I lived in a cute little apartment building that was right on the Mississippi River when I was in nursing school. It was the perfect location for me, maybe four blocks from the school, maybe a quarter mile from downtown St Cloud. It was a three story square, brick building, and each floor was a complete two bedroom apartment. I lived on the top floor apartment. Directly below me lived Judy Nicegirl and Nora the Goon.
Judy was a nice girl. She used to make pizzas for me and my brother, and she asked me out multiple times. Judy was head over heels in love with me. She was physically attractive–she had a pretty hot body–but Judy wasn’t very smart. This will sound like the ultimate irony coming from me because God knows I was plenty capable of infinite stupidity, but I rate intelligence very high on my list of desirable qualities. Unfortunately, Judy had a very low rating in that particular area.
And then there was her roommate. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Popeye the Sailorman, but there was a character named Alice the Goon in Popeye’s cartoons, and Nora kind of reminded me of Alice…
Judy had a boyfriend, Brian. He lived on the ground floor apartment in our building. Brian’s mom must not have cursed him because he got Judy pregnant and she had Brian’s baby. I don’t think Judy and Brian had that great of a relationship prior to making their baby, and it didn’t get any better afterwards. Judy and Brian had multiple arguments, multiple times. Then Judy would go to her apartment and argue with Nora the Goon. There was a reason for this that has nothing to do with the story, but I’ll add it because it was so great at the time. Nora was a lesbian and she wanted Judy more than Judy wanted me. My brother, Thomas Rowen, thought this was just about the funniest thing he’d ever seen in his life.
It was January, probably my senior year of nursing school. It was the weekend. Yeah, weekends in January were tough on me in nursing school. It was cold, colder than it had been one year earlier when everyone had been sledding on the hill at the end of the street. I was watching TV with my brother Tom, when there was a knock at the door.
“Brian beat me up!” Judy cried, as I answered the door. “I think he broke my arm!” I ushered her into the living room, and had my brother keep an eye on her while I went out to start my car and let it warm up before I drove Judy to the hospital. I had a 1980 Honda Civic CVCC four door wagon. It was the most undependable car I ever owned. It started about half of the time I wanted to drive it. Fortunately, this was one of its good days. My car started right up, and I shivered as I revved the engine periodically to warm it up faster. Neither Judy nor Nora owned a car. Brian did, but I didn’t see his car in the parking lot.
My brother threw me his coat when I returned to my apartment. Judy was already wearing my coat. I fired a quizzical look at my brother. He responded with a look that said, She’s not wearing my coat! I escorted Judy down the stairs and into my car. She was crying. I tried to distract her, told her a joke or something, and her sobbing abated somewhat. And then we were at the hospital. Yeah, it took about that long.
“Wait here, I’ll go get a wheelchair.”
“I can walk.” Judy replied. She had stopped crying.
“No, wait here. I’ll be right back.” There was an empty wheelchair near the entrance. I wheeled it out to my car, and helped Judy get in it.
“You’re such a sweet guy. That’s why I like you so much. You’re so nice. Thank you for driving me here.”
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t going to let you walk here.” It was pretty damn cold outside. And she had a broken arm… I wheeled her down a short hallway into the ER waiting room. The ER was dead on that day. There might’ve been a couple people waiting, but mostly I saw the ER staff sitting around the nursing station in small groups, shooting the breeze.
“Can I help you?” a guy in blue scrubs said, approaching us as we approached the nursing station. He had a neatly trimmed beard, and he smiled a warm greeting as we came in from the cold.
“I broke my arm!” Judy sang out, catching me by surprise. I had an explanation I wanted to say before anyone got the wrong idea.
“Oh, did you have a skiing accident?” he asked, looking at our outerwear, which could’ve been used as skiing jackets, I suppose. He was still smiling, and now all the other staff members behind the nursing station started taking notice of us and some of them got up and stated heading toward us. I opened my mouth to reply.
“No! My boyfriend beat me up!!”
It became very cold in that Emergency Room, very quickly. The smiling faces approaching us suddenly took on the appearance of every pissed off Mom/Dad/Brother/Sister/Cousin of every victim of every case of domestic violence, ever. And all of those dark and damning eyes were staring at me.
“Um, hey, no way, guys,” the words stumbled out of my mouth. “I’m not her boyfriend. I’m her neighbor. I just brought her here for help.” Looking at the eyes staring back at me I could see not one of them believed anything I said.
“Oh!” Judy cried out as I gave her a nudge in the back with my knee. “No, he’s right! He’s not my boyfriend, he is my neighbor, and he’s the nicest, sweetest guy I know.”
The cold stare in the eyes of the ER staff thawed a little when Judy said that. They rushed toward us, and took the wheelchair from me, in case I suddenly became her boyfriend and decided to break her other arm, maybe, and quickly wheeled Judy off into an exam room. A group of rather large, unfriendly men spread out around me, blocking my access to the door.
“You don’t mind waiting until we check her story out, do you?” the bearded guy said. It wasn’t really a question, the way he said it. The army of men behind him crossed their arms, almost daring me to try to get past them.
Nope. I didn’t mind. I sat down and didn’t make any sudden moves. I prayed this would be resolved quickly. And it was. A female staff member came out of Judy’s exam room and talked softly to the group of men around me. Afterwards, they looked over at me and smiled warmly once more. Some of them nodded in my direction, some came over and clapped me on the back or the shoulder. The bearded guy that hailed me initially came over and apologized.
“Sorry about that, but we have to check everything out. You be surprised how often something like this happens around here.”
Actually, I woudn’t have been that surprised, but I nodded and shook the guy’s hand. I asked what happened next and how long this would take. Setting Judy’s arm and putting it in cast would be relatively quick, but the police report could take a couple hours. I gave the guy my number.
“Call me if she needs a ride when she’s done.”
That’s the story of why the ER staff were as angry with me as they were with the alcoholic mom that let her little girl get knocked up by her boyfriend, and you’d be surprised how often something like that happened in St Cloud. Not so surprising, perhaps, was that Judy actually filed charges against Brian. He packed up all his stuff and slipped off into the darkness. I never saw him again. Nora would have all her dreams come true. Even Judy would have some of her dreams come true before my time in nursing school ended.
I’m not sure there’s a moral to this story. I don’t even have a punchline to end it. But not everything in life is funny, or has a happy ending.