And yet, I saw that several readers had called up this post, originally published on 28 June 2011, when I was in the midst of my last shot at a CRPS "cure," via subanesthetic ketamine infusions. It was a hard time, confusing, rushed, painful -- and then there are all the things such a chemical does to the brain and mind.
From that came this, which, frankly, has left me weepy. I don't remember writing it.
So, Dear Readers, I give you -- again -- "in a moment"":
There is an assisted living facility that we drive by frequently, a very neat and pleasant looking place, in front of which is a sign announcing a "special neighborhood for the memory impaired."
I figure Fred and La Bonne et Belle Bianca will push me out of a slow-moving Ruby, the Honda CR-V, with however much cash might be necessary to buy into that special neighborhood pinned to my lapel. Fred will have written my name in my clothing with a Sharpie Rub-a-Dub® Laundry Marker. For her part, Bianca will make sure I've several kilos of beluga caviar, carefully wrapped in my garment-dyed organic cotton tees. Oddly, her enormous cache of the stuff predates the September 30, 2005 importation ban from the Caspian Sea, and the October 2005 ban of the sturgeon roe from the Black Sea basin.
Anyway, they love me each in their own way. Fred will make sure I've the comfort of my own clean clothes, something familiar when my mind wanders. The Castafiore? Fish eggs. *Old* fish eggs.
Bless their bones, I've plum worn them out. Our lives together were supposed to only nominally be about really, actually, taking care of one another. It wasn't supposed to be like this.
Anyway (my fallback segue) --
Technically, Ketamine leaves the body very quickly. My point being that I was told there are no lingering effects from the infusions in "normal" people. Never mind that researchers give subanesthetic doses to elicit symptoms of schizophrenia, to mimic mental illness -- handy, I guess, on that day when we run out of actual schizophrenics amenable to study.
I know, courtesy of doctors, nurses, and choice literature, that the psychosis and cognitive dysfunction that I simultaneously experienced, explored, and was terrified by, resulted from that one drug running through my veins. I know that all deleterious effects officially ceased within minutes of stopping the drip -- despite the experiential evidence of dizziness, nausea, confusion, fatigue, and visual disturbances that linger and recur. Despite, despite, despite...
Still -- here I am, five days out from the last high dose treatment, downright obliterated, my sluggish, sloshing brain wrapped in the cotton candy fuzz of Ketamine's metabolites. Except that that cannot be.
It's hard. I'm looking and hoping for positive results from this recent approximation of Dr. Schwartzman's Ketamine protocol in the treatment of CRPS (as communicated by Dr. Schwartzman in an email, as delineated in published papers). I am trying to be objective though that's a much tougher thing to approximate.
On the up side? My overall level of inflammation, and its attendant discomfort, is much lower than it was two weeks ago. My feet and lower legs are less swollen, as are my joints in general. Whether or not that's at all attributable to the Ketamine infusions, I don't know. I was overdue a break in the cycle of what I call Red and Blue phases of CRPS, having been in the Red phase for a good while, and tired of it. People kept enlightening me with helpful alerts like "Wow! The heat is just pouring off of your body."
So now my feet and lower legs are blue, considerably smaller, and scary cold. I've entertained giving socks another chance but then couldn't tolerate the weight of a sheet, and so end up slapping the nearest cat and joshing, "Golly Gee!"
I am working on a suitable chortle.
The pain is just as bothersome, though different. Blue phase CRPS pain, for me, is an unrelenting burn that makes me, if possible, even more wary than usual of the touch of... *anything*. I start doing all the weird things CRPS patients do -- going to ridiculous lengths to avoid the touch of ridiculous things. Cringing and crying out just at the sight of one cat chasing another through the room. Folding the edges of clothing, carefully arranging covers and quilts. Making the constellation of pillows a task requiring advanced degrees.
