We felt the lonely beauty of the evening, the immense roaring silence of the wind, the tenuousness of our tie to all below. There was a hint of fear, not for our lives, but of a vast unknown which pressed in upon us. A fleeting feeling of disappointment-that after all those dreams and questions this was only a mountain top-gave way to the suspicion that maybe there was something more, something beyond the three-dimensional form of the moment. If only it could be perceived.
– Thomas F. Hombein Everest- The West Ridge
October 25, 1998 Lude’s dead.
October 25, 1998 (An hour??? later)
Wow, not doing so well. But where else to turn? What mistakes have been made. A sudden vertigo of loss, when looking down, or is it really looking back?, leaves me experiencing all of it at once, which is way too much.
Supposedly by the time Lude made it out of the hospital he’d gotten very familiar with all those painkillers. Too familiar. He wasn’t in the kind of shape he used to be in before Gdansk Man got to him. He couldn’t shake off the effects as easily. He couldn’t resist them as easily either. It sure didn’t help that the fucker he called his lawyer kept feeding him all that bull about getting rich and living free.
By summer, Lude was tumbling straight down into oblivion. Morning shots-and not booze either. Somehow he’d gotten mixed up with hypodermic needles. Plus pills and plenty of other stuff. And all for what?
Addressing what pain? No doubt at the heart of him. Unshared, unseen, maybe not even Lude himself. I mean “not even recognized by Lude himself.” What I meant to say. And then the worst question of all: if I’d been there, could I have made a difference?
Apparently in August, the front Lude had defended for so many years finally began to fail.
Lude never did have the sense to retreat. No rehab for him, no intro(in)spection, no counseling, good talk, clean talk, or even the slightest attempt to renegotiate old pathways. If only he could have gotten around it all, at least once, far enough to peek past the corner and find out that hey, it doesn’t have to be the same block after all. But Lude didn’t even opt for a fucking change of pace. He’d refuse the line. He’d fix bayonets and then in a paroxysm of instinct, all mad, bleak, sad & sad, same word said differently-you gotta ask, you’ll never know, maybe you’re lucky-he gave the order to charge.
“Charge!” Probably never really said. Just implied. With a gesture or a grin.
Only in Lude’s case the bayonets were fifths of bourbon & bindles of pills and his charge was led on a Triumph.
Of course this was no Little Round Top. Not about the Union, though ironically Lude was killed right outside of Union on Sunset. He’d been up in the Hills at some so & so, such & such gathering, enough chemicals rioting in his body to sedate Manchester United for weeks. Around four in the morning, still hours before that great summoning of blue, inspiration struck, winding into him like an evil and final vine. He was going for a ride.
The chemicals sure as hell didn’t object nor did his friends.
Amazingly enough, he made it down the hill alive, and from there started heading west, going after his own edge, his own dawn, his own watery murmur.
He was doing well over 100 MPH when he lost control. The motorcycle skidding across the left lane. Somehow-in the ugly stretch of a second- threading unhit past any oncoming traffic, until it slammed into the building wall and disintegrated.
Lude flew off the bike when the front wheel caught the curb. The cement uncapped his skull. He painted a good six feet of sidewalk with his blood. The next morning a sanitation crew found his jaw.
That was about all Lude left behind too, that and a few pairs of scissors with a couple of shorn hairs still clinging to the blades.
October 25, 1998 (Later)
Numb now. Moments when my face tingles. Could be my imagination. I’m not feeling anything let alone some motherfucking tingle. I’m so cold I stay crouched by my hot plate. I light matches too. Trying to follow Lude’s advice. Six boxes of blue tips. My fingers bubble and blister. The floor writhes with a hundred black serpents. I want to burn these pages. Turn every fucking word to ash. I hold the burning staffs a quarter of an inch from the paper, and yet one after another, the flames all die in a gray line. Is it a line? More like the approximation of a line written in a thin line of rising smoke. That’s where I focus because no matter how hard I try I cannot close that fraction of space. One quarter of an inch. As if to say not only can this book not be destroyed, it also cannot be blamed.
October 25, 1998 (Still later)
Possess. Can’t get the word out of my eye. All those S’s, sister here to these charred matches. What is it, the meaning behind “to possess” and why can’t I see it? What at all can we ever really possess? Possessions? And then there’s that other idea: what does it mean when we are possessed? I think something possesses me now. Nameless-screaming a name that’s not a name at all-though I still know it well enough not to mistake it for anything other than a progeny of anger and rage. Wicked and without remorse.
October 25, 1998 (Not yet dawn)
An incredible loneliness has settled inside me. I’ve never felt anything like this before.
We’ve all experienced a cold wind now and then but once or twice in your life you may have known a wind over seventy below. It cuts right through you. Your clothes feel like they were made of tissue, your lips cracking, eyes tearing, lashes instantly freezing-pay no mind to the salt. You know you have to get out of there fast, get inside, or there’s no question, you will not last.
But where do I go for shelter? What internationally recognized haven exists for this kind of emptiness? Where is that Youth Hostel? On what street?
Not here. That’s for sure.
Maybe I should just drain a glass, load a bong, shake hands with the unemployed. Who am I kidding? No place can keep me from this. Can’t even keep you.
And so I sit with myself just listening, listening to the creaking floor boards, the hammering water pipes, and masked in each breath, syncopated to every heartbeat, the shudders of time itself, there all along to accompany my fellow residents as they continue to yell, fight and of course scream. I’m surrounded. Indigents, addicts, the deluded and mad, crawling with lice, riddled with disease, their hearts breaking with fear.
Horror has caused this.
But where horror? Why horror? Horror of what? As if questions could stop any of it, halt the angriest intrusion of all, ripping, raping, leaving me, leaving you, leaving all of us gutted, hollow, dying to die.
Any fool can pray.
I find some soup and use a knife to stab it open. I have no pan so I tear off the paper and place the can directly on the hot plate. Eventually I dial the screams out. Though they are still there. They’ll always be there.
Random, abrupt, loud, sometimes soft, sometimes even wistful.
I’m not in a hotel. This is not a refuge. This is an asylum.
The soup warms. I do not. I will need something stronger. And I find it. What has been there all along, ancient, no not ancient, but primitive, primitive and pitiless. And even if I know better than to trust it, I also realize I’m too late to stop it. I have nothing else. I let it stretch inside me like an endless hallway.
And then I open the door.
I’m not afraid anymore.
Downstairs, probably in some equally oily room as this, someone shouts. His voice is anguish, describing in a sound a scene of awful violence, a hundred serrated teeth, bright with a thousand years of blood, jagged nails barely tapping out a code of approach, pale eyes wide and dilated, cones and rods capturing everything in one unfailing and powerful assumption.
