Friday, May 10, 2024

A Sea Change

At some point, prey just knows it is prey and just gives in.  It goes limp. It knows it is hopeless.  

That is something like a line I heard on "Fargo" this week.  People told me to watch "Fargo" for years.  The television series.  I resisted.  I like the movie "Fargo" o.k., but I was not really a fan.  But, things being what they are, television having been bought out by the big corps and such so that most creative products have been canned, corps spending production money on bubble gum and cotton candy show, I gave in.  

My friends were right.  The show is really quite something.  

I've watched several seasons this week.  I've been able to do little else.  T.V. in general has been too jarring.  It is loud and quick and stupid.  T.V. "news" shows take smart people and turn them into sixty second morons as they opine on whatever just happened in congress or inside the Trump courtroom.  Shows in general have the old MTV formula of using editing to jolt and confuse you so that your adrenaline pumps a bit with hyperreal expectations.  

"Fargo," for all of its dark, horrendous action, is muted and slow and quiet.  It generally counters expectations.  

But. . . I can't be relied on here, for I have been watching from my death bed.  Or so I have believed.  

After throwing 12 yards of mulch and believing myself to be a real cowboy, I began to feel a bit weird.  I finished Saturday and went to my mother's per usual Saturday afternoon.  I was tired and not so very hungry, so when I left there, I decided to get something to eat at my favorite Italian place.  But I wasn't feeling right.  I had a sharp pain in my lower gut that was strange.  It worried me, but as one does, I expected it to go away.  I ordered dinner and watched The Kentucky Derby, as I have reported.  Great race.  

Sunday I woke feeling bad.  I had planned to rip out the old garden and plant a new one.  I had saved mulch in the driveway to move over and spread after the planting was done.  But I blew it off.  I was just feeling badly.  It was Sunday, though, and I had told my mother I would make us dinner.  By mid-afternoon, I had to force myself to the grocers to get the makings of a chicken cacciatore dish.  I had never made it before, but the recipe seemed easy enough.  

It wasn't as easy as I thought, and preparing it all very much tired me out.  When I took the dish to my mother's, I said I was feeling kind of funky.  She said, of course, that I had worn myself out pitching mulch.  I didn't stick around long after dinner and excused myself.  At home I just collapsed.  

Monday morning, my lower gut was a mess.  I called my mother to see how she was doing.  She said her stomach had been bad all night.  I wondered to her if maybe I hadn't poisoned us somehow, that I was feeling terrible, too.  Maybe, somehow, I said, I had given us salmonella.  I was feeling both sick and guilty.

By Monday night, I was in real pain.  My entire body hurt worse than if I had the flu.  I had chills and was sweating.  I turned the thermostat up so that in this great southern heat, the heater came on.  I knew something bad was going on.  I needed to sleep.  I needed to rest.  I decided to break into my suicide stash of narcotics for relief.  I was very reluctant, not because I didn't want to take a narcotic, but I didn't want to deplete what I had.  

I called my mother and told her I might have to go to the ER that night.  

"Call 911" she said.  "Don't try to drive.  You have insurance.  And you get treated faster if you arrive in an ambulance."

But the last thing I wanted to do was lie on a gurney in the ER while doctors ordered up tests and alternated between me and the accident victims that take priority.  I've done that before.  Glaring lights, the pinging of monitoring machines, and the sick inside of my own skull.  

I took the narcotics.

Even with the narcotic, that night was not restful.  

In the morning, I couldn't stand any pressure on my left side.  Just a slight touch there triggered severe shockwaves of pain.  Shit, piss, fuck.  I took more narcotics and went back to bed.  I was taking the weakest ones I had, hydrocodone with acetaminophen.  It hardly touched the pain in my abdomen, but it helped with the terrible achiness throughout the rest of my body.  

In the afternoon, chilled and sweating, in even worse pain, all I could imagine was that I had cancer.  My life was a mess.  I'd been running through it all night and all day long.  If I died, my mother wouldn't have a clue about my finances.  I barely did.  I have accounts I couldn't even remember the names of.  I am not a financial person.  I hate it all.  But I had to gather my wits together and try to find all the documents my mother would need.  Unbelievably, as disorganized as I am, I have an unconscious memory of things that often serves me.  I found all the documents I needed, even the accounts I couldn't remember the names of.  

I put them in a folder on the dining room table and called my mother.  I told her what I had done.  This upset her very much, as you might imagine, but I said, "Would you rather I just put them all back and let you try to figure this out on your own?"

At this point, and this is the big confession, I was considering taking all the pills and being done with it.  What did I have to look forward to?  There wasn't even anyone to help my mother deal with my accumulation of shit I have deemed valuable.  I was a solitary animal.  I hadn't a family or even at this point an intimate group of friends.  They were blown to the corners of the earth now.  No one lived close by.  I had new friends, acquaintances by and large, but none of them could be asked to help with this kind of shit.  The future looked like more of the same, financial worries and house repairs.  I hadn't even been able to get my shitty pictures together, hadn't even built a website.  I never would.  