Blue phase CRPS -- and again, this is my terminology, and not a generally accepted notion -- is fuelled by fear, heightened anticipation. Much too much thinking and worrying, with fits of frustration that often involve throwing phones, remote controls, paperbacks, and a slew of assistive devices (like handy-dandy "grabbers"), because inanimate objects migrate, on purpose, threatening to bump hands, arms, feet, and legs. One day, I will try to explain the peculiar, building, and sinister sensation of *potential* touch.
I can write about This Schtuff here, even as I am actively trying to deceive my Manor Denizens and Mavens. The first wave of my effort involves biting my tongue instead of using it to mold the shape of my screams.
Yes, I have stopped screaming. In the same vein that, yes, I have no bananas.*
It wasn't such a huge leap from that to a general shutting up, after all these weeks of methadone and percocet withdrawal, and the attendant chatter:spaz:chatter::scream::scream::chatter:spaz:chatter.
Having been the cause and nexus of so much worry and effort around Marlinspike Hall, I dedicate myself now to the cultivation of a very false front.
|The cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland |
drawn by John Tenniel (1820-1914) in the 1866 edition.
The Crooked Grimace becomes the Modest Smile that morphs into a Cheshire Grin.
(And why not invoke Lewis Carroll as one of the Authors of My Being? **)
The Cheshire Cat and the enormity of his grin, companion piece to the Mona Lisa's pursed and lippy near smirk: They aren't exactly lies, more like essential commentary, a reminder that little is as it seems, and if you don't want too much pain, it helps to revel in these snivels of diversion and repression.
[I tried to rewrite that last bit but feel honor-bound to leave it. It may be that only such a tight sentence will be the key to my exit from the Special Neighborhood for the Memory Impaired...]
Wikipedia notes that "A classical dictionary of the vulgar tongue by Francis Grose (The Second Edition, Corrected and Enlarged, London 1788) contains the following entry: 'CHESHIRE CAT. He grins like a Cheshire cat; said of any one who shows his teeth and gums in laughing.'"
That'd be me. Toothy. Like my long dead grandmother's fierce and false good cheer, though, my laughter seems more a cackle now, mirth so unfunny
I enjoy Wikipedia entries that ache for supporting citations. Next to making scads of money by writing back-of-book blurbs and wine label spots, I'd love a life of writing detailed and mostly true Wikipedia entries just squirrelly enough to want a footnote or three.
Remember: The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth.
The only thing I enjoyed about my Ketamine hallucinations were snapshots of interwoven longterm memories, no matter how illogical their relationship with whatever visual or auditory wormhole encased the whole affair. Memory was the touchstone of sanity.
It was also much more pleasant to dive into deep still waters -- a very pretty blue -- than to lie there struggling to remember my middle name and the city, my last address, the date.
Last Thursday morning, down in Cubicle 2, my brain held a slide show, complete with the clicking noises during view swaps, complete with the electrical whir of an old-fashioned projector's vibrating motor and fan.
How my brothers each came to be such excellent photographers is something of a mystery. In the years they spent together, and those years were, sadly, not many, there weren't many occasions for shutterbugging, and certainly the evidence from those years is kind of pitiful. Overexposed. Underexposed.
I remember TW shadowing some polo-shirted man with a pot belly, which must have been the summer he spent working as a caddy at the country club. It wasn't even our country club, as it wasn't our country. Also, TW'd rather die than acquiesce to the foundational notions of the intensely racist area of the world in which we were temporarily housed. We had been foisted upon our grandparents for the summer, at the end of which we three were to fly a few thousand miles to unite with an add-water-and-stir new family.
Brother Tumbleweed made money hand-over-fist, I remember some grown-up clucking. I don't know TW well, never did, but I doubt he's ever been the least bit subservient, so I assume he really needed the bucks. I think he saw himself as the sardonic twist in an anachronism, a modern white slave boy ripping off the institution, sticking it to The Man.
Anyway, he's standing slightly behind and to the left of the white polo-shirted pot-bellied man, his head at a jaunty angle and what had to be a very funny joke floating in the vapor before his pursed lips. It would make sense that he'd have on a hat, but he didn't. I love his hair because I have his hair. Curly, a mind of its own. People were always chopping off my hair so as to make it, and me, behave. My father used a ruler to measure his sons' efforts at sideburns and the distance between a hair's end and a collar's beginning.
