11/9/16

 

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I’ve been saying Fuck fear! to everyone today, especially myself. The surrealistic results of last night’s election were shocking and fostered images of increased violence, economic disparity, disenfranchisement, senseless cruelty and suffering in our country and beyond our imaginary borders…yet while out with our dog, I marveled at the stars sparkling as they have and will for eons.

So many compassionate people with social and historical understanding are scared, yet fear is how slave owners and terrorists, bullies and rapists, gangs and militias have gained and maintained entirely too much privilege for too long. Fear paralyzes. Fear wraps us in numbing behavior, PTSD and isolation. I’ve spent too much of my life focused on moving out of fear to embrace it now because our young nation is struggling with issues of entitlement and humanism; the ideals of capitalism and democracy; the definitions of freedom and propaganda. Fear locks the brain in a simplified fight or flight state rather than perceiving others through the complex lens of empathy and layered perspectives.

Fear, like anxiety, is a mighty imaginative force. If I let it root I’ll be paralyzed in ways I’ll be too blinded to even see, so fuck fear. We rise above bad circumstances and heal through love and connection so let’s make our way to 2020 as intact as we can as a nation, as connected as we can with our entire world and with as much deep listening, caring and intelligence as we can offer one another.

May all be happy, safe, healthy and at peace.

 

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This Edge of Sea

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  And it is a dream at sea such as was never dreamt, and it is the Sea in us that will dream it:

The Sea, woven in us, to the last weaving of its tangled night, the Sea, in us, weaving its great

hours of light and its great trials of darkness.

— Saint-John Perse, Seamarks

I’ve touched death twice and come back. I feel like a cat, though I’m not counting on nine. I was told as a child that I would not live even thirty years due to severe asthma. In my early twenties, I wheezed ceaselessly for two years, even with intravenous steroids during monthly hospitalizations. At this time I was told I’d be dead by twenty-five due to a rare form of asthma that afflicts fewer than two percent of asthmatics, most of whom are seventy or older. Now, long past thirty, I know that no one can predict another’s fate.

The first time I touched death, I was seventeen. After spending several days trying to stabilize a particularly bad attack, during which I could only walk with assistance, could barely eat, and couldn’t lie down, I called my physician, Doctor K, who wanted to meet me in the emergency room.

Driving proved slow and difficult with such labored breathing, but after I parked near the hospital’s entrance, I inched toward the automatic doors by leaning against cars, poles, the rough white wall for support, and paused to catch my breath after each step as if climbing at twenty-six thousand feet. 

Just before I reached the door’s sensor, a nurse rushed out, slid a wheelchair under me, and rushed me to the sterile emergency room where I was transferred to a metal-railed bed. Veiled behind pale vinyl curtains, I rocked back and forth in spasmodic rhythm, my airways severely constricted. A nurse paged my doctor as another nurse gave me an adrenaline shot, which accelerated my heart and made me shake uncontrollably. My breathing worsened.

Another nurse tied a blue tourniquet below my left biceps, slapped the inside of my arm to raise the knotted veins, aimed for the largest, and stabbed the IV needle through the skin. The vein rolled. Her second attempt was also unsuccessful since this vein was scarred from scores of previous IV needles, so she turned my hand palm down and speared the largest vein running between slender hand bones. Blood spurted up the needle’s tube before it flushed back through my body in a stream of saline released from the bottle she hooked to the metal bar above my head. Blood gases were then drawn. A respiration therapist once told me that these are so painful that he’s watched people in comas jerk, even sit up, when these were drawn. I cried from exhaustion and pain, but immediately choked, the extra phlegm further congesting restricted airways. 

Once Doctor K came through the curtain’s opening, I relaxed. He ordered steroids, blood tests, and more than I needed to think about as I struggled for bits of air. Telling me to drink, the nurse handed me a liter of water, then pulled green plastic tubes over my head and shoved their ends in my nostrils so pure oxygen could return my blue lips and nails to pink. A breathing machine was rolled in to transform liquid drugs to mist, which I inhaled through a thin tube and disposable mouthpiece. After four days of labored breathing, my head ached from lack of oxygen and my back felt as if I’d been beaten repeatedly with a wooden chair. 

