August 16 2019

August 17, 2019

Opening the slick cerulean sleeve in the lobby of my building, my stomach gutters. What fresh Hell is next, I think as tugged the plastic sleeve from today’s newspaper. Yes, I still read the actual physical paper, pangs of guilt zing through the veins in my heart as I hold paper and plastic in my hands. I was raised on the printed word. I can read short articles online but dislike the lack of cohesion, the creepy algorithmic decisions that are  lobbed by a invisible hand my way. I pad back up the staircase toward my open apartment door through which I can hear the hissing splatter of my unattended Moka Pot, Italian Kalossi spreading across the stovetop. I dump what’s still in the pot into my tin cup emblazoned with a Dia de los Muertos skeleton singing “Bessame Mucho”, a gift from my ex that still burns my lips when I use it. Love hurts. Fortunately its not so much as to warrant crying over spilled coffee and as I make my way out onto the fire escape, my new roommate emerges from the bathroom, the scent of his cedar bourbon bathwash swirling through the midmorning air.

The air is heavy, like the down comforter that I step over, careful not to dribble any more of my lifesblood out of the mug, and just as thick. I fling up the screen and straddle the windowsill resting the paper and the coffeecup on the slats of rusty forest green metal. There are a pair of sun-bleached sofa cushions from a couch long since trashed that I keep as a place to lay when I’m out here. One of them has been chewed into but the terrifically aggressive squirrels who, like city rats, taunt me, shrug their shoulders when I yell at them to run along. Cooly they stare back and shuffle up the ladder or saunter across to the adjacent building; they are in no hurry.

I am in no hurry to open the Times. It gets harder to endure. Almost four years later and the chaos the hatred the racism the fascism, none of these are normal but all of it in unrelenting. Again my stomach pitches, my eye pinch. Country after country is shimmering in it’s own dark desires. South Korean and Japan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Russia and America. The spectre of another crashed economy, the spread of more diseases, the melting ice sheets, the blistering weather. I am afraid to open the paper and read what’s next. Another series of shootings, another trans woman murdered, another restrictive abortion law passed, another plastics facility built. Eric and Michael, my nephews dance inside my mind.  Mateo and Harrison James and Madison and little Jack- these children are being displaced from their future – locked in cages of diminished possibility. What little I can do, petitions I sign, phone calls I make, demonstrations I attend, tweets (ugh)  I do these yet it isn’t enough. It doesn’t stop the ICE agents from raiding factories, churches, homes. It won’t keep weak willed, scared white people from hating an ‘other’, from hating all others. It can’t impede the flow of deceit and misinformation. But if I shrug my shoulders and lumber along with my head hung and tears in my eyes there is no hope.

I hope to find an article that brings light into my heart- something that reminds me of all the beauty that surrounds us all, even in these hazy days that feel like twilight. All around me there is birdsong. The late summer roses blast open from the bushes below me. The puss in the window across the way stares at me  as if to say, “We are still here”. I take a slug of coffee, feel the caffeine curl in my brain. The headline is bleak. I tease out the Arts section. I will start here and move forward. I think of my nephews, their smiles and their laughing and the last time we ran in the park in the fluffy warmth of a December in Georgia, the fountain full of their wishes made on LaLa’s pennies. There is always light if you know where to look of it.

i

September 10

September 9, 2019

“what if all these fantasies come flailing around, and now i’ve said too much…”

Gnarled tree branches heavy with premature apples, the bark studded with mosses and the salty sea air looming over the end of the yard. The sounds of children far from home skittering across the campground punctuated by the dense thwack of a screen door on one of the cabins drifts through the August afternoon. I’ve just finished work, the first half of the day. Weekends bring turnover. Yellow and black or white and red license plates fill the few parking spots, families from out of state, generational vacations. The camp has been here for over one hundred years. Someone started the trend and a child now grown returns with children of their very own. They stay for a week or more, residing in the same cabin year after year, meeting up with childhood friends who’s children’s children now mix it up tossing horseshoes or playing ping-pong in the rec room, maybe another round of Monopoly. Having scrubbed the pots and pans from breakfast my day is not yet done; I’m dispatched to assist the girls who are cleaning the cabins, hauling sheets and towels and bringing them to the main house to be laundered and hung on the clotheslines across the apple trees.

