I’ve Contained Myself

playpen_by_britishducksI stood in the hall of the hospital and tried to explain myself to a man who knows me well. “I’m not afraid to die. I’m not.” I protested. “It’s just that everything has been redefined. They’ve put me on a timeline. Now I have boundaries. I’m like a child who’s been put in a playpen. Every time I turn I face a fence.”

That’s how I feel: redefined.

And confined.

But I’m not afraid to die.

I’ve never written about death. I’ve never really thought about it before. But now I think of it every day.

Sunday night I sat in a chair and watched a comedy concert. I think Kathleen Madigan’s comedy is genius. All at once I had a thought: my heart is a time bomb. And I felt panicked. I wait for my heart to fail. I don’t know when; they don’t know when. So I wait.

So I’ve thought about death. A lot.

For the first time, I’ve understood suicide. I’m not suicidal. I’m a Roman Catholic. I believe in heaven, hell, and purgatory. I do. Suicide is not an option to me. But I understand it now. It’s about the waiting. It’s about the desperation. It’s a can in the midst of can’t. It’s difficult to be confined in can’t.

I’ve spent a life battling biology with spirituality. I’ve defined myself as a spiritual being. And now I’m redefined as a biological being. Biology has taken precedence over spirituality. Caring for my body is paramount because my body is happening. The spiritual is pending.

And I know that death is just a biological evolution.

I’m redefined in my relationships. I’m the man in need not the man with resources. And I’m confined by the redefinition.

Biologically my body is failing. I can’t control my body’s reactions. I chose actions. And those chosens begat consequences. I can’t control the biological reactions.

I have to redefine my actions and my essence.

I’m not afraid to die.

I’m afraid I can’t live contained.

(Photo courtesy of BritishDucks)

I Want To Get High

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I’m thinking about buying a cane. Sometimes I feel so tired I lose my balance and sometimes I feel so weak my knees collapse. I don’t know if it’s the medicine or my heart. My cardiologist is hoping the medicine corrects my blood flow. Ironically, my blood has flowed through the ulcer on my toe for more than 10 weeks. My podiatrist is hoping the CPAP machine corrects my oxygen flow. I need oxygen in my extremities to heal my foot. I’m hoping for all that too.

But I have other hopes.

Yesterday I waited in line at the pharmacy to pick up my Dad’s medicine. I held myself erect by balancing my palm on the center island. I felt tired. It was a long day. I waited as a woman with three toddlers picked up their prescriptions. Finally they left the line and I advanced to the window. As soon as I started to speak I heard the woman yell, “You know it’s my turn! My cab is here! And you know it’s my turn!” I turned around as her three toddlers circled my feet. “Oh I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were still in line.” I returned to the center island. She ignored me and shouted at the pharmacy tech, “You knew I wasn’t finished! My cab is here! You knew it was my turn!” I apologized again from the center island. At that moment I considered a cane.

And I felt myself hate.

I hated her. I hated her attitude. I hated that she dismissed the apology I struggled to speak. I looked down at her son’s cherubic face and I hated myself for hating.

I will not live hating.

I will not die hating.

I turn on Facebook. It used to be fun. Now it’s all hate.

What happened to, “When they go low, we go high.”

Tonight I saw a friend of mine had liked a post. A man I didn’t know posted a rant. I dislike copy & paste. But these are his words and he can own them: “If someone is going to be a racist douche bag on my page, their employers will hear about it.” What? He’s going to report them? Inform on them? Where is this heading?

All the spite and hate spewed over Nordstroms. We’re closing in on McCarthyism. Guilt by association.

What happened to, “When they go low, we go high.”

I’m a liberal and I reject the hate.

We can debate. We can protest. We can stand. We can defeat. But we can’t hate.

Go high or go it alone.

This week I’ve sat beside three of my closest friends. I don’t need someone to listen to me. I have men who listen to me. I don’t need to have someone understand me. I have men who understand me. My friends have gone high. Tomorrow night I’ll sit beside the fourth friend. I’ve never watched any of the Star Wars films. Tomorrow night we’re ordering pizza and beginning with them in the order they were released.

