Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Dance

Life is a convoluted thing, John thought.  Wrong in so many ways.  No matter how you choose to live your life, you have no choice how or when it comes to the end.  You can live for the first sip of wine, the perfect sunset, adrenaline, the sudden rush of soft, first-kiss lips…you can live a series of climaxes and the end can still be anticlimactic.  White rooms that smell like disinfectant and friends who avert their eyes when they visit.  Or you can live a life of safety and reserve and be eviscerated by a bear.  There’s no sense to it.
            He knew that his days were numbered.  He’d always hated that cliché, but the fucking doctor had numbered them, literally, so what was he supposed to do?  Nothing.  And John was not a man who could do nothing well.  So he lay on starched sheets and endured visits from old girlfriends, women still beautiful and fresh.  He knew they tried not to look at him.  Tried to ignore the patchy head of hair and the gaunt cheeks. 
            He was aware of everything, but his body was betraying him.  He could not speak.  He could not walk.  He lived inside himself and thought of former victories.  Carefree days of sport and drink and conversation.  They tortured him, but he could not stop them.  He did not want to remember.  Yet, he could not help it.  Convoluted.  Indeed.
            He had no real concept of time except that he knew it was passing.  He could feel it whispering in his ears, shimmering into the distance.  So much irony in dying.  You live your whole life with all the time in the world.  And then, like an optical illusion, you see it refracted and shrinking into nothing.  All the hours spent watching bad movies and forcing your way through depressing chit-chat small talk at cocktail parties.  Not enough time making love.  Too many books still waiting to be read.  But all of this means nothing.  It all means nothing. 

            Doctors and nurses and orderlies and janitors shuffled in and out, but John was becoming less and less aware.  He lived in a dream.  It was comforting and horrible.  He had lost all his senses save the sense of touch.  He felt the violation of needles and sponge baths and poking fingers. 
Deborah was new and not yet bitter.  She still believed that nursing was the greatest calling in the world.  And maybe it is.  But along the years her colleagues had stopped believing it.  She hadn’t.  So, some nights, when things were slow, she would stop and sit with the patients.  Read to them.  Tell them stories.  Some smiled or cried.  Some did not move.  Some could not hear.  John was a mystery to her.  There was something about him.  Something different.  She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she knew somewhere deep inside her mind that he was in pain.  He did not move.  He did not speak.  His face was blank and soft like freshly poured concrete.  But the whisper of pain was there.  She was there the night he died.  Sitting beside the bed, she had the sudden impulse to grab his hand.  To softly kiss his cheek.  And suddenly John’s mind exploded in light and sound.  He was in a vast ballroom.  He was wearing a tuxedo.  He was holding the hand of the only woman he had ever truly been afraid of.  He was watching her twirl in her brave red dress.  He was thinking maybe he could love her for ever.  And they spun together, laughing, finally free.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Funeral

My father's hands were like dead frogs. I stood in front of the mahogany casket we couldn't afford and felt the breath in my lungs like the fluttering of wings. I stood for several seconds.  He looked out of place in a dark grey suit. Like someone had dressed him up for Halloween as the 'corpse prom date'. I tried to dredge some feeling of remorse or sadness from the hurricane of emotions in my brain. I tried to focus on one thought. It was like Bob Barker spinning the big wheel. When it came to rest, it came to rest on this: 
I was ten years old.  The stream we were standing by was small. Impossible that there could be fish in so little water, but there were and we knew it. We squatted, our toes squelching into the mud, forming tiny lakes where our feet floated like pale canoes. Like dead fish. They rocked on their white bellies and kept us from falling over. You have to be quiet, he said. Very quiet. I held my breath. It was summer. Morning. You could feel the heat in the air. It was like a stern glance, a warning of what was to come. I don't remember anything about the rest of the morning. I recall no fish. What I remember is the subtle play of the sunlight on the ripples. A fallen tree branch. Sky that was one color when you looked at it and another when you turned away. I remember feeling that something important was happening.  The whole trip had been so sudden. We had never gone anywhere without Mom.  She was angry and didn't want to come. 
An old lady behind me cleared her throat and I stepped forward. I saw a smudge on his shoe and wanted to rub it off, but didn't. It was the only part of the whole thing that had any legitimacy. It was more real than the dark suit. More real than the pews of relatives I didn't even know. People I had never seen without a plate of cole slaw and fried fish in their hands. My brother and I had made a bet about whether or not Mom would show up. I was glad to see that I had won. She would have hated it.

It was on my computer...I guess I wrote it.