It has been two weeks since David left Harborside, ME to return home to Limoges, FR. I mope. David is my first crush, my first love. My mother must sense this because she denies me sharing my Queen size bed and has the bedroom made up for him instead. She is not wary of my attentions towards him the way she looked disapprovingly at Caleb, the British import who was in our class for 2 brief years. Lithe and blonde Caleb was nothing like the men I am attracted to now, but he was foreign which is consistent with my types, as was David. David and I met Junior year in high school when I traveled to France for a student exchange program, the best friend of Emmanuel who’d resided with my the season prior. He took me under his wing in ways my host did not, putting me at ease playing pool at the house or dragging me out with them to the discotheque to dance the night away. Our bind was so strong that we not only keep in touch but David made an effort to come visit during the summer.

Maine summers were a drag for me as a teenager. There was almost no-one my age in the tiny town of Harborside and when someone did surface, they didn’t stay long. I made friends for one season with a manic-panic goth girl named Tracey who played me Sioxsie and the Banshees, The Smiths and the Indigo Girls (“Kid Fears turned me on to Michael Stipe and from them on out I was an R.E.M. fan forevermore). She was an ‘other’ like me and was in fact the first person I ever came out to, a test-run that was successful. I’d spend my days babysitting my siblings and watching the block of ABC Soaps daily, from All My Children until the end of General Hospital when I had to hop on my bike and ride to Hiram Blake Camp for dinner service. it was that summer on One Life To Live that Ryan Phillipe was portraying the first gay teenager on television and I was transfixed by the outre storyline involving Billy Douglas, Rev. Andrew Carpenter and his efforts to successfully bring the Names Project AIDS Quilt to the fictional town of Llanview. Tears hung in my eyes daily while Billy struggled with his secret, my secret too.

In the evenings as there was nowhere to go, David and I took on the project of transforming the barn on the property into a used bookstore, an idea my parents had kicked around for a year or so before. I’d set up my stereo, spinning jazz albums and Edith Piaf records into the night while Davis smoked cigarettes and we drank bottles of raspberry and peach lambic. I was so in love with this man, this boy who looked out for me when no one else did and who connected with me in a way that I’d never felt before about anyone, let alone a guy. (I had been writing my own friction fiction, some dreck about a beefcake who seduces me on the beach. Memory fails me when pinpointing the date of it’s discovery but my mom borrowed the bag I’d hidden it in and well…) One night, before he was to leave I must have had the bulk of the bottle of beer because I was wrenched up inside, desperate to break free of my shell.

There is something that I have to tell you and I am so afraid you won’t like me anymore,” the dramatic patter of youth- remember when that was the worst thing, when someone would just stop liking you for a random reason? “Deven, you are my friend, my brozaire, there is nothing you could say that would change that, ok” David assured. “So we’ve been watching One Life and you know, I know you don’t like soaps, but I needed to know if you- how you reacted to Billy and all that and well, I am gay too.” I sputtered. “And what is this big thing you have to tell me that would change how I feel about you?” David interjected. It took a moment for me to realize he was nonplussed. “Do you think I haven’t know other gays before?”

There are very few moments in my life I regret. I don’t regret my addictions or my seroconversion, my ex’s or my foolishness. But what David next said, what he offered is one of only Do Over moments I have in this life. He went on to explain that he had a dear friend in Paris who came out to him too and that this friend had a huge crush on him, was in love with him and wanted to spend the night together. “And we did, and he was happy. This isn’t something you want to do too, is it?” I stammered. I blushed. “No. No, of course not, why I want to do that?” “Oh, ok then. See you have nothing to be afraid of, you are no different to me today than the day before”.