I don’t like science fiction. But at least good and evil is clearly defined. In our contemporary culture there isn’t a side anymore. It’s all low.

My heart has physically broken but this hate will not beat it dead.

I’m going high.

(Photo courtesy of MLeighS)

American Idol

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So. Let’s do the math. Ready?

I’m a Roman Catholic. If I have a religious symbol  – (A statue of The Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of God) in my house (a private space)– people protest my actions and tell me I worship idols.

But if someone wants to remove a religious symbol from a public space (A war memorial / cemetery) they’re protested because he’s “unchristian” and “removing God” from The United States.

What?

(Photo courtesy of  kariannphotography)

 

Can’t.

Today I learned can’t.

“You’ve changed since you’ve gotten sick.” My sister is my closest friend. We’re too old to edit or soften. We’re matter of fact.

I knew what she meant.

I had just made a comment about the car in front of me. I wanted to leave a lot and a car in front of me took a long time to turn into a lane. He signaled right; he turned left. As he moved forward I noticed his signal continuously blinked right. In our past, I would have raved. I didn’t. I simply said, “It’s an old car. He probably can’t afford to get it fixed.”

I have changed. It’s not that I’m more empathetic.

I’ve accepted a few fundamental facts. I’ve accepted my death. I’ve accepted futility. I’ve accepted inevitability.

coffin-case-c-channel-att-compellers-1I stood in Lunds today near the meat counter. I felt so tired. I felt too tired to walk so I balanced my ass against a cooler coffin in the middle of the lane. I told myself I had to push myself. I’m intolerant of weakness. I’m hardest on myself. When I was a boy I’d run around the periphery of our house. We competed to see who could circle the house the most times. I refused to lose. No matter my exhaustion or the competition, I won. Every time. Every year. I refused to quit. So today when I felt too tired to walk, I chastised myself for my weakness and I stood straight and I tried to push my pace. But I couldn’t. And at the moment I learned can’t.

One of my best friends is an internist. But he’s not my doctor. When I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, we discussed my health. “Am I going to be able to bike?” I asked. “No.” He was matter of fact. We care too much for each other to edit or soften. “The Metoprolol will stop you.” I told myself he didn’t know me. I told myself I wouldn’t quit.

Won’t quit isn’t can’t. Won’t quit has choices. Can’t does not.

I can’t.

Each day I document my decline. I should quit. My words neither soothe myself nor my reader. I don’t see their point. But I can’t allow myself to quit. Writing is my verb. It’s what I do.

I don’t want to conjugate a new verb. I don’t want to exhaust. I don’t want to tire. I don’t want to gasp. I don’t want to shiver. I don’t want to stop.

I don’t care if I entertain. I care if I endure. I care if I continue. I care if I can continue to provide care.

I don’t care for can’t. But sometimes we can’t.

Today I learned can’t.

Holding On

tear“Would you like to sit down?”

He turned around, “Can’t I just stand? I’m too upset to sit down.”

“Of course.”

He walked over to the window and looked outside. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been sadder. Felt. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so sad.”

“Do you know why?”

He pushed his hands into his pockets and looked down. “I hate sweatpants.”

“Then why are you wearing them?”

“I had a stress test today. I was supposed to wear something comfortable.”

“Let’s get back to why you’re feeling sad.”

“Because I realized today I’m unlovable.”

“I don’t think that’s true. Lots of people love you.”

He turned around and looked at the priest sitting in the chair. “Are you supposed to offer opinions?”

“Absolutely. This is spiritual direction. This isn’t therapy.”

He returned to the window. “Okay.”

“So what makes you think you’re unlovable?”

“Because no one is in love with me.” He stared out the window. “Thank God for sunshine. I don’t think I could take a gloomy day.”

“Not being in love doesn’t mean you’re unlovable.”

“I didn’t say I wasn’t in love. I said no one was in love with me.”

“Please turn around.”

He turned.

“Do you honestly think you’re unlovable?”

“Yes. To a certain extent I do.” He returned to the window. “I thought about it a lot today. No one’s ever picked me. You know? No one’s ever said let’s do forever together.” He crossed his arms and hugged his sides with his hands. “I just thought about it today. I got out of the stress test and I realized how really alone I am.”

