Recently I heard from various sources that a couple of people I know are hell bent on destruction. I mean this to be taken literally; both are making such extreme and specific choices I am surveying my clothes to figure out what to wear to the next funeral.
These are people who make me laugh, who shine with a particular kind of seductive genius. These are people I’ve scraped off sidewalks, bailed out of jail, visited in psych wards, mailed cookies to when they found far-away jobs that were supposed to be some kind of new life. I’ve given vast amounts of time over the years in an effort to help them.
Eventually, because I was tired and needed to protect my own physical safety, I drifted away. Not because I stopped caring but because the combination of poverty, mental illness, and addiction is lethal. I knew that if I stuck around I was risking my own life.
My instinct is always to help people, render aid, start rescue operations. But I’ve done that for these friends, with no marked change. They have benefited from the vast efforts of a large community. They have been diagnosed, medicated, analyzed, rehabilitated, and in the end jailed. They have held down jobs, gone to school, traveled. Nothing has ever worked for more than a few months at a time.
I think that the underlying mental and physical disabilities might be things that can be treated, but in both of these lives addiction has such a strong hold nothing else sticks. Or the variety of addiction works at cross purposes with the need for certain prescription drugs. Or the legal drugs can never fully treat the profound level of damage. In at least one of the lives, it is also a clear choice. Even if she had never started using she would be suicidal. The drugs are simply the method she picked.
Right now I feel sad because I hate waste, and these people have wasted their youth. I am angry because I love them and they are leaving.
I wish that I knew the magical antidote to alienation and depression. I wish that I could mend the terrors of a lost childhood. I wish that I could force my friends to listen and understand that there is another life. I wish that I could make it true. I wish that I could follow, grab their hands, drag them back.
I wish that I could feel enough rage that this hopeless love would die.
But I’m left behind, sorting the facts, writing empty sentences, wishing.
Today I was driving along and listening to the radio when a pop song started to play. This was a song I never liked from a band that never interested me, but I found myself overwhelmed with nostalgia. I felt this song on a visceral level, in the middle of my body, like grief.
I remembered being young, and never having what I needed to do what I wanted. I remembered the mad escapes and the regret over leaving. I remembered mistakes, damage, cold rain, driving through dark forests. I remembered choosing the people who cared for me instead of the people I cared about.
As a child I memorized the airline schedules for flights to England, and read my way through the entire library with no discernment. I constructed this fantasy of what life could be if I could just leave, get away.
Anna Ruby, Stevie, Marisa, Maki, AEM, Byron, Stella, Al, Erin Scarum with a chainsaw, an assortment of happy kids. Good food, slide shows, shadow puppets, laughter. How could a holiday get much better?
From my kitchen to yours, happy thanksgiving.
This weekend I learned that it is possible to leave the Bremerton Value Village at closing and still make the 9:45 Winslow ferry to Seattle. How cool is that?
Thrift scores included an assortment of garments that appear to have been tailored just for my quirky body: a black checked polyester blazer, yellow skirt, red and white floral hostess outfit, and a dress best described as demented majorette.
On Sunday we had breakfast with AEM and Mark. Upon hearing that we lived in Olympia at the same time (and did in fact live near him on Cooper Point for awhile) he said but But I don’t remember you.
I replied I had different glasses then.
We had quite an interesting discussion about ghost towns in New Mexico before saying goodbye and departing to pick up and drop off various children.
Later Mark objected to appearing in this journal, which is hilarious. I replied via AEM: welcome to the twentieth century.
Our adorable old fridge broke! Or rather, the handle did. We have no idea what to do. Call a repairman? But who? Seems like a job for a welder; but maybe there are specialized beloved old object repair people nowadays?
Alternet picked up my essay The Rest of Us and it has been syndicated all over the place:
The continuing economic slide and disintegration of social programs will only make the split between poor women and rich women more pronounced and cause deep anxiety for those of us who live somewhere in the middle.