Still I strained for air and shivered from exhaustion and medicine that was cold as embalming fluid yet stimulating as speed. The nurse gave me a bedpan since using the bathroom required too much effort yet I needed to keep drinking and the IV kept flowing. My body rejected the onslaught of medicine and cold water. I vomited, mostly fluid and dry heaves, despite my need for hydration, lips and throat cracked, muscles in spasm. My wheezing worsened. Doctor K fired orders at those trying to stabilize my breathing. 

 An hour later, not wanting to lose his first patient in twelve years of practice, Doctor K ordered the nurses to transfer me back to the wheelchair. He then got behind the chair and pushed me to the sixth floor intensive care unit where nurses lifted me onto another bed and adhered oval sensors to my chest and back so they could track my heart visually and audibly on monitors above my bed and in the nurses’ station. Sharp rivulets of pain shot from my spine across my back, through my skull, and down my limbs, while my head throbbed, a clenched knot. But pain held no authority; my existence depended solely on the mechanics of breath. Concentrating, I focused on the task: lean forward, inhale; sit up, exhale; lean forward, inhale; sit up, exhale.

Suddenly, it was effortless. My muscles and head no longer ached. I felt calm, peaceful, no longer straining for air, but instead enveloped in an expansive quietude. As if floating just beyond the high florescent-lit ceiling, I marveled at the tenuous thread connecting me to my body, pale and rocking on the bed, and felt love and acceptance for everything and everyone–pain, resentment, alliances, released. No white light, no one beckoning, simply unconditional love and absolute peace.

Working hard, Doctor K and the nurses tried to revive me, their faces clenched, muscles taut in rapid fire action. I wanted to tell them that there was no need for concern, nothing to save me from. I was okay, out of pain. And then I was looking up at their faces, now so close I could feel their breath as they stared at me. In that first moment I was prone, but they helped me sit again, took my vitals, my body still rocking with the effort of breath, though not as forcefully.

Doctor K’s dark eyes met mine for the first time since we entered the elevator. Despite beads of sweat on his brow, he appeared comparatively relaxed as he said, “Welcome back.”

“Thanks,” I mouthed.

“You didn’t just come close to dying,” he said, “you touched death and came back.”

On a deep level my entire being reflected this. When I was released a week later, nothing looked the same.  Blue sky was no longer simply blue, but also composed of gold to pink hues, while foliage overwhelmed my senses with its infinite shades of green, red, grey, all of which were more vibrant than I’d previously perceived. This heightened awareness may also be the result of a week spent amidst neutral walls, floors, curtains, bedding, since I’ve read that prisoners also experience an overwhelming sense of color saturation when released from our monochromatic institutions. As I drove home, what had previously appeared mundane–buildings, windows, traffic, stoplights, overhead cables–interwove exquisite geometric patterns throughout the city. Transfigured, this world revealed itself to be indivisible, electric, mesmeric.

Nothing in my home seemed familiar except Shanti, my malamute, who greeted me with exuberant joy. When I kneeled to hug him, he surprised me by placing his forelegs on my shoulders, curling his clawed paws into my back and pulling me to him as he pressed his soft large head against the side of my neck. He held me like this for several minutes.

 

Years later, I had an experience that was so similar, I know I touched death again. I’d been camping in a valley that, overnight, filled unexpectedly with fog, which I’m highly reactive to. At daybreak I had to be rushed to the nearest hospital, an hour away. As my boyfriend sped us down the highway, my world once more reduced to breath despite the various types of pain screaming for attention throughout my body. Though shivering and wheezing intensely, I remained calm as I focused on breathing, feet to pelvis, knees to chin, so I could rest, my torso wedged fetal-like between my legs and the seat’s back as I rocked in rhythm with my breath to aid the expansion and contraction of lungs and diaphragm.

