Just woke from a nap, and from a dream so disturbing I was moaning as I woke, as I became aware of the room, as I tried to go back and rescue what was shredding on the other side. About David, and as with most of my David dreams now, a struggle to accommodate the reality that he is dead within the dream. At some conference, maybe the Vermont residency, and thinking I’ll phone the house and check messages, see if X and Y have called about getting together after I get back. Somewhere in this is the knowledge that David has been in the hospital, but here the dream bends to accept reality: he’s dying, he’s going to be dead, he’s not coming home again, I will see him die. And somehow either the date has passed (January 14) or a few days have simply passed since I’ve (what? Gone to see him there? Thought about him, since I’m somewhere else?) and the group is about to go out for dinner and I phone and there’s his voice on my machine, so utterly lonely: Where are you, I miss you so much, Who are X and Y? Where is the man who means everything to me? Please call home. And I woke at once, moaning, so sad to have hurt him, to think of him unable to find me. Crying, wandering into the living room, my head hurting, my neck stiff and aching, watching the fish in the aquarium, and suddenly I feel certain that I am now seropositive.
Codeine. Morphine. Which are the others? Angels of Mercy. Our Lady of Mercy Hospital, where I was born. Delivered. Emergency, emergence. Exit. Morphine–what’s the etymology here?
How it separates the head from the body (get quote–Verghese?), not like in the 60s (50s?) scifi movie where the doctor keeps his girlfriend’s head alive in a lab pan after her car accident–how she figures out what’s happened and screams, screams–but that kind of compassion.
What did doctors use in Whitman’s time? No anesthesia. Ether, what I had for my tonsillectomy. That cone. Amnesia. Aphasia. Anesthesia.
Side effects, the litany of what might go wrong, the bad possibilities as one huddles on the shrinking ice, hoping to avoid collision or catastrophe.
When he pushed the hollow needle below my nipple, I wanted to feel it. How the brain protects itself, releasing a rush of endorphins . . . Only later did I feel pain, and looking at the metal ring, it seemed unreal, impossible that such a thing now pierced my body.
Thinking about Ginger and Snowball, the time Steve shoved Ginger’s tail under the kitchen door, the door to the basement steps, and Snowball bit it off, except for one stringy white (tendon? nerve?) cord. How we caught the cat and wailed, how I said we had to cut it off, and because no one else would touch it, I took the kitchen scissors and severed it. The cat shuddered and scrambled away–what did she feel?–the tail in my hand. I flung it into the front yard (what was I thinking?) where anyone–including the dog–could find it later, wanting at that moment only to have it away. The yard, a half-acre at most, with its immense sycamore and two huge chestnut trees, had become a momentary sea of out-there-ness, not the familiar grassy territory I inspected almost daily, noting plants and bugs, the tiny corn-on-the-cob-shaped castings that I thought were seeds until I watched one slip, still wet, from a caterpillar’s anus. I hadn’t known I was playing with shit. I’d stacked them on plates made from acorn caps, pretended they were a harvest offering to the Pilgrims. This was knowledge before experience: learning the names of trees and birds, collecting seeds, watching a solar eclipse through a pinhole focused on a sheet of paper. I don’t even remember what happened to that cat, only that Mother was furious about the tail. Nothing of later. Later the facts would reconfigure, polished or worn down in the mind’s tumbler, that ceaseless worrying. How we touch and touch, and take away an object’s surface, smooth its edges. I have always loved the notion of beach glass, something broken and discarded worn by tide and sand, made beautiful. I’ve never lived near a beach, but love the thought of walking its edge at dawn, picking through bits of shells and glass, what has been offered back. How it never ends, this give and take, this lost and found again, this tug between land and sea.
The neighbor boy is sobbing, shaking: he’s just come over to tell me he’s hiv positive and doesn’t know how to tell his partner.
I venture: Has there been–
—Nothing, he insists, and by this he means Nothing I would die for.