Level 13: In Which Hannah is a Dolphin


I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

— The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

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“Two thousand dollars!” My mom was incredulous. I was in pain.

“I told you that Wednesday.” Said Karen, “$750 for X-rays, $300 for developing—”

“Two thousand dollars!” My mom looked around for something to throw. I lay on the yoga mat with a rusty sword shoved through my guts. The glowing egg-shaped thingies or the hippie dog or Dr. Groover’s chiropractic voodoo had chased off the Nazgûl, but the pain was still intense. It seemed $2,000 was not enough to buy Taco Bell.

“Our equipment is very expensive,” said Karen Groover, “The licensing alone costs tens of thousands of dollars and then there’s the plates and—”

“You did not tell me it was going to cost $2,000, if you had I would have—”

“Yes, I did,” Karen said.

She had; I’d heard it, my mom had not. I lay on the mat and kept this to myself. I’d hoped the doctor could fix me, that I’d be eating Mexican pizzas with Jackie’s granddaughter after one visit. Turned out $2,000 only covered hiccups. My spine sure felt straight, though.

“I went over an itemized list of all the services and charges,” continued Mrs. Groover, “and gave you a total as you were walking out the door.”

“I didn’t hear you, did you hear her, Nathan?”

“You were too busy dodging pingpong balls,” I called from my place on the floor.

“What?” My mom threw her hands up in exasperation and turned to face Karen. “How can you charge $2,000 for a four hour session?” she asked.

I looked at my phone. It was close to 3 p.m. and I was barely able to walk. Maybe some delayed chiropractic miracle would occur and straighten me out, but for now it looked like I’d be missing this week’s Magic draft down at The Wizard’s Chest. I’d been studying hard; it sucked to think of all that wasted effort.

“Dr. Groover is a specialized chiropractor,” Karen defended her husband’s charges. “There isn’t anyone in the state who can do what he does. You could go to other NUCCA clinics but they wouldn’t have the expertise or experience and our equipment is all—”

“$2,000 and my son is still in pain!” she pointed at my crippled form. I waved and tried to smile.

“The healing process is different for everyone,” said Karen, “it might be that he needs more treatments.”

Dr. Groover had a bunch of these things in his office. They were gigantic and mysterious. At the time I figured they were some kind of spiritual focus or something, I have since found out they are made of salt and supposedly purify the air.

I tuned them out and looked at the glowing eggs, trying to imagine a civilization that lived in such structures. They would clearly be matriarchal, worshipping the goddess and her wisdom, building egg-shaped edifices that resembled the female aspect of fertility. Men would still be the workhorses but they’d consult their women before going to war. What would the women accept as …

“Nathan,” my mom snapped her fingers, “it’s time to go.”

I got up painfully and hunchback shuffled out the door. “Day dreaming again?” She asked as I limped past. She had been catching me staring off into space for as long as I could remember.

In the end, my mom paid $2,000 for a single visit to a voodoo man witch who realigned my back in an attempt to stop me from vomiting blood. It was quite the “I love you” but ultimately futile. Before my visit the story had seemed plausible. Jackie was a white witch of enormous power and if she said her granddaughter had been cured then her granddaughter had been cured, but after the fact the entire ordeal seemed foolish. I had been throwing up and dying for six days and my well-meaning mother took me to a chiropractor. In holistic voodoo world, this made perfect sense, but hindsight was a cruel mistress.

I crawled into the back of the water wagon and laid down on the sleeping bags. This was impossible. I was going to die. My mom climbed into the front seat and started the engine.

“Can you believe those people?”

“Unbelievable.” I groaned. Even more outrageous was the fact that my mom had paid it. Health above all. Had I known Latin, I would have engraved that phrase on a stone slab and hung it above her door.

“I need to stop at Whole Foods,” my mom said as she put the car in reverse. “I’ll pick up some lunch for me and a chicken for you.”

“There’s no way I’m eating chicken.” I stared at the ceiling imagining a simpler time when Taco Bell was an afterthought, not an impossible dream.

“I’m going to boil it down into a broth and make some soup. You’ll be able to sip the broth.”

