Happy New Year

Back in SF now. Hanging around in Minneapolis was beginning to feel a little too morbid, i.e. writer-as-vulture, so after a three and a half hour delay at the Minneapolis airport I land in a drizzly, dark San Francisco, happy to be home.

The first thing Bearbait says as I hug him at the baggage claim is “I see you’ve been eating.”

Pause for gasp of betrayal. Bitch.

You try sitting around a house in ten degree weather while a never-ending procession of family, friends and neighbors drop off food rich in carbs and sugar, I want to say.

Instead I let it simmer on my backstove for awhile, and ask him to take me to The Ex’s, where Louie’s been staying. It’s good to see my dog again. Traversing the terrain I have lately, it’s been lonely without companionship.

Monday I go into work and pretend that I care for awhile, slowly digging through the pile that has accumulated on my desk. I’m getting wanderlust, and the trip to Mpls only made it worse. I daydream about packing up a car with Louie and driving through parts of America I’ve never seen, camping along the way. I never really picture anyone with me, simply because everyone I know has to work for a living. Including me. I burn a bit, wishing America would carve a little place for grieving out of its shape. America, Open for Business. Indeed.

Last night the Tattooed Monk, some friends and I go out to Green Gulch Farm, a Zen Center off of Highway 1 on the way to Stinson Beach. It was a beautiful place, tucked down amid the trees near the ocean. A couple hundred people gathered in the meditation hall for what I’ve never done; a four-hour sitting meditation before midnight. Luckily it was divided up by segments of 25 minutes, followed by small breaks. At ten we broke for a quick meal of noodles and miso soup, then took lotus candles (colored tissue folded around a floating candle), and set them adrift in the pond outside the meditation hall. Very California, I know, but it was kind of perfect for where my head was lingering.

After the final hours of meditation, we gather around a bonfire outside, and people throw scraps of paper into the flames, upon which are written dreams or fears. I scribble something about my mom’s suffering, and about wanting clarity for my direction in life, and it burns quickly with the others.

Before I left Minneapolis, I sat with Mom alone for a bit. I told her that I was glad she was doing better, that she’d see the New Year and a bit more of life. “But I know it must be frustrating being trapped in this body, and if you want to go, I want you to know that it’s okay, you can go if I’m not here, and I’ll be okay,” which may or may not have been very convincing, as I cried throughout. She reached out her weak, stickly arms and I pulled them around me for a bit.

Bad Thoughts

(there’s nothing as irritating as typing out a journal entry only to have the computer or connection fail before one posts)

As I was saying.

Mom seemed better this morning, which in an unwelcome fashion let loose a flood of questions and bad thoughts. Namely, if she pulls through now, are all of yesterday’s grieving and decisions premature. Dad has driven here to support my brother and I, I cancelled my plane reservation, told work I won’t be in this week, and have called friends to try and juggle pet sitting responsibilities. Somehow it seems that it would all be for naught should she live, and of that thought I’m not proud.

The bad thoughts tap my shoulder and whisper, “Enough, we’re tired, let this be over.”

The hospice nurse came by and after checking Mom out spoke to the rest of us. It’s too soon to say, she said. Although Mom does have some of the signs of dying, (i.e. lower blood pressure, high pulse, irregular heartbeat and breathing), there is a possibility she could beat the pneumonia and stabilize. Or she might not. The nurse seemed surprisingly confident that we should know by tomorrow. I guess she sees plenty, in her line of work.

It’s taking too much effort to type without mistakes. It’s late.

Goodnight.

Stumbling

Today the hospice nurse checked Mom over and pronounced her recovering from the worst of the crisis. Which means, really, that she’ll probably stabilize but not necessarily improve. After hearing the news I found myself so tired that I left her house at 4 to come back to Crowman’s and do nothing but lay in bed and watch movies.

If she seems fine tomorrow I’ll probably look for the next available flight back to SF. Back to my “life”, as it were. Though I don’t welcome returning to work as though this never happened, I can’t handle hanging around Mom and Lee’s house much longer. My brother acted even more quickly; he left tonight for Albuquerque. I haven’t really mentioned that when the kids began to postpone our return flights, Lee asked me to tell him to stay with a friend’s instead of remaining in her house.