I spent that summer obsessed with a bird -- a baby Blue Jay pushed from a high nest by its mother but lucky enough to land on a soft bed of pine straw in the yard of a beloved neighbor, Dr. Ramsey, who promptly brought scrawny thing to me. That was my I-wanna-be-a-vet summer. My grandfather and I nursed him, taught him to fly, and just generally made up rules for the bringing up of an Honest Bird. He went out during the day, played games with us, followed us around the garden and the woods, and then would come inside the house at night, when called.
For the life of me, though, I cannot remember where in the house he slept. (One of my favorite mental exercises is to trace the layout of every house I've ever lived in, sometimes even stretching the parameters to include any house I've ever visited. I find this richly relaxing, enlivening. It is my version of one of the Pythagorean Brotherhood's disciplines of memory. That's what I like to believe, so if you've another suspicion, keep it to yourself, please. No matter your opinion of the calisthenic, you can see, can't you, how not being able to place this bird within the architecture of that summer's night time is a barbed and sticking point, a cause for anxiety?)
You'd think my jay bird would have been a prime target for homegrown photography, but I only have one picture of him, and it was taken by a features photographer from the local paper. Word got out about our charming boy when he decided to go to church with us one Sunday, rapping with his beak on the sanctuary door, and creating a hell of a racket. He pitched a juvenile fit in the presence of those investigative journalists, the Maharidge and Williamson of that region and day, then flew up into the highest branches of the dogwood by the back porch door, and refused to come down. Actually, he put himself in a pickle, because he didn't quite know *how* to get down, by gradation, branch to branch. At that point it was still pretty much an all-or-nothing affair when it came to flight.
What we all liked most about Squawky (What can I say? I was a kid. The next bird I "rescued"? I dubbed him Potty Pigeon and stuck him in a shoebox.) -- What endeared Squawky to those of us hanging out on Coffee Road that long hot summer of fly balls and mortgage-buster tomato sandwiches was his dedication to driving my grandmother crazy.
Grandaddy and I were relieved when Squawky grew out of needing our unique mixture of baby bird formula. It involved collecting the finest and freshest of morning's beetles and worms, local produce, though probably not completely organic. I also gathered some (bedewed) berries, swiped some generic birdseed, added a dropper or two of some smelly liquid vitamins, and carefully mashed and ground that yummy goodness in a small white porcelain mortar and pestle that was meant to lend the goo an air of maternal predigestion -- again, all under the tutelage of my sweet pharmacist of a grandpa. We'd hydrate it a bit so that a Kimax pipette could be put to use to plug up the gaping, griping maw at the center of the then very ugly bald and squawking creature.
Grandmother -- we called her Nana -- kept a clean house. Our culinary efforts on behalf of the baby bird about sent her around the bend, but she soon learned that our fine raw cuisine was infinitely preferable to the bird's own feeding habits, once he was over the formula stage. Squawky loved to snack, it turned out, and didn't trust his humans to collect or store the juiciest of tidbits. In anticipation of late night munchies, he snuck contraband into the house during those stupefyingly hot afternoons when all we thought he wanted was a bit of shade, and company. He was a clever little cuss.
Nana's "living room" was more a salon. It was uncomfortable and full of ridiculous fine furniture, and we were all obliged to sit in it for some prescribed period of time in the evening -- after dinner, after the washing-up of dishes, after ice cream on the dark porch, but before baths and other ablutions, and defionitely before bedtime books. She was in her element at night, was Nana. The woman could author and promote all kinds of conspiracy theories as she hustled from bathroom to bathroom, bedside to bedside, as she washed and you dried, as she propelled herself like a wild locomotive even into a child's fledgling sense of privacy. She'd press folded, sweaty dollars into your palm, her face turned in the opposite direction, the better to disguise the Love Bribe. She out-Cassandra-ed Cassandra -- condemned to see and know the future, and to be believed, even, but never in an actionable way, never in a way that told her we cared about her information, her future. Doors you swore you'd locked flew open, and she'd give fierce directives about the disposition of her jewelry after her demise as she scrubbed your already clean back with a stiff brush of boar bristles.
