through art then… #2 – and one day you wake up, you’re older, you’ve got cancer, and you realize there’s no going back
“… it’s clear, art reflects the attempts of singular and idiosyncratic human beings to make meaning, to capture the rumbling/exhilarating sensations of living a life: color, form, line, rhythm, sound, the biochemical, the physiological and the emotional; and the grandest for me are those rubbing up against the truth, those unsettled and trying to find ways to share what they’ve seen, heard, felt and understood. There’s nothing more marvelous than engaging the collected stories of someone like Ms. Roth, inspired truthtelling in sacred spaces. No critical review or attempt at summary explication can capture the depth and breadth, the impact and effect, of such an experience.”
— MKB, 69-1 - california modern [Epilogue]
So, when you’re dying a slow death by cancer, still conscious, still ambulatory, aching and creaking ever so hopefully, but clearly on your way out, hope fading every day, it’s something folks have a hard time with. They don’t want to hear, “I’m dying…,” but some, fearless and attentive to all of what the human experience is, ask the question, is it something you can articulate, write about? And it’s like, dang, life drawing to a close, write about it, I don’t know, to do so without being maudlin or morose? To write about how it’s more and more difficult to get out of bed, that the impetus to rise up, to find joy and delight in the simplest of things, to see clearly you’re not physiologically prevented from getting up, that the cancer’s held at bay for the moment, that it’s of the will, and spirit, that you’re simply unable to marshal up the courage, that your first thought now is to just lay there, covers up and over, eyes peeking out, this is the end, WTF!, as Roger Angell said in his recent New Yorker piece, to never again be “…together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach.” Brutal, oh so brutal. Love no longer within reach, among so many other things, and yes you want to be graceful and brave about it, and you’re laying there, 4 in the morning, usually the time you’d be up and out the door, but now, all you can marshal up is some self-talk, there in the half light, “Shall I engage and get fired up about managing the end, get excited and exhilarated about this final stage, to cancel all subscriptions, to make no more plans to travel, to rewrite the advance directive, to lay out an expeditious plan for a smooth and efficient exit, hospice and a morphine drip, let it come, no visitors, everything settled, narcotize me, and let the room fill with music, from Tous Les Matins Du Monde, “Le Badinage,” and let me wither in my own way, how civilized, how loving and genteel, to allow us to make our own end, palliative and pure, a kind of longing, one final illusion, my own film score, the final scene, fade to black.
But no, it doesn’t work that way. I’m at Peet’s Coffee & Tea, late afternoon, I’ve seen her once or twice before, and it begins, the pining away for one more promising conversation, one more excited and exhilarating meet up. Possibility. Romance. Overheard her speak about James Hillman, to a psychology undergrad; and they were talking about a notorious professor, and there was empathy, and she’s apparently working on her Ph.D., she’s older, and I’m thinking, just one more conversation, love love James Hillman, am reading A Blue Fire… right now, a revisiting of his work, and she glances over, and she doesn’t look away, but I do, don’t have it in me, no longer courageous but a coward with the covers up and over, and her eyes are a piercing brown, and there’s an earnestness, and a focus, she leans into her Mac Air and types, types and types, and now and again she looks up and over, as I do,… ha ha ha, the self-talk, I’m death and dying, nothing to offer, no future, dark dark. Slinking away into oblivion, the want of invisibility, to long for, yet never engage, that’s me now. Sad sack. Jesus H Christ, there was a time, such a look would rile, to the point of bravery, and I’d find a way to engage, and the ensuing conversation would lead to another, then another, and then all of a sudden, you’re finding out about: them, and you, always a kind of mirror, yes refracted, surely, but revealing and you see parts of yourself you’ve not seen before, only because you’re across from them, this one person, singular and unique, and then hope finds a way, the power of imagination, of illusion, and the romantic sensibility, at the worst nothing but the “creepy,” at its best, where love begins, and I am sucker for these moments, requited and unrequited, with Ms. Sims, behind the bookstore counter, our hands touched, both of us reaching for the same book, and we looked at each other in a way we hadn’t looked at each other before, something passed between us in that moment, another pair of piercing brown eyes, an 18-year relationship to follow; and with Ms. Koch (Henry), only one conversation, never a second, I tried and tried, and she ran off to New York, got married, had a kid, and came back, and I learned what it is to love another, to be convinced she was a kind of soul-mate, to suffer the ultimate illusion, that a second conversation would occur. It never has, I still see her, still wonder about, but I am judicious, restrained. Unrequited love? Who knew?
And now this, full-on cowardice, seeing clearly there’s no going back, no rewind, rediscovering, renewal; only death. When I was first diagnosed, when it was clear Sims and I were at an end, it was a revelation, a kind of shock, more self-talk, I’m not young anymore, hadn’t thought about age, or aging, as if we were ageless, and that there’d always be romance, and things to look forward to, and exhilaration, and excitement about the simplest of things: a gentle whisper in the night; holding hands on a stroll along the boardwalk; a kiss on the cheek in the produce section of the grocery store, shopping for a meal we’d prepare together; a drive with the top down along the PCH through Big Sur, our hair blowing in the wind; the simple, late night conversation in a fav café; or the cuddling up, the two of us and the cats, watching a film, at ease, traveling in imagination, feeling connected and loved, settled in.…
No going back. It’s all memory now, and it’s oh so, what’s the word? Fucked-up.