we went on one date last june pic.twitter.com/CsBm5ErL8k— oh!-'lighn (@oline_eaton) October 21, 2020
some years ago i dated someone who, i see now, was quite heavily emotionally invested in scientific racism.
it was maybe hard to see that then because he was british and affected a stereotypically british unemotional affect. so these were dispassionate arguments on his side, as he repeatedly played the devil's advocate in our discussions of the sciences versus the humanities. he could unemotionally argue, purely for argument's sake, the ideas of charles murray. i passionately disagreed and felt, tbh, my arguments were less valid by virtue of that passion.
at the time, these conversations often annoyed me, even as i felt they, just as often, helped clarify and strengthen my own thinking.
they annoyed me because i don't think the devil needs advocates. and because i do not like to argue for argument's sake.
i've come back to these conversations quite a lot, over the last few years, in teaching first year college students how to produce arguments. because i want them to argue for things they believe in. and i want them to start their argument from a place wherein their own humanity is pre-established and accepted and unquestioned.
i've also come to see more clearly the devil needs no advocates, and those playing at doing his work are truly not worth our time.
in my classroom, at least, we do not waste our time making arguments about our right to exist. because it is a fact that we already do.
anyway, i think about those conversations with that man in relation to these things sometimes but i only appreciated their maybe more long-term value today... a morning i woke up to discover that i'd assigned malcolm gladwell's rather insidious 2007 new yorker article on IQ fundamentalism in conjunction with a reading on credibility of sources.
turns out: I AM A GENIUS.
also, full disclosure: i'd not read gladwell's article in advance so, in making this pairing, i did not fully know its insidiousness and how completely it would embody the problems of credibility i wanted to raise in class. so my genius, it is largely accidental.
have i reached a stage where i, unconsciously, know what i am doing better than i realize or am i just very very lucky in the way that a class on objectivity was followed by a reading of a piece that, due to its objectivity, seems to far too warmly embrace scientific racism?
i think it's luck. very overly educated and widely read luck, but luck all the same.
still, thanks to those conversations with that man, thanks to all those arguments i made against scientific racism in 2018, lo here we are today: the copy of the history of white people pulled off the shelf; a brief introduction to charles a. murray, white nationalist, at the ready; and a discussion of gladwell's use of abelist language set to go.
none of this is purely theoretical. none of it is abstract.
i inherited a zz plant last may. like all plants, so it seems, this one is billed by everyone on the internet as "indestructible." and, like so many of the "indestructible" plants i have encountered in my life, it is clearly my unconscious desire to take that as a dare and kill this thing.
i went down a rabbit hole the other day looking for viktor petrenko's mid-90s exhibition routine choreographed to salt 'n' peppa's "whatta man."
this does not, apparently, exist on the internet. still. i have been looking for nigh on a decade and the internet has yet to provide.
i did however, through this, stumble across bechke and petrov's silver medal winning performance in albertville. which i remember, for some reason AS THOUGH IT WERE YESTERDAY.
why? some combo of the tchaikovsky, excessive VHS re-watching, scott hamilton's singular focus on bechke and almost total indifference to petrov, plus the moment in the middle, in the voiceover, where verne (? what was that dude's name?) says "these are difficult times in the former Soviet Union" (troyer? verne troyer? NO. that was mini-me.) and waxes on about hard russian times while totally ignoring the ongoing gorgeous performance (LUNDQUIST. VERNE LUNDQUIST, ladies and gentlemen).
still, all these years later, when i hear tchaikovsky's "pax de deux" from the nutcracker, i think of this performance and how sad it is that bechke and petrov came in second, and so they did not win the house.
according to the internet, zz plants hate sun. and they love sun.
the internet is confusing.
nothing is true and everything is possible!
why is no one making the argument that zz plants are in love/hate with the sun?
debo had to have another surgery today, related to her fall. because, due to unauthorized use of q-tips and a neti-pot, she wound up poking new holes into her broken, reconstructed nose.
she returns home in the facial swaddling utilized when one has a face-lift.
the pineapples on her shirt aggressively express a joy we do not feel.
one of my students finished out their rant of the week (because the only thing i insist on in this assignment is that they take up ALL OF THE SPACE THEY HAVE BEEN GIVEN) with seven lines on the redness of strawberries.
this afternoon, i went to the market and the strawberries were on sale, two for one.
tomorrow, i already know, in every class (because, 95% likely, this person is in the last class of the day), i'll give a shout-out to whoever used strawberries to take up all of the space, and thank them for this small kindness.
claude is doing something, bathroom-wise, that remains a mystery. but random streaks of a chocolate mousse that is not chocolate mousse keep appearing around the flat.
not cool, man. not cool.