My heart should race. It doesn’t. My breath should come up short. It doesn’t. My mouth’s empty but the taste there is somehow sweet.
Of course I’m not afraid. Why should I be? What disturbs the sleep of everyone in this hotel; what crushes their throats in their dreams and stalks them like the dusk the day; what loosens their bowels, so even the junkies here have to join the rush to the bowl, splattering their wet chinawhite; what they experience only as premonition, illness and fear; that banished face beyond the province of image, swept clean like a page-is and always has been me.
October 25, 1998 (Dawn)
Left Hotel. If the clerk had looked up I would have killed him. Wer ietzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr. Though I can see, I walk in total darkness. And though I feel, I care even less than I see.
October 27, 1998
Sleep under benches. All I have are these fluttering pages in my Dante book, a Florentine something I can’t remember getting or buying. Maybe I found it? Scribble like a maniac. Etch like the chronic ill. Mostly shiver.
Shiver constantly though the nights are not so cold.
Wherever I walk people turn from me.
October 29, 1998
Guess Lude wasn’t enough. He wanted the guy who did the actual fucking. Kyrie was with him too, saying nothing, just sitting there as he pulled that 840 Ci BMW over, his BMW, his Ultimate Driving Machine, and yelled something at me, for me to stop I think, which I did, waiting patiently for him to park the car, get out, walk over, wind up and hit me-he hit me twice-all of it experienced in slo-mo, even when I crumpled and fell, all that in slo-mo too, my eyebrow ringing with pain, my eye swelling with bruise, my nose compacting, capillaries bursting, flooding my face with dark blood.
He should have paid attention. He should have looked closely at that blood. Seen the color. Registered the different hue. Even the smell was off.
He should have taken heed.
But he didn’t.
Gdansk Man just yelled something ridiculous, made his point and that was that, as if he really had asserted himself, settled some imaginary score, and that really was just that. And maybe it was. For him at least. End of story.
He even wiped his hands of the affair, literally wiping his hands on his pants as he walked away.
Good old Gdansk Man.
I could see Kyrie was smiling, something funny to her, perhaps how the world turns, a half a world spinning world away finally spinning back around again, completing this circle. Resolving.
Except that when Gdansk Man turned his back on me, starting his short stroll to the car, slo-mo died, replaced this time y a kind o celerity I’ve never known before. Even all those early day fights, way back when, all those raw lessons in impact and instinct, could not have prepared me for this: exceeding anger, exceeding rage, coming precariously close to the distillate of-and you know what I’m talking about here every valued intuition lost, or so it seemed already.
My heart heard resound and followed then the unholy kettles of war. Some wicked family tree, dressed in steel, towering beyond my years though already cast in eclipse, conspired to instruct my response, fitting this rage with devastating action. I scrambled to my feet, teeth grinding back and forth like some beast accustomed to shattering bones and tearing away pounds of flesh, even as my hand vanished in a blur, lashing out for something lying near the corner trash can, an empty Jack Daniels bottle, which I’m sure, proof positive, I never noticed before and yet of course I did, I must have, some other sentient part of me had to have noticed, in allegiance with Mars, that unsteady quake of dangerous alignments, forever aware, forever awake.
My fingers locked around the glass neck and even as I sprang forward I had already begun to swing, and I was swinging hard, very hard, though fortunately the arc was off, the glass only glancing off the side of his head. A direct hit would have killed him. But he still dropped, boy did he drop, and then because I couldn’t really feel the blow, only the dull vibrations in the bottle, messengers informing me in the most remote tones of “a hit, a very palpable hit” and because more than anything I craved the pain, and the knowledge pain bestows, particular, intimate and entirely personal, I let my knuckles do the rest, all of them eventually splitting open on the ridges of his face until he slumped back in shock, sorry, so sorry, though that still didn’t stop me.
Initially this beating had been driven by some poorly reasoned revenge carried out in the name of Lude, as if Gdansk Man could sustain all that blame. He couldn’t. It quickly became something else. No logic, no sense, just the deed fueling itself, burning hotter, meaner, a conflict beyond explanation. Gdansk Man saw what was happening and started yelling for help, though it didn’t come out as a yell. More like blubbering and far too soft to reach anyone anyway. Certainly not this life-taker.
Nothing close to pity moved inside me. I was sliding over some edge within myself. I was going to rip open his skin with my bare hands, claw past his ribs and tear out his liver and then I was going to eat it, gorge myself on his blood, puke it all up and still come back for more, consuming all of it, all of him, all of it all over again.
Then suddenly, drawn in black on black, deep in the shadowy sail of my eye, I understood Kyrie was running towards me, arms outstretched, nails angled down to tear my face, puncture sight. But even as I slammed my fist into Gdansk Man’s temple again, something had already made me turn to meet her, and even though I did not command it, I was already hearing my horrendous shout, ripped from my center, blasting into her with enough force to stop her dead in her tracks, robbed instantly of any will to finish what she must have seen then was only suicide. She didn’t even have enough strength left to turn away. Not even close her eyes. Her face had flushed to white. Lips gone gray and bloodless. I should have spared her. I should have shifted my gaze. Instead I let her read in my eyes everything I was about to do to her. What I am about to do to her now here. How I would have her. How I have already had her. Where I would take her.
Where I have already taken her. To a room. A dark room. Or no room at all. What will we call it? What will you call it?
Surprised? Really? Has nothing prepared you for this? This place where no eye will find her, no ear will hear her, among pillars of rust, where hawks haunt the sky, where I will weave my hands around her throat, closing off her life, even as I rape her, dismember her, piece by piece, and in the continuing turn, for these turns never really stop turning, void out all I am, ever was, once meant or didn’t mean.
Here then at long last is my darkness. No cry of light, no glimmer, not even the faintest shard of hope to break free across the hold.
I will become, I have become, a creature unstirred by history, no longer moved by the present, just hungry, blind and at long last full of mindless wrath.
Gdansk Man dies.
Soon Kyrie will too.
October 30, 1998
What’s happened here? My memory’s in flakes. Haven’t slept.
Nightmares fuse into waking minutes or are they hours? What scenes?
Atrocities. They are unspeakable but still mine. The blood though, not all of it’s mine. I’ve lost sense of what’s real and what’s not. What I’ve made up, what has made me.
Somehow I managed to get back to my hotel room. Past the clerk. Had to lock the door. Keep it locked. Barricaded. Thank god for the guns. I’ll need the guns now. Thoughts tear suddenly through my head. I feel sick. Full of revolt. Something unright sloshes in my guts, though I know they’re empty.
What’s that smell here?
What have I done? Where have I gone?
