Baton Rouge General Hospital
Sunday December 6th, 1993
Jen descends, not really responsive, having more and more trouble breathing. Everything is labored: breath, the response of the system, decisions, answers. The order for a medicinal patch behind Jen's ear to dry up her saliva is charted at 6 AM but by noon the patch is yet to arrive. Orders are written early, it takes hours to get the medicine, hours to get any response from the patient on that particular course of treatment. Push, push, bitch until the Charge Nurse says she will go track down the doctor's order, the patch riding on the gurney-like Drug Cart, moving slowly along hospital corridors like an old style delivery vehicle.
Suctioning Jen's airways free of saliva is not enough now. Nurses Geoffery and Maddie come in more and more often, go through Jen's nose to suction her throat, worried glances between them. Because they are bringing up more and more blood they install a nose trumpet, a device shoved into Jen's nose that ends as described, in a bell-shaped flange. Jen's saliva bubbles out of it, drowning her, virus invader within her racing along dark corridors, companions.
* * * *
When Jennifer is between her junior and senior years in high school, she is one of 19 girls chosen to attend the Women in Science Program at Harvard University. Math, science, it all comes easily for her, rarely cracking books at Tara High School where she will end up as Salutatorian, always waiting until the last minute to do assignments, the girl as a fearless child with a fistful of earthworms approaching the house and dumping them on the steps for study. And her reasoning and insight extend naturally into discerning the true nature of things. Once, while watching a movie together, a particular scene where actors are so totally emotionally exposed as humans, I remark how much confidence it takes to act that scene out. Jen says, Everyone is insecure, Dad, they just overcome it more than most.
So it becomes a desperate scramble to raise the $3500.00 for tuition. Don’t have it, nothing of value to quickly sell, salary at the LSU Bookstore laughable, it might as well be millions. Every organization and company in Baton Rouge that might sponsor Jennifer is contacted, the spiel about the opportunity for Jennifer and the opportunity for publicity becomes huckster-smooth, words spilling off my tongue like honey. Truly amazing how much interest there is but days roll on, the departure for Boston ever closer with every polite rejection.
Nights are the hardest, the time after everyone is in bed, the feeling of inadequacy, of artistic paths taken when younger that yield nothing but a slight look of interest when telling people about going to New York to be an actor but coming home to finish college and write, to fulfill that stronger creative urge. So nights it is not self-pity but anger at some path not chosen, one that would have lessened the arguments about the lack of money and the strain on the marriage, anger at the inability to solve the tuition problem.
Jen packs, scared of the adventure to come, of flying, but despite the look on her face we push her down the boarding tunnel to the plane, a worthless check for the tuition in her purse. Back at the Bookstore, a long day of waiting, of hearing nothing from Jen—whether she got there safely, found her way to her dorm, anything. I am telling the ladies in the Bookstore office about her departure, about calling everyone I could think of about helping out with the tuition, about sending her off with a worthless check, that I might be spending my vacation in jail, when Betty Swain turns and looks at me and tells me her husband knows Senator John Breaux.
Unexpected, the wheels turning quickly, Senator Breaux contacting Jacobs Engineering, bless their corporate heart, that company coming through and sponsoring Jennifer at Harvard for the summer. But even with the relief and happiness about Jen getting 8 hours of college credit at Harvard while still in high school, those summer nights are still tempered with anger for depending on someone else, on blind luck, anger for the feelings of again skating by, feelings of failing as a father.