“Soup…” My mouth watered. Soup was my favorite food.

She drove the short distance to the hippie grocery store and parked the car. “You want to come in?” She turned to look at me in the back seat.

“Seriously?” I said it more angrily than I’d meant.

“Sorry, sorry! Geez.” My mom cracked the windows like I was her dog and went inside. I lay in the car and moaned.

When she had everything she needed, my mom came back and drove us to Denver. Once we’d reached my block she helped me inside like an injured football player being limped off the field.

“You sure you don’t want me to stay a few extra days?” asked my mom. “I can reschedule your grandma and grandpa’s doctor’s visits.”

“No,” I said. “I’ll be fine. The hiccups have stopped. I feel better all ready.” It was ridiculous. I could barely walk and I was trying to convince my mom I didn’t need her help. Neither of us could open my apartment’s hilarious front door, so we had to make the long trek around the building and come through the back. My hallway smelled like a wet dog and I could hear people blasting music from inside their apartments. At least no one was having sex.

“How do you put up with this racket?” My mom asked.

“I love it. Keeps me young.” I was by far the oldest person living in my building, but no one could tell. I fit right in.

“And the parking is atrocious!” My mom liked to complain.

“Tell me about it!” I liked to complain as well. In my neighborhood parking tickets were a way of life. “The corner I live on has the highest number of citations in all of Colorado.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Everyone lives in constant fear of the Meter and her Maids.”

“I am so glad I moved to Grand Junction,” my mom said

My mom set me down on my bed and hooked me up to the frequency specific machine. “Ow! It’s shocking me!”

“I’ll turn it down.” My mom beeped a few buttons and the pain went away. “Is that better?”

“Yeah. Would you put on Tobolowsky for me?”

“I don’t know how.” Moms were terrible at technology.

“You just hit play on iTunes.”

“What’s iTunes?” Mom’s were really terrible at technology.

“Just hit the space bar on my keyboard.”

She went over to my computer and hit the space bar. Nothing happened. She didn’t notice. Thinking she’d done her part she went into the kitchen to make some soup.

I got up, took off my pants and shirt and limped the four steps to my computer. I hit play and crawled back into bed.

Stephen Tobolowsky is a podcaster and my personal hero. The writing style I am currently using was stolen from his show, The Tobolowsky Files. If you like what I’m doing and want to hear someone doing the same thing but without the negativity and swear words you should definitely check him out.

Tobolowsky told me about the time he thought his neighbor had been killed but it turned out her apartment was just really messy. Afternoon turned to evening. My mom cooked and cleaned and fed me chamomile and as many supplements as I could stand. My stomach lurched and groaned in agony. The chiropractor had not fixed me. I was going to die.

“Mom?” I said.

“What, honey?” she came in the room with a towel. She was drying a dish.

“I think we need to go to the hospital. Cousin Mary said something about Swedish?” I looked at her with tears in my eyes. I was in so much pain.

My mom stopped drying the dish. She chose her words carefully: “They won’t be able to help you. They’ll charge tons of money and pump you full of pills, but they won’t be able to fix you. Jackie’s granddaughter had the same thing and they put her through all kinds of tests but couldn’t figure it out. You’re better off just taking your supplements.”

Was there no hope? My mom was a nurse. She knew all about hospitals. I didn’t. To me they were places people went to have babies or get broken bones wrapped in plaster. When my knee blew out, they put me under the knife, but I’d never been to one because I was sick. Could doctors help you if you were sick? My mom didn’t seem to think so.

“We have to do something. I can’t take much more of this.”

“Just rest. See if Dr. Groover’s adjustment takes hold. You’ve been hooked up to the frequency machine and I got a few pills down you. The broth will help, I packed it full of ginger.”

She didn’t understand and I was too weak to find the words. My head felt empty and stretched like a balloon. I couldn’t focus. I sat there staring at my mom. She went back to cleaning and cooking. She came in periodically to change the program on the frequency specific machine.

After a while it was time for her to go. “That’s all I can do. Sure you don’t want me to stay?”

“I’m sure.”