“I can’t be stumbling around people anymore,” is what she said, although she let her own children remain. Would she have asked me to leave, too, if I wasn’t already staying with Crowman? I don’t know, and quite honestly I’m so tired of her resentments towards my brother (and putting me in the middle) that I want to make this week the last of my supporting roles in that drama. Just being in the house is a strain, and I find myself wanting Mom’s struggle to be over, both for her comfort and for ours.

And yet.

I try to imagine what I’ll feel after she dies, what my days will look like, what colors they will carry.

And I imagine me alone somewhere, traveling, maybe with Louie, going anywhere and nowhere and back again

Christmas

Things have changed remarkably in the three days since I last posted. We think Mom may not make it past the next day or two. She is so weak, and she has caught pneumonia, which to a person with ALS, can be fatal. In fact, it is the usual course of events, once the person’s lung muscles are so compromised that breathing is a chore. Her blood pressure is low, her pulse is high, and she is now on morphine every four hours. (Morphine! That I can exist in a house with a controlled substance I’ve never tried and not think about it constantly is a miracle. But I must stay present, for her.)

I’ve cried a bit today as the reality hits me in small waves; talking with Lee and the other kids about a service; seeing a picture of her years before the illness, crossing the finish line of the Twin Cities Marathon; calling her minister and asking her to come for a visit.

People have been by all day. I try to concentrate on keeping a fire going in the fireplace. Everytime she sees someone she reaches out to hug them, her eyes coming in and out of focus. She needs to rest, to sleep, so I avoid her line of sight for awhile, but then later we are alone and I tell her that I love her, that she has raised me well, to love and to be loved, that I am sober going on 14 months, that I will take care of myself and my brother, that she has been a great mother to me.

I will stay longer. I call friends in SF to give updates and ask for help, to cover my absences. Tattooed Monk says he wishes he could be here with me and I wish the same. I wish, today, that I had a partner to hold me.

I’m back at Crowman’s on his computer. If she goes tonight, I will be fine. As Tattooed Monk pointed out, sometimes a parent cannot let go if the children are present.

Silent night, holy night. You are always welcome at this campfire.

Ammunition

(Transcribed) ” It’s harder than ever to communicate with her. She seems more withdrawn, unable to nod or shake her head now. “Yes” is raised eyebrows, “no” is no reaction. Most questions go unanswered or at least unrecognizable. I’m more and more at odds with myself, unable to communicate well; without dialogue, coversation is prattle. At Lee’s urging I sit at her bedside and read her old poems, sonnets, and a picture book version of The Nutcracker. My brother’s new girlfriend, tells me I have a soothing voice and should read books on tape. Mom does seem to sleep for a bit.

“At yesterday’s ALS support group the inspirational speaker is so uninspiring that I struggle to keep my eyes open. I’m wiped out. Compared to my last visit to the group a year and 1/2 ago, Mom is no longer one of the healthiest. In fact, she is the worst of all, the least mobile , the least responsive. Lee tells me that is the way the others have looked before they died. Later, at the caregiver’s separate support group, I keep myself from crying by counting the number of times a woman across the table says “Y’know” in a minute. About fifteen. Everyone and their thick MN accents. So many white people (including me).

“I’m staying with my friend Crowman, the postal inspector (thanks for the bed and the car, Crowman). My first night here he takes me to see the Ballet of the Dolls’ Nutcracker parody; Barbie dolls, drag queens, house music and all. To be honest, it seems inert and not nearly as cute as they probably intended. Later, he and I stop at the downtown post office and from a vault in his office we pull 5000 rounds of 9mm Luger ammunition so his division can complete their regular firearms qualifications in the morning. We stack it in the trunk of his Chrysler.

(Pause: UPS has just now delivered a special box: Mom and Lee have been selected to carry the torch for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Lee wrote a nominating essay about Mom, and they ended up both being selected as inspirational partners. They’ll help carry the torch two-tenths of a mile each through Omaha, Nebraska. Amazing. The box contains the white and blue torchbearer official outfits.)”