Taking the pills is harder than a healthy man imagines, though.  

"If this gets any worse," I told my mother, "I will go to the ER tonight.  

I couldn't stand the darkness, so I set up some gentle lighting that would fall weakly through the bedroom doorway.  I would sleep in twilight.  

Up and down, freezing but sweating, I had to change my soaking t-shirt three times.  My hair was wet with sweat.  

When I finally got up in the morning, I realized I hadn't eaten for two days.  I had been smart enough to drink clear liquids, but I was running out of everything.  I needed electrolytes.  I needed some nutrition drink like Ensure.  It seemed to me that maybe the fever had broken.  I gently probed my left side.  Did it feel better?  Maybe I just wanted it to.  My hips and back were killing me from lying in bed for so many hours.  I'd back off the narcotics.  They were making me muzzy.  I needed to try to move.  I'd walk to the end of the street and back.  Slow going, but I could.  I decided to go to the grocery store and get the things I needed.  I looked like shit, but there was nothing to be done.  

I wasn't all together when I got there.  What was I getting?  I stumbled around.  Gatorade.  Yes.  Oh. . . I wanted coconut water.  Lots of it.  I went to the aisle that said "adult nutrients."  That seemed odd to me.  Are there that many adults who are as disabled as I?  I looked at the incredible number and variants of drinks.  I was getting dizzy and weak with it.  I grabbed what I thought I wanted and headed to the counter.  

"Your card didn't go through," the young checkout girl said.  

I tried again, and again it was rejected.  I looked at the card.  It was expired.  The world was spinning.  My card wasn't expired.  I couldn't figure this out at all.  

"How much is it?

She told me.  

"I need to go to the car to get some cash."

"O.K.  I'll hold your stuff here."

I always keep a stash of cash in the car, but recently I had used it for something.  I searched every possible place and came up with forty-one dollars.  

When I walked back in, I told the girl I was going to have to go home.  I'd be back.  

What the fuck?  I couldn't think right.  I was sweating.  I was weak. What the fuck was up with the card?  

I made it home, got cash, went back to the store, and got my things.  Then I started searching.  What pants had I worn?  When was the last time I used the card.  I called the store I'd been in last.  No. . . they didn't have my card.  I went through the pockets of every pair of pants I had worn for days.  I emptied the laundry basket, looked in the washer and drier.  Three times I had emptied everything out of my console where I keep my drivers license, credit card, and cash wrapped in a rubber band.  I am stupid.  I haven't bought a new wallet since the car robbery in October.  I looked under the seats and in the cracks between the seats and the console.  Nothing.  I would have to call the bank and report my card missing.  That would mean I would have to go back and redo all my online payments.  Why had I never gotten rid of my old card?  Fuck me.  I live a stupid life, I thought.  You're not an adult.  You're an old, foolish man living out some romantic fantasy that was non-extant.  

Screw it, I thought.  I'll submit.  I'll give in.  All studies--all of them--show that people who hold conservative values are much happier than liberals are.  There are a multitude of reasons, but being a rebel and a dissident. . . .  I would change.  I would conform.  The people I have disdained were all happier.  They live like those stupid fucking movies--big home, kids, standard vacations.  They all had more money, corporate money.  They'd cut their hair, eaten shit and smiled, and they had risen up the ladder.  Now they were members at the country club.  I was broken.  I was done.  I would go to the doctor and suffer whatever it took.  Remove my colon.  I wan't going to be a hero anymore.  I would move to a retirement community.  I'd get up in the morning and have cereal and watch Good Morning America.  I'd join a card club, learn the rules.  I wouldn't argue, I'd go along to get along.  I'd buy my shirts at Target and go to whatever activities were to be had.  I wanted to live in The Truman Show.  That's where the happy conservatives were.  

It sounded very good to me.  

In desperation, like a demented man, I went through all my pockets again, the hampers, then once more to my car.  I emptied the console one more time--and there it was!  My bank card.  

Maybe the activity had helped me.  I decided to have an Ensure to celebrate.  Only I hadn't bought ensure.  I bought some sugar free protein drink.  Fuck, shit, piss, goddamn.  

I drove back to the store with my bank card.  

My mind was working now more than it had been.  I could sit up at the computer.  I Googled my condition.  I looked at the possibilities my symptoms brought up.  All of them fit one thing--diverticulitis.  

Of course. 

