Rune Rofke - Glenn Emery

Blood Money

January 1980

Our center director is Carl. I hate him. He's such a pussy. He's a lousy lecturer. He's a terrible fundraiser. He's just a candyass dickhead. I can't stand him. He automatically assumes we'll do what he says because he's Abel, but I resent him. I hate the way he barks orders like he's somebody special. I hate being told what to do by him. I've grown too cynical to fall for this crap anymore. In every way I consider myself a better person than him.

Luckily for me, everyone is gone today. The church sisters and MFT are up in Chicago for a workshop at the Chicago center, and Carl is at a church leaders conference in New York. I was going to go to Chicago too, but Mr. Krishnek asked me to stay behind and keep an eye on the place. There have been break-ins around the neighborhood. A couple of our vehicles have been broken into recently. I'm happy to stay back. Clear my calendar and do absolutely nothing for a change.

This morning I got up early. I was excited. I had the whole day to myself. My plan was to hitchhike out the mall and buy some music, maybe another tape of "Dark Side of the Moon" to replace the one I got rid of a while back. But first I need some money. There's thousands of dollars in the safe, but I wouldn't dare touch it. That's God's money. Using it for myself would be a horrible condition. If ever I doubt that the money we make fundraising is loaded with satanic energy, I have a nice big scar on my hip to remind me. No sir. I am not touching a dime. I need my own money.

I can't fundraise for it because that's still God's money. I need another way, and last night while I was strategizing my day, I hit on a plan. There's a plasma donation center a few blocks away on Illinois Avenue. I know it's open today. I'll go over there, donate a pint of plasma, and that will give me some cash I can spend on myself without fear of accusation.

It was bitter cold outside, and the sidewalks were covered with snow and ice, but the sun was bright and everything glistened in the January freeze. I practically skipped down to the plasma center. In just a few moments I was lying on a vinyl recliner, a large stainless-steel needle in my arm, and watching a plastic bag fill up with my precious bodily fluid, brilliant red and gorgeous. Blood money. How appropriate.

The first bag filled and the nurse swapped it out with a second empty bag. I asked her why.

"You gots to give two pints of blood to get one pint of plasma. We gots to run the blood through that machine over there, a centrifuge, to get the plasma out. Then we gives you back the platelets. Gonna take a little while."

I hadn't foreseen this wrinkle, and the news unnerved me. I glanced around the room. There were a couple of hillbillies also hooked up to IVs. They looked a couple bucks shy of mean drunk, which I figured they'd remedy as soon as they were done here. I suppose this is a regular ritual for them. It made me a little nervous the way they were eyeballing me. The spiritual atmosphere in here was not good, and suddenly I was starting to feel a little paranoid. A tiny wave of panic hit my gut, and then...

Something is horribly, terribly wrong. I'm staring down at myself on the vinyl couch. A nurse is yelling but I can't hear anything. I look dead. People are rushing over. The hillbillies are taking special interest. Someone snaps a little white capsule under my nose...

I slam back into my body like an 18-wheeler into a brick wall. "Jesus Fucking Christ!" A thousand burning needles stab my brain back to life. My head feels like it's going to explode. I gasp for air. Ammonia blisters my sinuses and throat and lungs. Blood is pouring from a hole in my arm where I've jerked free of the IV.

I see vague shapes around me, moving furiously. I can't hear anything but a distant roar. My eyes slowly begin to focus, but I have no idea who I am or where I am or what is happening. I feel like I'm in a bad dream. The sound becomes more distinct. Someone is shouting. I see her now. She's yelling in my face. I have no idea who she is or why she's yelling. Where am I? Who am I? What is this?

Then it starts coming back. My brain starts picking up the pieces and reassembling them into some semblance of reality. I'm beginning to remember. I'm scared out of my wits.

"Did you eat breakfast?" An ugly tank of a woman in a white nurses uniform is hovering next to me. She is one pissed off black lady.

I nod no. "You stupid boy! Don't you know you can't give plasma on an empty stomach? No wonder you fainted."

"Don't be so hard on him," says another nurse, the one who had initially got me set up. "He didn't know. He's okay now." She hands me a cup of orange juice. "Here, drink this."

The big ugly nurse is still pissed off. She's not done with me yet. "You could have died!" Now she turns her wrath to the other nurse. "You were supposed to ask him if he'd eaten."

"He's a strong kid. Leave him alone. He'll be fine."

I don't feel fine. I have a pounding headache. A huge purple bruise is forming in the crook of my arm. I feel like shit. I decide not to mention my hypoglycemia to the nurse as she fusses to get the IV reattached. I feel nauseous and close my eyes.

"No! Keep your eyes open! Don't go to sleep! I don't want to lose you again."

I do as I'm told and stare at the water stains in the ceiling tiles. I curse myself for thinking this would be a good idea. I think about what would have happened if I had really died. No one would find out for days. No one knows where I am.

I'm acutely aware now, much more than I was 20 minutes ago, how dreadfully low the spirit world is in this place. This is a place of misery and suffering. I had no business coming in here. I now feel very vulnerable and exposed. The two hillbillies have not taken their eyes off me. They have been enjoying the spectacle immensely. Bonus entertainment. Something to cackle about as they pass a bottle around the fire burning in a steel drum in an empty lot next to the liquor store.

I desperately want to leave, to cancel this little transaction. But it's too late for that. I'm past the point of no return. I'm stuck here, literally, for at least another 30 minutes.

The nurse jabs me again with the IV needle, this time in my other arm. The vein is fat and virgin, yet somehow she goes clear through. Already I see a tiny dark red spot growing. Now I'll have two bruises, just for symmetry.

"Sorry," she says, readjusting the needle. "You gave us quite a scare. You want some more OJ?"

"Yes, please." I figure I need to get some nourishment, anything, to weather this ordeal.

By ten o'clock I'm trudging back home. The January wind is strong and in my face. It's got to be well below zero. Three blocks didn't seem so far on my way over. Now it feels like a death march. Every step is agony. I feel so sick and wasted. The $15 in my pocket was definitely not worth it. Finally I get inside the center.

I want to collapse and go to sleep right away, but I need to eat something first. I check the pantry. It's empty as usual, except for a can of tomato soup. I pour it into a small pan on the stove and heat it up. It reminds me of blood. I drink it all, but I still feel lousy. All my grand plans to play hooky from my responsibilities siphoned away in a pint of plasma. I crawl into my sleeping bag in the back room, burrow deep down into the nylon uterus, curl up in a fetal position, and fall into a black, dreamless sleep.

At sunset I finally get up, no longer nauseous but very lethargic. I open a Coke and make some peanut butter crackers. I spend the next couple hours trying to learn how to juggle. I actually get to the point where I can do it for a few seconds. But the physical exertion wipes me out and I go back to bed. 

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