Later: I’m back at Crowman’s on his mac upstairs in the spare bedroom, home from seeing the horrible new Tom Cruise movie, alone. I mean I saw it alone, trying to save the good movies for when the family wants to see them this weekend. After Mom’s simple, quiet 55th birthday party, I kissed her good night, and then my brother does the same. As I’m lacing up my boots he asks where I am off to and I lie a little, saying I’m going back to Crowman’s. There are tears in his eyes and I find that I cannot talk to him about IT, that all I can do is drive in the dark to a movie theater, and sit in the dark and watch someone else’s life flash across my eyes for awhile.

The Night Before

Leaving early in the morning, I’m nervous still, or more, or whatever. I worry that I’ll somehow disappoint or anger Lee, that I will fuck up somehow, that just coming for a week is not enough.

I’ll be okay. But I’m not ready for the end, at least not like I thought I was. I’m afraid of what life is like, motherless.

But look, she’s been gone to you for a couple of years almost, at least as that mother.

But her spirit remains on earth, for now, and it gives me a place to seek out, like now.

Ski is coming early so we can share a ride to the airport. Good Night.

Holiday Hospital Cheer

Transcribed: “I’ve got an hour to kill, having discovered too late that the little neighborhood store that sells stuff like sugar skulls and tin angels for the Christmas tree is closed on Mondays. So I’m sitting outside SF General Hospital as the sun sets, waiting for my doctor appointment. Twin Peaks and the Sutro Tower standing silhouette, the hills are dark paper and pinpricks through them gleam. Long strings of headlights flow down the hills in thin rivers. The trees along the hospital roads are lit. My breath rises. People trickle out of the buildings, for a moment some of them look where I’m looking, and then turn and smile at me.

“I’m feeling a little mute, maybe I blew a fuse after the last entry. Maybe it’s that when I called home yesterday, Lee told me that Mom’s not doing well. Very weak and tired, the brightness in her eyes dimmed. I’m glad I’m going home.”

Later. T-cells 909. Viral Load 170.

On the bell curve of his patients, I’m much better off than most. I could go for years without meds, he says, cautiously optimistic. I’m so healthy, in fact, that we just sort of smile at each other, not much to say.

Most uncomfortable moment: When he asks if I’m having sex. I say no. He says how long has it been and I have to think. Hard. A couple of months, I say.

I get the third Hepatitis B vaccine shot, all caught up there. I catch the 33 going back to the gym. On the bus there’s a girl in her twenties with bleached blonde hair. She’s wearing a surgical mask and hopital clothes, like pajamas. She’s wearing platform shoes. A tube snakes out of her bandaged arm and wraps around her wrist. She pulls out a compact and powders her nose and the cheekbones above the mask.

Ski leaves for New Jersey the same morning I leave for Minneapolis, early. We make plans to take a cab out to the airport together. I haven’t flown since August.

Blue Sky

My Russian barber, to whom I’m ridiculously devoted, leaves the barbershop where he rents a chair, and prepares to open his own shop. In the meantime I need a haircut. I risk my head at a shop down the street and jesus, she fucks it up. There wasn’t much to fuck up, but she does. I come home and within five minutes I’m shaving it all off. Just in time for the holidays (sorry, Mom) It looks a little severe to me, but my sponsor (AA jargon) tells me it’s not much of a difference. I don’t have the most astute perception of myself, I admit.

Later, Louie and I cross South Van Ness Ave to the east, over to what has become one of my favorite neighborhoods. I’m the only gay boy in sight. Lots of old warehouses and funky flats, parking lots and laundromats. Little corner stores and burrito joints. Very Latin and working class. There’s SF Fire Department Station 7 two blocks away. In the lot next to the firehouse they’ve put up a skinny, seven-story building for training. I haven’t yet walked by when it’s smoking, but I’m waiting. The Atlas Cafe, on its quiet little corner, is crammed full of neighborhood artist types this morning. Pumping my coffee from its carafe, I remember the night The Ex and I sat at the table next to the window with the paper’s rental listings spread out. Four years ago, he drops quarters in the payphone and does all the talking, while I look out at the brick buildings, hoping SF will let us in.

Empty parking spaces. Side streets that run into other side streets. Weeds growing up through cracked asphalt. Trees changing color and dropping leaves. Once, a few mornings back, Louie and I pass a car parked all alone. I realize as the driver and I make eye contact that there’s a woman’s head bobbing up and down above his lap.