I woke up this morning feeling a little worse for wear.  I have decided that eBay addiction is cheaper than alcohol addiction.  And they are about as much fun…i.e., not much.  Transitory band aid over the pulsing brain torment.  That’s about it.  Nothing to stop the slow drip of time as it rolls down my face like molasses.  I am disappointed in myself.  My imagination is tired.  There is a yacht in the Bay that is worth more than everyone I know combined.  I find that hard to reconcile with the current state of my employment (un) and the current state of the world (completely fucked).  I hate rich people without much cause.  Not proud of it.  But I can also see how slippery the slope would be.  Normal people find normal things to bitch about.  And bitching is in our nature.  We bitch about taxes and bills and our neighbors.  But what if you lived on a giant fucking yacht?  I’m talking the length of two city blocks.  Four viewing decks ABOVE the actual boat part.  Surely you have a crew to make sure the boat runs.  And a chef.  And probably some other employees who do mostly everything for you.  And we think…man, what could they possibly have to complain about?  But I bet you the used knife I just bought off eBay that they DO complain.  And they complain about things we can’t comprehend.  Like if the chef overcooks the steak.  If the bathroom is not SPOTLESS.  Sure, it may seem trivial to me, but I don’t live in a giant floating mansion. 
            See, this is the problem.  Everyone thinks their shit doesn’t stink, right?  Seems to me that everyone thinks their shit DOES stink.  And not only that, but it stinks worse than everyone else’s. 
            I lay awake at night sometimes and wonder where I am.  We all take so much for granted, and we have no reason to do so except that it is easy.  This explains religion.  This explains our outrage when politicians act like politicians.  Not to sound like a stoned high school kid, but can we take any of it for granted?  I mean, who the fuck knows really?  Dreams can last seconds or years.  Or cover years in seconds.  Maybe I am a toddler fussing during my afternoon nap.  I have just as much reason to believe that as I do to believe that I am 32 years old and typing on my laptop (which is probably the most valuable possession I have that does not require gasoline).  Maybe I have suffered a head trauma?  Maybe I am someone else’s head trauma.  Maybe I am the small blue jar of coins that sat on my Nana’s dresser and that lives so vividly in my mind.  Maybe I am the stories I have told that were never true to begin with.  Maybe all this pseudo-intellectualism is my way of making up for the lies I pass as truth.  But I believe them.  And I believe that I am 32 years old.  And that my daughter will wake up from her nap soon.  And that we will go on an adventure.  And it may be real and it may not.  And I don’t really care. 


            When I was a child I would lay on my bed for hours and throw a racquetball against the wall.  I assume this was some kind of self-hypnosis.  I spent many hours inside my room and inside my head.  I’m not sure where it all came from.  I collected small things.  Tiny pocket knives.  Miniature knick knacks.  I think that their fragility made the world seem more sane.  More safe.
            We never lived anywhere longer than three years when I was growing up.  My Dad was in the Navy.  There were positives to this, but I did not see them when it mattered.  I saw the world as a constantly changing place.  And I was lonely.  I was depressed before I even knew what depression was.  And I was always looking for escape.  Books, adrenaline, TV, daydreaming…I huffed my albuterol inhaler once my parents went to bed.  This was when I was six or seven.  Too young to know that models were killing themselves doing the same thing.  Too young to even realize I was getting high.  I would exhale and then inhale as many puffs as I could and hold my breath until the world turned to bright light and helicopter chop.  I held my breath a lot.  And I waited to piss until the last possible minute.  I endured pain to feel the rush of relief.  I know many people have done things like this.  I am not trying to prove my originality.
            I was very young when I developed the poker face I have never been able to shake.  It haunts me still.  With my daughter, it fades.  With everyone else, I stare blankly and try to keep all expression off my face.  It is a hindrance now.  It was probably a hindrance then.  But it came in handy.  New schools all the time.  New friends.  No friends.  Bullies.  Name calling.  My insides may have been tearing themselves to shreds.  I might have gone home and cried.  But, in the moment, my face was stone.  Because I learned very early that the only way to beat the world is to show it that it can’t beat you.  Even if it can.  Because appearances count for a lot more than they should.
            I imagined I was a hawk, slowly looping in the sky and catching updrafts.  Soaring for hours with only a slight adjustment of wing.  Up in the clouds there would be peace.  It was all I wanted.  To be alone, looking down on the world, feeling the wind and hearing the roar of white noise in my ears.  I would eat when I was hungry, I suppose.  But mostly I would just turn in slow circles.  I would be detached from the world.  I would be a helium balloon with the twine snipped.