It's from that tiny woman that came my many phobias centered around sleep and whispering -- two things that ought to signify intimacy and privacy. If you need to witness abject terror, just allow me to fall into a safe, comfortable, deep sleep (*those* were the days!), then whisper my name.
After which, you'll need to scrape me off of the ceiling.
Anyway, despite various family strategies for defusing the Nana Factor, it took a bird to take her down. I'm not sure how he did it, because I kept a very watchful eye, as well as a pocket full of paper towels to scoop up any juicy bugs or offerings of bird poop.
Squawky hid bugs -- big ass bugs, we're talking -- precisely where finding a bug would drive Nana insane. In her austere antique-y salon, under needlepointed pillows and oval doilies, in jugs, midst dried and powdery gray-green eucalyptus. [You've no idea how much I want -- have, indeed, long wanted -- to reference antimacassars as well as doilies, but no one in that house ever rested the back of their heads on anything but monogramed pillowcases atop improbably tall and postered bedsteads. In this modest country home, she maintained both clichéd and uniquely weird citations of chinoiserie -- that is, chinoiserie twice-removed -- in her faux Persian rugs, scattered black lacquer pieces, chinese-esque vases with young crackled glazes, but mounted on carved ebony pedestals that had the ring of truth.
Nana had an impressive assortment of cloisonné that lacked the space necessary to its appreciation. I remember thinking that I'd have had a leg up in my career if only she had dabbled in an orientalism both better and spread out over another 1,000 square feet.
Maybe it was the decor, the tiny insects and flowers, the small birds, like oversized bees, fairly buzzing in that cramped overheated room -- something made it the perfect place for a teenaged Blue Jay to strategically stash the kind of munchies that only a teenaged Blue Jay would stash -- avian Twinkies and nachos, topped with slightly smooshed malted milk balls.
Brother Unit Grader Boob didn't take pictures of people very often. His best works, in my opinion, were vertiginous close-ups of leaves, tree trunks, new wood invading old. There always seemed to be a swirl, and a question. I know he recently took his camera up to Morehead City, to Atlantic Beach, to that pier I walked and stalked as a teenager, from where I made my first phone call as an honest-to-God Sovereign Person to my mother, just returned to the States. It was a hangup. Meaning, I hung up, my heart in my throat, a man with a bucket of bait slinking past, stinking.
But GB has taken remarkable portraits, nonetheless, particularly of the aforementioned Grandparental Units.
A good ten or fifteen years after that summer of our billetting, he showed up at their door at the end of a casual 500 mile bike ride, the last bit of it ascending the Blue Ridge Mountains, and his hair long, sporting cycling gear that made him even more foreign and therefore undesireable looking. Of course, they didn't know who he was -- Grandaddy being quite blind from glaucoma by then, and Nana caught up in visions of rampaging hippies. Good sports, though, they allowed my brother and his gang of bicycling friends to hang around for a few days.
They had the best water in the world there, from their well.
Sometime the following day, when the place must have been looking like a freaking commune, what with those ne'er do well college students wandering around in a tomato sandwich haze, GBoob snapped a few frames of Grandaddy sitting atop the well cap, timing the pump. He used a telephoto lens, taking the shots from right where the woods get deep.
Grandaddy lived in "gardening clothes," a uniform of khakis and long-sleeved cotton shirts, the whole topped by his old pith helmit. He had a thin, austere face. Patrician. My memories of him are of a gentle man who was not particularly effusive, but who was essentially good-natured. That is to say, you weren't going to get him to pose with a plastic smile at the ready.