THIS IS NOT DETECTIVE FICTION 101, i tell my students.
we are not writing mysteries, i remind them.
would i respond to this tchaikovsky piece were it not connected, in my brain, my heart, to that bechke and petrov routine?
i'm trying to remember back to when k.clen and i went to see the nutcracker on horseback, back when i lived in chicago. i do not remember weeping when this song played. i do not even recall it being played. (though maybe, maybe, i kind of do? the horseback rider looked like delta burke. i remember that. i remember feeling a kinship with her. is it because she rode to this song? or is it because she looked like delta burke and that is all it takes?)
the thing is, whenever i have heard it before, this song-- because i spent a decade forgetting and being surprised whenever i was reminded where it's from-- and especially when i hear it now, i know that with that crescendo at 3:00, he is lifting her in the air for that one handed thing.
and at 3:12, she is landing that triple salcow (fuck you, scott hamilton for negging her by pointing out the "slight hesitation." i would hesitate. you would hesitate. she landed it as it is meant to be landed and it is GLORIOUS, sir, sit down.)
and when she lands it her mouth flies open and SHE BEAMS.
(writing this, i know i am, first, going to send it to debo for approval to violate her privacy and publish and she is [hopefully] going to say "yes" and [when she does] it is going to feel like this moment at 3:00, where tchaikovsky's notes go down and then they go up, ominously, before breaking free at the precise moment when petrov holds bechke aloft in the air by one hand AND SHE IS AT LIBERTY TO FLY. [are we not all awaiting similar permission?])
i'm always torn between tchaikovsky and beethoven. tchaikovsky because i took/failed ballet and played the piano. beethoven because i've a hearing impairment.
whenever i had ear surgery, when all the packing was still in it, my piano practicing was lit. because i fancied it felt different.
whether it actually did or if this was just a story i told myself, i'm not sure. but i'd sit there in my pajamas, ear full of packing and stitches and bandages, and feel like the notes felt different.
the piano of my childhood still sits at garebear and debo's. i think, without saying it aloud, we have reached a consensus to let it die.
the hammers and strings, they are tired.
aren't we all.
the zz plant, allegedly, doesn't need direct light.
but in lieu of it, it drops its leaves and grows upwards. it grows in search of the light. "your plant is reaching out, trying to find the sun," says someone on the internet in response to a photograph that captures the state of my own zz plant.
your plant is reaching out, trying to find the sun.
don't we all.
this is my new habit.
don't we all. aren't we all.
debo says something desperate about, i don't know... truly, i have no example. but she makes some remark about something totally unrelated to the pandemic or our stuckness, and i say "don't we all" or "aren't we all."
and, always, she laughs. it is a reliable laugh. like whenever i use the word madcap. she laughs then too.
i do this more often because i love her laugh.
online teaching is exhausting because no one ever laughs. they are all muted.
no one is going to unmute to laugh. that would be weird. i know this.
and i'm not going to make them turn on their cameras so i can see them laugh. that would be unfair, selfish. i know that too.
and so there are these days where i just throw laugh lines down the empty alley.
and i know they're connecting, i know they're out there and they know i'm on their side, because i am the receiver of their rants and their thoughts on strawberries. i know, all evidence to the contrary, this is not a one way street. they tell me strawberries are red and we have established such a relationship that i am then moved to go out and buy a carton and also to tell them that i did so and to thank them. that's capitalism, but it's also connection.
i go to the market for milk and i walk out of my way to look at the strawberry display-- which is in such a weird place by the dairy and not in the more logical aisle of fruits-- and i buy two cartons (because they're BOGO) with the knowledge that i will eat and enjoy them but also an awareness that i will tell this story the following day and somehow, across the miles and the wires, if whoever it is that wrote that rant shows up for class tomorrow, they will feel seen in a way that is unique to this moment.
god, this sounds so stupid.
i feel so stupid writing it.
but, true story, it feels like it matters so fucking much.
the zz plant, from what i can gather, love/hates the sun. don't we all :)
denied the light, it reaches out to find it.
currently, i am staying in touch with a student from spring semester and a colleague from summer teaching. the colleague sends links to articles about trump and our impending doom. the former student writes about the difficulties of online college. she tells me she's not singing.
in my reply, i'll tell her i'm not writing.
they won the silver medal, bechke and petrov.