I'd had it once before around ten years ago.  I had a new girlfriend at the time, the yoga instructor, and she was sleeping over.  In the middle of the night, the terrible pains hit and I told her to go home.  I didn't want her to see me this way.  When she left, I tried to tough it out, but in a few hours, I drove to the E.R.  I was sure that night I would never leave the hospital.  Yes, yes. . . I am a disaster thinker.  After hours of tests and waiting, the ER doc told me I had diverticulitis and gave me a prescription for antibiotics.  That was it.  I was free to go.  

I didn't even know what I had, but I knew it wasn't cancer.  

I've not had it since.  But now, I was certain that this is what I had.  O.K.  I'd been doing all the right things.  Clear fluids.  No solid foods.  Pain relievers and rest.  The infection, it said, could cause severe fatigue.  Now here's the kicker.  It is a tear in the lining of the colon, called diverticulosis, that gets infected.  Straining is often the cause of the tear.  Sixty percent of all people over 50 have it.  My pain began right after I moved all the mulch.  I probably got a little heat stroke, too.  And being the cowboy that I am, I drank pretty heavily that night.  It was rather a perfect storm, I thought.  

Q wrote out of the blue, "Are you alright?"  Strange question, I thought.  "Nope.  I'm pretty sick."  

"I hope you get better soon."

I texted my hair dresser.  I had to cancel my appointment, I said.  I was terribly sick.  She'd had her baby, a girl.  She sent a photo.  Cuter than a bug, and I never think babies are cute.  She said she'd pray for me.  

My friend from the midwest texted.  She'd just gotten back from her trip to Belgium for the beer festival.  She was leaving for another trip in a week and a half, she said.  I told her I'd been sick and was only going to bed.  I told her I thought it was food poisoning at first, but now I was pretty sure it was diverticulitis.  It should clear up, I'd read, in five to seven days.  If I wasn't better by Monday. . . . 

"Go to the doctor NOW."

There was some relief in thinking I didn't have cancer, of course, and now I was drinking coconut water and Ensure.  I ate a yogurt.  I could feel the energy coming back a bit.  I pressed my side with my fingers.  Still sore, but I could touch it.  O.K.  I'd had a sea change.  I was a real retiree now.  I was no longer going to be competitive.  I was no longer going to show the world how tough I was, how handsome or talented.  I wanted to eat egg salad sandwiches and take walks for exercise.  Collecting my finances showed me one thing--I wasn't rich, but maybe I could afford to hire people to do the physical labor that needed doing from now on.  There was still a lot to do--the deck and stairs being the next things--but fuck it.  I'd hire someone.  I wouldn't try to be the smart guy in the room any longer.  I wouldn't try to win every argument.  I was going to exhale, give in.  

I made a cup of delicious Milk Oolong Tea.  I took it to the couch.  I turned on the television.  It was the middle of the day.  So what?  This is what retirees did.  This and chair yoga.  

I turned on "Fargo."  It is a terribly violent show.  It is equivalent to "No Country for Old Men."  I remember reading that novel when it came out while I was staying at my mountain buddies place in Yosemite.  He and his wife were gone.  I had the house to myself.  I hiked all day, made a steak and asparagus and potato on the grill after I showered, and read that novel.  It was a real shocker, not because of the violence which was ever-present in a McCarthy novel, but because of the sheriff's reaction to the new horror that had come upon the land.  He was at the end of his career, and he realized that this was no country for old men.  He retired.  

To the country for old men.  

For all the evil and violence the show presents, however, there was something very calming about it, too.  There was good and there was evil.  It was clear.  There was a boundary.  I had never been evil, I thought, but I had known it.  I would know it no more, I thought.  Not even in its most insipid forms.  I watched episode after episode, season after season, and I realized it was always the same.  Good, wholesome people got caught up in evil through no fault of their own.  The evil characters were the ones that drove the plot, as ever and always.  Professional wrestling is based on this premise.  My dead old friend, the professional wrestler "Razor Ramon," was a baby face, as they say in the business, but he chose to be the bad guy.  "Why?" I asked him.  "Because the good guy can't do anything until the bad guy starts.  The bad guy is the show."

There you go.  

But the role of bad guy consumed him.  He became one in real life, too.  His life got to be more fucked up than I could have ever imagined.  I've told some of the story before, but it is all famously documented now. You can look it up if you are interested.  

But. . . to get back to my point, as fascinating as the bad guys were, I was watching for the good guys.  That is the show.  Every season ends with that.  The family dinner.  

Thursday morning, I was feeling better.  The diverticulitis diet includes white bread and eggs.  I made a toasted egg sandwich.  I could have coffee, too, which seemed surprising.  I imagined I was feeling better.  I decided to take a walk.  A mile.  I would walk a slow mile.  On my walk, I passed a neighbor.  

"How are you doing?  I haven't seen you for awhile."

"Oh. . . I'm fine.  I've had a problem with my gut lately."

"It's going around.  I know a lot of people who have had that lately."