And then, as if I were floating above the hood, I looked through the windshield at my lover driving and my body on the seat beside him, a sliver of brown cord the only connection between my body and me. It felt as if the effortless course would be to drift farther away, release the cord, and never wheeze or hurt again. Resentment and pain had been replaced by the warm expansiveness of love and repose, none of life’s struggles carried beyond the parameters of the body.

But as I looked at my boyfriend, I realized he’d blame himself if I died in the car since he hadn’t taken the severity of my asthma attack seriously, had delayed our leaving even though I urged him, hours earlier, to drive me to the hospital. Too, it is possible that whatever the circumstance, I would have created a pressing reason to live. This time, however, the effort to return almost proved too much. 

With no more than thin arms and hands, I pulled the dead weight of my legs and torso along the slender filament rising from my body’s navel. Though I was descending, the effort was as extreme as if I were pulling myself up the insurmountable face of a thousand foot cliff, that despite my focus and will I would not be able to reenter my body. But I kept placing hand before hand as I pulled myself closer and closer till the pain of wheezing filled me once more.

 

With these fragile resilient bodies we bleed, can be violated, may hurt so much that we long for death, or at least release, but we also touch, make love, feel the sun on our skin, perceive color, texture, and the range of experience from rapture to numbness to extreme pleasure. And sometimes we are able to choose whether to live or die, which may be what Florida Scott-Maxwell alludes to when she writes, “…it may matter deeply how we end so mysterious a thing as living,” though what enables us to make this choice remains as mysterious as the actuality of life itself.

I do not fear death since I’ve felt its intimate wholeness; however, death’s perpetual presence makes me anxious, no certainty harbored that I’ll see those I love again. Though I’ve experienced the compassion and unconditional peace that exists in death, I am unable to maintain that lack of pettiness, judgement and attachment while alive. Instead, a peculiar ledger of rights and wrongs permeates the psyche, as if the tension holding molecules in physical form requires some kind of passion. Yet, whether measured as a whole or a moment, life remains transient and miraculous, a miracle we honor with our keen presence and compassion, both of which expand to the exclusion of all else once free of this exquisite existence.

Thank you to the editors of Cezanne’s Carrot for first publishing this piece.

My 2012 in Pictures

The Losses:

My 84-year-old mom holding her 9-year-old self

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and two weeks before she passed, my father-in-law also did along with his pocketful of index cards and pens so he’d never lose an important thought

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The Blessings:

A week at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers

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and the crescent shadows during the solar eclipse

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The Joyous Victories:

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The Discoveries:

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Toni Littlejohn’s art

and Rain Fingerhut’s voice

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Peace to all of you throughout the New Year!

Elizabeth

The Screaming Beet

Emily’s mom left a month after Rose’s birth, two weeks after Rose started crying, not with the half-formed gaspy cries of an infant but with a determination reserved for two and three year olds. Emily woke several…

Thank you to the editors of Halfway Down the Stairs for first publishing this story.

Conjuring

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Conjuring

Pursuing the brilliance of scarlet macaws, the insides of blood oranges, a blue so deep wind scrapes spray off the crests of waves, I remember the shock of blue against black in the face of our Siamese cat who had asthma like me. The runt of the litter, he would play till he collapsed, a hump of fur, sides heaving, mouth open, eyes closed, thin high wheezes accompanying each impossible breath. I’d massage him when he wheezed and couldn’t understand why he was put to sleep. In the following weeks I hid in my room when I had asthma, scared the next time it would be me. Or that I’d be sent away like my older sister who rarely called and was only spoken of when I asked, though I knew better. She juggled oranges, made dimes disappear before pulling them from my ears, and tickled me till laughter and her fingers were all that existed, masking even that keen longing for my father’s return.