SILVER?! for this tchaikovsky masterpiece. but then, suraya bonaly is a rockstar and she didn't even medal that year, so clearly the system is broken. we've a tendency, as americans, to blame the russian judge, but AMERICA. take your responsibility. you have done this. you are to blame. stand up and take your credit.
i love it when the women smile, when their blade hits the ice and their mouth blows open in this just irrepressible grin.
i just finished teaching a unit on description. i just asked a student to make 100% sure there were no sensations of taste involved in their experience of the gathering at the supreme court for RGB's wake, so i'm aware of the inadequacy of that image above, as well as the unnecessary repetition of the word "just." (the thing about teaching is it really highlights all of the ways in which you, personally, fail.)
i wonder if they say anything, the figure skaters, the women. if there's an exclamation of "YES!!!!" that we can't hear because of the music over the PA. like, if the music weren't playing, would figure skating sound like tennis?
no, really, i want to know. would it?
have they been shouting and grunting and screaming all along and we've just not heard their cries because the music is pumped out too loud so as to emphasize the delicacy of their white femininity?
(for me, the men in figure skating-- bless-- have always been ancillary. it is, for me, a sport through which women find a way out.)
my zz plant is approximately 3 feet tall. the original one. i've recently procured another and, god go with it, i will do my best.
they both live in the window now, under the light of the sequined curtains.
my students tell me they love my "background."
which is my home.
the only room i have. after years of displacement and instability.
the room in which i eat and binge watch and read and teach and grade and do yoga and sleep.
the room i borrow from some faceless corporate agency for $1175 every month (+$35 for claude).
thank god i had the foresight to buy a convertible couch!
in their rants they write: i love your background.
in my replies, i tell them to watch out for my musical chairs-ing of the plants and books. because i want them to be there, to be present, to be entertained. and in this weird world we live in i somehow imagine my rotating new plants onstage will be the thing that brings them in at 9:40 am.
but i so want them to be clear on the fact that i am 100% here for them, that we are all of us here, that this is real. it really, really, i assure you, it really is real.
i cannot stress that enough.
this is real. this is really happening.
when we were in a classroom, it was intense.
i said this in april. already, ALREADY, before all of this, it felt like life and death.
before, way way back in the way back of last april, we were the band on titanic.
now. now, we are those people, those people that, just looking at them and based on how limited their lines are, you already know they are doomed. those people hanging onto the edge with their fingertips, knuckles gone white, gripping the side of the boat as it slides down into the atlantic.
think of me as the man in whose eyes rose dewitt bukater looked before he let go.
you remember that guy? we all of us who saw that movie remember that guy. the one who let go and bounced and bounced and bounced and bounced and bounced and bounced down the deck as he fell into the freezing waters to die.
A FEAT OF COMPUTER-GENERATE IMAGERY, the critics called it.
hey, me again, along with all of my comrades.
we are not a pretty picture so you may be tempted to look away but DO NOT DO IT. i command you. listen to the teacher: LOOK AT US.
we come to you every tuesday/thursday and/or every monday/wednesday/friday as a feat of computer-generated imagery but we are here, we are real, we also are in our homes pasting on our smiles, throwing laughs down the alley.
we are here. this is us.
c'mon, you loved that show, right? lookit!!
THIS IS US.
the plant though. in the window. against the light of the sequin curtains.
i am curious to see where it will go. i so very much want it to survive. it brings me no pleasure to kill things and these plants, they make me feel i am really here so i kinda need them to really live.
the plants and claude and his chocolate moussey butt (wtf even is happening there?!), please note: we are, all of us, here, a feat of computer-generated imagery tho we may appear.
we're relaxing this week, in all of my classes. recovering from our various submitted essays (which i, beleaguered pandemic teacher, now have to figure out how to equitably grade in the midst of a pandemic/civil rights movement/impending civil war/decline of empire... and, for the record, i am in no way being facetious).
i want to call it our week of rest and relaxation but that seems frightfully close to my year of rest and relaxation and that is not our vibe.
i screened the jackie white house tour in a class today (for the third and, hopefully, final time in 2020) and a student asked whether he could put up portraits of jay z and wutang clan when he got to the white house because abraham lincoln just wasn't really his vibe. and i replied, earnestly, yes! though there's also the family quarters which is more private and where you can really cut loose in your redecorating.
