R.I.P., My Love
Let us be apart then like the panoptical chambers in IC patient X and patient Y, our names magic markered hurriedly on cardboard and taped pell-mell to the sliding glass doors, "Mary", "Donald", "Tory"; an indication that our presence there would prove beyond temporary, like snow flurry. Our health might be regained if aggressive medical action were taken, or despite these best efforts, lost like missing children in the brambles of poor fortune. The suffering of another's I can only envision through the mimesis of my own, the alarming monitor next door in lieu of a heartbeat signifying cardiac arrest, prompts a scurry of interns and nurses, their urgent footsteps to which I listen, inert and prostrate, as if subject to the ground tremors of a herd of buffalo or horses, just a blur in the parched and post-nuclear distance. I listen, perhaps the way the wounded will listen to the continuing war, so different sounding than before, the assault of noise now deflected against consciousness rather than serving as motivation for patriotism and targets. Like fistfuls of dirt loaded with pebbles and rocks thrown at my front door, I knew that the footsteps would soon be running to me also. The blood pressure cuff swaddled around my arm pumped in its diastolic state independently like an iced organ ready for transplant as I witnessed with one circular rove of my eyes my body now dissected into television sets, like one of those asymmetrical structures that serves as a model for a molecular unity in elementary science classes. And the plastic bags of IV fluids that hung above me, a Miró-like mobile or iconic toy for an infant's amusement, measured the passing of time by virtue of their depletion. Sometimes I could count almost five and then seven swinging vaguely above me at 4 am. I remember the first, hand-held high above me when I arrived via ambulance at the ER, the gurney accelerating as a voice exclaims on the color of my hands "they're blue!". Another voice (deeper) virtually yells out into the chaos that she can't get a pulse. Several pairs of scissors begin simultaneously to cut off my clothes, their shears working their way upward like army ants from pant cuff and shirt-sleeve, a formulaic move for the ER staff which, despite its routine, still retains a sense of impromptu in the hurriedness of the cutting both deft and crude, in the sound of their increased breathing, of their efforts intensified by my blood pressure dropping, the numbers shouted out as if into night fog and ocean. It's not a lack of professionalism but the wager of emotional investment that I feel. One attendant, losing her aplomb for a moment, can't contain herself from remarking (as if I'm already post-mortem) on what a great bra I have; "Stretch lace demi-cup, Victoria's Secret," I respond politely in my head. In turn, when they put the oxygen tube into my nose I thought immediately of Ali McGraw on her death bed in Love Story and how good she looked in one. And then the catheter where I pissed continually into a bottle like a paraplegic let me in on the male fear of castration my focus centered entirely on that tube, its vulnerable rigging which I held onto tenderly throughout the night like something dying against my thigh or something birthing. I held on though the IV in my forearm overextended with a kind of pleading, the needle hooked deep into a mainstream vein the way in deep sea fishing lines are cast into the darkest water, my body thrashing about in the riverweed of its fluids. The translucent infrastructure of IVs and oxygen tubes superimposed itself upon me like a body double, more virulent and cold, like Leda pinned and broken by her swan, like the abandoned and organ-failed regarding its superior soul ascend. So completely and successfully reconfigured within its technological construct my body proper no longer existed, my vital signs highlighted in neon preceded the spiraling vortex of my interiority, the part of me people will say later that that's what they loved when they roam about in the cramped rare book library of their memory for a couple of minutes and think of "Tory". Movement can only be accounted in shadows, Virilio informs us, the reconciliation of oneself in one's disappearance. An anachronistic sundial, I turn my profile and the fluorescence falls unfractured, unmediated onto the postmodern tenebrism of absence against absence, my quickened inhalations against my backless gown. My love for you, my love, for my friends, untethers and floats, snaps apart and off me like the I.V. tubes and monitor wires the flailed arms of an octopus unfolding without gravity, as I reach up in a Frankensteinian effort to shut off my monitors, the constant alarming of the human prototype my own body keeps rejecting, while death moves closer, a benign presence. It stands respectfully just outside the perimeters of my life and adjusts itself the way the supervising nurse did the monitor perimeters to suit my declining vital signs so I could get some sleep. I felt a relationship with death, a communication, it was more familiar than I ever imagined, what I had always returned to as the sign of me, the self we attribute to the mysterious and perfectly ordered Romantic notion of origin. What I'm trying to say is that it was not foreign. It was not foreign, but it was not a homecoming either. There was no god, no other land, no beyond; no amber, no amethyst, no avatar. But there was a suspension, there was an adieu to recognition to the shoes of those I love, like Van Gogh's, a pair but alone the voices of loved ones, their tones, their intonations, like circulation, closed-circuited but effective. There was a listless but clear-thinking comfort that into my own eyes I would go, although not "into" in the Bachelardian sense which implies diminishment; there was none of that. It was just the opposite: expansion but without a pioneer's vision. What we regard as the "self" extended itself, but I wouldn't say in a winged way, over the Bosch-like landscape of brutal interactions and physical pain and car alarms and the eternal drilling of disappointment the exigent descendence of everyday that everyday you peer down or up its daunting staircase, nauseous with vertigo gathering like straw the rudimentary characteristics of courage, gumption, innovation and faking it to the hilt like a hilarious onslaught of sham orgasms. Transcendence might be the term Emerson would lend it. What I'm trying to say is that it wasn't lonely.
From HIV, Mon Amour by Tory Dent, copyright © 1999 by Tory Dent. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Sheep Meadow Press.