“You have friends and family who love you. Can you see that?

He walked over to the bookcase and picked a dead leaf off a plant. “Bro you need to water this. It’s as dry as a bone.”

“Can you see that people love you?”

He pruned another plant, “I didn’t say I don’t feel loved. This isn’t that.”

“What is it then?”

“I’ll tell you what it’s not. It’s not a romance thing. I had to wait for my car at the hospital. I had valet parked and I watched people walk by and I realized that no one preferred me over other people. No one ever wanted me most. That’s all. I realized it today.” A tear trickled down his cheek and he wiped it away with the palm of his hand.

“You can still find that. It’s not too late.”

He walked over and sat on the sofa. “You know I always felt so unique like I didn’t fit anywhere or with anybody but today I realized I wasn’t unique at all. I was just one of a crowd. I was never actually thought of as someone worth choosing.”

“I don’t think that’s true at all.” He uncrossed his legs and leaned until he placed an elbow on each knee. “I’m going to ask you something and I want you to think about what I’m saying. Okay?”

“Sure.”

“I think you should consider counselling. I think these are issues a therapist could address with you.”

“That’s not a question. That’s a recommendation.”

“Will you think about it?”

“I have thought about it.” He crossed his legs. “You know I talked to my cardiologist about this yesterday. We talked about stress and emotionally dealing with heart failure. And I told him, I’m the sanest person I know. I deal with every emotion the moment I feel it. I don’t let things build up or go unexamined. I don’t.” He touched his heart with the palm of his hands as he spoke. “See I’m sad today because I realized it. I’m not sad because I feel hopeless about it.”

“Okay.”

“This heart failure thing is making me rethink my life. You know?” He stood up and walked to the window. “You know what else I noticed about myself this week?” He returned and walked over to the sofa and sat. “I’m modest again. I haven’t been so modest in years.”

“What do you mean?”

“The other day I had to be fitted with a Holter Monitor. They measure your heart rate. You have to wear them for like a day or two. You’ve seen them. They’re a bunch of wires. Anyway, I had to stand up and take off my shirt so the nurse could put it on me. And I was so embarrassed. I was humiliated! She had to reshave my chest so she could attach it and I actually shivered. I felt so weak and vulnerable.” He stood up and walked to the window and looked outside. “Now you can say it’s just because of the heart thing. And that’s probably true. But it’s not like me at all.”

“You’re too self-critical. That was a completely normal reaction.”

“No. Not for me. Or maybe it is now. I don’t know. I’m thinking about it.” He turned around. “Do you know I once had sex in a public bathroom? It was years ago. I had picked up this woman and we went into the men’s room and I took her into a stall and we had sex. And the weirdest part? This guy looked over the top of the stall and watched us and I didn’t even stop. I didn’t care.”

“When was this?”

“A couple of years after I left the seminary. We weren’t friends then. I spent some pretty wild years in the middle of all that. Factor in all the drugs and smoking and shit and it doesn’t surprise me at all that my heart is fucked.”

“I can’t imagine you being like that.”

“Now I’m not justifying.” He looked out the window again. “I’m not. But you have to remember how I was. I had just left the seminary. I had dropped all the weight and I was fucking tired of people saying I was gay all the time. So I became really promiscuous. I proved to myself and everyone around me I wasn’t what they accused me of.”

“Okay so you’re not that man anymore. Celebrate the growth.”

“No you’re missing my point. I realized when she was putting on the monitor how much I’ve changed.”

“I’m glad you’re changed.”

“Me too.”

“So why doesn’t that fact make you happy?”

“Because I’m lonesome.”

“Do you mean lonely?”

He turned around and looked at his friend. “No I’m never lonely. I’m lonesome. And I’m sad. I’m sad I wasn’t picked. Today I realized I wasn’t picked.”

“Here’s a thought.”

“Huh?”

“God chose you. Consider that.”

“Nice try Padre. But you can’t feel God when you need someone to hold you. You just can’t. And I’m telling you, I need to be held.” A tear trickled down his cheek and he wiped it with the back of his hand.