            He started to run.  Past the houses and cars and barking dogs.  Past the school and the library.  He ran with tears streaming from his eyes.  He was not sad.  He ran and felt the gravel pelt the back of his bare thighs like little pin pricks.  He was not wearing a shirt, and his blue swim trunks whipped in the breeze.  Like his light brown hair.  Like the loose sloppy socks that put elephant ankles atop his blue converse all stars.
            The shoes were new and slapped hard against the ground.  He had asked his mother for black Chuck Taylor’s.  They were his key.  His secret.  His parents wouldn’t shell out the money for Nikes, but Chuck Taylor’s were cheap and still relatively cool.  It had been an easy sale.  He needed new shoes.  That was for sure.  And his Mom was so happy that he wanted cheap shoes.  But at the shoe store she had insisted on blue.  Same price.  Said they would look better with jeans.  And he looked at the black shoes.  And she asked him, didn’t he think the blue would look better with jeans?  And he said yes, but his mind was a vortex of frustration and pain.  Blue shoes would be one more thing to make fun of.  Why did his Mom even care?  Why couldn’t he stand his ground and say he wanted black?  The mannequins leered and the JC Penney’s seemed smaller and smaller.  He could not get enough air.  No one noticed, but he was drowning in an ocean created, drop by drop, by small meaningless defeats.
            He felt good when he was running as fast as he could run.  So fast it was dangerous.  Out of control.  He felt good when he jumped off of high places.  He felt good when he hurt himself.  When he was scared.  At school, the kids took ballpoint pins and rubbed the tips across the desk’s surface until they seared like match heads.  No one could hold the hot pen on their arm as long as him.  No one had as many sesame seed scars on their arms.  But it didn’t make him feel included.  It just made him weirder in their eyes.  But it was everything to him.  He couldn’t be the coolest.  He couldn’t stick up for himself.  He shied away from confrontations of all kinds.  But he could hurt himself more than anyone he knew.  He did not realize this.  The same way that he did not realize that he was doing the same thing, years later, pouring bourbon down his throat when everyone else was puking or passing out.  Always down for one more bowl, one more line, one more tab.  Always.  No one could lose their mind like him.  And he was still the freak.  And he still just wanted to be able to say that he had had enough.  But he had a reputation to uphold.  And it was all he felt worthy of.


            I would like to teach the world to sing.  Seriously, you all suck at it for the most part.  I would like to never sing the Happy Birthday song again.  I would like for people to start using their turn signals.  I would like for all new cars to come with headlights that are automatic like they are on motorcycles.  I would like for there to be some kind of special punishment for people who have tattoos of cartoon characters (except my friend Pat).  I would like for people to stop making exceptions for those they care about.  I would like alcohol to be illegal and for marijuana to take it’s place.  I would like the wife-beating, spouse cheating, self defeating drunks of the world to become overeating stoners.  I would like it if people were not judged on their looks and rewarded for physical attractiveness.  Either that or I would like to be much more attractive.  I would like it if they stopped selling pleated pants…I feel it devalues our existence.  I would like it if I did not have to clean my motorcycle chain, take shits, brush my teeth, pay bills.  I am tired of maintenance.  Of all types.  I would like to have the ability to beat box.  I would like to explain to everyone I know that they have faults and not have them call me out on mine.  I would like it very much if my daughter never sheds blood or experiences any pain.  I would like my daughter to have a relatively normal childhood.  I would like to speak briefly to the man who touched me when I was in middle school.  I would like to know that he realizes that he took something from me.  I would like to never see him.  I would like to live in a world where people are satisfied, even grateful, for what they have.  I want more stuff.  I would like it if people in the Mediterranean stopped slaughtering songbirds.  Honestly, of all the fucked up things…songbirds?  Are you fucking kidding me?  I would like for people with dogs to understand that there are people that don’t like dogs.  I would like to stop having dogs jump at me and lick me.  I am astounded that we crucify smokers, but no one says anything about the fucking dogs.  I would like to pee outside without getting a ticket.  But then again, I’m not a dog…just a taxpaying human being, so that would make NO sense obviously.  I would like to have a glass of iced tea that never empties.  Ice cubes that never melt.  I would like to live the rest of my life three beer drunk and never get a headache.  I would like to be more like my wife who does not drink caffeine, alcohol, smoke weed, curse, or do any of the things that I’m not supposed to do.  Or I would like her to be an alcoholic so she couldn’t pass judgment on me.  I would like it if people did not write long pieces of prose without paragraph breaks.