Intrepidity

At the risk of sounding morbid, tonight, 12-July-1995, twenty-one years ago to the day, there he was and was not: The He that he was was gone from a body that only knew how to keep itself going, to hell with the vacancy.

A terrible in-between where he was no longer responsive and would never ever be again. If you think this was going through my head when I was there dispatching the only duty I still had — hitting the button on the home-pump every fifteen minutes to send another bolus of morphine into his body, each time hoping wondering if this would be the one — THE ONE — that would finally settle his body and end that which had ended a couple of days before.

It has occurred to me for a moment to try to hack the home-pump, which was locked in and locked down to a certain dosage and a certain interval, ostensibly to prevent patient abuse. It was only a moment because the only things I had left to hold on to were medical protocol — and more to the point, medical ethics.

This was my last responsibility to dispatch for him. And I would do it by the book, I told myself. Irony had other plans, of course. Just before midnight (almost three hours from right this moment twenty-one years ago), I hit the button, delivering the morphine bolus.

I looked at the digital clock and it never occurred to me that Tuesday had given way to Wednesday, and that this date would be the date, The Date, and it would be permanent. And in a culture like there is in Northern California, people shy away from permanence. Lessons learned and all that.

I put my head on the mattress (all the pillows were under and around his body, his rangy limbs giving some macabre caricature of an abandoned puppet: I was never a puppeteer) and moments (to me) later, I opened my eyes to a clock that read 12:55am, the LEDs practically buzzing in the now-absolutely-silent room.

It happened and he was dead and there were things I had to do.

The only time I even flirt with Absolutes is when they are also labelled: Temporary. Intrepidity is what was required of me and I knew each and every thing that I needed to do, y’know, Before.

I kissed the cold, cold forehead of my forever man. His warmth was imagined, of course. Or maybe I had enough for both of us.

Then it was time to dispatch the last two things I would have to do: wake Allen’s sister, who had been here at home for a couple of days and leave her some time alone next to him. And call the Coroner.

Everything was off inside me. Not off-kilter, just OFF. Running on adrenaline, hind-brain and muscle-memory, I went through all the meds that were in the house so that the coroner could destroy all the opioids and other Schedule-3’s. It was strongly suggested by my always-wise mother that I not be in the room when the Coroner’s office carried his body out: that was something I didn’t need to see, she said. And I knew it was the right thing, too. And that might have been the first thing I did primarily for myself in well over two months. That decision more than anything was my final goodbye to him.

After it was just Patty and me, Patty called their mother in Colorado. It was not a long phone call. Vivian was a woman who knew economy in words as well as life, generous as she was anyway.

And after, I suggested that Patty get some sleep. I went to the bedroom and there was the shape of him, in dents and bumps on the pillows and exhaustion alone forced me to strip the bed because I didn’t have anything left in me.

I did, however, sleep for four hours on the living room sofa. That’s 4x the number of hours I’d slept in a row in at least a week.

So what happens when all that intrepidity has no cause to remain? Terror and trepidation.

Here Comes A Regular

Last night I wrote this on Facebook:

In about two hours it will have been 18 years since Allen Howland died.

This anniversary I mark each year and each year it affects me to varying degrees. 

This year was new: this year I wanted him back. I mean right here, right now, sitting right next to me because I needed him and I miss him.

The episode only lasted moments and passed, but it felt like a much longer time. It felt like 18 years

I wasn’t lying or even exaggerating. It was a first: I’d never veered even close to wishing I could have him back. What I didn’t say there was that I’d said so.  As in used my voice to express a want. As in aloud. I was alone when I said it, and I said it to no one in particular. Not to Allen. Not to the Universe. I merely said the words.

Also sprach „dein Gott von Gebäck”.

And in hearing it, I noted a kind of sickly sweet ardor, a quality which I found not revolting but rather somewhat companionable. And that was what I found revolting.

Yesterday was a horrible day. I’m not making excuses for what brought me to such maudlin, mawkish words—spoken-aloud-words—but rather pointing out it was the words that effectuated the horribleness of the day.

This is also no grand apologia to myself or to the Universe for deed or thought: you would be surprised, delightedly or appallingly, at how much and how often in agreement id and superego are with me. That is to say, my wants and my shoulds rarely find themselves out of alignment.

If yesterday was horrible, today is worse. And better. Worse because I’m further away from an immediacy I wasn’t quite done with (damn that companionability) and better because well, the past is a cemetery, not meant for the living.

Yesterday I was so close to eighteen years ago—the sense-memories of it all. It was all exactly, perfectly first-person. I wasn’t remembering, I was inhabiting. And I know the pathology of the third-person to first-person point-of-view switch and Ronald was nice enough not to lay that trip on me just yet (and who knew that a Vespa accident, a collapsed lung, three broken ribs and eight days in hospital could be a learning experience that would serve me thus?) and today I’m smarting a little and a lot from being left that much more a man apart.

Caught a glance in your eyes 
And fell through the skies 
Glance in your eyes 
And fell through the skies 

I’m walking down the freezing street 
Scarf goes out behind 
You said, “Get them away” 
Please don’t say a word 

Get me out of here 
Get me out of here 
I hate it here 
Get me out of here 
       — “Nighttime” by Big Star

17 Elevens

Verbs win over nouns every time. Objects and events stand still as time travels over them, plows them under, leaves them behind, distorts and Dopplers whatever light they still cast.

There are no Gödelian absolutes, but time transcends space whenever it wants—often when we don’t want it to.