October 30, 1998 (A little later)
I’ve just found a stack of Polaroids. Pictures of houses. I have no idea where they came from. Did I take them? Maybe they were left by someone else, some other tenant, here before me. Should I leave them for the next tenant, the one who must inevitably come after me?
And yet they are familiar, like this journal. Could someone have given them to me? Or maybe I bought them myself at some flea market.
“How much for the pics?”
“All of them. The whole box.”
Someone else’s. Someone else’s memories. Virginia or not Virginia but anywhere homes, lined up in a row, or not in a row. Quiet as sleeping trees. Simple houses. Houses from a car. More houses. And there in the middle, on the side of the road, one dead cat.
Oh god what constant re-angling of thoughts, an endless rearrangement of them, revealing nothing but shit. What breaks. What gives.
And not just the photos.
The journal too. I thought I’d only written a few entries but now I can see-I can feel-it’s nearly full, but I don’t recall any of it. Is it even in my hand?
October Three Zed, Ninety Eight. That’s the day today. That’s the date. Top of this page. But the first page in the journal isn’t October Three Zed but May One. May one mean-meaning, I mean-months and months of
journey. Before Lude died. Before the horror. Or all of it horror since right now I can’t connect any of it.
It’s not me.
It cannot be.
As soon as I write I’ve already forgotten.
I must remember.
I must read.
I must read.
I must read.
May 1, 1998
On the side of route 636, I see a tabby, head completely gone, a smear of red. Probably killed by some stupid fucking I-Don’ t-Really-KnowHow-To-Drive motorist. Nearby another cat, a great big gray thing, watches. Runs off when I approach.
Later, after I’ve driven down through Alliance, over to California Crossroads up to Highgate and then back towards Conham Wharf, I return to the same spot and sure enough the gray cat is back, just sitting there, though this time refusing to leave. What was it doing? Was it grieving or just waiting, waiting for the tabby to wake up?
No one here has heard of Zampanô.
No one here has heard of the Navidsons.
I’ve found no Ash Tree Lane.
Months of travel and I’ve still found no relief.
* On the Jamestown-Scotland Wharf Ferry I look down at the water and suddenly feel myself fill with a memory of love’s ruin, circumscribed by war and loss. The memories are not my own.
I’ve no idea whose they are or even where they came from. Then for an instant, feeling stripped and bare, I teeter on an invisible line suspended between something terrible and something terribly sad. Fortunately, or unfortunately, before I fall one way or the other, the ferry reaches the Jamestown colony.
An afternoon spent looping around the Pitch and Tar Swamp unveils no secrets. Standing out on Black Point, gazing over The Thorofare, shows me nothing more than the idle words of a spring wind writing unreadable verse in the crests of small waves. Are there answers hidden there? In what language?
Past a bank of pay phones, where a tall man in John Lennon glasses speaks inexplicably of beasts and burns, there is no future, school children scream their way into the visitor’s center, a stream of crayon and pastel, oblivious, playful, shoving each other in front of the various dioramas, all of them momentarily delighted by all those baskets, ancient weapons and glazed mannequin express ions-though nothing more-their attention quickly shifting, drifting?, soon enough prodding their teachers to take them outside again to the ships on which the settlers first arrived, reconstructed ships, which is exactly what their teachers do, taking them away, that giddy, pastel stream, leaving me alone with the dark glass cases and all they don’t display.
Where is the starving time of 1610? The 1622 Powhatan Indian Insurrection which left almost 400 dead? Where are the dioramas of famine and disease? The black and broken toes? The gangrene? The night rending pain?
“Why, it’s right here,” says a docent.
But I can’t see what she’s talking about.
And besides, there is no docent.
* Colonial Williamsburg. Wow, even further from the truth, or at least my truth. The tidy streets offer nothing more than a sanitized taste of the past. Admirable restoration, sure, but the “costumed interpreters”-as the brochure likes to describe these would- be citizens of the American legacy
-nauseate me. I’m not exaggerating either. My stomach turns and heaves.
Mary Brockman Singleton speaks amiably about the Brick House Tavern on Duke of Gloucester Street and the way her husband succumbed to the grippe. It makes no difference that Mary Brockman Singleton died back in 1775, because, as she’s inclined to tell everyone within earshot, she believes in ghosts.
“Didn’t you know,” she delicately informs us. “Numerous poltergeist sightings have been reported at the Peyton Randolph House.” A few people murmur their patriotic approval.
A good time as any for a question. I ask her if she’s ever seen a bottomless staircase gut the heart of whatever home she really lives in, when Colonial Williamsburg closes down for the night and she, not to mention the rest of all these would-be interpreters here, change back to the memory of the present, hastily retreating to the comfort of microwaves and monthly telephone bills.
What does she know about interpreting, anyway?
Someone asks me to leave.
* Near the campus of William & Mary, surrounded by postcards thickwith purple mountain majesty, and they are purple, I hyperventilate. It takes me a good half hour to recover. I feel sick, very sick. I can’t help thinking there’s a tumor eating away the lining of my stomach. It must be the size of a bowling ball. Then I realize I’ve forgotten to eat. It’s been over a day since I’ve had any food. Maybe longer.
Not too far away, I find a tavern with cheap hamburgers and clean tap water. Across the room, eight students slowly get drunk on stout. I start to feel better. They pay no attention to me.
Everywhere I’ve gone, there’ve been hints of Zampanô’s history, by which I mean Navidson’s, without any real evidence to confirm any of it. I’ve combed through all the streets and fields from Disputanta to Five Forks to as far east as the Isle of Wight, and though I frequently feel close, real close, to something important, in the end I come away with nothing.
* Richmond’s just a raven and the remnants of a rose garden trampledone afternoon, long ago, by moshing teenagers.
* Charlottesville. The soft clicking of Billy Reston’s wheels-come tothink of it sounding alot like an old projector-constantly threatens to intrude upon the corridors of a red brick building known as Thorton Hall, and yet even though I check the NSBE, I can’t find his name.
A bulletin board still has an announcement for Roger Shattuck’s lecture on “Great Faults and ‘Splendidly Wicked People’ ” delivered back in the fall of ’97 but retains nothing about architectural enigmas waiting in the dark Virginia countryside.
On the West Range, I make sure to avoid room 13.
* Monticello. Learn Jefferson had carefully studied Andrea Palladio’s · Ouatrro Libri. Realize I should probably visit the Shenandoah and Luray caverns. Know I won’t.
A quick re-read of all this and I begin to see I’m tracing the wrong history. Virginia may have meant a great deal to Zampanô’s imagination. It doesn’t to mine.
I’m following something else. Maybe parallel. Possibly harmonic. Certainly personal. A vein of it inhabiting every place I’ve visited so far, whether in Texas-yes, I finally went-New Orleans, Asheville, North Carolina or any other twist of road or broken town I happened to cross on my way east.