She packed up her stuff and gave me a hug. “Let that chicken boil for another couple hours and then the soup will be ready.”

“OK.”

“And try to eat some of the chicken if you think you can handle it.”

“I will.”

“I packed it full of ginger, which will be very soothing to your stomach.”

“Thank you.”

“Call if you need anything. I can always turn around.”

“OK.”

And then she was gone.

Night filtered in through the window. I could hear kids on stoops drinking and having a good time. I wanted to join them. Tobolowsky told me about a friend of his who was a pretty rough dude but came to his rescue when he was unbelievably sick. The guy was a colorful character: an alcoholic, drug addict and fellow actor, my mom’s opposite. Three hours passed and I wandered into my kitchen to check on the broth. MP nodded at me, “Get you a drink?”

“Sure.”

He poured me a glass of refreshing Multipure water. I sipped it tentatively. The hiccups had been gone since Dr. Groover wrapped me up in his enormous arms but Nazgûl were masters of deceit. It would be just like them to fake a retreat then strike from the shadows. “You sure got skinny,” said MP. “If I didn’t know better I’d think you were a scarecrow.”

“Really?” I looked at my arms and stomach. I didn’t feel skinnier.

“Pardner, you look half dead. Nobody can go a week without food and look all right.”

I grabbed a ladle and spooned a cup of chicken broth into a mug. “This will help.” I raised the glass.

“You’ll need more than that pretty soon or you’re gonna die.”

“He won’t die,” an ominous voice shattered the solitude. My sickness was evolving. The Black Riders with their hiccupping mounts had fled but in their wake, unbearable pain, manifest in this story as a new and evil figure. I turned and beheld a tall, dark shape. “My master, Sauron the Great, bids you welcome.” His helmet covered his eyes, only his fetid, rotten mouth could be seen.

“Are you the servant Sauron spoke of?” I asked.

“I am,” he bowed his head slightly.

“You’re an ugly bugger and no mistake,” MP didn’t like this guy. I didn’t either. “What’s your name, stranger?”

“I…” The robed man paused for the briefest moment before he answered. “That is none of your concern.”

“Funny thing, feller walking into another man’s apartment and won’t give his name,” said MP.

“He’s forgotten it.” I said. “You are the last of the Black Númenóreans, traitor to your kind.”

“I sought to save my people.” He said.

Gandalf’s words came to me unbidden: “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”

“I did what I could,” said the dark figure. “Nothing more.”

“You look like a scoundrel and a lout,” said MP, “and your breath stinks.” It was true. I could smell it from the kitchen.

“You shouldn’t be here,” I said. “It’s all wrong. You’re Sauron’s chief lieutenant, the only human to have seen his face. You’re too important. Big bosses don’t dirty their hands on slobs like me.”

“You’d prefer Shagrat?” The tall, dark man began to morph, becoming squat and green with a hunched back and enormous under bite. An orc stood where the leader of the armies of Morannon had just been.

“No. Shagrat’s not right either. Sauron would know he’d be too easily tricked. I’m not important enough to warrant the attentions of The Mouth of Sauron, but an orc captain is beneath me.”

“The nine have fled,” said The Mouth of Sauron, reverting to his former guise. “Saruman is greater than I and Wormtongue does not wield a sword.”

“We need a barbarian,” I said. “Someone like Kratos, savage, but wise.”

“Ain’t nobody like that exists in Tolkein’s mythos,” said MP. “Not unless you wanna pull an obscure character out of the Silmarillion or something and that’d just be showing off.”

“You can’t read,” I reminded the filter.

“Can too.”

“It matters not,” said the Dark Númenórean. “The Riders are gone and I am here, in whatever form you choose.” He turned his head, looking out the window. Orange street lights reflected duly off his ancient helm. “And it is time for bed.”

“When I’m finished,” I said.

“Yep,” added MP. “When he’s finished.”

I lifted the mug to my lips and took a timid sip. It was still quite hot. I was able to swallow a few mouthfuls, and the retributive hiccups did not strike, but a deep and ominous pain burned through me like molten agony.

