Thursday, January 6, 2011

One Tough Cat

I’ve noticed that I have been living this conundrum for several years to one degree or another (Glass half full…Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.) While it gets rather lonely stuck up in my fourth floor “garret” producing zero works of art and occasionally getting one or two brilliant works read that were not or ever could be composed by me. Believe me, I realized I had what I thought was an “artistic temperment” (whatever that means) minus any talent of any kind whatsoever. I rationalized my fatal flaw by telling myself that the world needed people like me who can simply enjoy the work of others. So that’s what I do. I adore Maggot Brain, Thomas Hardy, and El Greco. The world needs people to do this or else the art might never be produced. QED: I’m a critical part of the creative process. You need an audience? Give me a holler.

I lock myself in my apartment looking more like a Morlock or some eyeless mole by the day. I have no problem looking like a Morlock. I could always relate better with the Morlocks anyway. Eloi were just particularly like the stereotypical stupid surfer-type dudes for whom I have little patience.

Doug found out a little more about our friend Chip. For the last year or so, he’d been closing himself up- withdrawing from life. He knew there was a terribly dangerous surgery ahead of him with a good chance of dying on the table. He withdrew. I not only understand it, I do it. I know it. I live it. My god, I wish I could have spoken to him, but he didn’t even tell his closest friends what was happening. Like with my darling Cliff, I understood the pain and fear he was living. We could cry to one another. If you haven’t been there, you can’t possibly know.

Goddamnit. Now I understand why my father chose to die rather than subject himself to the vicious chemotherapy that only had a slim chance of putting in remission. We kids saw what those drugs did to him. Within days, this robust, strong man was reduced to a skeleton with skin stretched over it. He didn’t look human anymore. But we kids, when his disease returned, were horrified that he would just let the leukemia run its course. And let himself die. We begged him to try to put the disease on hold one more time. Now he was a grown man, he could do what he felt right. He knew what he would face with that heinous chemotherapy. But my Dad, my incredible Dad couldn’t disappoint his kids. Not his kids. He went ahead with the chemo. And in days that followed, he entered into that shadow world somewhere between living and dying. Two weeks later he was dead. Oh Dad, I’m so sorry to we put you through that again. We couldn’t imagine ever losing you. We saw, but seeing isn’t understanding.

That’s while I’ll be damned if I put myself on the lung-transplant list. I know the hell of this drill, and it’s a drill I refuse to repeat. Sounds an awful lot like my thirteen weeks in the ICU. Thank you Dad. I’m just sorry he had to relive that hell-even for two weeks- for us.

I find that I cocoon myself. I so rarely see anyone. Sure, it takes lots of energy for me to have visitors. (Anyone who has come here to visit came, because I wanted that person to come. No one has imposed his or herself on me. Laura J., Joanie, Bob et al were here, because I wanted them to be. No feeling guilty, okay? You brightened my life. I’m strong enough to say no. And I’m strong enough to say yes, capeche?)

As I have said many times to my therapist/angel, that I can’t burden my friends with my Sisyphean boulder of crap. I say all the time that the only people (besides my mother, Doug, and Chip) I can unload on are the people whose time I pay for: my therapist/angel; Tamar, the best P.T. on the planet; Rachel, my terrific masseuse, and Laurie, my beloved chiropractor. That’s a damned fine group, but this shit cannot be laid on the general public.

Usually when we visit the ill, we wish them a speedy recovery and then talk about life as usual. For me, not only will there not be any recovery, there is not one in the offing. (But they’re doing an awful lot of stuff with mice.) And I reminded Chip that if there were some new experimental procedure, who knows? Perhaps, I’ll never get off the table like Chip Rabkin.

I am stopping right now the specious comparison that many have used, because no one knows what the hell to say to me. “Well, you can get hit by a bus tomorrow.”

Ugh, strangle me please.

Yeah. Sorry. (I really am.) This does not fly. It only upsets me. I hadn't figured out why or how until I started putting it to paper. But here it is: Saying so is dismissive of my illness and all I've been through these past four years. My fears (“Is today the day?”) and all the hell I continue to go through are being equated to being whacked to kingdom come by a bus.

Okay. I’ll buy it. But let's play it my way. You survive the bus accident, you are now limbless (or maybe, your limbs just no longer work), and your heart is fucked in such a way that it cannot be surgically corrected. Transplant? Maybe. As the boys from Pittsburgh said to me over and over and over again, “Please remember, you’re just exchanging one disease for another.” Welcome to my world.

Then maybe we can talk about being hit by a fucking bus. Why do you think Chip Rabkin began withdrawing from life? When you know what’s coming and there’s no chance for a do-over, it’s awfully difficult to embrace life. Life has become a dirty word. Your own personal dirty word. Why bother anymore?

Death by bus may provide you some comfort, but it sure makes me feel an awful lot worse. From my standpoint, that bus sounds pretty fucking good. (“Glass half full…) Boom, it’s done. No, sorry everybody. I live with my near death experience every fucking second of every fucking day. God bless that bus. May it only fly up to the fourth floor. (Please be careful not to hit Chip or the cats, okay?) I may look just fine, but I feel sick every single day. I hate gasping for air which I must do all the time. Gasping creates a panic response automatically. (Water boarding, anyone?) I really don’t like to panic. My throat always hurts. I live with a painful cough. Side effects galore from my high-tech medication. But one stinking respiratory infection, and it’s sayonara kids.

One of our cats developed a hideous cancer. One of those that once you see it, it’s too late for treatment. The damned thing became an enormous tumor on his jaw. He used to tap me on the arm for more pain killer. My poor sweet baby. What a wonderful boy Jazzy was! The vet told us we’d know when it’s time because cats turn inward as they get closer to the end. When I bring Jazzy back to the vet, he is stunned that this is the same cat he saw six weeks earlier. How could that cat still be alive? Because he sure shouldn’t be.

I started balling, “You said, when he’s ready, he’d turn inward. He hasn’t! He hasn’t at all! He still wants to live!” The vet took one more look at Jazzy and said it was time. When he brought Jazzy to the room where they first put him into a deep sleep before kicking you out when they give the Kevorkian injection, Jazzy just wandered around the room checking it out. Just like a cat. Not a dying cat.

The vet sends out condolence cards. This is the first one I’ve ever seen him personalize one. He wrote for Jazzy, “To one tough cat.”

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