currently, i am living for a moment when that student is in the white house and that picture of jay z and beyoncé in front of duchess meghan's portrait hangs in what used to be called The People's House.
i'm participating in a panel on friday.
confession: i have not yet read the book. (hannah, if you're reading this, i'mma LOVE IT and be fully prepared, I SWEAR!!)
this is a teachable moment. in a rant, a student asked how i'm doing and i confessed that i'm procrastinating on my reading because i've horrible reading comprehension and so now i have to read double-quick.
again, i do not know who asked me this. i've not seen enough of their faces to know who they are though i care about them with all of my heart.
they're sitting by the air conditioner, the zz plants. IS THE AIR CONDITIONER KILLING THEM? are they too cold??! i do not know.
i was too hot, so this is where we are now.
it's good to sit back and assess...
debo is wearing the bandages of a person who just had a facelift.
it's back in the 80s outside, so the AC is on again for the first time in maybe a month.
claude sits next to the computer, looking away. god knows what is happening with his butt.
tomorrow, i will welcome 65 people into my bedroom and we will rest and relax and do i do not yet know what for 80 minutes.
elena bechke is 54 and a figure skating coach in north carolina. in 1992, she won the silver medal in the XVI olympic winter games.
verne lundquist lives!
so does scott hamilton!
my zz plants are... too soon to tell.
but, still, they set down their leaves and they reach for the light.
it is autumn. the sun sets sooner. my wish has not changed since last spring.
i've no words to offer but these, a blessing for this semester we all find ourselves in, if you will:
may whatever god there is bring justice for breonna taylor and brandon webber. and may we all of us bear witness, and hold on, and keep writing, all of us, always, always writing. in the darkness, lifted aloft on the wings of our ancestors, reaching for the sun in whatever fashion, whatever way we can muster, may we find the courage and the strength to continue writing, through the war we are in and the war still to come, writing forever and ever, chins up and tits out, onwards. amen.
you can't even see it here.
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PRAYER FOR THE MORNING
Did you rise this morning,
broken and hung over
with weariness and pain
and rage tattered from waving too long in a brutal wind?
Get up, child.
Pull your bones upright
gather your skin and muscle into a patch of sun.
Draw breath deep into your lungs;
you will need it
for another day calls to you.
I know you ache.
I know you wish the work were done
with everyone you have ever loved
were on a distant shore
safe, and unafraid.
But remember this,
tired as you are:
you are not alone.
and here also
there are others weeping
and gathering their courage.
You belong to them
and they to you
we will break through
and bend the arc of justice
all the way down
into our lives.
they took garebear to a tiny room.
and he tells me later that, when they did this, he assumed she had died.
when he tells me they took him to a tiny room before he tells me that she is ok, i also assume she has died.
together, today, we occupied a moment in which debo had died.
but, plot twist: SHE IS TOTALLY FINE. she is totally ok. she is giving orders, like the dreadful patient that she always is. the patient who says wouldn't it be nice if we could all have some tea, like she's trés trés inclusive when really she just wants some tea herself.
he looks away when he tells me about this, he does not make eye contact across facetime and the 868/949 miles between us (depending on whether you take I-81 to I-40 or I-40 all of the way... i am very democratic today... in five classes, i let them pick their own homework).
and i am left to sit with this.
the reality that there was a period of time today in which my father was convinced my mother had died.
i do not think they really think about this.
i think they just use me to unload and, in the unburdening, they erase it.
i could well be wrong. this moment, it very well could haunt garebear until he dies.
but there's a part of me that takes pleasure in the taking. there is a part of me that wants to be their emotional dumping ground.
there is a part of me that wants to take this away from them, in order to spare them this.
this is a blow i want to take.
this is a blow i want to keep from them, like a secret.
this is a blow i do not want to have to watch them endure for one another.
i am sitting in the dark. because i've done five shows. and i love them all. all of the kids. i do this and it's tiring but, at the end of it, there's this feeling that i feel with absolutely nothing else in my life, and, when it's all over, i think yes, that was good, what we're doing here matters, in a way that nothing else does.
i'm sitting in the dark because i've stared at a screen for eight hours straight.
and even as he begins to say it, without him having said it, i know what he's going to say.
somehow, i know this was a day that, at some point, my father thought my mother had died.
