This "You Are Here" column was published in the September 14 issue of Isthmus.
You pull into the parking lot off Lien Road on Tuesday evening, hoping to find an antidote for the sense of helplessness you've felt since you saw the horrifying images on the morning news shows.
The lot is jammed with cars parked here by people looking for the same consolation, hoping to stand up the one way they can to the fast, stunning sequence of terrorist attacks that have apparently claimed the lives of thousands of people in New York City and Washington, D.C., forever changing the lives of those who survive them.
You walk through the doors at the east-side American Red Cross blood donation center and there they are, the drivers of those cars outside, two dozen or so waiting in the hall, eight or 10 more reclining on lounge chairs in the main room with needles in their arms, faces solemn, squeezing little rubber balls to keep the blood flowing through tubes into the donation bags. Each person fills one bag with a pint of dark red O-negative or AB-positive or other blood type, giving of themselves that others may be nursed back to health, perhaps saving lives.
Many are first-time donors, moved to give blood by the terrible news. Others are veteran donors who have given gallons over the years, but the pint they are giving today is different. You can almost see the confusion and helplessness drain out of them with their blood, their faces flushing with quiet resolve and determination as they are tended by Red Cross nurses and volunteers.
Another dozen people sit around a table, replenishing themselves with cookies and milk and juice and water.
A volunteer greeter welcomes you, asks if you have an appointment and, when you apologetically answer no, tells you the wait might be 90 minutes or two hours. She hands you a few pages of material outlining what you must know before donating blood and invites you to sit in the hall and read it carefully.
You obey, and when you return it she hands you the standard screening form. The chairs are all taken, so you sit cross-legged on the floor and fill it out, name, address, Social Security number, home and work phone numbers, employer and a laundry list of yes-no health questions that determine your eligibility to donate -- questions about surgical and sexual history and places you have visited or lived overseas that might put you at risk for hepatitis or HIV or other blood-borne diseases.
You've filled out this form 22 times before, but you go through it carefully, sign it and return it. The volunteer greeter looks it over, hands it back to you with a number -- 78 -- and asks you to wait.
Full as it is with waiting blood donors, the hallway is remarkably quiet. Conversation is subdued. You've brought a magazin. A nurse calls out numbers: 45...46...47...48...49...50.
"Bingo!" cries number 50, provoking a chorus of chuckles and providing relief from the solemnity.
You overhear snippets of conversation.
"They're really short in New York, even before this happened."
"I had five classes today, and four of them were canceled."
"...victims of this..."
"Go get your number."
"I don't know, I think I have O-negative."
"What does TB stand for?"
Numbers 51-60 are called in rapid succession.
Prospective blood donors continue to walk through the door. Hearing that there might be a long wait, some decide to donate tomorrow or the next day, and leave. Others stay and fill out the screening forms.
"Can't I just say I had an appointment?" asks one new arrival. "What's the next name on the list? I'm him!"
"The next name on the list is Mary Ann," replies the gatekeeper.
The new arrival has a snappy comeback: "My parents wanted a girl." Ba-dum-bum.
"Omigod," says a Red Cross nurse, turning the corner to see all the people lining the hallway. "Where are all these people coming from?"
They are coming from their TV sets, from newspaper headlines, from concern for the casualties in New York City and Washington, D.C., from a desire to do something tangible.
"Darn, I was so excited to do this," says a young woman, a would-be first-time donor who, in going through the yes-no laundry list of health questions, discovers she is ineligible to donate because of her recent tattoo.
"You can give a donation of money," a friend consoles her. "They appreciate that as much as your blood donation."
A little blond boy toddles up and down the hall, talking toddler talk ("Ba-ma-blupth! Ba!"), toddling into the women's restroom and the men's restroom, throwing empty and half-empty water bottles down the hall with precocious baseball or quarterback aptitude, laughing his toddler laugh, keeping everyone entertained with his antics.
Looking out the window at the lengthening shadows cast by the evening sun, it strikes you that this toddler will do what toddlers have always done in a different world now, will grow up to be a baseball player or quarterback under different circumstances than all the baseball players and quarterbacks who have come before, in a more fearful nation, more conscious now of its vulnerability.
You're saddened and maddened to think that procedures and policies and ways of life you took for granted will be different for him.
Your number is called, and you move to a second hallway, where you take a seat at the end of a second line, and it strikes you that you've been waiting nearly two hours now, which is fine, you've been content to wait, but you've finished leafing through your magazine, and when you factor in time for the screening interview and the test to make sure your blood is sufficiently rich in iron and the donation itself and the mandatory 15-minute recovery time with cookies and milk and juice and water, you're looking at another hour, and it's 7 p.m. already. It's been a long, upsetting, confusing day and you want nothing more than to get home to your family, and you can phone the Red Cross tomorrow for an appointment to donate blood sometime later this week.
"Oh yes, we'll need more blood the next few days," assures a volunteer as you excuse yourself.
On the drive home, there is a sunset as magnificent as the morning was monstrous.