I was crushed when he left, we both were. It would be another year before I could share that truth of myself with anyone else. I never got to come out to my parents, they all found out in one way or another and those revelations had such a crushing affect on me. But I had David’s acceptance and that was a beacon to reflect back upon when things got hard. And the days thereafter were rough. I must have played the cassingle of ‘Losing My Religion’ in my Outback Walkman more than the video ever aired on MTV. I was listening to in on that walk home from Hiram Blake, kicking at the gravel and cigarette butts along the one circular road that ran the length of the Cape on which we lived. I wondered if any of those butts were David’s. And I looked out into the stretch of pavement that pulled me forward onto the road ahead.

August 24, 2019

August 24, 2019

Beach-bound.

I once woke at 7:30, not long after the rays began to slip into the folds of my sheets, made coffee and grabbed the pen to write. These days it’s 10:30, the space between work and write truncated, the time I retire closer to 2or sometimes later. I miss that stretch of day, when there was so much potential in every hour. It’s not time, is it, that has shifted? It’s me. My muscles grate and twist. The mattress has moments where I think it’s been replaced with a fakir’s bed.

I relished the two, maybe three hours I spent at the beach in Ptown. I need more sun and sand. I rouse and send a few morning missives before showering and packing a sack. I drop off the laundry with Luis and wander over to the salumeria to grab a hero; homemade mozzarella with roasted peppers- some hot pickled ones tossed into the mix, smoked turkey. That goes into the backpack with the green chutney Kurkures, watermelon ice infused with a mezcal/Jamaica blend. A blanket, a towel. Seltzer.

Citibike restocked all the bikes overnight so I grab one and zip toward the water. Unfortunately Citibike has also restocked every dock near the ferry so I miss the first boat wandering 8 blocks to find an empty slot to park. “It’s the day off. There’s no hurry. You are going to the beach on a Saturday at the end of August. Gurl, the place is gonna be packed no matter what time your ass gets there” I remind myself. The bag feels heavier than before I trod the extra steps, I regret putting Cute before Comfort, my sneakers and orthotics taking a day off themselves back in the foyer of the apartment. The cbd/weed pill begins to kick in and feels like a shot of espresso. Espresso I like- this was too much. That’s why I normally only take half, but ” clearly I wasn’t thinking and now- re-fucking-lax”. I chuckle at the ability to go meta so quickly. I yank the bag off the back and nestle into the seat, in the shade awaiting my ride.

August 15

August 15, 2019

On this day, one year ago a shift in my life occurred. For the first time in almost 15 years I had to reexamine my health and my expectations of life. I had to trust in unanswered questions. I had to manage inscrutable pain. I learned to open my heart, let love come in again. One year later I am negotiating working in an industry I seem unable to leave. My lover left me to discovered I can heal from that heartbreak; I deserve more than what he had to gave of himself, know what to look for when love stumbles my way the next time.  I tackle the pain head on, try to mitigate the brunt of my labor, stretch and relax and eat better today.

Because I was unable to work I returned to my writing in earnest. I had laid the foundation beforehand, seeking the quiet morning light and the black chasm in my coffee cup to inch my mind closer to the words, quicker to the page. I find comfort in the keyboard now. A day that I have not sat down to plunk out a thought seems a day wasted. Like recovery I treat an unwritten day as a slip, I don’t punish myself for it, however. I know I’ll sit my butt back down here at the table, a glass of cold-brewed barley ice tea beside me. The white noise of my fan as it shoves the afternoon air across my sparkly purple toenails tries to screen out the jostling thoughts that want to tear me away but here I am, calling them out on the screen- no, phone I won’t pick you up but to render you mute – slap on the Airplane mode and set a timer to decree the hour of writing is completed. Writing is what makes the future possible for me now. It’s not a questions of breaking out of restaurant life, but finding my way into a literate existence.

The week spent in Provincetown was a profound experience. Seeing so many levels of talented writers tackling themselves through essay was inspiring. I had wanted so much to be there and suddenly it was all over, the connections slipping like minnows through a net left on the shore of Herring Cove. I try to cup them, to contain them and fashion them into unbreakable bonds of friendship and continuity. Time will tell. Some folks are meant to be a part of our lives for a flash and then another cameo appearance, another groups of extras gets cast and the scenes shift.  I wonder if it is easier to create friendships as one ages or harder? I’ve lost a few of mine recently, people I considered to be a part of my chosen family, friends who would be there always. Maybe they were never as close as I believed us to be?

