I’m sitting here, alone, eating medicine food: a patty made from rice flour and from the crushed residue of three different herbs. I know what the herbs looked like: the Doctor pulled some of each out of the giant containers from the back wall of the her clinic. The seeds of some flower which looked like hollow acorns. More seeds, smaller, from a plant I’d never heard of. Diagonal cuts from the white meat inside what had to be a huge root.
She served these patties to me, but cut in slices, bathed in a salty (probably anchovy) broth with kimchi, pickled root (not the same root) and also—I forget.
It was so good, mostly because of the exquisite peasant chewiness of the starchy strips. Medicine Food.
I could not stop smiling and telling her how much this food reminded me of my childhood and today, both at the same time. I was smiling as I ate. I kept telling her about the texture. And I kept smiling. Over and over, eating, smiling, telling.
Korean food years ago became a comfort food for me, because of Soonae and Jong and now, later, because of the doctor as well. This particular dish combined comfort, old and new. And did I mention I was smiling?
I got up from her desk after lunch. Time to leave. Always a slight tug trying to keep me inside. Outside is pain; in here? Care.
I said goodbye and turned toward the door. “Wait!” she said, and I realized what she was doing back there behind the counter when I was finishing up my lunch: she handed me a small ziplock bag—two patties of the medicine food!
I felt my smile before I realized the Moment: dark pain clouds had, for the space of two breaths, evaporated. I’m not sure if anyone else can appreciate what a major thing this was. No pain. At all. Sheer happiness that she was so generous, happiness that I had more of the medicine food, happiness that if anything good will ever come from this catastrophic sidebar of a life it’s Dr. Chon. And it’s almost worth the pain just to have enjoyed her company, her help, her generosity, her food.
[I began writing this entry the day before—actually only minutes before—January 12, 2008. Why? January 12 is Allen’s birthday—would have been his 50th birthday. I was angry and I was frustrated and I was off, off in the sidebar of a life where comments and references and asides are the only entities, entirely dependent on the main body of work. Body. Work. Nope, still not together, at least not then.]
But the frustration wasn’t about my pain, my diminished capacity. Nothing about me except commentary, references and asides on the corpus of a corpse. Of Allen.
First there are the why’s. Why did he have to leave? Why didn’t he take me with him? Why did he and I match so well, even though our lives didn’t? Why have I never felt jealous that George got so much more time with Allen than I did? Why could I never manage that tangled timeline that had his leaving me and his joining me becoming one and the same thing? Why am I still here and he is not?
And the are the how’s: How could he do this to me? How did he manage to comfort me when he never had a moment’s physical comfort? How did I remain emotionally intact after? How could he manage to look at me with a single expression that said both “We are Home” and “I am not your destination”? How could he keep the subsumption of his consumption away from certain parts of him? How did he know I would be alright, eventually?
And finally, the wishes: I wish he were still here. O, how I wish, and how does that wishing still allow no regrets of time passed since then with other men? I wish I could see him just one more time and tell him how much I resent him and how very much I love him. I wish he didn’t get sick and die. I would have given up ever having been with him just to have him back in this world (no sickness, no death of George which made it possible for Allen and I to be together).
Why did my life go on and how have I managed to both move away from him and bring an image of him far from graven within arm’s reach while realizing that wishing does not make it so for anything but the smallest of things and only, seemingly, in San Francisco?
I am publishing this on January 21, 2008. I started writing before the midnight which inaugurated his date of birth, January 12, 1958, and stopped before that same midnight: I would not and could not bring myself to fashion a golem to stab harsh words into for the day. On every other day of the year (including his date of death) the man is a totem who lights my way from oblique angles, showing me details and perspectives I’d have failed to see before I ever met Allen.
But on January 12 of every year I spend the day alternately silently toasting his life, cursing his absence, drubbing his choices or his neglects or his trusts or his whimsies, whatever context, situation, self-image, self-esteem or broad social ignorance resulted in his seroconversion to HIV+.
It’s all too tied together, causality loops and predestination absurdity, too confusing for the apodictic Abolutists who retard themselves into blacks and whites, straights and narrows, linearities and goals. Invidious, small people who read this may dismiss it because it turns on itself just as easily as it slips into raillery and back out into paradox. I dare because I am who I am, what life has made me, what deaths of loved ones have made me.
But what I dare not do is cast a long shadow on his day of celebration. All this slinging of perfervid whinging and foot-stomping can’t happen on that day.
As I learned from the Koreans, when preparing food or medicine (or Medicine Food!), the care you take is crucial: Medicine made in anger is not palliative; food made with resentment is somehow always bitter.
It took me quite a while to complete this entry (after 12:01, January 13) because Today is always more important than Yesterday, and Now stands atop all our thens. All our yesterdays inform all of our tomorrows.
And when you love someone, his birthday should be joyous and special.