I cannot tell you why I didn’t see her until now. And it wasn’t a scent that brought her back either or the wistful edges of some found object or any other on-the-road revelation. It was my own hand that did this. Maybe you saw her first? Caught a glimpse, between the lines, between the letters, like a ghost in the mirror, a ghost in the wings?
My mother is right before me now, right before you. There as the docent, as the interpreter, maybe even as this strange and tangled countryside. Her shallow face, the dark lyric in her eyes and of course her words, in those far reaching letters she used to send me when I was young, secretly alluding to how she could sit and watch the night seal the dusk, year after year, waiting it out like a cat. Or observe how words themselves can also write. Or even, in her own beautiful, and yes horrifying way, instruct me on how to murder. One day even demonstrate it.
She is here now. She has always been here.
“Beware,” she might have whispered. “Another holy Other lessens your great hold on slowing time,” as she would have described it, being the mad woman that she truly was.
She could have laid this world to waste. Maybe she still will.
May 4, 1998
In Kent. Nine years. What an ugly coincidence. Even glanced at my watch. 9. Fucking nine PM.
5+4+1+9+9+8+9 = 45 (or -9 yrs = 36)
4+5 = 9 (or 3+6 9)
Either way, it doesn’t matter.
I say it with a German accent:
June 21, 1998
Happy Birthday to me. Happy fucking Birthday. Whatever the fuck will be will fucking be sang momma D-Day. Bright as an A-Bomb.
July 1, 1998
Dreams getting worse. Usually in nightmares you see what you’re scared of. Not in my case. No image. No color. Just blackness and then in the distance, getting closer and closer, beginning to pierce some strange ever-present roar, sounds, voices, sometimes just a few, sometimes a multitude, and one by one, all of them starting to scream.
Do you know what it’s like to wake up from a dream you haven’t seen? Well for one thing, you’re not sure if you were dreaming or not.
The day after May 4th, I didn’t feel like writing down what happened. A week later, I felt even less like writing down what happened. What did it matter? Then an hour ago, I woke up with no idea where I was. It took me twenty minutes just to stop shaking. When I finally did stop though, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that everything around me had been irreparably fractured. Without realizing it at first, I was thinking over and over again about that night, May 4th, mindlessly tracing and re-tracing the route I’d taken when I’d gone to see the institute where my mother had lived. What my father had always referred to as The Whale.
“You know where your mother is, Johnny,” he’d tell me. “She’s in The Whale. That’s where she lives now. She lives in The Whale.”
Much to my surprise it was dead. Closed in April. Over five years ago.
Getting inside hadn’t been easy but eventually, after enough circling, edging quietly around the overgrown perimeter, I found a way through the surrounding chain link fence. Eight feet high.
Crowned with concertina wire. No Trespassing signs every ten yards. For a while, I wandered the long white
corridors, pebbles of glass strewn over most of the floors. It was easy to
see why. Every window pane had been shattered. The Director’s old office was no exception.
On one of the walls, someone had scrawled:
“Welcome to the Ice House.”
It took me another hour to locate her room. So many of the rooms looking the same, all familiar, but never quite right, quite the same, their dimensions and perspectives never precisely lining up with the memory I had, a memory I was soon beginning to doubt, a surprisingly painful doubt actually, until I saw through her window the now vine entwined tree, every wall-line, corner-line, floor-line instantly, or so it seemed-though nothing is ever instant-matching up, a sharp slide into focus revealing the place where she finally died. Of course it’s final, right? Closet to the side. Empty. And her bed in the corner. The same bed. Even if the mattress was gone and the springs now resembled the rusted remains of a shipwreck halfburied in the sands of some half- forgotten shore.
Horror should have buried me.
I sat down and waited for her to find me.
She never did.
I waited all night in the very room it happened, waiting for her frail form to glide free of beams of glass and moonlight. Only there was no glass. No moonlight either. Not that I could see.
Come morning I found the day as I have found every other day- without relief or explanation.
There’s no good answer why I went where I went next, unless of course you buy the obvious one, which in this case is the only one for sale. So give me your pennies. It’s only a copper answer anyway.
I guess because I was still stuck on this notion of place and location, I drove all the way to the home I was living in when my mother was taken away, which was a good few years before my father was killed, before I would eventually meet a man named Raymond.
I was bent on just ringing the doorbell and talking my way into those rooms. Convincing myself I could convince the new owners-whoever they might be; I’m imagining fat, sallow, god fearing people, staring out at me, listening to me explain how in spite of my appearance it was still their god fearing duty-to let me walk around what used to be mine, at least for a little while.
I figured one look at me and they’d realize this was no joke. I’m about as close to fucking gone as you can get.
The man grunting: “If we don’t let this kid in, he just might not make it.”
The wife: “I reckon.”
Then the man: “Yup.”
And finally one last time, the wife: “Yup” At least that’s what I hoped.
They might just call the cops.
It was mid-day when I found, following a bunch of lefts, the right right to a no saint lined Street, completely changed. The house gone. A bunch of houses gone. In their place a large lumberyard. Part of it operational. The other part still under construction.
Well what can I say, just seeing all the sawdust and oil on the ground and the hard hats and the black cables and those generic fucking trailers tore me up inside. My guts began churning with pain. Probably with blood. I started hemorrhaging hurt. Something I knew no band-aid or antacid was going to cure. I doubted even Sutures would help. But what could I do?
There would be no healing here.
I stood by the circular saws and clutched my belly. I had no idea where I was in relation to what had once existed. Maybe this had been my kitchen. Why not? The stainless steel restaurant sink there to the side. The old stove over there. And here where I was standing was right where I’d been sitting, age four, at my mother’s feet, my arms flinging up, instinctually, maybe even joyfully, prepared to catch the sun. Catch the rain.
The memory mixes with all the retellings and explanations I heard later. It’s even possible what I hold to be a memory is really only the memory of the story I heard much later. No way to tell for sure anymore.
Supposedly I’d been laughing. So that accounts for the joy part. Supposedly she’d been laughing too. And then something made my mother jerk around, a slight mistake really but with what consequence, her arm accidentally knocking a pan full of sizzling Mazola, while I, in what has to be one of strangest reactions ever, opened my arms to play the bold, old catcher of it all, the pan bouncing harmlessly on the floor but the oil covering my forearms and transforming them forever into Oceanus whirls. Ah yes, you true sister of Circe! What scars! Could I but coat you with Nilemud! Please bless these arms Which I found myself looking at again, carefully studying the eddies there, all those strange currents and textures, wondering what history all of it could tell, and in what kind of detail, completely unaware of the stupid redneck yelling in my ear, yelling above the engines and shrieking saws, wanting to know what the fuck I was doing there, why I was clutching my belly and taking off my shirt like that, “Are you listening to me asshole? I said who in the hell do you think you are?”, didn’t I know I was standing on private property?-and not even ending his tirade there, wanting to know if it was my desire to have him break me in half, as if that’s really the question my bare chested silence was asking. Even now I can’t remember taking off my shirt, only looking down at my arms.
