Friday, September 12, 2008

The Bitter Dregs

One of the most disturbing things about my bipolarity is the change in the relations within my memory. Certain events, people, or circumstances have taken on an elephantine presence all out of proportion to their actual relation to my history. Others have shrunken to the size of an overcooked green pea, accessible, if I work at it, but leaving an empty space where once they existed in proper size and relation to everything else.

I am certain that this is a function of the illness. For it was not so until I became ill and I cultivated my memory with thorough and conscious care for more than thirty years before this--I relied on it as the second most valuable tool a professional intellectual could have. The most valuable was observation, for as Sherlock Holmes tells the Dr. Watson in all of us, "You see, my dear fellow, but you do not observe." My memory and my observation were my life, and I kept them shipshape and spic and span.

The Mother of the Muses is Memory. She has left me. They remain, and shake my shoulder urging me to sing--Walter Savage Landor

The walls of those empty spaces left where memories have shrunken are coated in bitter dregs. When I stumble into them I cannot help wiping my finger along the walls and putting it to my mouth to taste them.

Where are you now, Artemis? Weren't you once solid and definite in my memory? Whole and complete? You were Pierrette incarnate, a flirting minx, an untouchable will-o'-the-wisp, who hid a mind like a razor and an ambition of steel springs and thick leather, behind the airy tinkle of your inconsequential laugh.

You taught me to French Kiss, and none I've known French Kissed better than you, your delicate fingers searching out the sensitive fascia just below my shoulder blades, leaving me all hot and bothered for the better part of two hours after you would dance away so lightly. You were my Cruel, Fair Maid and you cracked my heart in two.

I came upon a Child of God, he was walking along the road, when I asked him, "where're you goin'", this he told me... Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young

Wrapped over all these fragments is the color shifting Super 8 footage of my long dark hair and my all white shirt and trousers [I had a young man's Mark Twain fetish then] in a Spring so perfect that it burned the nerves. It was my first year of college, I was headed from a class to the monumental, limestone slabbed Main Library, where I always hid in the cool, dark bookstacks, among great and interesting books, pages sweet smelling and foxed, that I did not yet know of, but was determined to find, read, and conquer.

I turned a corner, lost in studious thought, amidst a cloud of fragrance from old, old flowering quince bushes, long since chopped down. Then I looked up, and saw the tear gas canister explode within three feet of me. And headed toward me was the solid marching phalanx of grey coated, polycarbide helmeted Ohio Highway Patrolmen, billyclubs at ready. Four were shot dead in Ohio, and that seemed overwhelmingly important for years, but we, ourselves, have turned the corner of a new millenium and have left it all behind.

But the Patrolmen still stand there, for all the world like Greek legions painted on a tall, red-on-black Amphora filled with wine or olives. Or perhaps as sober and dark as a wall in Washington, decorated with names of men who died by violence in Southeast Asia.

I know you became a lawyer, Artemis, driving a trade in San Francisco, and are quite well off now. I know we talked once, briefly, over the phone, seventeen years ago when I was there on a visit, but the lunch appointment fizzled as our schedules got too tangled to meet. We had a couple of brief e-mails a year or so back. You have two lovely children to send to college, a beautiful Victorian home, the same good solid guy that you married, and, like me, some more weight to carry. Then I slipped into one of the periods of my dead, dry darkness, and we lost touch.

I still don't quite have the full memory of your face.

I can call forth the components of your face so long ago, the touseled auburn Betty Boop curls, the pursed little bow of a mouth with the faint hint of a mustache at its corners, the exact hue and shade of the Blush you always lightly brushed on your cheeks, and the flirting brown eyes behind the large, square, wire rimmed, and rose-tinted glasses.

But your face as a whole has left me. Your story as a whole has left me as well. There are only fragments.

She didn't look hard. But she looked like she'd heard all the answers and remembered the ones she thought she could use sometime.--Raymond Chandler

I heard some of the answers, and all but one of the men who gave them to me have died. There was the famous photographer, a pocket spiritual guru just before they became fashionable, a tall man with a mane of glowing white hair, floating lightly through the last years of his life with Death constantly sitting on his shoulder, whispering in his ear.

You gave me the answer of how you did this, though it was in a locked box of your words which I could not open until I had made my own key by constantly seeking conversation with Death, and sustaining it unafraid.

You are more present, more real now than you were thirty-five years ago, looming over me like some double-scale Baroque marble statue, so filled with the energy of arrested motion that your very stillness could shatter in an instant, like exploding glass.

This image of you overwhelms and absorbs the actual facts of our brief history of teacher and student. I wrote those facts down once, and it's a good thing, because I could no longer make a full narrative of them now.

What senses do we lack that we cannot see a whole other world before us?--Frank Herbert

I left that whole other world 15 years ago. It was a world of stucco and adobe, a sun that was always warm and bright and only occasionally truly hot. It was a world of mountains and full double rainbows and of a horizon where you could see 3 or more separate thunderstorms at the same time. It was a world where the smell of roasting green chiles saturated the late summer air, where the jewelery exhibited at the state fair could contain turquoises as big as your fist. When you looked up at the sky in October, it could be full of balloons as vivid a gumdrops. When you looked down from the mountain top, the whole city was barely visible under a cloud of brown gunk.

That world shattered in fragments a month before my dissertation defense, and I didn't even know it until seven years later. The people who triggered it really do not matter, nor does what they did to do it. The cracks in my mind had been lengthening for years. Occasionally one of them shows up in my dreams as a little wisened old man, though his hair is still mostly black, and he keeps asking me where did I go, the first to take a Doctorate and the one who vanished tracelessly after.

You can look but you better not touch, boy! You can look but you better not touch. Mess around, you'll end up in Dutch boy! You can look, but you better not, no you better not, no you better not touch--Bruce Springsteen

I touched you and you touched me, didn't you Kay? Touched me with coarse dark hair and dripping wet where I wanted it most as you rode me like the horse that you dreamed of as a child in Texas. The phone call is still there, the one where you told me our love child had miscarried in the earthquake. The sweet and sensuous travels are still there; the dinner on Cannery Row where we watched black waterbirds trolling for the same sanddab fish that were hot and breaded on my plate; the perfect white bowl of sand called China Cove where you scorched your skin to cherry red and I could only touch you that night where the tank suit had covered you; and the night stroll in the New Orleans that is now gone, heavy with Magnolias, creeping and rustling ghosts, and the memory of Oysters Rockefeller but an hour before.

Then there was the second phone call, where you could not quite bring yourself to tell me that you had made the choice of loving women only instead of both women and men--and I had to tell it to you and say goodbye.

All fragments, all lost, all slowly disintegrating as my body ages and my mind lapses into the dark places. And all lost for good when Death takes me, leaving only the karmic stain for when we meet again.

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.--Shakespeare

One of my hobbies was Astrology, and the peculiar thing about them all is that they were all born within the same 3 day span in mid-July. Almost chilling that is. Almost chilling still.

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