(photo credit: Dean Winchester.)

Hunger

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“Well I can’t say it’s all that flattering.” She pulled the sunglasses from her face, collapsed them, and tucked them inside a case inside her purse. She closed her purse and hung it on the hook near her knees beneath the bar.

“Flattery is overrated. I’m all about the truth. And truth be told, you look fantastic.” He picked up his glass and took a small sip.

“You’re actually going to make me sit at the bar. Aren’t you?” She unsnaked the scarf from her neck and dropped it into her lap.

“We could sit at a table.”

“This is fine.”

“Please tell me you still drink.” He signaled to the bartender.

“I can be persuaded.” She smiled and ordered a drink.

“I’m happy to see you.” He returned her smile. “Goddamn we’re grown up.”

“What do you mean?” She tilted her head to the right.

“Well look at you. The last time we saw each other was at Grand Ol’ Days. Remember? We were on the bridge by Kowalskis. I was drunk. I remember your ponytail. Do they even call them ponytails anymore?”

“It wasn’t a ponytail. It was a braid.”

“Okay. Your braid. 30 years. Amazing.”

“Amazing to hear from you.”

“See the truth is, it is flattering. The effort it took to find you!”

“Yeah, that part is fun. The tv show part isn’t as fun.”

“Did you watch it? It’s just a silly show. You’ve got to Netflix it.”

“So you watched some tv show about a man who contacts his old girlfriends.” She took a sip of wine.

“That’s not why I contacted you. It just reminded me.”

“Well that’s what you said in the email.” She stared into his eyes.

He looked down at his glass. “Well, okay. The reason I contacted you is because George Michael died.”

“What?” She turned to face him. “Mark, that’s ridiculous.”

He turned to face her. “Okay sure. Yes. It is. Okay now wait. How well do you remember me?”

“I came. Didn’t I?”

“Fair enough. Okay look. When George Michael died I thought of you. Every time I heard him I’ve thought of you. For years.”

“I didn’t know you were such a fan.” She slid a silly smile into a smirk.

“Okay now I feel like a fool. It has nothing to do with him. He was just the soundtrack of us. Can we change the subject for a second because now I feel like an ass. We’ll get back to this part.”

“Okay.” She took a sip of wine. “So. Joan says you’re a writer?”

“Would you like to order something to eat?”

“No. Thank you. I can’t stay that long.” She shifted on her stool and straightened her scarf with both of her hands.

“I am a writer. I’ve got to get something in my stomach.” He signaled to the bartender. “How about you?”

“Oh I said I wasn’t hungry.” She crossed her legs.

He laughed. “No. work. Joan didn’t tell me what you do. I so tried to remember what you were in school for. ”

“Women studies with a minor in music. I’m an interior decorator.”

“Well that explains your clothes. Practically the only thing humanities classes are good for is knowing when colors go together. Your colors all look great together.” He laughed; she didn’t. “You do remember that we met in a humanities class?”

“Of course I do.”

He ordered an appetizer, closed the menu, and straightened his spine and smoothly rolled his shoulders until he sat straight. “Okay so I just wanted to apologize. I was an ass. I was a complete ass to you. And I’m sorry.”

She put both palms on the bar and lifted all her fingers and gave them a short shake. “Oh God this is part of some 12 step program. Isn’t it?”

Her nail polish caught his attention. He saw she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring. “Oh hell no!” He laughed. “This is an overdue apology for inexcusable behavior.”

She sat back on her stool. “You’ve found religion? Okay. Good for you but I’m not interested in hearing your story. I don’t need to be saved.” She slid through the S and hit the D.

He laughed. “No. Oh my God no!” He turned to the bartender. “Bring us another round.” He swiveled on the stool and faced her. “George Michael died and I remembered you and I remembered us. And it upset me that you and I were once so close and then we so weren’t. Maybe it’s my age or … hell so many things … but it just can’t be right that people can be so close and then one day nothing. A divorce is one thing. I get that. It’s so bitter. But just one day a relationships ends– that’s it? So I heard George Michael died and I thought – I’m finding her. And I’m going to apologize.”