I remember that.
However, as I write this down-some kind of calm returning-I do begin to recall something else, only perceive it perhaps?, the way my father had growled, roared really, though not a roar, when he’d beheld my burning arms, an ear shattering, nearly inhuman shout, unleashed to protect me, to stop her and cover me, which I realize now I have not remembered. That age, when I was four, is dark to me. Still, the sound is too vivid to just pawn off on the decibels of my imagination. The way it plays in my head like some terrifying and wholly familiar song. Over and over again in a continuous loop, every repetition offering up this certain knowledge: I must have heard it-or something like it-not then but later, though when? And suddenly I find something, hiding down some hail in my head, though not my head but a house, which house? a home, my home?, perhaps by the foyer, blinking out of the darkness, two eyes pale as October moons, licking its teeth, incessantly flicking its long polished nails, and then before it can reach-another cry, perhaps even more profound than my father’s roar, though it has to be my father’s, right?, sending this memory, this premonition-whatever this is-as well as that thing in the foyer away, a roar to erase all recollection, protecting me?, still?, obviously great enough to exceed the pitch of all the equipment chewing up wood, stone and earth, and certainly much louder than the dumb fuck who kept shoving me until I was well beyond the gate, falling out of grace, or into grace? who the hell cares, beyond the property line, theirs, and mine; what used to be my home.
I heard nothing.
My ears had popped.
My mind had gone blank.
September 2, 1998
Seattle. Staying with an old friend. [418- ______________
_____________________________________________________________ _________________________] A pediatrician. My appearance frightened both him and his wife and she’s a doctor too. I’m underweight. Too many unexplained tremors and tics. He insists I stay with them for a couple of weeks. I decline. I don’t think he has any idea what he’d be in for.
September 7, 1998
The three of us spent the weekend at the Doe Bay Village Resort on Orcas Island. The mineral baths there seemed to help. Beautiful. Encircled by Douglas fir and frequently visited by strange drifters kayaking in from small boats moored in the bay. We sat there for a long time just inhaling hot sulfur as it mingled with the evening air. Eventually my friend’s wife asked me about my journey and I answered her with stories about my mother, what I remembered, and the institute, what I saw, and the lumberyard. even told them the story behind the scars on my forearms. But they already knew about that. As I already told you, they’re my friends. They’re doctors.
Doc took a quick dip in the adjacent cold water bath. When he came back he told me the story of Dr. Nowell.
September 20, 1998
I am much improved. My friends have been taking care of me full time. I exercise twice a day. They’ve got me on some pretty serious health food. At first it was hard to choke down but now my stomach’s in great shape. No thoughts of a tumor or even an ulcer.
Once a day I attend a counseling session at their hospital. I’m really opening up. Doc has also put me on a recently discovered drug, one bright yellow tablet in the morning, one bright yellow tablet in the evening. It’s so bright it almost seems to shine. I feel like I’m thinking much more clearly now. The medication seems to have eliminated those deep troughs and manic peaks I frequently had to endure. It also allows me to sleep.
Just recently Dcc confessed that when he first heard me screaming he was skeptical anything short of a long-term stay at an institute would help. The first few nights he had just sat awake listening, jotting down the occasional word I’d groan, trying to imagine what kind of sleep spindles and K-complexes could describe that.
But the drug has cured all that.
It’s a miracle.
And that’s that.
September 23, 1998
Doc and his wife took me out to Deception Pass where we looked down into the gorge. We all watched a bald eagle glide beneath the bridge. For some reason no one said a word.
September 27, 1998
I’m healthy and strong. I can run two miles in under twelve minutes. I can sleep nine hours straight. I’ve forgotten my mother. I’m back on track. And yet even though I’m now on my way to LA to start a new life-the guns in my trunk long since gone, replaced with a year’s supply of that miraculous yellow shine-when I said goodbye to my friends this morning I felt awful and soaked in sorrow. Much more than I expected.
Standing side by side in their driveway, they looked like a couple of newlyweds about to run off to Paris, the kind you see in movies, racing down the dock, birdseed in their hair, climbing into a seaplane, heading out over the Sound, maybe even towards a bridge, perhaps there’s even a moment where everyone wonders if they’re high enough to even make it over the bridge, and then like that they do and their story begins. Good people. Very good people. Even as I started the car they were still asking me to stay.
September 28, 1998
Portland. Dusk. Walked under the Hawthorne bridge and sat by the Willamette river. Carrot juice and tofu for dinner. No, that’s not right, more like a 7-Eleven burrito. Got ready to take my yellow shine tablet but for some reason-now what the hell’s that about?-I’d forgotten to put one in my pocket.
I walked back to where I’d parked. My car was gone. Someone had stolen it.
No. My car was still there. Right where I’d parked it.
I opened the trunk. It was icy dark. No tablets of any kind to be found anywhere. Certainly not a year’s supply. Like I said-icy dark. Empty, except for the faint glint of two guns lying side by side next to a Weatherby 300 magnum.
September 29, 1998
Are you fucking kidding me? Did you really think any of that was true? September 2 thru September 28? I just made all that up. Right out of thin air. Wrote it in two hours. I don’t have any friends who are doctors, let alone friends who are doctors. You must have guessed that. At least the lack of expletives should have clued you in. A sure sign that something was amiss.
And if you bought that Yellow-Tablet-Of-Shine stuff, well then you’re fucking worse off than I am.
Though here’s the sadder side of all this, I wasn’t trying to trick you. I was trying to trick myself, to believe, even for two lousy hours, that I really was lucky enough to have two such friends, and doctors too, who could help me, give me a hand, feed me tofu, make me exercise, administer a miracle drug, cure my nightmares. Not like Lude with all his pills and parties and con-talk street-smack. Though I sure do miss Lude. I wonder how he is. Should be out of the hospital by now. Wonder if he’s rich yet. It’s been months since I’ve seen him. I don’t even know where the last month went. I had to make something up to fill the disconcerting void. Had to.
Right now I’m in Los Gatos, California. Los Gatos Lodge in fact. I managed a couple hours of sleep until a nightmare left me on the floor, twitching like an imbecile. Sick with sweat. I switched on the TV but those channels offered only the expected little.