This year has been a wonder and a challenge. I wouldn’t change it- regardless of the pain, both physically and emotionally. I have grown so, learned to be grateful again, accepted so many things I cannot change and fiercely loved myself in ways I had not known were possible. If this is what adulthood and middle-age is all about then I am taking it to heart and flourishing, even when life feels to stretch me to the breaking point. I accept the changes, try to be mindful of how I move forward and keep writing.

 

 

August 10

August 10, 2019

It is a brilliant Saturday morning, the sounds of construction ricochet between the alleyway of the buildings, the recycling truck lumbering up the street chatting the morning stillness. I want to remain in bed, I am still tired. My joints are tight and sleep has not quite swept the last bits of exhaustion from the corners of my being. Work has been so hard this new job takes as much out of me as my younger days- the gauntlets of doubles shifts I would run, 10am to 1am sometimes back to back. I worked nine shifts in six days this week if I factor in my day job. I want to remain here in bed but the light is so very bright and my band of my sleep mask has stretched out with all my tossing. Slowing I prop myself up, shift weight off the bad foot and onto the left foot and pad to the bathroom. I sit to pee, my head cradled in my hands, eking out rest wherever I can find it. Flush and shuffle through my pill bottles in the medicine cabinet for the first batch of anti-inflammatories, down them dry and lumber into the kitchen to grind beans for coffee. To add to the cacophony of daytime, my downstairs neighbor is shrieking in her bleach blonde Croatian, brittle and bold all at once.  The lull of the grinder mutes her gnashing for a moment, almost peacefully.

I begin to percolate and the exile of life follows suit. I didn’t make it to the farmer’s market yesterday so I’m out of the whole sprouted rye bread from She-Wolf Bakery I usually toast for my breakfast; maybe I’ll make it there Monday. The Key Food didn’t stock my quart of plain Siggi’s skyyr so it looks like just black coffee to start things rolling. I will have to be certain to eat before work- they provide family meal but for one thing what is put up I cannot eat and for the other, if there is something left by the time I get to the front of the line that won’t irritate my foot, I don’t have time to eat it. This reminds me to check my pay stubs to see if I have been clocked out for lunch breaks I am not taking. Legally I am supposed to take a break but legally they cannot clock me out without my signature. Another potential inflammation of issues at the restaurant.

I have opened numerous restaurants in my professional lifetime and never have I experienced something as chaotic and senselessly challenging as this opening. There is more concern over the centering of the table under the spotlight and the order in which the dishes are presented than there is attention paid to the actual food itself. For my own sanity I have, in recent years, tried to take a step back from being personally committed to the food I am serving. It is a waste of my creative energy, all of which needs to be placed in this milieu, my writing. I do not need to expend my precious time championing anyone’s work but my own. I need a job where I can employ my thirty years of food knowledge and hospitality skills but not get so swept up that there is no time to create my own works, sing my own praise (ya know- once I actually extract myself long enough to commit pen to page). How nice it would be to know a modicum of time and effort went into crafting a menu, executing a dish? Slapping “seasonal vegetables” in a description of a dish that contains asparagus in august is anything but seasonal. I am a good salesman, but not used care dealer.

 

August 4 2019

August 4, 2019

I’m writing via the app today, just to see if I create more or am more creative with thumbs vs fingers. (Well I could do that …!)

Hmm. Is this an added window into my epiphanic thinking? Or just a distraction? I was recently taught that an essay is a map that leads the reader along the path to where I am going with words. I have always referred to this as my non-linear thought process though train of thought needn’t preclude the other, right? Just because I mentally –bampf– from one place to another in my own head should not stop me from laying out the directions that take me there.

