Thank God for Michael Jackson

Last night at Gold’s I am finishing up a half-hour stint on the treadmill, when all of a sudden, ‘Wanna Be Starting Something” comes on over the speakers, and it’s like a shot of adrenalin, carrying me the last five minutes with a smile on my face. Ma ma say ma ma saw ma ma mu sah, ma ma say ma ma saw ma ma mu sah. I don’t care who saw me, I was singing along.

While I was writing yesterday’s philosophic novel, I managed to burn out a pot of rice on the stove. How fitting.

Today, in therapy (yes, I go) I talked for a long time, filling him in on my trip to Minneapolis and the “crisis”, and then he asked me after a long pause how our time could be best spent, with our sessions just giving me a chance to talk, or as a way for him to help me find ways to cope with “life”, as it were. But after a minute I realized that I’m NOT drowning in misery or depression. I don’t really need rescuing, because I have myself pretty well taken care of. This blog has helped tremendously, I think, providing a focus and rewarding myself with hard evidence that I AM writing again.

Tonight, as I walked home from the gym, I passed by Mission Dolores and they had set twenty-three small Christmas trees (all under 5′ tall) out on the sidewalk, one after another, in a long string down the length of the sidewalk.

Kill the Buddah

TV I’’ve watched in the last 24 hours:

Poltergeist
Children of the Corn
Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 3: Dream Warriors
Prom Night
(Father to son: “C’mon. For a guy who’s so fast on the disco floor, you sure are slow.”)

I love scary movies. I just wish they’d make em better.

Last night after the candlelight meeting, the Tattooed Monk and I stroll slowly through the Castro. He’s aware enough to see that I’m not quite all there. As we pass the bus shelter on 18th St, something catches my eye. Someone has torn out a page of the phonebook from the payphone nearby and has fixed it to the plexiglass window of the shelter with a piece of gum. On it, they’ve scrawled “KILL ALL FAGGOTS”.

Maybe I am grieving, if only a little. This isn’t quite depression, it’s probably sadness. I look out at the world from an interior alcove, unwilling, I guess, to engage much. It was good to talk to TM, as he realizes the dilemma of a slow dying; the world won’t validate your loss until the actual death takes place. In the meantime there’s some other kind of existence to experience; one slightly removed from the ongoing reality surrounding you.

What I can see, lately, is that I’m envious of others, the ones who seem to blithely walk through their days unburdened; gregarious and earnest, the world is their playground. It’s like how straight boys seemed to me growing up; they moved and engaged with the world as though it was (and it was) made for them. I’m envious, but as I told TM, I wouldn’t trade it for what I’ve got. It’s certainly been a crazy kind of life for the last couple of years: a life extinguisihing through drugs and whiskey, giving that up for the raw ache of early sobriety, the end of my five year relationship, testing positive, gradually losing my mom over the course of months and months. And yet. I wouldn’t trade it, for it’s mine.

The Monk has lost both parents, has helped a boyfriend through his dying, and now has a sister and another ex dying; both from cancer. Why is it, I asked him last night, that some of us seem to get more than our fair share of grief and suffering? He told me he’s stopped long ago trying to figure out what a fair share is. Believing that God only hands you as much as you can take is to believe in a sadistic God. One who parcels out pain like a game. Instead, he said, God does not create suffering, but walks with you through suffering. If you want to believe in that God, that is. And I do.

I do envy the gregarious. I wonder if I carry this life a little too heavy around the shoulders. It helps, though, to have this campfire.

Looking back on this, I feel obliged now to temper my words a bit. In the wake of wars, of AIDS, of what we’ve come to call “September Eleventh”, my own suffering pales. Of course, I want to say, my burden is lighter than those carried by others. I don’t mean to be saying “Look at all my pain.” Rather, I want to join those other voices that have asked, since the world was young, “Why do we suffer?” and “How do we make it through?”

Maybe that’s why I like scary movies.

“Happiness is not a destination, it’s the journey”*

I’ve been trying out various templates for the Campfire, trying to fit the mood while also retaining some of the more extensive link listings that the obnoxious templates have. I’m still novice to HTML, so templates have to suffice for now.

I’m at a loss the last few days as to how to write, or what to write. I feel a little empty, or maybe just detached. I’m on the edge of engaging in all of my classic depressive behaviors; isolation, lethargy, silence. But I’ve hit the gym the last three days, if for no other reason than I’m a little disgusted at the weight I gained after starting the Remeron and the lack of exercise I got in Minneapolis. I don’t necessarily feel hopeless, which is the worst aspect of the depression. Hopeless, no. Confused, yes.

Somehow I feel cut off from myself, that I am just existing; unwilling or unable to engage in my friendships, in work, at home, etc. Mom’s crisis, for lack of a better phrase, has left me a little confused as to how to proceed with life now that she has grown a bit stronger and continues to live her own life. I guess I had convinced myself that the end was near, that by now I’d be grieving an actual death, rather than resuming my usual routine. I feel stuck between the two, unable to grieve yet also unwilling to pretend that everything is the same.

It’s okay, though. Campfires gain strength from silence.

*inspirational poster tacked to the wall of my childhood Sunday School classroom

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.