I went outside. Tried taking in the billions of stars above, lingering long enough to allow each point of light the chance to scratch a deep hole in the back of my retina, so that when I finally did turn to face the dark surrounding forest I thought I saw the billion eyes of a billion cats blinking out, in the math of the living, the sum of the universe, the stories of history, a life older than anyone could have ever imagined. And even after they were gone-fading away together, as if they really were one-something still lingered in those sweet folds of black pine, sitting quietly, almost as if it too were waiting for something to wake.
October 19, 1998
Back in LA. Went to my storage unit and retrieved the book. Sold my car. Checked into an awful hotel. A buck and a quarter a week. One towel. One hot plate. Asked the clerk if he could give me a room that wasn’t next to anyone. He just shook his head. Didn’t say anything. Didn’t look at me either. So I explained about the nightmares and how they make me scream alot. That made him say something, though he still didn’t look at me, just stared at the formica counter and told me I wouldn’t be alone. He was right.
More than a few people around here scream in their sleep.
Tried calling Lude. No luck.
October 24, 1998
Called Thumper today. She was so happy to hear from me she invited me over for dinner tomorrow night, promised me the works, home cooked food and hours of uninterrupted private time. I warned her that I hadn’t been to a laundromat in a long while. She said I could use her washing machine. Even take a shower if I liked.
Still nothing from Lude.
October 25, 1998 Lude’s dead.
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November 2, 1998
Alas to leave. For this all has been a great leaving. Of sorts. Hasn’t it?
November 11, 1998
Far from the city now. Bus rattling the low heavens with its slow wayless trek into the desert. Dusty people, fat people, forgotten people crowding the seats and aisles. Sack lunches, snores and the dull look that comes to faces when they’re glad to be leaving but in no great hurry to arrive.
At least I have a little money now. I pawned the weapons before I left. The guy gave me eight- fifty for all three. He wouldn’t spare a cent on the bullets, so I kept them and tossed them in a dumpster behind a photolab.
After going back to Kinko’s-that took awhile- and then taking a trip to the Post Office-that took even longer-, I went to see my crush for the last time.
Is that what she is?
More like a fantasy, I guess. Probably best spelled with “ph.” A phantastic hope. The enchanting ecdysiast who that night, at long last, gave me her real name.
I can’t quite explain how good it was to see her. I had to wait awhile but it was worth it. I was out back, all the more happy when I saw she was wearing the braided gold necklace I’d given her.
See, I told you my boss would get it to her. He knew I wasn’t kidding when I told him I’d burn his life down if he didn’t. Even if I had been kidding.
She said she never took it off.
We didn’t talk long. She had to return to her stage and I had a bus to catch. She quickly told me about her child and how she’d broken off her relationship with the boxer. Apparently, he couldn’t take the crying. She was also starting laser surgery to get her tattoos removed.
I apologized about missing dinner and told her- what the fuck did I tell her? Things, I guess. I told her about things. I could see her get all nervous but she was also enticed.
Nightmares have that quality, don’t they?
She reached out and gently brushed my eyebrow with her fingertips, still hurting from good old Gdansk Man. For a moment I was tempted. I could read the signs well enough to know she wanted a kiss. She’d always been fluent in that language of affection but I could also see that over the years, years of the same grammar, she’d lost the chance to understand others. It surprised me to discover I cared enough about her to act now on that knowledge, especially considering how lonely I was. I gave her an almost paternal hug and kissed her on the cheek. Above us airplanes roared for the sky. She told me to keep in touch and I told her to take care and then as I walked away, I waved and with that bid adieu to The Happiest Place On Earth.
August 28, 1999
Only yesterday, I arrived in Flagstaff, Arizona where trains routinely stop so the homeless can climb off and buy coffee for a dime at a little train yard shop across the tracks. That’s really all it costs too. For seventy-five cents you can have a bowl of soup and for another dime a slice of bread. I steered clear of the coffee and bought myself dinner for under a buck. However instead of climbing back on the freight car, I wandered off, eventually stumbling upon a park with some benches where I could sit down and enjoy my meal, my mind for some reason suddenly consumed with thoughts of Europe. Paris quays, London parks. Other days.
As I ate, someone’s radio kept me company until I realized it wasn’t a radio at all but live music spilling out the back door of a bar.
I only had three dollars and some change. More than likely the cover would keep me from entering. I decided to try anyway. At the very least, I could linger outside and listen to a few songs.
Surprisingly enough, I encountered no one at the door. Still, since the place was half empty, I figured someone would spot me soon enough, stop me before I reached a barstool, start poking me for money. No one did. When the bartender came over to take my order, I straight up explained how much I had, figuring that would be enough to get me escorted out.
“No worries,” he said. “There’s no door charge and tonight beer’s only a buck.”
I immediately ordered three for the band and a water for myself, and what do you know, a little later the bartender came back with a beer on the house. Apparently I’d been the first one that night to buy the musicians a drink which was strange and pretty fucked up too, especially since it was such a cheap night and they were actually pretty good.
Anyway I kicked back and began listening to the songs, enjoying the strange melodies and wild, nearly whimsical words. The bartender eventually noticed that I hadn’t touched my drink and offered to exchange it for something else. I thanked him and asked for a gingerale, which he got for me, taking the beer for himself.
We were still talking, talking about Flagstaff, the bar, the trains, me sharing some cross country stories, him confiding a few of his own predicaments, when out of the blue some very weird lyrics spiked through our conversation. I whipped around, listening again, concentrating, convinced I’d made a mistake, until I heard it once more: “I live at the end of a Five and a Half Minute Hallway.” I couldn’t believe my ears.
When the set finished, I approached the trio, all three of them, probably because of the way I looked and smelled, acting very suspicious and wary until the bartender introduced me as the source of their recently acquired and hastily imbibed beverage. Well that changed everything. Barley and hops make for remarkable currency.
We started chatting. As it turned out, they were from Philadelphia and had been touring from coast to coast all summer. They called themselves Liberty Bell.
“Cracked. Get it?” howled the guitar player. Actually all three of them were pretty glib about their music, until I asked about “The Five and a Half
“Why?” the bass player said sharply, the other two immediately getting very quiet.
“Wasn’t it a movie?” I stammered back, more than a little surprised by how fast the mood had just shifted.
Fortunately, after studying me for a moment, presumably making one of those on-the-spot decisions, the drummer shook his head and explained that the lyrics were inspired by a book he’d found on the Internet quite some time ago. The guitar player walked over to a duffel bag lying behind one of their Vox amps. After digging around for a second he found what he was searching for.
“Take a look for yourself,” he said, handing me a big brick of tattered paper. “But be careful,” he added in a conspiratorial whisper. “It’ll change your life.”
Here’s what the title page said:
House of Leaves by Zampanô
with introduction and
notes by Johnny Truant
Circle Round A Stone Publication
I couldn’t believe my eyes.