the highlights of my day are that (1) my mother did not die, and (2) i exposed two classes of young people at an HBCU to the fact that muhammad ali was a poet.
bizarrely, i would contend that these were equally exciting events.
i feel horribly guilty that these were equally exciting events .
had debo died today, i know i would've drawn a tremendous amount of comfort from the student-- a budding poet-- whose face reshaped itself into an expression of complete joy when i revealed that muhammad ali was not just a boxer and a fighter but also someone who wrote verse to psych out his opponents.
the composition of his face, it will stick with me.
the composition of debo's nose, it is in flux.
but we are all alive. we made it through this day. we are all here. some of us taking orders, some of us giving them, some of us far, far away, 8-21 months away, in the capitol of a nation that seems to be falling apart.
and yet, we go on and we go on and we carry on and on, and someday, god-willling, we will be together again, shattered faces and broken hearts, we will meet again.
debo is recovering and laid up on the couch watching tv, awaiting her surgery next week. i encourage her to watch black panther and she does.
she calls me the next morning and says she really liked it. then she asks: didn't you find the narrator a little distracting?
it was kind of like watching a national geographic special, she says, with, like, how he would say things like "and then he furrowed his brow," and "the women move together to tighten the circle." i enjoyed the movie but really found it hard to follow at times. did you feel that way too? i mean, what kind of new genre is this?
plot twist: she'd watched the entire movie with the descriptions for the visually impaired turned on.
she's watching it again tonight.
debo fell down.
last night, as she and garebear were departing on their nightly constitutional, she fell in the gravely driveway across the street. faceplanted in the neighbor's pea gravel.
later, she tells me how the dog, in shock, his leash let go, stood waiting at the corner, watching, blue eye cast towards her, brown eye looking away, his left ear cocked in her direction as she screamed.
garebear plays everything down. it was fine, she's fine, everything's ok, he reassures me, continuing: there was just so much blood, i thought she had lost her whole face.
i awake to three missed calls, four text messages, and a voicemail i'll later delete without listening.
and i wonder if my phone is always on silent for such a time as this. because i cannot handle the interruptions. because i need the control. because i need my traumatic events to be specially curated on a schedule convenient for me.
I THOUGHT SHE HAD LOST HER WHOLE FACE.
he says this quietly but, even as he says it, i know this is the line that will haunt me. along with the image of the dog, his leash let go, frozen, bracing himself against her screams.
i have never heard my mother scream.
i never want to hear my mother scream.
all i could imagine all day today were my mother's screams.
she spent six hours in the ER alone. without a mask because her injuries prevented it.
we have discussed her injuries but not her now elevated potential exposure to COVID.
i sit alone in DC with my raging anxieties about her now elevated potential exposure to COVID.
for the first time in our history together, claude gets on my lap and falls asleep. for the second time in our history together, he purrs loud enough that i can hear him through my hearing impairment.
i want to encase them in bubble wrap, my parents. because, even though now we are on the same continent, it seems i am further away than ever. debo is 868 miles, three states, and approximately 20 months away.
this unfolds against a backdrop of the eve of the first day of a semester in which i still do not have IT access at the institution where i am scheduled to teach four classes online tomorrow.
i spent this morning waiting for a call from my parents once they'd awakened and drafting a robust and reassuring, trauma-informed email intended to calm the nerves of the 80+ people i do not yet know, with whom i will be spending the next three months, and whose anxiety about my silence i can imagine in full.
the communist was in town for the weekend. on a day where rain was predicted but didn't come, we climbed book hill. wearing dalmatian printed platform shoes i've not worn in nine months, i missed a step and nearly fell forward. catching myself, embarrassed by my own vulnerability, my own humanness, i laughed and said something stupid, like, 20 years of yoga at work there!
there's a high chance i did either jazz hands or a thumbs up. just to reenforce the fact that i am unbreakable, unshakable, i am in total control. (heaven forbid a man know i am, in fact, not.)
in the park, we huddled together on a bench and talked about our parents. and, at one point, i confided how debo and i'd, just the day before, reflected on our total erasure of ruth's death at the time, and my recent awareness of the role that loss and all that unexpressed, unprocessed grief may have played in totally fucking up my freshman year of college.
and, in telling that story, i claimed that, when i was in memphis, for that year and a half of post-self-deportation awful, i acted as a therapist to my parents. that we triangulated, with both of them going through me and me mediating.
