“How are you doing?” the doctor asked.
“Not bad for a dying man,” I said.
“This is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” said the nurse.
I nodded. “Never seen this before?”
The doctor and nurse looked at each other and didn’t say a word. Neither of them looked at me.
I could decode an answer through their silence.
I looked down. My gown was off, the blankets were lowered, and I stared at my cleanly shaved chest. The mechanism was there: an antique watch, ticking. Folds of skin surrounded it as the second hand twirled round and round, tick-tick-tick. The minute hand moved, and I felt it to my core.
“Instead of a twelve, there’s a zero. I know what that means.”
“How can you be so sure?” the doctor asked. He did not look at me. He looked down at a tablet computer. His finger worked, taking notes. This was going to be a great case for him, the kind of thing that can make a doctor famous. Perhaps he could even give my condition, my illness, his name. He’d live on forever in medical text books and journals, thanks in no small part to my own novelty.
“I can be sure, because I know.”
“There’s a lot to be said for faith,” said the nurse. Her eyes were glassy with tears. She smiled but did not look happy. Her smile was genuine but it was just an empty gesture of kindness, a symbol of compassion. It still meant something to me.
“I feel it. I see it when I look in the mirror. I had a full head of hair this morning.” I patted a large and growing island of bare skin at the top of my skin. “These eyes had no wrinkles. How old do I look? Fifty? Sixty? Hell, I’m just barely thirty.”
“The aging is odd,” said the doctor.
“Is there anything about this that isn’t odd?” I placed my hand on the antique stop watch covering my heart. “Can’t you just get rid of the damn thing?”
The doctor shook his head. He walked over to the wall and turned on a light. “Look at your x-rays, son. See the watchband? It’s completely connected, tied completely in knots all around your aorta. See? If we remove the watch, you die. Simple as that. We‘ve got some great surgeons here, but no one‘s ever seen anything like this. There‘s no procedure. Hell, I bet your case manager‘s having a hell of a time with this one. You might want to contact your insurer to see if embedded watches are a covered diagnosis for hospital stays.”
I fingered the folds of skin surrounding the watch. I felt my ribs beneath it. They were curved around the metal frame. “But I can’t go home. I’m dying.”
“Maybe,” said the doctor. He looked down at his tablet. “I’m still researching. I’ve got some folks down at the medical library now. We will leave no stone unturned. We’re doing everything we can.”
“Which, in the end, is nothing.” I put my head back against my pillow and turned my head to the window. I watched a pair of pigeons fly by. The second hand continued to prance across the face of the watch, tick-tick-tick.
I felt a warm hand take mine. I looked over and saw the nurse was still smiling at me.
Maybe there was nothing they could do, nothing that anyone could do, but, in the end, that human touch was just enough.
“Thank you,” I said to the nurse, returning her smile.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Thursday, July 5, 2012
There’s something about the taste of blood in my mouth, when the pain grows numb, when the fists flying into my face, into my chest and stomach, no longer feel like anything at all. There’s something about that moment that causes me to feel invincible, to feel alive, and I don’t want anything else. This is ecstasy. This is right where I belong.
I look up. That’s my name. That’s who I am. That’s all I am.
Who said my name?
It’s her. She’s there, looking angelic as always. She is looking down on me as I look up to her. There is light everywhere, it surrounds her, but I’m down in the depths, in the dark, and I spit out snot and blood. I laugh, or try to laugh, but it comes out as a cough, almost a whimper. I want to sound strong, but the body has its limitations.
I defy my limitations. This is who I am.
“Send more,” I say with a wheeze, and she obliges. The cell opens and I ball up my fists. I stand up, naked and strong. I raise my fists back. I push forward and connect with flesh and bone as the onslaught begins.
The whimpering cough disappears.
I can laugh once again.
Time slows in here. I walk in circles. I pace. I look down, and the cement is worn from my footfalls. Every step wears down the cement a little more. Little by little I reveal the impermanence of things, of all things, even steel and stone. No cell can last forever. No thing can last forever.
Perhaps not even me.
But I will try to hang on, a force of nature eroding and corroding. I fucking dance my way towards entropy, laughing the entire fucking time.
Don’t blame my mother. Don’t blame my father. Don’t blame the schools, the government, or even the damned universe. This is what I am here for, and I am happy enough, I guess, in my way.
I look up, awake again, or mostly awake. My head throbs. My lips are swollen. My nose is crooked, and every shuddering breath stings my aching ribs. There’s a dull ache persisting throughout all that I know myself to be, all that I am, all that I ever have been, all that I ever will be.
She looks down at me, my angel, and smiles. She is peaceful, beautiful, and so very much above.
I smile at her. “Send more.”
She obliges. She always does.
It wasn’t always this way. Once it was different. I was loved. I still am loved by some on the outside, I guess. My mother loves me, I’m sure. Mothers never stop loving, even if they should. And then there’s my angel inside with me. I think she really loves me, even if I will never rise to her level.
But those days on the outside, when things held a different resonance, a different shade of truth, that was all before. Now I’m here, and I think I’ll always be here. I have no reason to think otherwise, to hope. Not that it matters, I no longer want out. I’ve found my place. In here, I am everything I was raised to be. Things are simpler, stripped down to the single most basic element: survival. Survival is the sound of pounding fists and raining blood and shouting and laughter.
“Thirty years,” said the judge once upon a time and long ago. That’s a long fucking time for stealing some shit that no one really cared about, pieces of paper with a promised value that probably doesn’t exist anyway in the first place besides to balance some ledger or database somewhere. It was an amount that, in the end, no one truly cared about and insurance fully covered for those fuckers at the bank anyway.
Thirty years was the initial sentence. That’s about as long as Christ lived his entire life, according to the Sunday sermons. Thirty years was not enough, could never be enough. My mission hardly begun, those thirty years turned to forty based on additional charges – aggravated assault, resisting – and those years keep growing. I will keep surviving. I will keep spreading my message.
Poor fucking guards. They hear stories, they should be prepared, but they never fucking know what’s about to hit them.
I hear them open the cell. Their boots clomp against cement. I ball my fists and smile.