I didn’t want it to for the longest—yes, Time. My back to tomorrow and the light from yesterday still hitting my eyeballs, spectrumming towards red, both hotter and dimmer at the same time, then more vivid and bluer and cooler.

And seventeen years later, the Elevenses can be just an orange bottle or forever or today, an anniversary that is fully circumscribed by solemnity.

Time made it that. I made it that: you can only go so long with your back to the future before relentless time wins. Fear sometimes crawls over your front if you wait too long.

And so it goes Today, seventeen years ago.

To my Allen,

…and so it goes, and so it goes…and you’re the only one who knows…


“Fun” & Loathing

15-July-2011 00:05~00:55. Fifteen days prior was 18, so this must be 16, as it follows every year, as it has since 18 was two and 16 was the Elevens and the clock struck midnight, then 12:05, and then I finally fell unconscious, dozed off after several hours—was it really almost 6 hours, or has remembering rewritten that into a much larger number?—6 hours hitting the button every 15 minutes on the home pump to deliver that extra bolus of morphine.

Schedule 3 Narcotics are a Very Important Thing in the eyes of the law, puritanical tight asses that who want us to Just Say No to anything that might bring pleasure or even relief (which really, is just an edge-case form of pleasure, if you consider it when measured against Hell Fire), unless you get off on violence. Violence is great. Violence is purifying. Ask the Crusades. Just don’t ask any non-Christians. Their violence might as well be pleasure.

Or a Schedule 3 Narcotic.

Because way back, all the way back in 1995, there existed the technology to codify and thus enforce the prescriptions of an MD into the electronics of the home pump mechanism itself: it was Allen’s home pump carrying morphine to the already-non-responsive corpus that had used to be the seat and center of the soul of the man I’d loved, but he was no longer in it, and by a day at least: that would be 24 hours on the devices which measured such things dutifully even after I had already long since lost the knack for quotidian anythings.

Death makes everything mundane, and It makes nothing else unimportant. It makes everything besides the upcoming End quaint, and does nothing but lay bare Its Own Essence: that Death Itself deserves no capitalization after all for its own event, because death is nothing.

And by that I do not mean to walk you down a primrose path only to push you off a cliff where the path abruptly ends: the Void.

Unlike so many self important (and yet shockingly simultaneously self loathing) men I have known, I am never cruel.

I have let others see my frustration in the repeated aloneness I feel when I invite potential mates up to the curtain of mystery/knowledge/intimacy/thing-requiring-attention-span-longer-than-required-for-what-passes-for-“fun”, but that’s my trip, not a full spread of transitive verbs intended for the ones who disappointed me.

This is not to say that there aren’t those who come gunning for me, the ones who may find this very marking of the 16 year interval between now and the death of Allen Howland to be morbid or obsessive or any of those words that people bandy about when they’re actually out of their depth so they just throw sheets of meaning down over a concept and hope they get full coverage and prevent daylight from getting through. No-daylight is tantamount to Rightness.

Yeah, right.

Fun is a good thing, but only when it spoils nothing better.
—The Sense of Beauty, MIT Press, 1988, p. 155

All this is also not to say that those who have heard this quote from Santayana (and apologies to the memory of the man for the long shadow that bumper sticker aphorism has cast over his far more nuanced, involved works) and scoff at it don’t stop at the scoffing, but expend energy in order to justify “fun” as the storied Better Thing. And then go ahead and resent me for tacitly having required that expenditure.

This is how voluntary ghettoes are formed and maintained: Shut out dissent first, then watch as your ability to cope with conflict atrophies considerably—and swiftly. But then you then have to also shut out heterogeneity of thought and opinion, not because they cause conflict (they don’t), but rather because heterogeneity/variety is a potential, indirect source of conflict.

Eventually you have to pare vocabulary, too, because words require judgment even in speaking them, and having already judged, you put something out there subject to interpretation of meaning, because words are blunt, barely-aimable objects after all. So in paring vocabulary, but still needing to communicate, you go for proto-linguistic vocalizations and dress them up as “fun” or “identifying traits”.

A “woof” here, and a “grrr” there and you’re off to the races, meeting someone new, taking him home or back to your tent, “funning” the “fun” out out of him. Or letting him “fun” the living “fun” out of you. Consequence-, meaning- and chance-of-conflict- free.

Chock full of “fun” and absolutely no opportunity for a shot at anything better.

And so, while deaths themselves truly are nothing, their effects on those who remain to mourn and to remember and to continue are truly profound, and what people forget is that those ripples caused by a given event are not restricted to surface phenomena: the waves radiate in all directions, and travel to depths unseen even more swiftly than they disrupt calm surfaces in that beautiful concentric imagery we all know so well.

Here I am 16 years later, and of course it’s not to say that there haven’t been my own something-wonderfuls. And it’s not to say, again, of course that there haven’t been horrors in my life as well. But the horrors were nearly all a result of the wonderfuls having been suborned by “fun” at the near total expense of all of the Somethings Better that we had going on.

And in the worst times, unsurprisingly, there were plenty of people gunning for me, plenty of less-than-people avoiding conflicts by explaining things away, paring vocabularies, reducing conflict by avoiding conflict by avoiding confrontation by avoiding truths by avoiding conversation by avoiding one of us, all on the descent vector towards woofs and grrs, and all along the way, “fun” was on the ascent towards the top of the priorities list.

For everyone else.

As for my priorities, in health and then in sickness, priorities remained intact: love, intimacy, care, sharing, fun, respect. All in proper order, all withstood it all.

Before and, even for a short while after, the non-event of his death 16 years ago today.