I checked my Facebook, rereading a message sent to me from Hannah’s mom. It was an invitation to her graduation party in Greeley on Sunday. I had missed the Friday night draft, but I might be able to make it to the party. I had an entire day to recover and I was drinking broth and everything. My present was going to be a song I’d scraped together from bits of unfinished poems. There were two new verses as well. It was rough. I hadn’t had a chance to practice it on account of the blackened death shit and all, but it didn’t matter. It was the thought that counted.

I picked up my guitar and tried to play through the song. My voice was thin and raw.

“Your hands are too weak,” said my ominous intruder. “You need to rest.” He gestured toward my bed. I looked at his sickly mouth and kept playing. The chords buzzed and groaned, my hand was too frail to hold the shapes. “It is past midnight. If you are to have any chance of driving to Greeley, you must sleep.”

He was right. I couldn’t play the song anyway. I set down my guitar and climbed into bed. “Why are you here?” I asked.

The man stepped closer, his dark form looming above me. “To make sure you go to the doctor.”

“Doctors can’t help me,” I said.

The sorcerer pulled a wicked sword from its sheath. Shelob came closer, staring at the flickering glow of the witch blade. “Soon, it will not matter. Soon you will be too weak to care.” He began to speak words of power, his vile mouth chanting in time with his dark heart. His body lifted, floating toward the ceiling.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He rotated the sword so it was facing down, aimed directly at my guts, then gripped the haft in both hands.

“What do you want?” I asked, knowing he wouldn’t answer.

He looked down at me, his blind eyes hidden behind his helmet. What did they see? The sword flashed momentarily. He stopped speaking. The spell broke. His body fell, the blade plunged through me, carried by the weight of his body. I tried to arch my back, but the sword held me pinned to the bed.

“Noooooooo!” I realized there was no way I was making it to Hannah’s party.

This is Hannah, second among the elder children. When she came up with my band name she was five, now she sports a Koima sticker on the bumper of her car. Few things have made me feel more awesome.
P.S. The figurine in this picture is a sculpture version of the original comic book character Scott Pilgrim. Scott Pilgirm vs. The World is one of my favorite movies, top two at least. It stands nearly alone as one of the few motion pictures I liked better than the original work it was based on. Confessions of a Diarrhetic’s mad post-modern style is stolen directly from that film. If you like what I’m doing, you’ll love Pilgrim.

Hannah was this little waif of a girl I’d known for 14 years. She was about to graduate from high school and I’d been invited to the party. It was going to be huge. Her family was 13 strong, 11 children and two very tired parents. I think there might have been a grandmother in there as well, but it was hard to tell with a crew that big. Together they comprised the most loving family I had ever known.

Dale was Hannah’s dad and the sire of clan Pratt. Hannah’s 10 brothers and sisters were the result of the sweet, sweet love he’d made to his beautiful wife, Rene. Together they formed quite the team.

When I first moved to Greeley, Dale already had a bunch of kids. He and his wife homeschooled them and, as if this wasn’t enough, they held a Bible study potluck every Monday. Potluck was not the appropriate term as the denizens who drifted through their doors brought nothing but ravenous appetites. Each week, Rene cooked a meal and opened her home to whoever wanted to come over. Turned out the only takers were a bunch of punk kids with blue mowhawks and spiked belts. I was one of them. We’d show up, 13 or 14 strong, and talk and eat and wrestle with their children and then settle into the living room where homemade songbooks, drums and a guitar were passed around. The songbooks held chords and lyrics to worship tunes. Someone would take the guitar and lead the group while everyone else sang along and beat on those drums. After we’d given glory to the highest, Dale would give a message, then open up the floor for discussion. It was a great way to do church.

Sometimes the place was packed. Kids drove from bigger, better towns to hang out in stinky old Greeley, eat Dale’s food and listen to him speak. Some nights there was no place to sit.

I’m not sure if Hannah ended up on my lap because she liked me or if there was nowhere else to go, but I liked to think we had a connection. Dale had all these homemade songbooks; photocopied worship tunes held together in paper folders, modern hymnals made on the cheap.