When I first started writing papers in school, I believed that my ideas were Athenian; perfect and fully formed plucked from my teenage skull for the world to read. Ah the hubris of youth! Whether it’s Michael Cunningham’s idea of slicing away all the “A” sentences from a work or grasping the understanding that what one is writing about maybe isn’t the actual subject of a piece, revision rewriting and editing are key.

I’m not sure if typing on the app is the best way to shape my daily commitment to writing. Sure it’s convenient but writing isn’t about making it easier to write- I’m distracted by links, receiving voicemails and texts while my thumbs plunk at the screen. It’s nice to know that under duress I can pop a point or two into view and release it into the ether, a bubble drifting into the hazy summer sun. For this to gel as a method of practice, sitting at a desk is best.

August 3 2019

August 3, 2019

     Almost a year ago my life changed. This would not be the first time, nor I expect, the last. Life is ever-changing, right? I have recorded bits from my struggle beginning last August when an attack of reactive arthritis changed the way I eat and drink and move and eventually my outlook on my health in ways my HIV or drug history never had before. I have welcomed this new me, this chance to become perhaps the person I was meant to be all along. Does life happen that way? In any event I have made me the focus of my attentions.

     Recently I was able to attend the Fine Arts Work Center for a week of writing. I returned hungry to pursue the writing that began while I was laid up last year. It’s funny as I sat in therapy yesterday trying to figure out the next course of action. I sat on the upper east side office debating how to ease out of hospitality. I am working in a new restaurant, I have to take it a bit easier so I’ve stepped back from management. This makes my life more physically engaged which presents it’s own set of issues however I am not on call at all hours to futz with things beyond my control. There is a freedom in that, and an increase in finial stability (that is if- fingers crossed- this new restaurant succeeds) and easing of responsibility all of which are choices I have made so i can engage with the pen and page (screen and keyboard). I hit me that it is n’t so much about getting out of restaurants as it is about working my way into writing.

The easiest thing to do is also the hardest- just sit down and write. So that is what I am attempting to do here, establish a routine, commit to doing a thing and doing it with purpose and intent. I am easing into it- starting just a little at a time and building from there. My plan is to write here for a few minutes each day so that a few minutes becomes a sensible deposit, not unlike putting $25 into one’s savings account. It may not seem like much but it is the foundation for growth. I am investing in myself once again.  No- I am continuing to invest in myself. Money has been tight. I went to pay for the session and the doctor asked me if I could afford to continue. Without hesitation I said “John, I can’t afford NOT to do this work”. I cannot afford not to set a few minutes aside to write.

My Whole World is about (to) Change.

More than when I got High.

More than when I got AIDS.

More than when I got Clean.

More than when I got Dumped.

More than when I asked for help, or embraced the consequences or looked up through that flushed dawn sky or the tasted the last dried tear.

Letting GO I am taking Charge.

The me I have known, he’s flaking off, scratched away, new flesh raw to the bite of the wind.

This is a me walking alone.

This is a me saying Yes.

This is a me who supports myself.

Already I have become aware of each next step with quivering breathe, with the throb in my bones.  I have relaxed the old neural pathways.  I have learned to take myself gently by the hand.

I hear the jet fuel training across the sky, lives launched toward new destinations.

I am mourning my own passing.                                          I am crowing for my resurgence.

I wake these mornings, shrug off the drifting dazzling dank. I sit here with black coffee and white pages. The squirrels outside leap from leaf to branch, deposit their savings in my flower pots. Salvation squirreled away.

I breathe

I cry

let it all seep in.

This day begins.

————————

(i who have died am alive again today and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay great happening illimitably earth)

the syringe is half full

October 28, 2018

I’m laying on the recliner in a drafty basement in the West Village. My stomach is knotted. Breathing is short. I want it all to go away, no more pressures, no more pain, just to disappear. I fucking hate needles but this is the only way, the only real way to get the most out if it. The two other guys in the room are so chill, like nothing unusual is happening, “Another day at the office, girl”. In some ways it is. We need it. Every. Day.