She took her hand and patted his hand he rested on the bar. “My God you haven’t changed at all!” The waiter put two saucers on the bar and two sets of silverware.

“I’d like to think I have.” He laughed and turned his hand palm up and took her hand in his. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have a very good memory. We didn’t break up because of you. We broke up because we didn’t work as a couple.”

“I remember the sex was amazing.” He smiled.

She withdrew her hand. “We had some good times.” She took a sip of her wine. “So tell me. Married? Children? Fill me in the history.”

“No. Single. No kids. How ‘bout you?”

“I have a daughter.”

“Oh that’s great! What does she do?”

“She spends my money!” She laughed. “She’s in college.”

“So, are you single now? Joan was vague.”

“I have a partner.”

He sat straight. “Oh.” He took a drink of his manhattan.

“Mark, I’m lesbian.”

“Really?”

“Yes.” She took another sip.

“Wow. But we had such great sex!” He instantly regretted his words. “Jesus wept that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever said!” He nervously laughed.

“Lesbians have great sex.”

“I’m too old to be this stupid. I don’t know which I feel more. Humiliation or shame. My behavior is inexcusable.”

“It’s okay.”

“Oh my God could I have said anything more ridiculously ass?”

“It took you by surprise. Let’s move on.” The waiter brought his appetizer. She took a piece of flatbread off the plate. “I am hungry. So. Which George Michael song reminds you of me?”

He dropped his napkin in his lap. “Do you remember the song ‘Monkey?’” He grabbed a saucer and handed it to her. He scooted the other saucer and handed her a set of silverware.

Unfinished

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He took his hands and rubbed the arms of the chair. “This is the ugliest chair I’ve ever sat on.”

“It serves the purpose.”

“What is it? Like corduroy?” He shifted and put both feet flat on the floor. He instantly rethought his move and crossed his legs at his ankles. He felt uncomfortable.

“So tell me what’s going on.”

“Could we make this less like therapy?” He crossed his arms, uncrossed them, and gripped the sides of the chair. “You’re not a therapist. You’re a priest. I’d rather handle this like confession.”

“Look I’m not doing attitude. How about we just talk?”

He drew his hands until his fingernails lined the tufts of the chair arms. He traced the welt cord that defined and decorated the crowns. “I’m sorry.” He lifted his body with his palms and sat straight on the seat. “Okay. I can’t get it in my head. I just can’t.”

“Just talk. We’ll sort it out.”

“Okay so my heart is fucked.” He winced. “Oh God. Bro, I’m sorry. I forgot where I was.”

“We’re going to have a ground rule. No editing. This is a safe space.”

“Complete, entire, no omissions?”

“It’s worked for two thousand years.”

“Okay.” He stood up. “I’m sick of sitting. I do it all day.” He pushed his hands into his trouser pockets. “Okay so my heart isn’t working properly. But I didn’t know that. I was having trouble breathing. Do you remember I smoked?”

“One right after the other. I remember that blue ashtray you had. The circumference must have been a foot.”

“Yeah I forgot that ashtray. It was my aunt’s. Talk about a smoker. Jesus, she smoked Pall Malls.”

“So you had trouble breathing.”

“Oh yeah. So. I was having trouble breathing. My lungs jerked all the time. A couple of years ago a pulmonologist said I had COPD so I thought maybe I was having problems again. I had thrown out the inhaler so I made an appointment with him. But I couldn’t get an appointment for a couple of weeks and I was damned sick. So I went to an internist. A guy I didn’t know. Just an ass. Long story short I had an irregular heartbeat. I had a shitload of tests. Turns out I have congestive heart failure. One side beats too much and the other won’t empty. My heart is literally beating me to death.”

“So your heart is fucked.”

He turned around, “Hey. I get to be the one with the filthy mouth.”

“Hey I get to talk too.”

He laughed. “Okay.” He stopped laughing and turned toward the picture window. “Yeah. My heart is fucked.”

“What are they going to do?”