I liked to draw so I’d sit there while he taught, filling the white space with pictures of monsters and space ships. It helped me focus. This one night Hannah crawled into my lap with her crazy little poof of curly blond hair and started making dolphin noises. Hannah was always making dolphin noises.

“Quiet, you!” said Dale. “I’m preaching the word of God.” Everyone laughed. Hannah dolphin laughed along with the group and then stole the pencil out of my hand, gripping it like a knife in the hands of a serial killer. With her weapon wielded, she began writing all the letters she knew. She was 5 and her handwriting was rubbish. Her scraggly scrawls didn’t even make sense.

“What are you writing?” I whispered in her ear.

“Words,” she said then cackled like a dolphin.

“Hannah,” Dale warned more emphatically.

I waited for Dale to get back into his message. “What words?” I said as quietly as I could.

She held the songbook up so I could read them for myself.

I looked at the page. It was full of nonsense, terrible kid writing ran screaming all over the page with no concern for the robot I had been drawing. There were rows of A’s and M’s and sections of lines that might have been lowercase L’s. Zigs zagged here and there alongside messy jumbles of letters that spelled nothing at all. “Read them,” Hannah said, looking up from beneath her piles of crazy hair.

“AXJSLAV,” I whispered.

She scrunched her nose, “That’s not a word.”

“Yeah it is. It means ‘pumpernickel.’”

“What’s that?” She pointed at another word in the jumble.

“Swamp muskatronic,” I said knowingly.

“Oh,” said Hannah. She looked at the page trying to decipher what I’d read. “More.”

The next word was a doozy. To read it I had to stick out my tongue and spit all over her. “That one says ‘DDBLPTHPTPTPTH!’”

“Hey!” she elbowed me in the gut and then started slapping me with a crazy windmill motion.

“Do I need to kick both you dorks out?” asked Dale.

“Sorry,” we said in chastened unison.

Hannah grabbed the pencil and started writing again. I watched, wishing she had more respect for my drawings. “RBJJJJ” did nothing for the composition. I listened to Dale for a while and tried to focus, but it was hard with a squirmy kid in my lap. After a while Hannah decided she had written another masterpiece. “Read,” she said and held up the paper so I could look over her manuscript. That’s when I saw it.

“Koima,” I said. It was a great word. I liked how it felt in my mouth. Hannah had missed the dot above the ‘i’ but she was a homeschooler and, true to form, refused to quit until she’d gotten it right. A wonderful explosion of dots fluttered above her vertical line, trying to find the right place. It was absolutely beautiful. “Koima,” I repeated, more slowly. “You’re quite the poet.” She made a little kid face in embarrassment and cackled like a dolphin.

“Kee-ke ka ka k-ka!”

“Seriously,” I said. “I mean it.”

“So do I.” Her father stopped his sermon and looked at us. “How am I gonna get you two to stop sinning if you won’t listen to my message!”

He didn’t understand. His daughter was a genius. “Hannah just came up with the name for my band.” I said.

“We’re all real proud,” said Dale, “can I finish my sermon, now?”

For the next decade I made music under the name Koima. The logo changed over time but with each iteration, I made sure to include a stylized explosion of dots above the ‘i’, homage to the child that had created it. I was only in Greeley for a couple of years, but for the next 11, every time someone asked what my band’s name meant, I’d tell them the story about the little dolphin girl who stumbled upon brilliance. Hannah was little when she came up with the name and now she was about to graduate from high school. It made me feel old. It made me feel proud. That summer, before I got sick, her mother sent me a Facebook message. “Hannah wants you at her graduation party.” My heart swelled. I was so honored. I told her I’d definitely be there. Now something was wrong. I could barely move. I was pinned to my bed by an unseen hand. So many things hung in the balance.

to be continued

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These are the songs that appeared in this week’s podcast!

There is Life in Us

This is a wonderful song by the amazing Hannah Pratt! To download it or any song or podcast on this site right click the link and select the ‘save as’ feature.

Graduation Song

Here’s a song I started years ago as a graduation present for a fan but only recently finished in honor of Hannah. Enjoy!

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