by Melinda Fries
[i]”What is explained can be denied but what is felt cannot be forgotten.”
– Charles Bowden[/i]
(This is definitely not an explanation.)
I talked on the phone to my father recently – something that doesn’t happen very often – and he asked me what exactly it is that I do, although he still doesn’t really want to know. I remember specifically the day I stopped telling him. I had just shown him a little super8 film which I thought was goofy, not a big deal. And he says, ‘Oh, Melinda, are you still angry?’ Jesus fucking God. Yes, you idiot. Why didn’t you teach me how to fight anyway. You know, all that Samurai shit. Sometimes daddy, a lady has the right to be angry. I laugh as I say goodbye.
Today a man with no fingers told me that I’m a beautiful thing. It’s the nicest moment I can remember. Memory, well that’s another story these days. You see, I feel like just before dawn when the lights are going out across the city and I have no idea if I can wait for full daylight. I’ve stopped checking my horoscope. I haven’t stopped checking the clock. It’s exactly 3:33. I take this as a sign. Of what, it hardly matters. Good and bad are no longer appropriate measures. My perceptions are so skewed that minutes are incomprehensible and I tick events off secretly on my fingers. There are certain things however that I can’t forget.
I had a stroke in April. I’m 37, it’s now the middle of October.
[i]Dizzy. Tired, I’m so fucking tired. I have never been so tired. House-sitting, lots of records here, the plan was to make some tapes but I’m too tired. It takes me 15 minutes to decide if I should run my errand or take a nap. I can’t remember the last time I had a decent sleep. Everything is interrupted. Usually by my own mental chaos. I make phone calls about nothing. I cancel as many things as I can. I’m too tired.[/i]
[i]Dizzier. I notice it now. Enough to sit down. It’s not something I can push aside and keep going anyway. Should I put my head between my knees? Shit. No. Lay down. Stumbling. Feet are dragging. I start to sweat. No focus, have to focus. Something is wrong here. I decide that if I can just get upstairs and lay down it will go away. Right. I have an idea that I should maybe get to a doctor but I sure hate those sterile places and have always had an amazing overestimation of my own strength. So much sweat, this is gross. I lurch up the stairs and collapse on the bed. I ignore the collapsing part and let myself float. I go many beautiful places.[/i]
[i]The phone rings. Someone is coming over later, maybe that’s him. I stand and fall forward right onto the floor. Needless to say this was quite a surprise. No more walking for you bitch. Get on your knees and crawl. I actually think this you know. Amazing ability for ignoring the obvious. I don’t make it to the phone before it stops ringing as I’m a bit slower than usual. There’s a division right down the center of my body. This is getting serious. (I remember a long night in Germany which ended with the beautiful girl on acid realizing she had to be at work in an hour but she was still tripping her brains out. She puts her hand on my shoulder and looks deep into my eyes and says, ‘Melinda, now it gets serious’. And then she collapses into giggles.)[/i]
[i]I finally make it to the phone. I think I should call someone just in case this is not going away by itself. I call my friend B. He’s supposed to come over later anyway, wouldn’t want to inconvenience anyone. OK, that’s not really true. I call B because he’s the one I want next to me during a crisis. But I’m terrible at asking for help and even though I’m all fucked up at the moment I think of the most plausible reason to call him…well, he’s coming over anyway… I leave a message, ‘Hey I don’t feel good. I’m gonna unlock the door can you come over early and check on me?’ Now all I have to do is unlock the door. The one downstairs.[/i]
[i]I have to stop every few seconds and shut my eyes. I don’t know where I go but its hard to come back. I have a black t-shirt on which is now covered in cat hair. Stop, lay on the floor. Rest. Just let go. No – unlock the door – the door – the door – the door. The stairs are a crazy sensation of steps and movement. Each one seems to take incredible amounts of time. Sometimes I’m sliding sometimes I’m falling. I’m riding the stairs on my ass but I still have to hold on to the banister. Time has stopped. Once I actually get to the door I lean against it. It takes me a while to remember why I’m there. And believe me, when you are laying on the floor the lock is really far away. I notice that my depth perception is failing. OK, I hear it click. I look back across the room. I realize that now I have to get to the phone. I realize the message I left earlier is shit. I realize that the distance back across the room is somehow further than it was before. I realize that I am slipping in and out and I have to move or this is it. Darling, this really is serious and if you don’t call someone soon you won’t be able to.[/i]
[i]Movement is even slower now. I try to stand again. The cats scatter as I hit the floor and I have a vague memory of the bookshelf flying past my face. Obviously that’s not going to work. I’m not really crawling as half my body has turned to rubber and tingles/burns in an extremely distracting way, dragging dead weight is more like it. I try not to think about how the sweat pouring off me is making the cat hair and dust collection on my clothes even more abundant. I try not to think about what’s going on with my body which isn’t that hard because staying in focus is taking all I’ve got. I make it to the kitchen and want to sit in the chair to call. Something about salvaging dignity. It’s extremely important for at least five minutes. Until I understand that I just can’t do it. Vertigo has taken over. (It lasts more than six months.) I pull the phone off the table and bring it very close to my face and lean back onto the floor. Numbers are very hard now. B answers. I say, ‘Something is wrong with me, I think I have to go to the hospital’. He says he’s on his way. I can relax now. I have a small but persistent feeling that I could let go completely and be gone.[/i]
[i]B walks in and I hear him say ‘shit’ and I understand that I’m still sprawled on the kitchen floor. We talk. Sort of. He’s very calm and so am I. We silently agree that no one can freak out until later. No, I have not been drinking (ok I had a screwdriver earlier, one only, no big thing). No, I am not high. He calls his doctor brother in Maryland. This is very funny in retrospect, but think about it, do you have health insurance? Well if you didn’t, would you think twice about calling an ambulance? Of course you would. So the brother says, ‘She’s gotta go, NOW’. And so we call. He calls. And I know I’m slipping in and out and that I need to talk so I tell him how I feel and what has happened in case I slip out completely he can tell whoever needs to know. My eyes begin to twitch. I can’t see for shit. B is more freaked by my eyes that anything else.[/i]
I think I’ve made this my own personal myth. Bigger than life. This way I no longer have to take responsibility. Inseparable from my every thought, inseparable from my every movement. I refuse to wash my feet in supplication. They are thick and cracked with heavy black dirt. My house is a pigsty. I walk barefoot anyway. Look at me I’m walking! I’m the only one amazed. There’s no way out and I’ll keep banging my head on this wall as long as necessary. If it feels weird repeat the movement 100 times. Self taught physical therapy. Reroute those neurons somehow. I’ve learned more about how the brain possibly works than I ever wanted to know. Anger as the great motivator.