On the wall surrounding the PG&E parking lot someone’s painted bright, elaborate murals like a Carnival. Against the corner of the wall squats a small man dressed in faded work clothes, his baseball cap pulled down over his eyes. He’s so still, he’s hardly there.

A woman in her thirties, dressed in a black leather jacket and sunglasses, pedals past us on a small girl’s bicycle. It’s pink and white, with a wicker basket on the handlebars. A pink plastic daisy stuck to the front.

We pass back over South Van Ness, on to Dolores Park, which becomes swampy in the winter. The neighborhood dog owner’s association has left a box of donuts from the morning playtime. It sits on the bench next to me, the chocolate melting and sticking to the plastic window. When I can’t take anymore of the other dog owners (like the obnoxious, all-knowing parents you’d avoid at the playground), I whistle for Louie and he trots after me, mud streaked on his face, smiling. It’s a beautiful blue-sky day, and from the hill you can see across the bay.

My city is not the city of Tales of the City. There is no 28 Barbary Lane, and though I may often feel like Mary Ann Singleton, there is no Mrs. Madrigal to rent me a room and tape joints to my door. We have to make stories of our own, like it or not.

My friend Lil’ Gummi, he of the beautiful soul, sends me Instant Messages on AOL at home. I mop the bathroom floor and while it dries we joke back and forth, and then, he asks me out. And now I am the one giving the unwelcome answers. Yes, god, I see the irony.

On the treadmill at the gym I can’t help but see myself reflected several times over in windows and mirrors. My head shines with sweat, but I move so much slower than I feel. Inside I’m Chariots of Fire, and outside I’m Frankenstein’s monster, pieced together rag-tag and waking up, lumbering. Learning how to walk. To move with grace.

Coming home I run into my roommates Smokey and Red, the couple. They’re piling out of a big ol’ blue American car. They’ve come from the hospital where their friend is dying from Huntington’s Disease. Red, who also has HD, tells me the doctors will take their friend off life support tonight. The car is his gift to them.

The campfire is warm tonight. These flames, they dance.

Night Talk

The campfire is a little quiet tonight. It’s a cold night in the city, and I’m hunkered down over the flames, warming one side of my body, and then the other. The embers glow. Despite dog fidelity (and a cat making compromises with my laptop) I’m feeling a little heartsick. But I get that way when I see Ski, god forgive me for not being a truer friend. Unavailable men. They make the world go round. Hard to play for keeps when you’re competing against the dead lover’s memory. If the ghost ever pales, I’d better be the first in line. But companions on the road can be rare, and it’s not my style to want things black or white. I only wish his tent would sleep more than one.

Handcuffs

Tonight a hooker ends up walking side-by-side with me and Louie on our way home.

“I like dogs. As long as they don’t bite”

“He won’t bite. He’d run away first,” I say. (I didn’t raise a dumb dog)

“I had a half-wolf once. Half huskie, half wolf. He had silver eyes,” she says.

“Did he howl?”

“Sometimes at a full moon. Of if he heard sirens. He thought they were singing.”

Suddenly she breaks rank with us, and steps into the path of a tall, middle-aged Asian man who’s looking very nervous. She wraps her arms around him. His arms hang at his side. She kisses him on the cheek and says “Merry Christmas”. He stands there, absolutely bewildered.

“Yeah,” she says, like an affirmation, then crosses the street, leaving him standing there as Louie and I continue.

For the second time this week there’s a cop car outside a building on my block, and again one of the cops has fastened one ring of his (her?) handcuffs to the front gate, preventing it from latching behind him. I figure it’s to give his back-up an easier entrance into the building.

In contrast to yesterday, today was all about LEAVE ME ALONE at work. And nobody seemed to pick up on it. I really need a vacation. But I’m digging reading everyone else’s blogs on company time, especially with the T1 connection. (Yes, I admit it, I use a 56k modem at home. I’m poor. Or at least, poor enough)

One of my three roommates is settling into the living room next to my room. There’s a set of pocket doors that separate the two rooms, which means little privacy (I’ve had sex here, like, maybe twice) and I’m not an extrovert. Which means a slight er, moderate resentment towards my housemates, which isn’t fair, because one of them pitied me enough after my break-up to give me and Louie a place to live. But………but…..but I’m not cut out to live with others, unless the other is Significant. Sorry, the whining will stop here.