in another life, i would maybe be a therapist. in this life, i just tell stories of lives.
i have only ever wanted to be an only child. please know: this is not a complaint. three is a difficult number but it is worth it. 1000%.
there are always at least two stories. with three people there are, inevitably, three, but let us focus on the stories of those who were on the ground. which gives us the story of the person it happened to and the story of the person who watched it happen.
the two are not mutually exclusive.
in watching, something also happens to you.
in looking, in seeing, in witnessing, also, we are changed, yeah? irrevocably. we are reconstituted. the pieces, they all change places on the board.
as he and i sat across from one another at that orange table in the tupelo medical center cafeteria, with the jello cup, he told me how it had been when he found her there on the morning of his 75th birthday, hip shattered, lying on the kitchen floor.
all of these things, they fold back into one another, like a batter, we write and we write and we fold it all in; the brain, it folds it all in, together.
my father is now 74. debo's face is on the ground, the dog and my dad are watching, her screams pierce the air, burvil is on the ground when joe finds her, i am never ever there when they break themselves and, when they tell me after, it is so awful, so horrible, it really is the worst, this time, every time, they think it is maybe the end, they tell me they thought it was the end. surely, she was going to die; surely, she was gone, surely she had lost her face. it was so unspeakably awful there are no words and here i am, waiting for IT access so i can email my 80+ people and tell them it's all going to be ok, because we are going to proceed gently and kindly and we are going to write, and that is going to help us to be ok because everything is wrong and everything is awful and the people we love, they are so fragile, but it is going to be ok because we are going to find our voices and our words and we are going to write and, in writing, we are going to build a better world and it is going to be ok because we are going to wrest something beautiful from the unmitigated, unrelenting disaster of this whole fucking horrifying, wretched year.
she broke her nose on both sides but she didn't lose any teeth. we laugh about how it could've been so much worse. she could've lost her teeth, had a concussion, broken a leg. my mother is ok, she will be ok. my cat sat on my lap. my email to my 80+ people will be hella reassuring if it ever gets sent.
john berger wrote:
the natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster [...] strangely enough it all works out in the end.
and still i trust: all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
i have a full-time teaching job.
allegedly. apparently. so it seems.
you know i'mma commit to nothing out of fear that nothing'll commit to me, so i approach this thing that actually does seem to be happening with extreme caution.
but if i were a believing person, i'd say i basically have a full-time teaching job. by which i mean i do. basically. maybe. probably. totally.
plus another class at another university. as, like, a cherry on top.
because, in the sundae of teaching, who is to say what is too much!
it takes an i-9 for me to feel like this is real. it takes me scrolling past the boxes in which i would declare myself an "alien" if i were not born here to feel like this is true.
once upon a time i wanted to be a veterinarian, but today i took claudie in for his checkup and the vet had to pop a zit on his chin (which meant she was basically just dr. pimple popper, non?) and i feel like i made the right choice with my life.
i email lindear to tell her that, because she is already the end of life care friend named in my will, she is also the emergency friend listed in my hiring paperwork. in her reply, she references"the boner on [my] chest." reading that text, i suddenly just know that her name is dolores. the boner on my chest is named dolores. welcome.
in seven days, i am meeting i do not know how many students in a virtual classroom to which i do not have access because i have not yet been fully onboarded.
the beauty of the zoom orientation in a pandemic is that you can stir your laundry and try on new clothes and write letters while hearing about inter-library loan.
today, for the first time, i heard the word "edutainment."
i hope to never in my life hear this word again.
next tuesday, i am welcoming 80+ people i've not yet met (who i cannot yet email to tell them to CALM THE FUCK DOWN BECAUSE WE ARE GOING TO GO INTO THIS NEWNESS SO VERY GENTLY TOGETHER) into my bedroom.
i'm going to do this without a syllabus. a decision i have arrived at after considerable thought. a decision in clear conflict with the dictate that we all submit our syllabi by august 24th at the school by which i have recently been hired.
but YOLO, c'est la vie, que sera sera.
we will be writing. we all will be writing. through all of this. and that is what matters.
it is frightening, how we are in the near exact situation we were in during the spring. when all i wanted to was to keep them writing.
and here we are, months later, and all i want to do is to keep them writing, and alive.
i approach this semester with a dread i've never felt before.
because it feels like we were lucky last spring.
it feels like we will not be so lucky now.
when did the accident occur?
