There’s a piece of lavender stretched across the sky, a rough patch of color in-between gray and white clouds. If it were warmer, I’d stand outside and take a moment to appreciate its difference, but it’s freezing outside, and I seem to have misplaced my only warm coat. It’s likely in one of the boxes or bags I’ve never unpacked, or maybe it’s in the I’ll-get-to-it-one-day pile of stuff in the utility closet. I have no idea, and so far it just hasn’t been that important to me to solve the mystery.
There’s another mystery that’s nagging at me, though, not for any greater reason than curiosity. I’ve never liked unnamed things, and I believe that everything should have a name. A good name, too, a name that means something. It always bothers me at grave sites to see infants buried as Baby Boy or Baby Girl. I want to name those lost children. And no, there wouldn’t be an Olive, Rusty, Bronx or Buster in the mix. I think parents who purposely give their kids dreadful names ought to be forced to wear their own bad moniker. A mom wants to name her baby daughter Hank? Okay, but in the spirit of fairness, she should change her name to Arnold. Dad thinks it’s cute to name his son after a cartoon character? Fine, let Dad go by Eeyore for eighteen years and enjoy all the benefits of that cuteness for himself.
Yesterday, as I was getting the lump in my neck biopsied via a needle, I wasn’t worried or nervous about the results. There’s an 80% possibility the lump is benign. Even if it were cancerous, there’s an 80% survival rate for the kind of cancer indicated. I’m not fretting the results in either case. Even the remote possibility of death doesn’t cause me much stress. I’ve never been afraid of death – only of the pain that might lead up to the final exit.
No, the thing that’s really been stressing me out is not knowing the name of whatever I’ve got, and not knowing exactly why my body is trying on symptom after symptom as if looking for the perfect dysfunction to wear to a Merck costume party. First it was meningitis, then a maddening itch, face pain, sciatica, migraine, eye strain, weakness in the arms and legs, a feeling of dizziness, numbness, tingling, a few dots that look like mosquito bites, an overwhelming fatigue – I mean, come on, enough already. I have things to DO, not just things to FEEL.
In times of stress, my A.D.D. stages a coup and upends anything resembling a linear thought. So while my neck was getting prodded, I wasn’t thinking about me, or the names of illnesses, but about organic coconut cake, and how much I loved the smell of the original Herbal Essence shampoo. I wondered about the power of the FDA, and how they let infant formula laced with melamine into the market. I pondered my disappointment with Pelosi and Congress for failing to impeach Bush and his entire administration before he could exact more damage.
I thought about the recent actions of a woman I know, who continually insists that there are no accidents. I am convinced, after the last opportunity she blew, that she says this to justify her who-cares, shoulder-shrugging failures. It seems to me that she is afraid of the drains on her time and energy more success might bring, so she fails – half on-purpose (and because she can afford to) – while at the same time seeming to have made an effort. When the predictable outcome occurs, she brushes it off with a cosmic “there are no accidents”. An easy out in a world of make-believe, but so cowardly, and so untrue.
When the biopsy is done, I get into an elevator with a man who gives me the creeps. I square my shoulders, plant my feet, and then almost laugh out loud. My head is foggy, my balance is off, my muscles feel like limp spaghetti and worse, I’m not even wearing real boots or shoes, but slippers that pass as clogs. Not only would have a defensive kick to his patella done no damage, I likely would have fallen over backwards trying to land one.
That, of course, gets me thinking about getaways, which leads me to thinking about a Ford F-150, which stirs the memory of an 84 m.p.g. car Mercedes developed but never brought to market, which makes me wonder about the chemical feminisation of fish , which brings me around to thinking about fairy tales and how we, as a species, often fail to learn even the simplest didactic lessons.
When the Empress is naked, tell her damn it. And hell yes, there are accidents, even if many of them are caused by being half-aware or negligent.
On the drive home, I realize why this woman’s casual failure is rankling me, and it’s not just about her barely-there effort, or the excuses that followed. It’s because it’s cold outside, I feel like hell, I’m uninsured, and fuck –- one way or another, I’m going to die. Probably not this time, but eventually, and when it happens all my thoughts and stories are likely to die with me.
I think, despite my rational protests, my interior self has held onto one of those cliches I detest so much. I think my heart must have held onto the belief that certain things (not all things) must happen for a reason, even though every bit of evidence I’ve personally amassed over the years indicates a much more chaotic and less logical design. I think I held onto a shred of that cliched belief in the hopes that it would lend some higher meaning to my experiences – put them into some logical, organized package, where they might have value, and not just be the seedy stories from a lower-class life.
I wanted there to be a reason for the hundreds of broken people I’ve met, but more than that, I wanted a reason my mind couldn’t stop etching them into unforgettable memories. The Jesus freak waitress with the violent temper who wouldn’t serve customers who had tattoos because she thought they were the sign of the devil. The 16 year old anorexic who married the perverted 42 year old restaurant owner. The spoiled daughter who couldn’t stop stealing from her mother’s business. The two partners in a business who decided to humiliate an employee into quitting because they didn’t want to pay unemployment. The young mother who filled her infant’s bottle with Kool-Aid and fed him M&M’s, and who said she would rather have another baby than get a birth control shot or have to remember to take a pill everyday. The 400 pound heiress who couldn’t stop buying herself an ego.
That was just in one year, in one tiny town near the Canadian border.
The America I have known is seedy, punishing, backwards, and filled with animus – while at the same time being bright, inventive, rational, and compassionate. If America were a man, he’d be a philosophical gigolo. A world-class bastard with a heart, and a weakness for pretty and/or profitable things. He’d be a gold-chained slum lord, an ivory-towered philanthropist, an inventive profiteer, an Ivy League pirate with an affinity for mazes and loopholes.
That’s the America I’ve known, and while I don’t regret never having been invited into its marble-floored manses or towering institutions, I do regret that there was never much of a market for the disfigured guitarist who could play anything by ear, or the woman with the iron mark on her back who kept giving away everything she owned in the hopes of finding love, or the ragtag runaway nobody believed when he talked about the bodies he once saw being buried under construction sites. There’s really never been much of a market for the people I remember, especially when so few of them ever met a happy ending.
There was a market for the Empress, a huge one, and she shrugged. There’s so much waste in this world.
I am convinced that the most merciful thing one person can do for another is tell them the truth. Even when they don’t want to hear it – even when it’s messy, or inconvenient, or might get a person fired . Bad plus worse never equals good, and a lie is not an accident of the truth.
And there are so many preventable accidents, one might want to believe that there are deep, cosmic reasons for each of them, but it’s just not that mystical. We are flawed, we are human, we are often less than aware, and careless.
I’ve been told to call the doctor’s office Tuesday afternoon for the results of the biopsy, which likely means they’ll be available sometime Thursday or Friday. I fully expect that the results will show the mass to be benign. In the meantime, I’ll find my coat, appreciate the sky, name the possibilities, and when my mind emerges from the fog, I’ll reinvent the shrugging Empress in a story that’s less about her than about those who spared her the truth until she was left to flail alone and naked in front of a tougher crowd.