Friday, September 24, 2010

Courtesy Cough

"Jeez! Is that blood?"

Caught a breath between heaves.

"No, son. It's V8."

Crimson vomit filled the toilet, pale head bent, sweating. Blood would've been Bukowski territory and a trip to the emergency room. But it was simply a failed attempt to get something heavier than seltzer into me, which my angry stomach rejected. Red spray from a graying face. Suitable for HD.

I rarely get sick, but when I do I go Method. Nothing left behind. I toss through claustrophobic nights, drenched in sweat, teeth grinding, head throbbing, dreams frenetic, unsettling. A nether world between meat and mind. There I see death from a distance, feeling its pull, its final promise. I had similar visions after my sister died, lying in our once-shared room, child ghost blending with low ceiling. So this routine has legs.

Days I writhe on the couch, channel surf for something stupid, anything to distract from the pain. Problem is, there's too much stupidity to choose from, and I'm in no shape to make aesthetic decisions. Scroll and randomly stop. Turn on my back, close my eyes. I listen more than watch. When you strictly focus on TV sound, its poisonous features crystallize. Images soften you up for the thrust. Sound spreads the bile, repeating itself every few minutes, relentless, merciless. You can almost hear them laughing. They have you by the throat, and you smile as they squeeze.

Jealousy. Envy. Narcissism. Cheap enthusiasm. False love. This is where they steer you, confident that you'll acquiesce. They're still in business so their confidence is sound. They insist that we're free, wipe their asses with it and shove it in our faces. More evidence that we're trapped. Zoo keepers sweet talking the apes.

Brainwashing is delusion with teeth. How else to endure another day of lunacy? Turning it back on them would mean turning on ourselves, a break so severe that lunacy seems the softer option. That I wallow in this while sick shows how deep the sickness runs. Surf to forgotten sitcoms. Dead people howling at faded jokes. This time you definitely hear the laughter. They call to us and soon we'll join them, those of us not already there.

Sitting outside my son's high school, fifteen minutes before final bell. Pop off the seatbelt, recline and listen to old music, much of it from my high school years. I tell myself it's unintentional, that I'm not trying to re-live earlier days. But that's bullshit. After a certain age, that's all anyone does. The older you get, the further back you go.

I study the students as they exit. Teens still cackle, shout, tease, flirt, trash talk. Wannabe Alphas grunt and flex as if time has no meaning, their baby strength forever present. I try to keep my jaded eyes from categorizing, but the forms are too rigid and obvious to ignore.

Most of these kids will age into terminal surrender, locked inside cubicles, fast food their escape. I've seen it and I've seen it. I've rubbed right up against it, the stench a bitch to wash out. A few will break loose and go as far their energy and imaginations will take them. It could be any one of these kids. Impossible to say at their ages. But they are there, and I root for them.

Many girls dress in tiny clothes, emerging adult bodies open to perusal. Literature has touched on this; criminals and con-artists too. They take me back to Wawasee, senior year and sophomore Mitzi. She was too experienced for her age, but played it pretty well. No one took advantage of her. Mitzi was in charge.

At Halloween we were allowed to wear costumes to school. I don't recall if I participated, but I sure remember Mitzi. She wore a little girl's dress, little white socks, saddle shoes. Hair in pigtails. She carried a teddy bear through the halls, sucking on a lollipop. The male teachers became Humberts, stressing nonchalance. But in their eyes lay the thin line between fantasy and felony. I laughed and felt sorry for them. And now I'm older than they were then.

Mitzi and I hooked up late in the year. She asked me to the prom, shoved sex notes in my locker. I stood out from the farm boys which was all she knew. I also lost my virginity to her archrival Tammy, a rural dropout who worked for my Dad. So Mitzi's attraction to me was based on evening the score. Whichever one fucked a guy, the other had to answer. And this being a small town, there was no hiding your identity. In fact, up to this point, I'd been shunned by most of the school as too weird and arrogant. Fucking Tammy and Mitzi was assimilation, however brief.

We never did go to the prom. My crazy stepmother prevented that. But we drove around in my '66 Buick, right arm around Mitzi as she fondled my balls and licked my neck. She was wild and fun. I rarely saw her after graduation. Working on a garbage truck took up most of my time. She flirted with me at a county fair, slowly eating cotton candy. But I didn't go back. Until now.