As it turned out, not only had all three of them read it but every now and then in some new city someone in the audience would hear the song about the hallway and come up to talk to them after the show. Already, they had spent many hours with complete strangers shooting the shit about
Zampanô’s work. They had discussed the footnotes, the names and even the encoded appearance of Thamyris on page 387, something I’d transcribed without ever detecting.
Apparently they wondered alot about Johnny Truant. Had he made it to Virginia? Had he found the house? Did he ever get a good night’s sleep? And most of all was he seeing anyone? Did he at long last find the woman who would love his ironies? Which shocked the hell out of me. I mean it takes some pretty impressive back-on-page-117 close-reading to catch that one.
During their second set, I thumbed through the pages, virtually every one marked, stained and red- lined with inquiring and I thought frequently inspired comments. In a few of the margins, there were even some pretty stunning personal riffs about the lives of the musicians themselves. I was amazed and shocked and suddenly very uncertain about what I had done. I didn’t know whether to feel angry for being so out of the loop or sad for having done something I didn’t entirely understand or maybe just happy about it all. There’s no question I cherished the substance of those pages, however imperfect, however incomplete. Though in that respect they were absolutely complete, every error and unfinished gesture and all that inaudible discourse, preserved and intact. Here now, resting in the palms of my hands, an echo from across the years.
For a while I wrestled with myself over whether or not to tell the band who I was, but finally, for whatever reason, decided against it, returning their book with a simple thank you. Then finding myself very sleepy, I wandered back into the park, wrapped myself up in my brown corduroy coat with new buttons I’d personally sewed on-this time using entire spools of thread to make sure they would never fall off again-and stretched out beneath an old ash tree, resting my head on the earth, listening to the music as it continued to break from the bar, healing my fatigue, until at long last I drifted off to a dream where I was soaring far above the clouds, bathed in light, flying higher and higher, until finally I fell into a sleep no longer disturbed by the past.
A short while ago a great big gray coated husky emerged out of nowhere and started sniffing my clothes, nudging my arm and licking my face as if to assure me that though there was no fire or hearth, the night was over and the month was August and nothing close to seventy below would threaten me. After petting him for a few minutes, I walked with him around the park. He sprinted after birds while I stretched the sleep out of my legs. Even as I scribble this down, he insists on sitting by my side, ears twitching occasionally in the dawn air, while before us a sky as dark as a bruised plum slowly unfolds into morning.
Inside me, I still feel a strange and oddly familiar sorrow, one which I suspect will be with me for some time, twining around the same gold that was once at the heart of my horror, before she appeared before him and spoke the rain into a wind. At least though, it’s getting milder, a gentle breeze filling in from the south. Flagstaff appears deserted and the bar’s closed and the band’s gone, but I can hear a train rattling off in the distance. It will be here soon, homeless climbing off for a meal, coffee for a dime, soup for three quarters and I have some change left. Something warm sounds good, something hot. But I don’t need to leave yet. Not yet. There’s time now. Plenty of time. And somehow I know it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be alright. It’s going to be alright.
October 31, 1998
Back here again. These pages are a mess. Stuck together with honey from all my tea making. Stuck together with blood. No idea what to make of those last few entries either. What’s the difference, especially in differance, what’s read what’s left in what’s left out what’s invented what’s remembered what’s forgotten what’s written what’s found what’s lost what’s done?
What’s not done?
What’s the difference?
October 31, 1998 (Later)
I just completed the intro when I heard them coming for me, a whole chorus, cursing my name, all those footfalls and then the bang of their fists on my door.
I’m sure it’s the clerk. I’m sure it’s the police. I’m sure there are others.
A host of others. Accusing me for what I’ve done.
The loaded guns lie on my bed.
What will I do?
There are no more guns. There are no more voices.
There is no one at my door.
There’s not even a door anymore.
Like a child, I gather up the finished book in my arms and climb out the window.
Memories soon follow.
Gdansk Man’s blood is smeared on my fingers, but even as I prepare to murder him there on the sidewalk and carry Kyrie away to another there- some unspeakable place-, something darker, perhaps darkest of all, arrests my hand, and in the whispers of a strange wind banishes my fury.
I throw the bottle away, pick up Gdansk Man and whatever I say, something to do with Lude, something to do with her, he mumbles apologies. For some reason, his hands are cut and bleeding. Kyrie takes his keys, slips behind the wheel and retreats into the bellowing of the day, their departure echoing in my head, resonant with incomplete meaning, ancient and epic, as if to say that whatever had come to mean us was dissuaded by something else that had come to meet us. Confirming in this resolution that while the dead may still hunt their young, the young can still turn and in that turning learn how the very definition of whim prevents the killing.
Or is that not it at all?
I start to run, trying to find a way to something new, something safe, darting from the sight of others, the clamor of living.
There is something stronger here. Beyond my imagination. It terrifies me. But what is it? And why has it retained me? Wasn’t darkness nothingness? Wasn’t that Navidson’s discovery? Wasn’t it
Zampanô’s? Or have I misconstrued it all? Missed the obvious, something still undiscovered waiting there deep within me, outside of me, powerful and extremely patient, unafraid to remain, even though it is and always has been free.
I’ve wandered as far west as I can go.
Sitting now on the sand, I watch the sun blur into an aftermath. Reds finally marrying blues. Soon night will enfold us all.
But the light is still not gone, not yet, and by it I can dimly see here my own dark hallway, or maybe it was just a foyer and maybe not dark at all, but in fact brightly lit, an afternoon sun blazing through the lead panes, now detected amidst what amounts to a long column of my yesterdays, towards the end, though not the very end of course, where I had stood at the age of seven, gripping my mother’s wrists, trying as hard as I could to keep her from going.
Her eyes, I recall, melting with tenderness and confusion, as she continued muttering strange, unwieldy words: “My little eye sack. My little
Brahina lamb. Mommy’s going to be okay. Don’t worry.”
But even though my father had his hands on her shoulders, trying as gently as he could to lead her away, I couldn’t let go. So she knelt down in front of me and kissed my cheeks and my forehead and then stroked my face.
She hadn’t tried to strangle me and my father had never made a sound. I can see this now. I can hear it too. Perfectly.
Her letter was hopelessly wrong. Maybe an invention to make it easier for me to dismiss her. Or maybe something else. I’ve no idea. But I do know her fingers never closed around my throat. They only tried to wipe the tears from my face.
I couldn’t stop crying.
I’d never cried that much before.
I’m crying now.
All these years and now I can’t stop.
I can’t see.
I couldn’t see then.
Of course she was lost in a blur. My poor father taking her from me, forced to grab hold of her, especially when they got to the foyer and she started to scream, screaming for me, not wanting to go at all but crying out my name-and there it was the roar, the one I’ve been remembering, in the end not a roar, but the saddest call of all-reaching for me, her voice sounding as if it would shatter the world, fill it with thunder and darkness, which I guess it finally did.