I hadn't been over to see my mother for days, I but I talked to her often.  As I said, her stomach had been bothering her.  I knew she didn't have what I had, but maybe she had the stomach bug.  It made me feel better, so when I got back from my walk, I called her and told her.  

Then I went to bed.  The walk had wiped me out.  

I got up at two.  Ensure.  Coconut water galore.  "Fargo."

Around four, there was a knock on the door.  It was Tennessee.  

"Jesus.  You look like you've lost weight."

"Let's sit on the porch just in case I might have something contagious.  I've been sick.  Haven't had more than about a thousand calories this week."

His comment, though, sent a shock through me.  I was obviously frail.  I could see it in his eyes.  

"I tried calling you.  When you didn't answer, I thought I'd check on you."

Sitting on the deck, I told him my tale.  

"You fucked yourself up pitching all that mulch.  After sixty, people don't have the core and abdominal strength they used to.  You have more, but still. . . ."

It felt good to me sitting on the deck, but Tennessee couldn't take it.  

"Fuck it's hot." 

"Really? I've been freezing.  I set my thermostat to 76."

I was feeling better, but I was still sick as a dog.  When he left, I went back to the couch.  What else was there to do? 

That night, I was starting to get hungry.  That, I thought, was a good sign.  But what could I eat.  I went back to the computer.  Popsicles!  Yes.  

I drove to the store and bought frozen grape fruit bars.  I ate two.  Holy smokes, yes.  

It had been four days that I had been taking pain killers, drinking fluids, and sitting with a heating pad on my belly.  The heating pad had always meant one thing to me.  Now it meant something else.  It was an undeniable comfort.  I put it against my belly and turned on the television.  If this was diverticulitis, it should clear up in a few days.  I wanted comfort.  I would give up my romantic concepts.  I'd always fallen for women who were beautiful, smart, talented.  I had been lucky, right?  

"How'd that turn out?"

Maybe I'd meet someone who liked to make egg salad sandwiches and watch television.  She wouldn't be beautiful.  And she would be as safe and bland as the men. . . . 

No.  I'm not going there.  I wasn't climbing dangerous mountains anymore, not diving into deep water, decompression caverns, not sleeping with native Indians in malaria jungles. . . none of that to prove I was something.  I wouldn't solo sail into another dangerous storm.  I'd hike on the Appalachian Trail or on trails in the Rockies, put on silly outfits and helmets and go on long bike rides, paddle kayaks on placid backwaters and streams, go "rock climbing" roped up in climbing gyms.  Fuck. . . not even that.  I'd take up lawn bowling and croquet.  Not golf, though. . . definitely not golf.  

But the person I met would think that all fine.  I wouldn't even ever mention the people I had known.  Maybe some sherry at five.  She would be pleasant, jolly.  We would avoid complicated issues and thoughts, and when terrible things would happen in the world, we'd say it was awful and that we were glad to have one another.  

I watched more "Fargo."  There are some great lines in there.  

"The trouble with the world isn't evil, it's good.  If there were no good, everything would be fine."

For all of it, the show is wholesome.  The bad guys always get it in the end.  

One more episode.  I wasn't tired.  Surely I was healing.  Just before the ending, just before bed, a song came on, and it was like the dam breaking.  Tears just came pouring out.  Oh, fuck yea. . . it has been a hard week.  I'm a mess.  But for Tennessee's knock on the door which did me a world of good, I've been alone with my misery, no one to get things from the store, no one to ask if I wanted something to drink, just me and my jangled nerves and the inside of my overactive head.  

Last night, I had a dream.  My wife came to take care of me.  She was sweet as when she first fell in love, when I was the center of her world and what she cared most about.  She comforted me and I was happy.  I thought, "Surely now I will get better."  She held me as we slept, but when morning came, she was dressed in the clothing of a professional woman.  She was leaving.  She was cold and stern.  And my heart sank back into the depths.  

This is, I think, the first time my wife has appeared in my dreams since we parted.  But she was just a figure, wasn't she, just an emblem of how things have gone?  The mind has its own ways, mostly mysterious and strange.

It was the most vivid dream I've had in years.  I can remember every detail in full, every emotion.

Here's the song I heard on the show.  You probably won't like it.  I'm just a hillbilly, I think. . . genetically.  This music always speaks to me.  I've never been familiar with Ola Belle Reed, but I stayed up a good part of the night listening to her music.  The first one is the one I heard on "Fargo."  The second is just a bonus.  

 "High on the mountain, standing all alone, wondering where the years of my life had blown."

"I've seen the lightning flashing, I've heard the thunder roar.  I've endured.  How long can one endure?"

She's an amazing woman and has received numerous national awards and much serious acclaim, not just for her music but for her social activism.  In the 1970s, she was awarded an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Maryland.  And yet she is known by only a few.  

Such is life.  

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