14 September 2020
03 September 2020
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.
02 September 2020
31 August 2020
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.
24 August 2020
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.
17 August 2020
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.
13 August 2020
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.
11 August 2020
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.
10 August 2020
08 August 2020
because i am terribly selfish. and nonetheless, it seems quite a lot of the things are, in fact, happening. via zoom mostly. and in the weirdly slow burn, footloose rhythms typical of academia.
but apparently i have a full time teaching job??? with benefits??! pending approval from the provost??
the provost moves way too slow for my liking, but then so does everyone else. at applebee's, they told us to always move with an appearance of urgency. legit a lesson that has never left me but with which i would like to live without.
these things fall together so quickly it is difficult to not feel they will fall apart.
my computer keeps sending me pop ups telling me that i do not have enough space for the future that is unfolding before me.
speaking to EL, i casually, off-handedly observe that "my plants almost make me feel like i am really here."
this is maybe the most profound distillation of my inner condition in these last twelve months/three years.
i live in DC. i've had a storage space and an apartment and two or three relationships and a cat and, like, five jobs in DC. and yet it's the responsibility of caring for ten plants that almost-- just almost-- makes me feel real.
07 August 2020
I’m in the middle of a four-hour phone conversation with a man I know vaguely from work and with whom I have connected on Tinder. This is quarantine.
The conversational atmospherics careen provocatively, cyclically, from first date to work gossip session to confessional booth.
At some point, I confess the story of how an ex-boyfriend of mine wound up impregnating the two women he dated after me and emotionally terrorizing us all. When I finish the story, the man on the other end sighs and says, “How sad for him. I really do sympathize with him.”
Immediately, I assume I’ve told the story wrong. That, in my effort to tell it while still appearing attractive and interesting to this person, I've elided the damage. That, for fear of looking like a man-hater, I’ve somehow made someone who clearly, deeply disrespects women the hero of my own account of a broken heart.
I thought I was telling my story, but it seems what was heard was his.
I’ve been thinking through this dynamic for several months. Stuck alone in quarantine, I’ve been processing a college relationship rife with sexual violence and emotional abuse. In working through that, I’ve been deeply angered to realize I believe my own story, in large part, because I subsequently told it to a man. And I can access what I imagine to have been my own fear then only through the fact that the men around me then were afraid for their own safety too.
My anger has come to settle on the fact that that I cannot tell my own story without men.
Even the way we tell our stories is adapted for them, to lessen their discomfort. In telling the truth, one constantly polices oneself. In this quarantine “date,” I’m aware of how often I’m using words like “patriarchy” and “power systems,” so as to make clear that this is about systems, it’s not personal.
But it is personal, even as it is about systems.
It's still people doing this bullshit, committing these harms.
It's still people doing this bullshit, committing these harms.