Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Adventures in Mortality, or Still Not Dead Yet

[Six - freakin' - thirty in the freakin' morning, and yours truly, a particularly ardent and dedicated night owl, has grumpily been up for half an hour already.  Our smaller cat Buster, the red one -- the one I first met when he was only ten weeks old, asleep in a tiny metal water bowl in his gruesome cage at the shelter.  And I instantly adopted him, so you'd think he might be grateful.  Or considerate, even.  Hah! -- out Buster began his latest recital of the tragic death scene from Aida, at about 5:45.  Few have heard this version, as Verdi cut it from the final work, because it was considered too heart-rendering for contemporary audiences to bear, and the original score was burned for the good of all mankind.  But backstage cats, attending the final rehearsal of this soon-to-be long-lost work, committed it flawlessly to memory (having so little else to think about, other than luscious backstage mice), and they have passed it down, generation to wailing generation, by yowl of mouth, over backyard fences, ever since.  Buster is now considered the reigning feline interpreter of this piece.

So he got his food, and having once again brought down the house, he'll now retire to his favorite winter haunt -- the rug in front of the bedroom radiator -- to rest up for tomorrow's performance (I think he's scheduled a similarly arcane and desperately wrenching arietta from Lucia...), while I sit upright, dazed at the fact that I'm actually wearing clothes of some sort, and staring at this screen...]

This has been one of the stranger weeks of my already verifiably bizarre life.  During the days, I've been feeling fine, in spite of repeated calls from a new doctor -- I think he's a neurologist, which perhaps means he's supposed to get on my nerves? -- and just last night, he dialed up again, to check whether I had still had actual blood, or was it formaldehyde already, in my veins today?  During the days, I've been almost productive, and I guess the new battery of antidepressant medications is working, because I don't find myself wondering just how much of the yew tree I'd have to trim, to then concoct into a suitably potent and bitter beverage, the quick consuming of which would let me experience, first-disembodied-hand, that legendary boat ride across the River Styx.  (I hear it stinks something awful, so I'm taking cotton balls for my nasal passages.  After all, the Egyptians did...)

Instead, I've actually been using the gym membership we faithfully pay for, and I've totally... touched exercise equipment!  For minutes at a time!  Five workouts (or something approaching), this month!  I have perspired!  Astonishing!  Plus, I've done shopping, and I've taken recyclables to the dump, and I've had coffee with friends on two separate occasions.  I went to choir rehearsal.  I visited our local car repair place (almost like a second home. Awwww), to wish them a Happy New Year, and schedule a state inspection of the van.  I walked up the street at the rate of roughly 3.5 miles per hour (I know this now, from the treadmill) and picked up seven pounds of pills and other new mediation from the pharmacy, flirting with everyone there.  I visited the little FedEx shop next door, where an African grey parrot, presumably alive, is always sleeping in its cage by the enormous printing machine, and I asked about their shredding services, because we have about a cubic yard of old bank statements in the attic, and really could use the space for something else.  Like Christmas ornaments, or pieces of wood.

At home, though, it's been a little more touch and go.  Nights have been particularly bad.  That's when, according to Mr. Halter Monitor, my naughty heart starts doing physiologically inadvisable things.  Like not beating for seconds at a time.  Or dropping to hibernation rates, for hours on end.  I've resurrected my ancient CPAP machine, even though the pressure setting is too low and resists all efforts to readjust it, and the humidifier doesn't work, and wearing the mask (as I think I've already mentioned) is like having a woman's particularly unattractive shoe strapped to my face.  An enticing notion, I suppose, for some, but boat-floating for me.  I try to imagine that I'm a virile, alert jet fighter pilot, with his oxygen intake apparatus firmly in place against his rugged, manly visage, but the fleeting fantasy doesn't really work.  Because I'm not wearing a flight suit and helmet, I'm not in an F-whatever, on the tarmac.  I'm in my underwear, and I'm just going to turn off the light, lie down on my left side (that's the only way the hose reaches the bed) and try not to listen to every single beat of my treacherous, fallible heart.  All.  Night.  Long.       

During the days, I wash the dishes at every available opportunity, and I more or less keep on top of the laundry -- there's something gratifying, I find, in folding clothes warm from the dryer.  I installed a curtain rod in my bathroom, and have a potential fabric choice for curtains, so that finally, after ten years, the back neighbors don't have to watch me brushing my teeth at night.  But it's here at home that the doctor's keen interest in whether or not I'm dead yet seems pervasive.  Every twinge, every burp, every bit of pressure behind my sternum (it certainly couldn't be the result of the half-gallon of coffee I just inhaled, could it?) (Just where is my heart, anyway?) seems to be incontrovertible evidence that I'm finally teetering over the leading edge of the steep, well-lubricated, final rapid downhill slide.