Our insurance covers a new pair of glasses each year. I’ve used the benefit because I like to have an heir and a spare on hand at all times. Byron could not be persuaded that he needed to upgrade even though his old glasses never fit in the first place and lack of care has ruined the frames.
Then he watched a video of his presentation from the conference last week and realized exactly how disheveled he looks.
Yesterday as we were driving to a bookstore he said maybe I should consider getting new glasses and I blinked and immediately started issuing directives to drive toward Fremont.
We were almost turned away from the mission when we saw an old drunken man fall down a wooded slope, but after parking and hiking down to extract him from the blackberry bushes, dusting him off, and guiding him to a sidewalk, we went back to what I knew was an urgent task.
When Byron mentions even a glimmer of interest in consumer goods it is necessary to act quickly; coaxing him into a store is more difficult than caging a woodland creature.
Byron of course experienced the adventure as acutely painful. I helped him select spectacles that actually fit his face, inquired for the correct color, and examined the stock of vintage frames for additional options. While he paced and fretted, stopping occasionally to stare at himself in the mirror, I also picked out a new set for myself.
It took exactly forty-five minutes to choose, pay the deposit, and figure out how to get the old prescriptions from Portland.
This brings up a whole new problem for me. I may need to change my hair color.
I had my final check-up and clean bill of health this week. The surgeon said that the organ and debris pulled out of my belly passed pathology – no cancer.
During the most severe period of illness I kept an accurate count of my scars, but stopped at 300. My best estimate is that this new set of five brings me… close to 400.
Best of all, I now have an even number of surgical scars on my belly. I was bothered by having three; it seemed so untidy.
I told Ayun about my joy at having eight scars instead of three and she replied:
I was going to get all Schoolhouse Rocky on you and say place it on its side and it’s a figure meaning innnnnfinnnnnnnnnnity! But that would have to be a numeral eight and I bet the last thing you want is a trip to the plastic surgeon to make that one happen.
I was sitting here merrily typing away when I smelled blood – not unusual when I’m working – but then I tasted it. So I went and looked in the mirror and the gums near my front teeth were gushing. Blood was bubbling around the base of my teeth and pouring into my mouth.
This would not be strange if I had been eating something hot, or flossing with extreme vigor. But I was just sitting here, typing. I had a glass of water before going back to my tasks.
A few minutes later I checked the phone messages.
The school nurse had called to say that my sweet little boy had an “accident”
What she actually meant was: some other kid smashed his face into a brick wall.
His front teeth were broken, destroyed, he was bleeding copiously, and I needed to pick him up faster than the long drive could get me there.
I rushed across town to collect him, then rushed downtown to the only dentist who could see us in an emergency, the fulminating horror of the situation worsening with every second. My child was assaulted.
It wasn’t the moment to wonder if the school would address the situation (or if his protective older sister would extract vengeance before I could pick her up). It was not the right time to flinch or falter as I drove fast down the roads I associate with my own childhood medical trauma.
I just needed to get him to an emergency appointment, fast. Which did not mean a nice pediatric dentist with clowns on the walls and a treasure box and stickers at the end. Instead, it meant whoever could see us.
And the clinic offered no pretense of kindness or courtesy: three staff members held my sensitive baby down as he screamed and writhed, then painfully extracted three wrecked teeth.
The dentist said the damage may be permanent. There is no way to know, until his adult teeth grow in – if they ever do.
Afterward we walked to the car, tears and blood drying on his face, a plastic box of shattered tooth fragments in his hand. I promised the Tooth Fairy would be extra nice. I helped him settle in his booster seat, put on his walkman, and start a new book on tape.
Then I drove home, crying silently.
After I came home from the hospital Byron admitted that he was afraid that I would die during the whole ordeal.
This is not an unrealistic concern. My first cancer diagnosis was the improbable outcome of an appointment to check an ear infection. The skin cancer was discovered by my dentist. I am an oddity and rarely have normal experiences with medical problems other people experience as routine.