I’d watch for him on commercials with tall smiling men holding their daughters and in the families saved by Casper and Mighty Mouse. I craved him as other kids told how their dads were lawyers like Perry Mason, doctors like Kildare, or were so strong they built houses and carried their kids around piggyback. I knew if I were good enough he wouldn’t be dead anymore. He’d come back if I did what I was told, was nice, always smiled. I felt him in the large arms of men and reached for him as I placed my feet on top of another man’s huge shoes, my arms stretching up, our hands holding as he walked, my feet and body shadowing his beneath uncontrolled laughter. My father became my guardian angel after I stepped alone onto the red ant nest hidden in rattlesnake grass. I screamed as their teeth tore flesh till large arms swept me up and carried me to cold water to dampen the hot sting.

Stinging like the night I packed my suitcase and ran away. Three blocks later I stashed my pink case, heavy and awkward in my six-year-old arms, behind Melissa’s neatly trimmed hedge. I didn’t know her well enough to ring the doorbell. I was unexpected, uninvited, yet she was the only girl whose house I recognized as it got dark. Peering through the opening between ivory drapes, I saw their dining room table set for dinner, her brothers playing beyond, and was startled by her father when he turned the corner of the outside of their house and asked what I was doing. Scared to say I’d run away, I asked if Melissa could play. As he pulled the long metal rod off the chain link fence, inserted it onto the sprinkler unit, and turned the water on full, he told me it was late, I should be home, out of the dark. I nodded, walked toward my house till he went inside, and then returned. Hugging the shadows, I watched them talk and laugh as her father cut thick slices of roast beef. I stared through that narrow lens of window and strained to hear words, learn their language.

When it got too cold, I went home. My mom, draped in diamonds and a low-cut red-sequined dress, was about to leave for cocktails. She said she knew I’d be back, that I had nowhere to go. I went to my room, pulled toy soldiers out of my closet, set up the lines of defense, before she called me back, told me to fix the lower hinge, loose and squeaky, on her bedroom door. I tightened and oiled the hinge just as I would later tighten and oil the wheels and handlebars on my bike to ride the fire trails behind our house. Rubber scraped from my soles as I skidded round curves and clutched my handlebars as firmly as I had gripped the barrel of the rifle when I was seven. Aiming for cans, I pulled the trigger, my shoulder mottled blue, yellow, green, from the rifle slamming against my too thin body. But I kept pulling, conjuring my father in the activities of men.

And myself in the motion of animals. I would leap over objects with the fierce gallop of horses, move with the stealth of the great horned owl that rose like an apparition across a too huge autumn moon, or run with the cunning of the mouse beneath my red plastic wheelbarrow. Our best mouser couldn’t squeeze her tiger-striped face under the barrow so she placed her front paws on top of it, perhaps to jump, but it tilted and moved forward. The mouse paced itself to remain underneath so our cat stopped periodically to sweep her clawed paw between the wheels unsuccessfully before returning to her hind legs to push farther. Near the cabbage plants the mouse darted into shadowed green. Tracing my finger through air, I tracked the means of escape.

Thank you to the editors of Kalliope for first publishing “Conjuring.”

Guerillas

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GUERILLAS

After years of losing scores of kernels each time the VCR turned on, the popcorn made a pact that the next group would ensure that none after would go the route of exploding into unprotected starchy balls. In a burst of hot air, white puffs flew out of the kitchen directly at the video unit, through the reprehensible metal trap, until all one hundred and seventy three kernels were tightly packed into the source of their chaotic metamorphosis.

Returning from her room, Sally found the popcorn maker empty so went to the living room where she found her son Jason mesmerized in front of the popcorn-packed Panasonic. Drawing the wrong conclusion, Sally slapped Jason and sent him to bed.

Meanwhile, the popped corn huddled deeper, inadvertently disconnecting two wires, and waited with wide angry mouths for her fingers to enter.

Thank you to the editors of Quick Fiction for first publishing this flash.

Beautiful format, this great publication puts out fantastic flash twice a year: http://www.quickfiction.org/