Shared Language by Stacey Curran

On the first full day of my husband’s hospitalization in Boston, I walked down a long hallway, searching for his room. I heard him laughing loudly. His voice was booming. I was immediately relieved, because I had gotten ridiculously lost trying to find him in the immensity of the hospital. But I was also perplexed. He is not boisterous, even when he feels well; and he was very unwell. Shawn was only 45-years-old and could run a 5 minute mile. Still, he’d had a shocking heart attack a few days before, after running a 10k race.

I burst into the room nervously, and saw him standing next to his bed, nodding and smiling. On the other side of the room, I saw with whom he was chuckling. A very elderly, sloped-shouldered man sat in a chair, rocking with laughter. They were nodding, clutching their hearts, and yelling back and forth. I had no idea what they were saying, but they seemed to understand each other.

Shawn introduced me to his roommate, Mr. G, who waved to me enthusiastically. I waved back, and looked toward Shawn, confused. “Oh,” he said, very loudly. “Mr. G doesn’t speak much English.” 

Just as I was about to tell Shawn that speaking louder was not a successful translation tactic, he explained that Mr. G was also nearly deaf.

Judging by the happy conversation I’d just interrupted, neither lack of a shared language nor a hearing difficulty had stopped them from bonding over their shared health dilemma. Shawn explained that they were laughing because Mr. G refused to believe he’d had a heart attack. The absurdity of it was hilarious to both of them.

Shawn wasn’t sure what language Mr. G spoke. But the night before, when Shawn was admitted, Mr. G was watching a blaring Red Sox game. Somehow, they’d begun a commentary as the game progressed. They’d yelled the players’ names to each other as each got up to bat. They jeered at bad plays. They cheered for the good ones. As soon as the Red Sox won, Mr. G fell asleep.

When Mr. G’s son arrived for a visit, he told us he spoke Italian. His son said his father was a 93-year-old-widower who’d spent a lot of time on that cardiac floor. He apologized for how loudly his father talked, explaining how extensive his hearing loss was. Shawn assured him that Mr. G was a great roommate. His son said he worried about him while he was at work, since so few people spoke Italian. Shawn gestured to Mr. G. Shawn reassured him that they were keeping each other company.

“We understand each other. Don’t we?” Mr. G. laughed, pointing back.

Shortly after, a nurse walked in and told them a single room was available. She asked if either of them preferred it. After his son translated, Mr. G shook his head no. Shawn also declined. “No, thanks. The Red Sox are on tonight.” Mr. G nodded and raised his hands, “Red Sox!” he exclaimed. 

They spent three nights in that room together, either watching the Red Sox or talking, somehow, about the Red Sox. Mr. G began yelling “Italiano” excitedly to Shawn every time Andrew Benintendi walked to the plate. They chanted, “Papi! Papi!” whenever David Ortiz was on the screen. 

On the morning of Shawn’s discharge, Mr. G watched him as he packed up. He tried to get dressed too, but settled with just putting on his hat and slipping on his slippers. He sat expectantly in his chair, as if at a bus stop. Shawn sat down across from him. He told him he needed to stay and wait for his son. He told him to make sure the Red Sox won. 

“World Series!” Shawn said. 

Mr. G nodded.  “Yes!” he yelled. 

They shook hands for a while, eventually just clasping hands. Mr. G gave a nod, and eased back in his seat, removing his hat. We waved as we left.

The Red Sox didn’t win the World Series that year or the next, but the next fall, they did. As the celebrations began, we immediately thought of Mr. G. We recalled his kindness, and his efforts to amuse and communicate. And despite the fact that more than two years had passed, we were convinced that Mr. G was watching, celebrating too.

Stacey Curran was a journalist, a middle school teacher, and now works in higher education. A New England Press Association award winner, with essays in The Boston Globe Magazine, several weeklies and anthologies, she writes poetry, essays, and contributes to various Medium publications. She swears she will finish her novel some day.

About the contributor

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Love this. And what a positive testament to having a roommate. It is not happening in this crazy covid time when there is so much isolation amongst us. I think in my days on the cardiac ward I would have watched the game with them. Shared experiences are powerful healing .

  2. The kindness of one man bridges the lack of a common language to another in high stress circumstances– the hospital cardiac unit. Stacey Curran’s husband shows us how. Thanks for this.

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