So it is quite the coup, the smile that my brother caught. He is lanky, even seated, elbows on his knees, one arm clasping the inside of the other. He holds his face to the sun, relaxed, smells the growing vegetables, thinks, maybe, of his many bird houses or maybe how he's going to mow a few acres of grass later on, blind as a bat, and smiling like a fool.
I look to a copy of that iconic photo whenever I ponder the accusations of my aunt, an honest and enlightened person, who tells of him beating her mercilessly, dragging her out from under one of those high postered bedsteads where she had hoped to hide. "Grandaddy?" I ask. He persists with that peaceful, laconic smile, counting, I suppose, "one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand," waiting for the well pump to kick in.
All of that was there last Thursday morning, though some of it was a hold-over from Wednesday afternoon.
There was a photo of Grader Boob that served as some kind of place card in the sequence of tripping images. He played a lot of baseball that summer. He was pitcher, and so his team photo has him looking sharp in pinstripes, rearing back, getting ready for the wind-up and kick, just as soon as he sneaks a peak at the runner on first.
You've got to keep those runners honest.
Well, that's all I can remember, and more than I want to know. Sleep well, don't forget to turn your brain down before you go to sleep...
* Yes, We Have No Bananas!
[Folk Song written by: Frank Silver and Irving Cohn (1923)]
There's a fruit store on our street
It's run by a Greek.
And he keeps good things to eat
But you should hear him speak!
When you ask him anything, he never answers "no".
He just "yes"es you to death,
And as he takes your dough, he tells you...
"Yes! We have no bananas
We have no bananas today!!
We have string beans and onions, cabBAges and scallions
And all kinds of fruit and say
We have an old fashioned toMAHto
A Long Island poTAHto, but
Yes! We have no bananas
We have no bananas today!"
Business got so good for him that he wrote home today,
"Send me Pete and Nick and Jim; I need help right away."
When he got them in the store, there was fun, you bet.
Someone asked for "sparrow grass"
and then the whole quartet
"Yes, we have no bananas
We have-a no bananas today.
Just try those coconuts
Those wall-nuts and doughnuts
There ain't many nuts like they.
We'll sell you two kinds of red herring,
Dark brown, and ball-bearing.
But yes, we have no bananas
We have no bananas today."
**I read some of Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno late this afternoon. Time was on my mind -- how very mutable it is, and how, if it flows like a river, it's no river of my knowing. You know, the basics, what almost any drug-based trip will teach us!
Walking along in the "real world" of Chapter 22, The Earl tells The Narrator (The narcoleptic "Historian"):
"I have yet another theory for adding to the
enjoyment of Life--that is, if I have not exhausted your patience?
I'm afraid you find me a very garrulous old man."
"No indeed!" I exclaimed earnestly. And indeed I felt as if one could
not easily tire of the sweet sadness of that gentle voice.
"It is, that we should learn to take our pleasures quickly, and our
"But why? I should have put it the other way, myself."
"By taking artificial pain--which can be as trivial as you
please--slowly, the result is that, when real pain comes, however
severe, all you need do is to let it go at its ordinary pace, and it's
over in a moment!"
"Very true," I said, "but how about the pleasure?"
"Why, by taking it quick, you can get so much more into life. It takes
you three hours and a half to hear and enjoy an opera. Suppose I can
take it in, and enjoy it, in half-an-hour. Why, I can enjoy seven
operas, while you are listening; to one!"
"Always supposing you have an orchestra capable of playing them,"
I said. "And that orchestra has yet to be found!"
The old man smiled. "I have heard an 'air played," he said, "and by no
means a short one--played right through, variations and all, in three
"When? And how?" I asked eagerly, with a half-notion that I was
"It was done by a little musical-box," he quietly replied.
"After it had been wound up, the regulator, or something, broke,
and it ran down, as I said, in about three seconds.
But it must have played all the notes, you know!"
"Did you enjoy it? I asked, with all the severity of a cross-examining
"No, I didn't!" he candidly confessed. "But then, you know, I hadn't
been trained to that kind of music!"
This I add in the spirit of "for what it is worth."