I’ve done it so long I forget how it works.
Sometimes I think it is rooted in the subconscious of an alchemist heart. It manufactures the proper concoction and pumps it outward, so that every nerve is numb by the time it gets to skin.
Other times I think it’s a topical condition. The callousness of living only in the immediate. One where you spin with any breeze. Imbibe any potion offered. Love only the flesh you can caress. And let anything below those layers bubble under the bedrock until it boils over and rubbles all that for which it was once foundation.
Whatever the case.
Leaving is a mindset that requires that anytime you move from a place, everything there – friends, family, pets, job wives, comfort food restaurants, the sidewalk jags of your favorite walk, the best nipples you’ve ever seen – everything – has to float to the ether. It has to be stashed in the jumble alongside the lives of literary characters, your bests hopes for heaven, and what you think your voice sounds like when you sing.
Only when I’m physically in a place can the property of that place materialize from the mist. Only when I can take hold of things, can I really take hold of things. Memory proteins thaw, and dislodge, and work their way back into the flow. I can let them drift or fish them out and give them the study they deserve. Unless the concussions or the booze have already knocked them out entirely.
Now as I walk around town, pieces of the place shout to me.
My grade school playground calls me over. Asks if I remember that time I pulled a switchblade on those kids in the class above me? That was a little dramatic, huh. And how about that exquisite first time a female touch explored the delicate nerves of your developing nethers? Too bad it was with her foot. While kicking. Want to dunk on my short rim?
The house that I grew up in says you look good. I hope you’re well. Sorry, but I have to take this call.
The potbellied slope I lived atop remembers my insignificant weight. Sliding down hillfalls in the rain. To the house of the girl with the orchard plump lips, and her willow-eyed French exchange student. Shadows of them both sitting in wait on that porch. Somewhere between them all I yet knew of love.
Ran from cops through these woods. Escaped from cops by leaping from that downtown rooftop to that one. Hid from cops in these bushes. Got arrested there.
Streaked through these streets as a completely unfettered babe here. Streaked as an undeniably fettered teen there.
In a downtown pizza shop the face of a junior high love. Now with the bustle of her bright young children around. When we see each other, there is an immediate knowing. We don’t see our faces of now, but of that moment long long ago when we were vessels for each others learning curve. In an instant it rises from the depths, flowers and blooms, dissolves and settles. For it was long long ago. And her kids are chaos around her, and I am cold and standing alone staring at a pizza shop window.
Down the street I pass the wonderful mother of a former love. I let that one float by. Too big a fish. But I promise myself, that someday I will build a parade of the past. And I will take all the good gals to town.
Everywhere, it seems, the dead stake out corners. They hold postcards of intimate moments. Recite dialogue and strike a pose from casual days they thought they’d always have.
The punk girl with the ten inch spiked raven locks they framed in a too tall coffin. Flips me the bird when she catches my lingering stare.
And here – Big D, even as a kid a granite slab of a thing, outside the junior high school with a group of wide-eyed girls saying yeah, last summer everything grew big.
On this street, one of the impossibly beautiful cool drug sex teens in his car idling. His obituary saying he loved listening to Skynard and now he is free. And that was a proper and beautiful way to put it. Before the idea became a joke at best.
Dave F. saving me from a teen testosterone fueled beating in this field. Saying the kid’s OK, even though I was a Cure man in the land of Sabbath.
Jeff T. standing next door with that goofy grin. That picked up the A-listers in high school when he was years their junior. A true born rockstar destined to end that way I guess.
So many more of these faces. Went away shining and we thought somehow with the secret of things. But they were just dumb kids. Young adult dumb kids. Now with a laugh saying I didn’t even have enough time to move beyond Freebird.
The receptionist at the cancer center was born without an inside voice. She talks about not having enough time to study. She is pissed about the nuances of scheduling reluctant patients. Her boyfriend’s mysterious allergies make his lips look like he just got Botox, she says. Why the hell does paper have points she says. What the hell is SKYPE she says. I check my rising blood and remember that on her side of the desk is everyday. And we all deserve as much of that as we can get.