the radiologist asks me this. i tell him there was no accident. in early june, it just started being this way. i do not know why.
he asks if i'm wearing a bra. i am.
together we walk to the closet with gowns. but it has no underwire, i tell him, for some reason suddenly quite desperate not to undergo whatever i'm about to undergo with a hospital gown atop my shirt.
i have already walked here at 7 a.m. in the rain, having not yet had coffee. life is hard enough as it is.
he asks if it's a sports bra. it's not. but it has no underwire.
it has no underwire! i exclaim in a tone that strikes me as more proud and also more confident than i feel.
i need not take it off, even though it's not a sports bra.
it's not a sports bra, but i cannot think of the right word for what it is.
they gave me a yellow bracelet, like the ones you get at concerts, at admissions. it reads: HUH RADIOLOGY 8/13. dutifully, i put it on.
dutifully, i am wearing it, though i did it somehow simultaneously too tightly and too loose, so the gummy bit keeps catching on my arm hairs and also i have seen absolutely no one else wearing a similar bracelet. earlier, in the waiting room, while amy grant spoke to good morning america about her open heart surgery, as the nurse came around with a temperature gun and alerted me to the fact that i am not fully alive because i am only 97.9, i took in the wrists around me and noted that none of them were similarly adorned. and so it is increasingly clear that i am a sheep, a rule follower, someone who elegantly, easily falls right into line behind authority BRALET!
the word for it is bralet! i exclaim-- after approximately 45 seconds of silence-- to this man who has absolutely no idea what i am talking about. it's a bralet.
i do not have to take it off because, as i have told him, it has no metal.
he goes into his little booth.
i sit in the chair he has told me to sit in-- because i am a sheep???-- and try not to think too deeply about the thing in the corner that looks like a four foot wide eraser made out of pool noodle material and has the word X-RAY written on it in sharpie.
and/or how this room feels like a place that would be located adjacent to a basketball court.
and/or how my bralet DOES HAVE METAL CLASPS IN THE BACK. AND HOW I NEED TO TAKE IT OFF BECAUSE IF I DO NOT TAKE IT OFF, WHATEVER HAPPENS TO PEOPLE WEARING METAL IN XRAY MACHINES WILL HAPPEN TO ME BECAUSE I AM SECRETLY WEARING METAL, AFTER I JUST SAID I WASN'T SO NOW I HAVE TO CONFESS THAT I AM BUT FIRST HE HAS TO COME OUT OF THE LITTLE BOX SO I REALLY NEED HIM TO COME OUT OF THE LITTLE BOX SO I CAN GET THIS LIE OFF MY CHEST (WHICH HAS A PROTRUSION THAT NO ONE CAN FIGURE OUT!!!!!! omg.).
he comes out of the box.
i am about to tell him about my lies when he asks: was the accident recent?
no accident, no accident, i say. I AM WEARING METAL. THERE IS METAL IN MY CLASPS. I'M SO SORRY I DIDN'T KNOW I DIDN'T REMEMBER, BUT I HAVE SECRET METALS IN MY CLASPS.
in my head, i am screaming but it comes out of my mouth in a tone calmer than expected. confessing this, i sound unusually sane.
he says something and leaves the room. which seems unnecessary since i was once a teenage girl in middle and high school gym classes so i'm entirely capable of getting out of a bra without ever taking my top off.
he returns. my bralet is off; my nipples are erect.
which side? he asks.
the left, i reply, right index and middle finger automatically taking their place as a frame.
there is no acknowledgement of the place on my chest cavity. i do not feel seen. i do not necessarily need to be seen in this moment, but also i'm a woman with erect nipples and an unexplained chest mass who hasn't had coffee yet, so i'm feeling a little vulnerable right now.
and when was your accident?
and this is the point at which i begin to wonder: do i have amnesia? was i involved in an accident? has an accident precipitated this? does my referral read: 39 yo amnesiac female w/ lump in left breast? have i missed that? have i forgotten i have amnesia? does he the think i have amnesia? does *he* have amnesia?
it just happened. it was just there. there was no accident. i've not been in any accident. this is not an accident.
he asks me to stand.
he asks me to hug the machine.
i hug the machine.
there was a time from mid-march to mid-june when this would have constituted an overwhelming amount of physical contact with another entity.
as the radiologist gently, delicately adjusts the placement of my arms in their embrace of the machine, i am grateful for every single second of my time with the communist. for all of the times he casually ran his fingers over the tops of my toes, trailed a finger up and down my spine, placed his fingers on the place on my chest and said yeah, that's something.