Yesterday, for example, I was wasting yet more of the time I'm always complaining that there's too little of in the average human life span, by playing a scrabble-like computer game I received as a Christmas gift (thank you, you know who you are), and which game has become, for me, the cyber equivalent of crack.  (Oh baby, just one more five-letter word, with just one more green square, you can do it baby, it'll feel so good)  The game has what I consider to be a supremely irritating, amazingly stupid, and unnecessarily distracting sound track (they don't know from Mozart?), and I have the computer's speaker system shut off while I delve ever deeper into my desperate search for a word that uses only N's and L's and R's.

But yesterday, as I was saying.  About two hours (!?!?!) into my latest jag, I'm at my most intoxicated, having finally scored 'iguana' (quagga, improbably enough, was a cinch.  I've used it twice), and then I hear, very faintly, some little bells or something.  And maybe the hint of a lilting tune?  But very, very faint.  After ignoring it, while I found 'fatal', and 'aorta', I got up to see if there was a bell choir on the front porch.  We all know the answer to that one.  I sank back into my alphabetical stupor ('died'; 'throes'; 'spasm'), but there it was again, only a little louder.  (And was I imagining things, or was there just a tad bit more pressure now, behind my pesky sternum?  And just a bit closer to that little malfunctioning meat pump?)  I checked to see if the TV was on -- I usually set it to a classical music station, and perhaps this was a little divertisement by Humperdinck?  No; TV: off.  I even cranked open the kitchen window, despite the bitter cold, to see if perhaps, instead of sporting his usual heavy spiked chain collar, the neighbor's enormous pit bull was now fitted out with a set of delicate wind chimes around his muscular neck.  We all know the answer to that one.  So, I went back to my chair, took a deep, somewhat troubled breath, and plunged again into The Search.  'Coma'; 'mortuary'; 'pallbearer' -- who knew it was all one word?

Maybe it was heady scent of the lilies, which are in a green vase on the kitchen table, because I suspect there's too little yin energy here in Boy House.  (How else to explain all the floods?)  But the vague, delicate ringing and tingling resumed, this time with a hint of melody -- almost an entire phrase -- a bit muffled by the hum of the humidifier in the music room that would be a dining room if we could balance our plates on harps and piano keyboards.  I was definitely hearing it -- lilt-y, chime-y, almost... otherworldly.

Then, seriously, I decided that I was actually dying, and that this ethereal, evanescent music was the mercifully dainty precursor to that final passage from corporeal life to... whatever.  (Which, in terms physical, transitioning into meat wrapped up in cloth and lying on a cold white tile floor.  Now the music tingled.  It was almost poignantly, delicately sweet -- not at all like what a trained Presbyterian like myself would expect when entering the great, predetermined beyond.  That being less like music, and more the plaintive bleating of live sheep as they are crushed between enormous boulders, with haggis squirting out everywhere.  Just like God knew was going to happen all along.

So, maybe, this dying thing isn't going be so bad after all?  Could the mythic Tunnel To The Light be lined, in my case, with glockenspiels?  At this point, even the high of the spelling drug had ebbed (even though I was pretty sure I had spotted 'embalmer'), and I relaxed.  My eyes began to sting a little.  We all have to go sometime.  I should have cleaned the cat litter.  Even Steve Jobs allegedly said, at death's metaphoric door, 'Oh, wow...'   I teared up some more.  Poor John.  All the ferocious mess I was leaving behind.  All the porn.  But at least I wouldn't have to take another phone call from Dr. Nerves:  'Aren't you dead yet?'

Then, the piano and harps being damp enough, the music-room humidifier stopped.  The Music from Beyond got louder.  It wasn't imaginary, and it wasn't even remotely celestial.  Instead of having completely silenced them, I'd inadvertently left the computer speakers on, at the lowest possible setting, and the inane, chattering spelling-game sound-track was seeping through, interspersed with the nasal voice of its Mascot, some pudgy green larval cheerleader wearing horn-rimmed glasses.

I laughed and laughed and laughed.  And turned the speakers off completely.  And then, to my own amazement (please don't be hurt, oh Gracious Giver of Gifts), I dragged the icon for the alphabet crack game off the dock (or whatever it's called), and released it, in an animated puff that I wonder how much money they spent to engineer, sending it into some other place in cyber storage.  John says the game is still on the computer, but I think I'll take a break.  (Though I have resumed my equally time-squandering immersion in Waste... I mean, Facebook)  This alphabet-free hiatus will last, I hope, until while driving, I'm able to look at the license plate of the car in front of me, and not try to turn it into an extra-point, high-scoring word.

Like C0R-P5E.  Or GR4-VE5.  Or HE4-R5E.

©  2012   Walter Zimmerman 


  1. Someone pulled me off an alphabet game to read this post . . .