It's been a banner flu season. The weather fluctuates from 16 to 70 degrees arbitrarily, robbing us of a proper winter (no one complains, really). Our current administration doesn't believe in climate change, despite the science and all evidence, and is supported by a significant sector of the population that maintains that God controls weather anyway. He apparently created man about 5000 years ago, despite the fossils and relics in the Smithsonian; he had Noah build an ark and board two of every creature. Even I, in Bible School at the age of 6, asked, 'Where did the dinosaurs sleep?' and got sent to sit in the hallway.
I shun vaccines and get my immunity from sharing microphones and water bottles with my fellow musicians. We're exposed to so much coughing and sniffing and germ-swapping, it seems to keep us going. I let my baby boy eat plenty of dirt in the NYC sandboxes; he didn't miss a day of school until he began willful truancy-- another story. My ill friend won't eat ice cream or drink Gatorade when she's dehydrated, because she thinks sugar causes cancer. She has stage 4c advanced metastatic disease that is so bad the tumors surely weigh more than the little that is still woman. The pain is off all charts, the doctors avoid her, the nurses speedwalk in and out of her room, recommending things for which there is no technician available. The drains are not functioning, her intestines are blocked, her ribs are on the verge of cracking and it's tough to breathe in most positions.
Being an actor, she watched the Academy Awards the other night; she still votes as a SAG member, and it provided some distraction. I do not watch these things, but she told me about the envelope at the end-- how it gave her some hope that maybe she has been misdiagnosed. We both love Idris Elba. Was he even on the show? I have no idea because I haven't seen a Hollywood movie in years. I pray now that her TV won't break down because besides the morphine and oxy's, this is the main drug.
Tonight I am making her chicken soup. I am a little happy because she craved it and it's something I can provide. I am whistling inside; we had a great talk this evening in between her induced sleep cycles, and she can manage a few spoonfuls in the morning if I strain it carefully. It's as though we're in the midst of a massive California brushfire in our tiny log cabin and I am outside calmly throwing glasses of water at the wall of flame. These are my dreams.
In the world outside her disease, there is this metaphorical political American cancer. Forget the influenza epidemic. It's as though people in this country went to the polls and decided-- well, here we have the common cold… and here we have-- well, whooping cough or something.. .and then here we have-- yes, cancer. Let's try cancer for a change. It's really only a diagnosis… which my friend had at the beginning, when her laugh was still boisterous and theatrical and her red hair bounced around when she bartended. It was like a script… a drama? I'm not sure how she processed it, but she did omit some of the difficult choices that were recommended because reality is a strange scenario for most of us, and despite the nomenclature, nothing is real for most of us until it is on-fire/in-your-face.
When you are suffering and ill and even your dreams are blurred with medications and pain, the world is difficult to understand. You become narcissistic not-by-choice and unable to think. You occasionally lash out in bitterness and agony and it's difficult for those of us in the room, when the elephants begin to rage and stomp. My friend is a staunch Democrat, as are most of the more artistic and talented people I know. In her moments of clarity, she rants about the current President and administration. Life in America is less appealing, we agree. Despite all the negatives, despite the unbearable worsening existence to which she is sentenced, day after day, she refuses hospice care; she has an incorrigible belief that somewhere, somehow, there is going to be a way out. Someone is going to find the key to this door of the house of terminal hideous illness. It is a kind of belief and if Jesus were here, he would wash her feet.
I have just published a new book of poetry. My friend has no interest in this, finds my lyrics depressing and would rather watch TV or talk. The book is under an indie umbrella and we all have to foot the bill for these projects. I am forced to do an amount of promotion to pay the debt. My friends know that I live far below the radar of any economic level. I don't know what a vacation is. I have no practical containers for the chicken soup because I don't get take-out, ever, on my food budget of $20 a week total. On the way out, I ran into a neighbor who looks quite a bit like Trump, and surely voted Republican. He has the mannerisms of a self-made non-charismatic man whose money causes people to treat him with deference. So, he says to me, I hear you have a new book…. should I buy one? I shrug. I happen to be carrying a few to the Post Office. He puts his hand out… opens his wallet as though he is tipping me. I have a $50, he says, is that okay? It's $20, I answer, without emotion, looking down so I won't see his billfold even by accident-- with the black and platinum cards and the fat wad of green. I don't have any small bills, he announces… So why don't I slip it under your door later? I shrug again… as he rolls..ROLLS my precious book like a newspaper, like he is going to beat a dog with it… my precious lovely book with the expensive matte-coated cover which cost me close to $20, each one… I resist the urge to cringe, and mumble the Post Office, time, deadlines, whatever...
So I get home…is there a bill under my door? Somehow the guy seems to recall (he did smell a bit like he'd had a cocktail or two) that he'd given me a $50…. So there is a note…no envelope.. a note… which says.. 'Hey I read the first poem-- about the Chevrolet-- good stuff… Keep the change.' Trumped I am.