During the days of uncertainty Byron remained in good humor. He was courteous, kind, amusing, and helpful – everything that I could have hoped for. I didn’t have to worry about the kids or, most importantly, render assurances that I was fine. He would have helped me if I had fallen apart. He didn’t criticize the fact that I remained steady and calm.
He is, to say this another way, simply the best friend I’ve ever had. It is a piece of extraordinary good luck that he is also my one true love.
While I wondered whether to go on with the surgery (this was not an option in the eyes of the doctors, but I like to maintain a facade of control) Byron kept saying that the timing was convenient because he had a conference coming up and wouldn’t be around later.
I wasn’t really paying attention but he has been putting in fourteen hour days for a big company-wide event in which he is one of the experts and will present his latest tech innovation to many thousands of people.
My bespectacled sweetheart is so smart, I have no idea what he actually does at work – but he always comes home with funny stories.
Another interesting thing – the Ask Adrian portion of the conference refers to someone I went to grade school with. Life is full of startling coincidences.
I was being overly optimistic about my creaky old joints. Eating a couple of crackers was more than enough to inform me that I am not in fact recovered from surgery. I can literally hear the bones sawing against each other – it feels like it is happening inside my ear.
If I open my mouth more than half an inch I am entertained by a pop and vibrating whine like a rubber band violin.
In the middle of the first cancer year my mouth would occasionally lock open. Since then I’ve been more inclined to keep it closed.
Too many surgeries, too many dislocations, and now I’m just plain old. I would rather eat yogurt and soup for another twenty years than discover exactly how far I have degenerated.
I’ve had various alternative treatments to loosen up the joints and keep ’em limber, but the cartilage is long gone. I need to be very careful.
Oh, and remember that book I’ve been worried about since the only copy of the manuscript was stolen from my house two years ago this month? The project I have literally gnashed my teeth over, the one I keep threatening to abandon?
I haven’t decided what to do with the thing. But I finished writing it yesterday.
Last night I went out on my first excursion since the surgery. The affair was unexpectedly complicated due to the following:
1. I cannot yet wear clothes that come into contact with the incisions.
2. I do not own any clothes that do not come into contact with the incisions.
I gave Ariel my own beloved hoodie after I weaned my final baby. Most of my wardrobe was purged during the move. I have only the bare essentials – perhaps even a bit less than most people. For instance, I don’t own any socks.
So I edged into the world dressed in old tattered yoga pants (the voluminous variety with drawstring waist), a Breeder shirt, and Byron’s black hoodie. I had to borrow socks from my daughter, who owns no hosiery that is not brightly striped and knee-high.
I helped the kids pick out birthday presents for friends and rode along while Byron dropped various girls at a slumber party, then we ate soup and watched the lunar eclipse. I was exhausted by the time we came back, but that just meant that I slept well.
In fact, I was able to sleep on my side for the first time in over a week.
Tonight I was feeling even more ambitious and drove myself to the co-op. The ride was fine but I had forgotten about the Utne thing.
My daughter kept announcing to passerby that we are in the current issue. She even opened a copy to show the checkout clerk. I closed my eyes and hummed and pretended that I was somewhere else.
My tummy is settled enough that I think I can tolerate some normal foods. I am really looking forward to opening my black sesame rice crackers.
Last night I ate a sandwich and took a shower! I can chew and swallow again, and I don’t smell like a hospital any longer! Small things are beautiful.
One stray hospital memory: after the surgery, as they wheeled me up to the room, my main thought was I wish I had asked to keep the organ.
I felt an enormous chasm of regret opening in my brain. Then I remembered I’m not twelve years old.
Later when I confided these thoughts to Byron he said I had the same thought process. Plus it wouldn’t be very attractive if they were using words like “sludge” to describe what they took out of you.
Over the weekend the scar tissue in my abdomen strangled various organs, one of which ruptured, leading to a massive infection and requiring a four exploratory emergency surgery.
I’m home now. Thanks in advance for all wishes contributing to a speedy recovery.