The clacking of Jackie’s boots coming down the spiral staircase, the Barbie Staircase as she calls it, cuts through my anxiety. Jackie will make the needle feel like a feather under my nose, like I won’t notice the metal slipping into my veins. She can make me laugh when I want to cry, distract me from what’s coming, but me at ease before she slides the spike in.

The office is my doctor’s, nestled away off the Avenue behind a gate, down an alley lined with ancient townhouses and ends at a  period lamppost before a painted brick wall.  In December the residents hoist a Christmas tree. It’s simply ringed with colored lights, the old kind that glow warm, not the frigid technicolor LEDs of today. When the lamp light washes over the tree, and snowflakes flit by like faeries, I dare you to not post it on Instagram hit with a wave of nostalgia for a childhood you have never known.

I come here everyday now for over a week and will continue for at least 3 more. I still don’t know why I can’t walk. While I don’t have a clear diagnosis, we have, by process of elimination, isolated a few lucky winners. It seems to be an amalgam of the following with a dash of psoriasis and pinch of HIV complications thrown in for good measure.

First up is “Reactive Arthritis”.  This rare inflammatory disease (fewer than 20000 cases a year) used to go by another sobriquet however we tend not to name things after Nazis anymore.  The inflammation stems from an infection and while it mostly affects the lower extremities, has been know to attack the spine and the eyes as well.

Next we have “Trauma”.  For the life of me I had no recollection of any fall, drop, bust or break. I hadn’t had a blackout in years. Order up and MRI! The problem with this kind of imaging is its not like carbon dating- there is no way to see When things happened, just What happened.  It’s very Dr. Manhattanthat way, all of history happening at once.  At some point there was a stress fracture, more plantar fasciitis, and 30 years of wear and tear on bad feet from a guy who stubbornly carried too much weight all his life.

Finally there is good ole Gout, the “disease of kings”.  In most restaurants the manager can order almost anything off the menu, a modest perk to offset the hundred of dollars more per shift a server walks with at the end of the night. S/he then retires to the office to commence their paperwork, count the safe and stare at the footage of the inmates running the asylum. What I thought was the smallest of consolations at the steakhouse was my manager meal. I could have a hanger steak or a filet mignon or the fish or the chicken, but no additions, substitutions or modifications or Juggernaut in the chef jacket would curse me out. Sure it’s great to have a steak every now and then, not five times a week.  And really, who orders chicken  at a steakhouse? Or the fish…? You do that ands you get what you deserve. I’d ask for the appetizer of seared scallops, plain if Chef wasn’t expediting, otherwise I’d scrape off the thick glops of uncooked creamed corn beneath the four white discs. Who knew an order of scallops a day would be my undoing?

On Monday I lay in the podiatrist’s chair white-knuckled, panting. He needed to aspirate the swelling in my foot, “and while we are in there I’ll be injecting a serious of steroid shots into both sides of the…” “Yup. Got it. Thank you,” I sputtered. Why is it anesthesia has to be administered by injection?  He’d been through all this on Friday when I had a full-blown panic attack. We rescheduled, giving me a Xanax to take before arriving. It was too low a dose. My friend Akiko managed not to lose her fingers in my death grip. Ever the mother, she championed from the sidelines, reminding me what a trooper I was, tears streaking across my face. When Edward Scissorhands finished remaking my right foot, he turned to me with a frown. “It seems the liquid is just to thick to remove. I mean, I was already deep in the joint. I got a few drops but I don’t think that’ll be enough for testing.”  Frustrated and exhausted I hobbled out into the midday sun. No longer having to be brave Akiko gulped, “those were really big needles”.

Now I’m just spent. Jackie has her calm voice on, “Sweetie, breathe in…good”. The icy stab of the freezing fluid flowing though me is too much. I tug my gloves on. Pull my hat over my head. I can’t read. I try but I’m afraid if I turn the page too roughly the needle will poke itself further in, that the antibiotics will wash into a wave, that my arm will swell to match my foot. How would I hold the cane? The office is busy today. The other men down here sit causally flipping though Grindr and gossiping “the boys wouldn’t let me take out the camera. I was so pissed. It was just like that last weekend in the Pines though, for like 2 whole days”. I hate meth heads.

