Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Hard Man Shouting in the Street Gonna Travel the World One Day

January 22, 2020

I never remember anything
Except for those things
That I never forget
You know there’s no in-between

–Ani Difranco

It’s starting.
Five years ago, in the lonesome recovery limbo of my thirties I could feel it– Start writing, or all of it was for nothing.

It’s doubtful I will live long enough to crash through the thin ice of that prophecy. In my late teens, my immune system, seeking to franchise, I guess, launched a twenty year campaign against my scrawny but sturdy corporeal shell, a cellular, inside-out Jekyll and Hyde work of art– imagine Yoko Ono’s inspired re-envisioning of Michelangelo’s David . Thus my body, an aesthetic commodity one minute, a grotesque liability the next, zigzagged from one extreme to the opposite, from beauty to Evil Dead.

Will I be far-gone and obsolete in my not-so-old age, a chalky, silent, and invisible lump weathering the holiday lunacy of my blossoming generations of cousins, all of them beautiful, strong. Nothing will ever befall them.

MAY 2015, RAPIDES REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER (and megalithic blob of a riverside hospital, it’s mindless appetite gobbling every helpless downtown block, regurgitating one new 7 -story wing after another, its parking garages loaded with ghosts and litter.)

Here, during my encampment in this room on the fabled kidney floor, the curtains stay shut 24/7, shielding me not only from the downtown bustle four stories below but my many past lives, my ghostly personas festering with secrets whose stories will grumble underground until even the onslaught of climate change morphs the river park into a tar pit.

My adolescence, my young adulthood, the countless hours my friends and I galloped as perfect buffoons about the riverfront amphitheater, huddled atop the highest of the titanic semi-circular seats– the whole structure nothing but stone and handlebars– we slouched, Salvador Dali models fresh from an evening at the movies, and watched the skaterpunks and skate-betties, none of whom were unfortunate enough to attend our Catholic school, twirl and crash and laughter-swear back and forth across the flat panoramic, doused beneath the blazing emergency lights that smothered their territory like a football field, all the while basking but never participating in our attention.

This would become a pattern, for me at least, if it weren’t so already. And when my scrubbed phlebotomist tech switches on the light at 5AM, wrenching me me from my drug-induced dream, I bolt upright. My scalded eyes strain to open: No, hell no, this ain’t a dream, dammit– no sleep figment of mind would be caught dead or alive with a portable computer and the dead weight caddy, smothered in Kuala stickers, unless my subconscious was felling X-rated. But this very real vampiric tech, who like the others is half-awake herself, makes with the needling and as ALWAYS binds the jab with a hot pink wrap of gauze. And once she’s gone, and I’m listening… the cackling crowd polarized at the nurses station around the corner, gabbing and giggling as if filming the opening sequence of a doomed sitcom.

Silence.

I’m lying here, sometimes alone, watching music videos. Volcano Girls. Lakini’s Juice. Freshmen by The Verve Pipe. Damn they’re beautiful. Suddenly there’s Kylie Minogue sexy-dancing in Charlie Brown’s dry-cleaned Halloween costume; there’s Alanis, whose hands are never clean; and– hold up! What is this angelic rapture-tune warming my cold soul like Chicken Soup for the Apathy-Slacker?:

I could be mean… I could be angry…. You know I could be just like you!

I fell in love again. I was breathless, I was thunderous. It didn’t last. This was before I had muscles.

“The older we get, the more we live in the past.”

One of the best people I’ll probably never see again was Ricky, a handsome hyperactive high school graduate I met almost immediately the summer of 2001, when my body needed a break from taking on the world and such. Damn, that boy grated my nerves like they were made of cheddar. I can’t say what changed. We began to see something cool in each other, something worth seeking and knowing. But the summer was short; he left, months went by. And then, when my kidneys first failed, I was alone in my hospital room, wondering, as I still do, if more resources are necessary to raid the floor’s pharmacy than to rob a Chase Manhattan.

Ricky was fidgety, his face contorted into an urgency I’d rarely seen in anyone. He was on his way, he said– and this at eight o’clock at night– to track down a doctor to discuss donating one of his kidneys to me.

At the time, I’d been diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome and minimal change disease. Despite its immediate severity I was expected to recover– until my pesky immune system decided to strike again.

Ricky seemed to think I was dying. And this kid– eighteen, who maybe wasn’t the best at thinking things through– was genuinely prepared to sacrifice one of his major organs to save my life. I finally talked him down, explained my situation despite the usual interruptions– the nurse demanding my vitals, the batshit intercom rupturing our eardrums. And that was the last time I saw him. Wherever Ricky is on this planet all these years later, I still love him for what he did, for who he was.

And now for something completely different: (RIP Terry Jones)

See the source image
Giphy

“You can’t be alive!” Dana Kimmel scream-gasps.

I know. I swear to Hestia, I know. And nobody knows the nine-tenths of it.

But I never tire of watching the decisive final blow that halted at least one of this asshole’s tours of terror. But after three sleepless binge marathons of “It’s a Living,” a few minutes of deliberation and several hundred thousand My Pillow commercials, I decided that I didn’t want to be that person, lost, sedentary yet floundering in my old age through mental movies of chronically shifting nostalgic miasma, all the while decomposing under a hoarder-house bedroom of 1000-page books and unfinished excretory manuscripts dispersed like wall to wall carpet.

Grayscale Photo of Seaside
mali maeder

“Are you about ready to go now, buddy?” My cousin-in-law is lanky, heavily accented and faintly orange. He and his wife, my first cousin are both six years older than me. They used to be cool, bringing me every summer to a public island beach off the coast of Mississippi. Now he’s a Southern Baptist minister, a preacher, a pastor– how should I know? I’m a fucking Catholic, and I don’t even do that. Since his ordination some five years ago he’s officiated the funerals and burials of every deceased Cason and Cason-in-law, and I can’t imagine him presiding over the podium at my own send-off.

What would he say? Would he launch into Jesus-speech and have me spinning right round in my casket like a backwards Tori Amos record? I think I’d like for him to concede that I got a shit deal but in the fraction of this world I managed to travel I fell in love, and I was loved– repeatedly. Unexpectedly. And as of now it’s still happening all around me. When I look back, the darkness that tried its damndest for decades to destroy me is nothing but a sliver beneath the weapons-grade voltage of my first love, nothing but a spot behind the exquisite glow of a broken heart. That every time I picture Ricky pacing about my hospital room, suddenly I could care less about being invisible or forgotten. I am not lost. I was never lost.

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