I stopped talking for a long while after that. It didn’t matter. She was lost, swallowed by The Whale where authorities thought it unwise to let me see her. They weren’t wrong. She was more than bad off and I was far too young and wrecked to understand what was happening to her. Compassion being a long journey I was years away from undertaking. Besides, I learned pretty quickly how to resent her, licking away my hurt with the dangerous language of blame. I no longer wanted to see her. I had ceased to mind. In fact I grew to insist on her absence, which was how I finally learned what it meant to be numb. Really numb. And then one day, I don’t know when, I forgot the whole thing. Like a bad dream, the details of those five and a half minutes just went and left me to my future.
Only they hadn’t been a dream
That much-that little much-I now know.
The book is burning. At last. A strange light scans each page, memorizing all of it even as each character twists into ash. At least the fire is warm, warming my hands, warming my face, parting the darkest waters of the deepest eye, even if at the same time it casts long shadows on the world, the cost of any pyre, finally heated beyond recovery, shattered into specters of dust, stolen by the sky, flung to sea and sand.
Had I meant to say memorializing?
Of course there always will be darkness but I
realize now something inhabits it. Historical or not. Sometimes it seems
like a cat, the panther with its moon mad gait or a tiger with stripes of ash and eyes as wild as winter
oceans. Sometimes it’s the curve of a wrist or what’s left of romance, still hiding in the drawer of some long lost nightstand or carefully drawn in the margins of an old discarded calendar.
Sometimes it’s even just a vapor trail speeding west, prophetic, over clouds aglow with dangerous light. Of course these are only images, my images, and in the end they’re born out of something much more akin to a
Voice, which though invisible to the eye and frequently unheard by even the ear still continues, day and night, year after year, to sweep through us all.
Just as you have swept through me.
Just as I now sweep through you.
I’m sorry, I have nothing left.
Except this story, what I’m remembering now, too long from the surface of any dawn, the one Doc told me when I was up in Seattle –
It begins with the birth of a baby, though not a healthy baby. Born with holes in its brain and “showing an absence of grey/white differentiation”- as Doc put it. So bad that when the child first emerges into this world, he’s not even breathing.
“Kid’s cyanotic,” Dr. Nowell shouts and everywhere heart rates leap. The baby goes onto the Ohio, a small 2 x 2 foot bed, about chest high, with a heater and examination lights mounted above.
Dr. Nowell tracks the pulse on the umbilical cord while using a bulb syringe at the same time to suck out the mouth, trying to stimulate breath. “Dry, dry, dry. Suck, suck, suck. Stim, stim, stim.”
He’s not always successful. There are times when these measures fail.
This, however, is not one of those times.
Dr. Nowell’s team immediately follows up, intubating the baby and providing bag mask ventilation, all of it coming together in under a minute as they rush him to an ICU where he’s plugged into life support, in this case a Siemens Servo 300, loaded with red lights and green lights and plenty of bells and whistles.
Life it seems will continue but it’s no easy march. Monitors record EKG activity, respiratory functions, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, as well as end tidal CO2. There’s a ventilator. There are also IV pumps and miles of IV lines.
As expected, nurses, a respiratory therapist and a multitude of doctors crowd the room, all of them there simply because they are the ones able to read the situation.
The red and green lights follow the baby’s every breath. Red numbers display the exact amount of pressure needed to fill his fragile lungs. A few minutes pass and the SAT (oxygen saturation) monitor, running off the SAT probe, begins to register a decline. Dr. Nowell quickly responds by turning the infant’s PEEP (Positive End Expiratory Pressure) up by 10 to compensate for the failing oxygenation, this happening while the EKG faithfully tracks every heart beat, the curve of each P wave or in this case normal QRS, while also on the monitor, the central line and art line, drawn straight from the very source, a catheter placed in the bellybutton, records continuous blood pressure as well as blood gasses.
The mother, of course, sees none of this. She sees only her baby boy, barely breathing, his tiny fingers curled like sea shells still daring to clutch a world.
Later, Dr. Nowell and other experts will explain to her that her son has holes in his brain. He will not make it. He can only survive on machines.
She will have to let him go.
But the mother resists. She sits with him all day. And then she sits with him through the night. She never sleeps. The nurses hear her whispering to him. They hear her sing to him. A second day passes. A second night. Still she doesn’t sleep, words pouring out of her, melodies caressing him, tending her little boy.
The charge nurse starts to believe they are witnessing a miracle. When her shift ends, she refuses to leave. Word spreads. More and more people start drifting by the ICU. Is this remarkable mother still awake? Is she still talking to him? What is she singing?
One doctor swears he heard her murmur “Etch a Poo air” which everyone translates quickly enough into something about an etching of Pooh Bear.
When the third day passes without the mother even closing her eyes, more than a handful of people openly suggest the baby will heal. The baby will grow up, grow old, grow wise. Attendants bring the mother food and drink. Except for a few sips of water, she touches none of it.
Soon even Dr. Nowell finds himself caught up in this whispered hysteria. He has his own family, his own children, he should go home but he can’t. Perhaps something about this scene stings his own memories. All night long he works with the other preemies, keeping a distant eye on mother and child caught in a tangle of cable and tubing, sharing a private language he can hear but never quite make out.
Finally on the morning of the fourth day, the mother rises and walks over to Dr. Nowell.
“I think it’s time to unplug him,” she says quietly, never lifting her gaze from the floor.
Dr. Nowell is completely unprepared for this and has absolutely no idea how to respond.
“Of course,” he eventually stammers.
More than the normal number of doctors and nurses assemble around the boy, and though they are careful to guard their feelings, quite a few believe this child will live.
Dr. Nowell gently explains the procedure to the mother. First he will disconnect all the nonessential IV’S and remove the nasogastric tube. Then even though her son’s brain is badly damaged, he will adminster a little medicine to ensure that there is no pain. Lastly, he and his team will cap the IV, turn off the monitors, the ventilator and remove the endotracheal tube.
“We’ll leave the rest up to…” Dr. Nowell doesn’t know how to finish the sentence, so he just says “Well.”
The mother nods and requests one more moment with her child.
“Please,” Dr. Nowell says as kindly as he can.
The staff takes a step back. The mother returns to her boy, gently drawing her fingers over the top of his head. For a moment everyone there swears she has stopped breathing, her eyes no longer blinking, focusing deeply within him. Then she leans forward and kisses him on the forehead.
“You can go now,” she says tenderly.
And right before everyone’s eyes, long before
Dr. Nowell or anyone else can turn a dial or touch a switch, the EKG flatlines. Asystole.
The child is gone.