I think well, if I could just get a piece. Of ass. I like to watch the ladies also. Men’s asses do not offer the same hope of salvation. The same promise of fulfillment. And I so badly feel that I need to be saved, not from some unknown outside force but from myself. I like high heels as much as anyone, I just can’t walk in them any longer. Or climb a fence. Or get away. And really will I ever again want to touch another? Touching, well it just freaks me out at the moment.
I read trashy novels. My eyes still get weird but I watch movies anyway covering my bad eye with my right hand. I hide myself as much as possible. I begin to lie to certain people about how I feel. Or I bluntly say what I need. Social niceties are not an option.
I tried to run last week and fell flat on my ass. The bruises were beautiful. No one around me understands why I did it. ‘What the fuck are you trying to do?’ Two people screamed at me. What should I do stay at home in self pity? Fuck I have headaches everyday. Fuck my back hurts. Fuck I just want to be able to walk the way I used to. I would like to walk alone without thinking that I could be knocked over at any second. I would like to quit thinking about the movement of my body. I would like to ride a bicycle. I’ve never been afraid of walking alone at night, it’s always been my time. All the fucked up things that have happened to me have happened in my own house. Or baby, in your house.
[i]OK, want to hear the rest? It gets even better. The Chicago fire dept. guys make fun of the house I’m in. And then the ambulance arrives. They’re ok but they put me in one of those gurneys where you have to sit up. The problem is they don’t strap me in and I almost fall off as I’m leaning heavily to the right. He implies that this is my fault, ‘Don’t lean, honey sit still’. I get a glimmer of what the next days will be like. In the ambulance they joke and ask me what it’s like to be on heroin (I made no pretense about my past) and I say, ‘It feels better than anything you’ll come close to.’ All this time they’re trying to show the new guy how to find a vein. Problem is where they’re looking I don’t have too many. He tries six times I think. They all get serious real sudden when they read my blood pressure (super low), shoot me full of something and decide to take me to the hospital around the corner. Never baby, never, go to the ghetto catholic hospital. They won’t touch you until all the drug test results are back, they hate you if you have no insurance and if the tests are inconclusive well… ‘Take an aspirin every day, don’t drink ever again, and never come back here.'[/i]
[i]B had wrapped me in his hooded sweatshirt when we left the house. I wear it the first few days in the hospital. When they make me take it off I use it as a pillow. It smells human. It feels familiar. It’s an amazing place. I have a nun come and ask if I need anything and a neurologist tell me I’m an alcoholic. (They can find no evidence in my brain of a stroke.) He diagnoses me with ataxia which is not a diagnosis only a symptom of something. Something like, well a stroke for instance. Yes, you asshole, I have ataxia because I’ve had a minor stroke.[/i]
I asked my friend who picked me up off the floor to record what he remembers. Its funny what’s different in our memories and although his is full of fear and love we do not reach the same conclusion. Mine is simple really, I’ve had no balance since April. And I can’t see much more than this. It’s getting better, however, I fell flat on my ass again the other night in front of some people who as far as I’m concerned didn’t need to see that.
I see the hospital from every window of my apartment. This was greatly motivating as I was stuck here for the past months. One recent evening B wanted to climb the fence and deface the sign. Well really he wanted to take it down. He kept asking for a Sawzall. We almost got into a fight about it. In retrospect I think that I was mad because I couldn’t climb the fence too.
There is no explanation for why I had a stroke. After several thousands dollars worth of tests I’m told it’s just one of those things. ‘The brain is very mysterious,’ said one neurologist. No shit. Maybe if I could afford to live alone. Maybe if I could only replay this scene one less time in my mind. Yeah, according to statistics my recovery is fast but maybe that’s because I’m dying to be able to walk alone. I find strength in movement but I really don’t want to end up as anybody’s poster child. I make my own way however sloppy it is. No apologies, but oh yeah a few regrets. I see no way out these days. This, as I have learned, is a bad attitude.
Unfortunately B and I aren’t very good at talking anymore. This is hard as he’s a part of my heart. I wish I could say that it’s just that we were so close and the moment was too raw. But sadly its more about the fact that I fight so desperately in places where its not even necessary. As I said I wish I had learned how. Recovery is such a weird fucked and selfish place. And a very lonely one. Unless you are an angel you make a lot of chaos along the way. I spend so much of my time now fighting/struggling to do the simplest things. It affects every aspect of my life. You might say well, of course, but that’s not true. There is no, ‘of course’. There are only unknowns every single minute. One day I walk fine. The next day I fall down. And there is no guarantee that it will get any better. I get up again anyway and wonder if this is strength? No I think it’s simply desperation.
(First published in the [i]ausgang, winter 2000, version XI[/i] — www.ausgang.com)