I opened the door and I seen the man in the dress greens and I knew. I immediately knew." This was what the mother of a nineteen-year-old killed by a bomb in Kirkuk said on an HBO documentary quoted by Bob Herbert in The New York Times on the morning of November 12, 2004. "But I thought that if, as long as I didn't let him in, he couldn't tell me. And then itnone of that would've happened. So he kept saying, Ma'am, I need to come in.' And I kept telling him, I'm sorry, but you can't come in.' "
When I read this at breakfast almost eleven months after the night with the ambulance and the social worker I recognized the thinking as my own.
Inside the emergency room I could see the gurney being pushed into a cubicle, propelled by more people in scrubs. Someone told me to wait in the reception area. I did. There was a line for admittance paperwork. Waiting in the line seemed the constructive thing to do. Waiting in the line said that there was still time to deal with this, I had copies of the insurance cards in my handbag, this was not a hospital I had ever negotiatedNew York Hospital was the Cornell part of New YorkPresbyterian, the part I knew was the Columbia part, Columbia-Presbyterian, at 168th and Broadway, twenty minutes away at best, too far in this kind of emergencybut I could make this unfamiliar hospital work, I could be useful, I could arrange the transfer to Columbia-Presbyterian once he was stabilized. I was fixed on the details of this imminent transfer to Columbia (he would need a bed with telemetry, eventually I could also get Quintana transferred to Columbia, the night she was admitted to Beth Israel North I had written on a card the beeper numbers of several Columbia doctors, one or another of them could make all this happen) when the social worker reappeared and guided me from the paperwork line into an empty room off the reception area. "You can wait here," he said. I waited. The room was cold, or I was. I wondered how much time had passed between the time I called the ambulance and the arrival of the paramedics. It had seemed no time at all (a mote in the eye of God was the phrase that came to me in the room off the reception area) but it must have been at the minimum several minutes.
Excerpted from The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion Copyright © 2005 by Joan Didion. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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