“I don’t know. I’m on a lot of drugs.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. I can’t figure it out.” He turned around. “You know when diabetes took two of my toes I could see it. It was easy to understand. I could see the disease but this … heart failure … I can’t see. I can just see the can’ts. I can’t bike anymore. I can’t walk any distances. Shit I have to sit down at Lunds just to catch my breath while I buy groceries. I’ve always said I was brokenhearted. Who knew it was actually true? I can’t see it. I just have to believe it. And I hate that part.” He returned to the window.

“Did you see your test results? That’s concrete.”

“Yeah. True.” He put his hands on the sill and leaned into the window. “This is a great view.”

“So which part can’t you get inside your head?”

He lifted his heels and stretched his calves. “I don’t get the point of all this. I feel so unfinished and now someone has shown me the finished line.”

“Why do you feel unfinished?”

“Oh Christ.” He lifted his arms until he gripped the top frame of the window. He lowered his arms and shook his fists that bordered his thighs. His guttural growl was a cross between an ugh and an eww. He turned from the window. “I’m 54 years old and what have I accomplished? I’m not married. I’m not a priest. I’m not successful. I don’t have any kids. Christ. I’m nothing.”

“I think you need to take a step back and see your accomplishments.”

“Like what?”

“Well, personally, you have wonderful relationships. Right?”

“Friendships only go so far.”

“Do they?”

He smirked. “Yes.” He crossed his arms.

“And professionally, you’re a wonderful writer. Don’t underestimate the gift of talent.”

“No one’s paid for talent, my friend.” He walked over to the chair and sat. “But all that’s beside my point. I feel unfinished in a different way.” He crossed his legs at his ankles. “Shit I have to think how I want to say this.” Silence filled the space between them. “Do you like being a priest?”

“Yes.”

“Do you believe Divine Revelation is a process? Like it still happens?”

“Yes I do.”

He sat up and put his hands on his knees. “Okay like, work with me here.” He stood up. “I feel like every day I learn stuff. I learn about people and relationships. And I don’t feel like that’s finished. But now I’m told it’s ending. And I can’t comprehend all the work for nothing.”

“Have they given you a prognosis?”

“Well, kind of. One of the PAs said ‘many people live 10 to 15 years!’ like that was hopeful. Christ almighty! How the fuck is that hopeful?”

“Did you get a second opinion?”

“Of course I did. A cardiologist told me he was more optimistic than that.” He walked over to a bookshelf and glanced through a row of books.

“So that’s hopeful.”

He turned around. “No. You’re missing the point. Okay it’s like this. Life is hard. Right? If you have a conscience at all or try even a little, life is difficult. And I’m finally feeling like I’m getting there. Like I’ve mastered the whole damn thing and now this. How can this be the end of it? I’m not finished yet.”

“But you’re not finished yet. You’re in the process today.”

“Yeah, okay. That’s not what I mean. I’ll tell you how I feel. I feel like my life is this big massive handjob. Only it’s too much friction. It’s like I’m chafed but it’s okay. Because I thought the ending was so going to be worth it. Only I’ve found out it’s all just friction. There isn’t going to be a moneyshot. It would be easier if I was impotent but no such luck. Everything is so goddamned hard and for nothing. Just friction. Too much fucking friction for nothing.”

“Well that’s graphic.”

“You said no editing.”

“I think you’re missing the bigger picture.”

“Well paint it sweetheart because I don’t see it at all.”

“Take a seat.”

“If I sit too long my legs go numb. Neuropathy bites ass.”

“You say you’ve accomplished nothing. I think your writing has more impact than that.”

“I’m saying I became nothing. Not a priest. Not a husband. Not a father. Nothing.”

“And I’m saying your writing has a value you’re not seeing.”

“Show me.”

“I think your writing is your ministry.”

“It’s not sacramental.”

“There’s more than one kind of grace.”

“I like that.”

“You know what else you’re missing?”

“What?”

“The one who gives a handjob does all the work.”

“Oh padre. That’s brilliant and kind of perverse.” He laughed.

“You chose the colors bro. Now quit being so self-absorbed.”

“It kinda is about me.”

“Here’s your sentence I want you to think on. It’s never about you.”

He turned around and looked through the window and watched a car swivel on a snow-slicked street.