The waiting room is outlined by very bad wigs. Some on disembodied head displays. Some adorn the older patients scattered throughout the room. Most health insurances do not cover wigs. Good fake hair is for those that can afford it.
My attempts at conversation are not landing. My sister is polite, but I am off. I am saying things only the bitter old drunk on the lawn chair of my mind laughs at. He shakes a fingerprint clouded tumbler and shouts out GPS coordinates to the nearest rivers of whiskey.
The walls are coated with serene scenes. The furniture is comfortable and doesn’t offend. Everything is a monument to calm. Pictures of morning smoky hillsides. Plump fish that like to float slow. Mediocre, mass-targeted television shows.
A pleasant place to tub in the thoughts you’re trying to avoid.
My sister is asleep in the chemo chair. She is being injected with stuff that actively targets ambitiously growing cells. An interesting thought until you realize what that includes. Same as any war, those that don’t deserve it will be lost.
But she would hate me saying anything, so I’ll leave it there.
The chemo ward is run by a small platoon of bawdy nurses. They are undeniably in charge. They are so on top of things. There isn’t much they haven’t seen. They are easy with laughter or sarcasm or comfort or an apology when you need one. Each one looks like she could rock your world one way or another.
Older men and women are seated on the lazy boys that line the walls. For the most part cancer is the realm of the elder. The old men sleep easy with winter beards and baseball hats, talk too loud or in an unintelligible mumble, and either can’t or choose not to hear a damn thing.
The ladies usually are in quiet pairs. Mothers with their younger-version daughters. Wives with their tethered husbands, their love some mixture of need, annoyance, and all they have left in this thing.
Some of the old carry around their mortality like acrobats on the wire. They dangle it about in the face of the abyss. They say things like, “They wanted to inject that shit straight into my head, and I said go ahead there’s not much brain in there.”
Some of the old carry their mortality in immense towers, built where an architect might place wings.
As a general rule, humans take their lumps either in silent suffering or in a constant chatter. You grow to appreciate the talkers, anyone able to put their words on the stage of an open room. You follow their train of thought like a bird in flight. It gives you something to do.
Some younger faces dot the scene, too. Not too young, that’s another building. These faces look to be mostly in their forties. It’s hard to tell, though. They all have that weathered appearance like they just passed through a presidential term.
The land of longterm illness is a strange place. It is made of rooms where you’re constantly waiting for trains to different destinations. Blood test land. The nation of the late night emergencies. Genetic counsel-ville.
It is a life where you’re always going somewhere. You’re always in transit. You become a capsule. You pack a suitcase for when you get out of bed.
It is a life filled with spray tans. With costume jewelry. It has a filter for the sun that reduces the yellow tint of your teeth. By painting everything else that same shade.
But at some point, everyday, you will feel the measure of it all. Space becomes dense and stiff. Every sensation butts up against you as though you were in a rush hour train. The electronic army blinks and bounces from the back of your eyes. The carpet and sofas are forests and mists underneath your form. The light from behind the curtain drips thick and deliberate. The end of your prop appendages seem impossibly far away.
It is one thing to understand you will lose something. It is another to feel it come out in handfuls.
When we’re under the delusion of good health, we need to dilute these moments. We need to spread them out to a thousand melodies. We need to ration them through a thousand psalms. We need to kick them to blue dreams.
Or else we risk the rise of the sea.
But when we’re sick, really sick, we learn that the land of good health is the dream. That existence is survival. That we are eternally at the crest of the wave. That to breathe is to navigate the flood.
This is no secret. The world tries to tell us all the time. Watch a hawk casually pluck the feathers from a dove. A dog leisurely snap the neck of an infant raccoon. Watch a dandelion plume and seed.
It is only our egocentricity and our love of story that adds any drama to an end.
I am not sick. I am a witness behind a window. I have the privilege of this master class because of my sister asleep in this chair before me. I watch her breath fill small socks of air.