were it not for those moments, i am quite nearly certain, i would, in this moment, have been hugging an xray... wall unit? idk. whatever the fuck this was, i would've been embracing it and weeping.
it feels like a dance, what we're doing. a very slow dance. i do yoga, so i appreciate the precision involved in the micro-movements he's demanding of me. though i harbor concerns that he's focusing on the right side instead of the left.
i never ever want to have to do this again. i can do it once, but i never ever want to do it again. and i worry he's going to mess it up and i'm going to have to do it all over. i very strongly believe there are no do overs here.
head over heart, heart over pelvis. i work to square my feet with where he wants my arms.
he couldn't care less about my feet.
BREATHE, he says, his voice floating out of the booth.
i do. it burns.
now let it go, he says, as the camera clicks.
BREATHE, he says, twelve more times.
and then we move on to my sternum.
puff out your chest, he says, demonstrating, and i do. like upward dog.
my nipples are flat. my affect is flat. my eyes fall on the aquamarine XRAY pool noodle as i internally observe that, in this stance, i'm homaging the winged victory of samothrace. should i do airplane arms? or is that a bridge too far?
DO NOT BREATHE! he commands from the booth, and i obey, flat all over, chest puffed out, arms raised to my absent partner, tragi-comic.
there was no accident. this is not an accident. it's definitely something but maybe nothing. we just don't know. there is so much we just don't know.
the woman at admissions requested my emergency contact and i gave her garebear, because debo never answers her phone.
and who is gary to you? she asked through a mask, across the plastic. my father, i say.
DAD, she writes in parentheses beside his number on a sticky note.
i tell him this story later and we all laugh uproariously and he reminds me of that one time at a church thing in chicago where we were mistaken for a couple. and we laugh uproariously at that too.
it is all so terribly funny. if you can make a joke out of it, if i can just find all of the jokes, and if i can just give you all of the jokes, it's almost like it's all ok, it's like it's not even a thing because we're all laughing here.
today, a medical professional, like some robo-call, asked me three times if i was involved in an accident and took upwards of twenty-five x-rays of my chest cavity and sternum as i puffed out my chest and practiced, let's be real, unnecessarily aggressive airplane arms.
now you can tick that box off, garebear tells me on facetime, doing some weird thing where he licks his finger like he's about to turn a page but instead makes a check mark in the air.
and across the miles i want to reach out of our devices and tell him not to lick his fingers and to wash his hands.
he does it three more times for good measure.
that box is well and truly checked.
there was no accident. it is what it is. c'est la vie.
i go back to the doctor, to the adult doctor this time. it's resident season so everyone has a shadow. the nurse who weighs me, the nurse who does my blood pressure, the nurse who takes my blood-- all of them, in shadows.
i can tell you teach writing, the resident says, when i interrupt her for the third time to remind her that it isn't "pain"-- it's an "ache"; it feels "fizzy"; it "burns"; it isn't "in the breast" but "behind" it; it doesn't "hurt," it's just "discomfort."
the doctor stands back as the resident does the exam and, again, i ask, needing the reassurance: i would've noticed this if it has always been like that, right? like, i would've noticed that somewhere in the last 39 years...?
the resident is on one side, her fingers going up and down my perfectly normal left breast, while the doctor stands on the other side-- eyes on my clavicle-- and the doctor says, oh yeah, like, i can see it just standing here. you would have noticed that.
on all the forms i've seen, the midwife recorded that there was a lump was in the breast tissue.
her notes left the doctor expecting to see a lump in the lymph nodes of my neck. she is surprised to find a mass in my thoracic cavity that is a cross between an alien invasion and a protruding rib.
the resident and the doctor marvel at how it feels like bone.
i know not how my records are not yet stamped with that statement "IT FEELS LIKE BONE," i've said this so many times to so many different people.
for thirty minutes, i wait outside the referrals office, from which a masked woman periodically emerges to ask, wah wa waaaaa wah waw waaaahhhhhh?
we do that nine times at least before she brings me a sheaf of papers and referrals for the scans that have been ordered.
the communist has moved away so, this time, i walk the 2.8 miles home, listening to a podcast on the disappearance of chandra levy.
it's not yet noon. the day is cooler, the sun lower in the sky. still, it burns when i breathe. and the unwritten syllabi sit heavy on my heart.