it entirely, so that I'm not even sure what, if anything, has been annihilated.