I’m a meth head. Well, I was. Those days are long since passed. You’d think after 13 years off crack I’d have learned my lesson. Ha! Smoking was my thing. It had ritual but it was transportable. I was comfortable with it. Eventually if you are in the scene long enough, guys almost shame you into shooting. They are all jumping off the ledge, you should too. I remember watching someone slam for the first time.  The vacant pull into euphoria wiped away into voracious lasciviousness. I wanted some of that. But there was no way I could ever hold a syringe much less carefully check for air, veins, the ratio of crystal to liquid, swab, concentrate… No. I wanted to be high and I wanted to fuck. The fact that I was so desperate to disappear that I’d willingly thrust out my arm to a stranger who was usually tweaking already themselves in unfathomable to me.  I have known Jackie for over a decade and I still squirm when she gives me a B12 shot.

That time is over. I’ve healed, done the work, grown up. I forgave myself. Now I try to accept that these treatments are the only way I can get better, that the infections will subside. Trudging to the West 4th Street station daily has given me back a routine, a map for my day that was lost with the job. I take it slow. I write. Every Day. I need it. I look up to the IV bag. Can’t it be optimistic to think that the drip is half empty?

crawling back from the edge

October 17, 2018

 

I should have noticed it then, when I woke this morning, an hour ago, maybe more. I had gotten up to pee even earlier, spied the dawn nudging at the smudgey darkness out my window and grasped for the eye mask. I burrowed back below the down comforter never quite getting back to black. Once I surfaced staring out at the crystalline blueness, knowing I was in fact awake I began the examination.

For the past three months I have been unable to walk. I should clarify. “On the morning of August 16th your honor, the subject in question tried to climb out of bed. Instead he crumpled to the floor in sobs, screams – that sort of thing. Pain in the right foot.” Pain? It felt like such an insufficient adjective. Overnight my right foot had ballooned to the size of an dodgeball, shinny as an eggplant, hotter than the sun.  My own breathe across it dwarfed hurricanes, the pressure of it’s skin the stretched across this appendage weighed more than the Chrysler Building.

In my inimitable style my main concern was ‘How could I get to work?’. I was a manager at steakhouse of dubious quality and had just returned to work after three weeks of being laid out with a herniated disc. The (in)Human(e) Resources department for the restaurant  had notified me that if I didn’t return to work immediately, I would be terminated.

Every night I wandered the floors trying not to feel completely useless, giving away thousands of dollars in meals to spoiled hedge fund bros and whiny botoxed bottled blondes from Long Island who huffed that their meals were under/over cooked, their wine glass weren’t filled high enough or that they’d received cold food but only after the check was dropped. I ran food to and from a dingy dungeon of a basement kitchen to chefs who didn’t care what was wrong with a meal. “Tell the bitch to fuck off”, they’d scream, tearing a refire ticket off the printer and tossing to the floor. I tried not breathe too deeply as the 40yr old building has distinct scent from the sewage that routinely seeps up from the bowels, masked by the packets of Febreeze oils the general manager has taken to tearing open and pouring into all the air vents. Quixotically I’d press the servers to check in on their tables, to get off their cellphones, to stop drinking the bottles of vodka they poured into their ‘water bottles’ to crush out their cigarettes and to stop ordering food to be delivered though the back alley. But useless and empty was exactly how I felt at the end of ever shift, watching the bartenders pocket extra cash and the runners complain about the $400 they’d made while I nursed a scotch or a glass of champagne before locking the doors behind me.

However soul-crushing my job was, it’d paid ok. I was able to take on the lease for my two bedroom apartment i’d been sharing for the past 7 years. I could afford to register and insure the beat up Toyota my sister had bought used later gifting it to our mother who in turn passed it on to me. I had business cards that weren’t from Vistaprint. I could eat free meals at the other restaurants in the corporation. I had actual savings in my saving account.  I even had a week of vacation coming to me. I was miserable. I was depressed. But I was employed.

