The air bit with a chill that didn’t match the bright sunlight. I was on a bus traveling from my apartment to a doctor’s office I’d never visited at the university of British Columbia. The view from the bridge might have been pretty, but to me it was nothing but a view of the recent oil spill. I did not know what to expect at the doctor’s office. Someone over the phone had dropped the word “cancer” into conversation as innocuously as a sugarcube into coffee. I didn’t have enough data, so I did not know what to expect. As a result, I failed to have any expectations. The unknown no longer holds any fear after the worst has happened.
I was recently in Los Angeles for three weeks. I stayed up an entire night and watched the moon’s light be eaten by our planet’s shadow from a barren desert near the border of Mexico. I learned how to drive an ATV and I sped in a race car on a track for the first time. I drove my first go-kart and only partially dislocated my shoulder doing so. I was introduced to shooting skeet and never missed, not even once, until the assault rifle jammed. I had dinner at the Magic Castle and discovered a secret door. I visited the spaceship Endeavor and a Banksy piece and the Echo Lake chandelier tree.
Luck was mostly with me. My company was always kind and funny and smart. My days were spent working and exploring, unearthing new places and experiences, and my evenings were often spent in the company of my host, one of my sweetest ex-partners, a man who pet my hair when he caught me keening with pain in my sleep.
Every day I think about Michael, his smile, his kindness, how much I would do if it would let me see him and hold him and let him loose on the world again. I would do unspeakable things. His smile, his wit. I would burn down houses. I would burn down cities. A life for a life. Ten lives for his. A hundred. He would be horrified and justified. He would be validated. I cannot say his name without twisting inside.
Everything in California made for easy stories. The sun shone almost every day, there were flowers everywhere, a downy brown hummingbird in the front yard, a familiar taste like metal in the back of my throat from the pollution in the air. I touched a tiny wild lizard, I bought books at The Last Bookstore, and sobbed until I thought I might die on the perfect sand beach at Santa Monica. I danced until last call in my underwear in a borrowed bear suit open to my waist in a bar on Hollywood Boulevard.
I try not to think about my coward of a most recent ex, M., and how much pain he’s left unaddressed inside of me. I shy away from it the way I now avoid mirrors, as if he literally slashed me with knives and then declared me too ugly instead of only figuratively. I cannot bear my unwanted reflection as I cannot rely on my heart. It is too broken. I am too ruined. Both have fractured and cracked and crumbled. The abuse, such a surprise, was too much. The trauma, as unexpected, destroyed what was left. I am used up and there is not enough left to put anything back together. I cannot say his name, nor that of the planet he named himself after. I can barely utter my own.
The difficult stories are harder to see, but they are bigger and deeper and wider and greedy.
Being in the desert was triggering, (he grew up out here, he told me stories, fixing his jeep with the gusset of his underwear, getting lost in gullies while looking for ghost towns, his words a footnote to every stone), but who alive has eyes that could see such a thing?
I cannot reliably keep down anything I eat. I have lost fifteen pounds. People are constantly saying, “Oh wow, you look so good!”.
This is also a trigger.
A terrible winter, leading into a spring that only looks better with eyes that cannot see.
Being alive is triggering. Everything hurts. Everything. Always.
My life since October has been a near comprehensive list of tragedy, injury, pain, disappointment, disability, death, and every wrenching heartbreak. I constantly wake violently throughout every night, usually crying, my endoctrine system certain that I am always under threat. Why else this much pain? I live stunned with it, trapped in the suffering cage of my own failure of a body, forcing myself to try to move normally through each moment even though its roar is deafening.
I try to be the sort of person who does not bring the tone down, does not to contribute to the disappointment, and I am sick of the world, so mostly I have been quiet. But, in truth, I am sick of living. I want to quit. Yet these habits die hard. When asked about such things, I have been telling the easy stories. “Magic!” “Race cars!” Tone. Keep it light, (keep it pointless), keep it bright.
I might say we went to the Salton Sea, went to Slab City, and looked at the art. I might say that the art was unexpected, that it was good to see the piano still present. Those are the outside stories, not the experience, not how I only went to East Jesus to visit a dear friend’s grave to try and make a genuine connection with his unexpected death, only to encounter a tourist destination and be force-fed a rote and rehearsed tour and a bizarre and misplaced lecture about my lack of respect. Both happened, but the latter is more important to me than the first fact.
When pressed further by people who know about the other narratives, the shadow, less superficial stories, I have been still replying defensively until very recently, habitually, with the only good thing left unharmed – “but the pets are fine!”
Even this, however, is no longer true.
The day before I flew back to Canada, my flatmate David sent me a panicked note over Facebook. The unthinkable had occurred; Tanith the cat swatted Selenium the ferret and ruptured her eye.
He was worried she was going to be blinded and didn’t know what to do. I arranged for hospital care, I arranged a ride there, I arranged to borrow space on a credit card to pay for it all. I did everything from California, hoping her vision could be saved, stressed out and over stretched, breaking down whenever I thought about how much she must be hurting, no matter where I was or what I was doing. All of our options were scary and expensive. The vet referred us to an optical surgeon. Two hundred dollars. The optical surgeon suggested her eye be removed. Another two hundred. We scheduled the surgery. Eight hundred. She had a rough time on the table. Another hundred. The mask became harder to keep in place.
Posting to social media about Selenium’s needs and ordeal covered the costs. I am grateful, we’re not going to be wiped out, but my grateful allayment is muddled. I am conflicted. There is no justice. She is home now, looking more like a prize fighter than a pirate. This is the Red Queen Paradox with a knee to the kidney for good measure; we run and run and run to stay in place, everyone throw in! Yet no matter how much is given, how much support is offered, (where was this before?), the best that can be possibly attained is a new equilibrium worse than the previous norm. It’s like my life’s theme, if such things existed outside of the convenient packaging of construct or English lit.
Now that April’s Big Bad Trauma has arrived and (mostly, as best it can, a bankruptcy disguised as success) been neutralized, I am waiting for whatever happens in May. It will be rough, it will be tumble, and I refuse to try to imagine what awful unexpected there is left. Who’s next? What’s next?
It’s my birthday this month. Thirty-three on the twenty:ninth. Ten years plus one from when I promised Michael I would fight to stay alive and try, no matter what, to find joy. Ten years “and a day” of failure and pain. If I can’t succeed at such a small thing, in that length of time, I can’t succeed, full stop. My promise runs out on my birthday. It’s almost a relief. Ten years and a day of fighting and struggle, just to confirm: My best isn’t good enough and it never will be.