However I was terrified that this shitty job would be ripped away from me. How would I stumble through the day? If I couldn’t stand how would I get to the restaurant, left alone move up and down three floors all night long?  My colleagues had made it clear just how awful it was without me for those three weeks. No, not because they missed me, had hoped  I was recovering, were in any fashion concerned for my health. They resented the fact I was not at work while they had to work extra hours in my stead.  What retribution lay in store for me when I returned? These were my fears.

When a body is in crisis, there isn’t an APB so it’s disparate parts all suddenly pull together to make it through as a whole. This was becoming increasingly clear as my bladder was panting to be emptied and my brain was thumping for its caffeine fix. But the foot was having none of this interruption, it was the be all end all of existence and it was going nowhere. The tears from the pain, now that I was fully awake and the tears from frustration that I couldn’t move crested with sobs of terror into a crushing tsunami of salty panic. I dragged myself back onto the bed. White hot lightening exploded from the end of my leg into my cerebral cortex. I don’t recall the screaming, only that my throat was beginning to feel sore from it. I couldn’t lean left or move to the right. I had to piss a river. If only it could seep out of my eyes I thought fleetingly, before urine began to leak from the tap.

Somehow I made it though that morning.                                                                                   No, not somehow. I made it because my friends came together, networked with one another and sent help. David and Wing called Rosendo, who drove me to the Emergency Room, carrying me inside. Johnny and Amanda kept checking in to see how I was doing as did Giovanni and Ace and Yarrow and so many others. Friends from Greenpoint to Japan sent White Light and Good Juju.   Danielle brought me home from my first MRI. Shami bought groceries, did laundry, scrubbed the bathroom. Jill planted a garden on my fire escape, the only refuge from my bed or the yoga mat on the living room floor,  cascading with sweet potato vines, bursting with impatiens and geraniums and gerbera daisies .

And my family, the love and light from each and every one of them is and was beyond measure. I can never repay nor display the gratitude I feel for their support.

There were MRIs and sonograms and neurologists and orthopedists. My own doctor, dear Jose, my friend, who suffered the loss of his husband of 20 years in the middle of all this mayhem struggles even now to find a diagnosis. That remains unresolved. Due to my  psoriasis, my HIV medications, my unique physiology and a limitless array of other variables  it appears to be a case of reactive arthritis, serve gout attacks and more. I have been on various sensitive diets. I have flooded myself in gallons of water. There have been more salts (Epsom) in my tub than the Dead Sea. I have received daily IV treatments of antibiotics as well as more ingested orally. I have been given Vicodin for  pain, something I administer wearily, sparingly because of my past addictions. There are anti-inflammatories by the dozen and gods bless ’em, more homeopathic remedies sent by loved ones than I know what to do with right now.

But as lay in bed, dragging my limbs out from under the covers I noticed something strange. Something wonderful. The latest set of drugs have reduced the swelling to the point where what extends from my right legs might well pass for a foot. I begin the exercises I’ve learn from my twice-a-week physical therapy visits.                                   Back and Forth.                                                                                                                                   Up and Down. The tears fly out as I sputter and sigh, gasping at this newfound range of motion . It is the Side to Side that does me in, a movement I have been unable to manage for twelve weeks…to this very day. As if my moving I will break the spell I freeze up. If I try to make it out of bed, if I can’t do that the weeks of rage and frustration and fear will all come crashing back. I am too afraid to try. I am too hopeful to stay put. And then I remember the trip to the bathroom. Yes, I’d help onto the wall, steadied myself along the couch inching my way in the dark, but had I needed to? Was it a finite amount of mobility like an hourglass or gas tank? If I made it to the kitchen will I make it out the door? It has been a few hours now. I have made coffee, showered, roasted off more plain chicken breasts, more tilapia, more carrots and broccoli. I played the lottery, won rush tickets to a matinee. I am about to walk out into the world. I still feel the crystals in my joints, still seize with stiffness, my gait altered for weeks now. It will take time to heal. I know I am not healed. But today I can walk. Today I can breathe again.