Unpublished essay Feb 2003

And I lay there.

It is the middle of the afternoon, and I’m in bed. My head is throbbing. It is a feeling more than a sound, although it seems to be very loud. It comes in waves, lapping at the inside of my forehead, I suppose with every beat of my heart, which is often. I find if I lay perfectly still, my head propped up slightly, but not too far, if I don’t even move my eyes, I can almost pretend the pain is someone else’s. I know it isn’t mine, it doesn’t belong to me, it doesn’t come from me, it is not real.

I lie there, relaxing my shoulders and head and the back of my neck and even my eyes. I try to drift, I try to picture, I try to allow the pain to move through me, through the back of my head into the pillow behind me, through the bed frame, through the wall (of course pain can move through walls) and outside. Where it is freed and gently dissipates. I think the pain is angry and painful because it is trapped in my head and can’t get out. Or at least it thinks it can’t get out. I try to lead it. I am unsuccessful.

So I lie there.

It is Saturday afternoon, in late February. There is so much to do, so much that I want to do. I roll over, so very gently, and look at the wall of records. It’s all work needing to be done, sorting, filing, scanning, records to be listed and sold and sent to someone who thinks they care about them. For I don’t. They have lost any meaning to me except their potential market value. I want them to be gone.

I want to get up and deal with them and get them out of my bedroom and out of my house. But to do that I would have to stand up and move around and my head would scream at me, from the inside, so loud I can barely hear anything, yet no one else can hear it at all. No one else can understand, a casual observer would merely judge me lying in bed on a Saturday afternoon in late February, doing nothing. Not realizing that every time I even move my head, it pounds in resentment.

So I lay there.

I can hear that Philip is washing his clothes, in the too-small room off the kitchen. I can actually feel a slight hum that travels from the dryer all the way under the house through the wood floors that need refinishing, up through my distressed wood bed and touches me very lightly. Philip is so very careful with his clothes, he only puts them in the dryer for a few minutes and then he carefully lays them out on the patio to air dry. Then he puts them back in the dryer for a few minutes so they don’t need ironing. I can also hear that he is doing the dishes. He does the dishes one at a time, which to me seems exhaustive. But he’s washing them. Something that I just haven’t had the enthusiasm or energy to do for the past three days.

I just lie there.

I’m taking a new medication that will hopefully help me avoid a very painful surgery. I don’t think the surgery would be painful in itself, just the three to four weeks afterwards. Where everything hurts and there’s blood. I love blood, but I think it should stay inside me where it belongs. When it’s draining out of me it worries me. This new medication gives me a whopper of a headache, and makes me so weak that I have to lie down. It also makes me slightly drowsy, and lying down, with my head slightly elevated, and a pillow under my knees (as advised by my chiropractor) I tend to fall asleep. Although the sleep is a welcome respite from the dull but constant pain. The sleep is an escape.

For now, though, I’m lying there. Not asleep.

I can feel a soft but slightly chilly breeze enter the room through the window that is open just a few inches. It is, after all, winter, even though a Southern California winter day is a great summer afternoon in Canada. I love the sound of outside, and air is so fresh, even in Los Angeles, the air is beautiful, essential, vibrant. I always have a window open so I can feel the outside, so I know it is there, I know there’s some place out there, there is life out there. I can hear the wind chimes clanging delicately, brushing against themselves casually and effortlessly on the front porch; it occurs to me that the porch is some distance away, way on the other side of the house, and the sound must be bouncing off the vacant house next door.

My cat is sleeping at the foot of the bed. She is a cat who runs up to me outside when I come home in the car, but then as I reach down to pet her, she flinches and moves away. When I go to bed, she always comes in to sleep with me, she likes to be petted for just a little bit, but then if I try to snuggle for too long she will get a cross eyed look, and take a swipe at me with her un-declawed paw. I could never bear to have her fingernails surgically removed, even if it may be for the better for both me and my furniture. She finds a spot to sleep, near me, sometimes even touching me, on top of me, or leaning against or between my legs, but always just barely out of arms reach. I wonder what she is thinking. I wonder if she wants to be closer but doesn’t know how. I do always feel like she’s judging me. Sometimes when she looks at me I wonder if she knows I am in pain. I do believe the pain and side effects of the new medicine are worse than the original pain, but I must have faith that the medicine will eventually overpower the disease (the dis – ease, and I am filled with it), and I can stop taking the medicine and be cured at the same time. That I can stand up and walk around without feeling like I have to hold my head on.

So we lie there.

Underneath my quilt, that I love so much, even though it was bought for me as a Christmas gift by two friends who subsequently decided that I wasn’t good enough for them, and chose never speaking to me again over being honest with me. It is very expensive and I love it but I do harbour some bad feelings around it. Sometimes I think I should give it away. Just get rid of it. But it is so perfect. The quilt is inside a warm cotton cover that I bought because I loved the colours – a subtle mosaic of turquoise and greens and blues with just a sliver of yellow, even though I don’t really care much for yellow, and the blues despite not actually matching the greenish turquoise of the bedroom walls, from a distance it all looks copacetic. No one has ever cared enough to notice, much less say anything.

Underneath my quilt that has a slightly musty smell, reminding me that it really needs to be washed; even though I just washed it just a few days ago, I have been sleeping a lot. Last night I was cold so I wore my forest green flannel nightshirt to bed, my favorite one, slightly too big and too comfortable. I feel like a girl, specifically Mary Tyler Moore in it. I wouldn’t be caught dead in it. It reminds me of my friend Stephen, who lives so far away, and has a night shirt very similar to mine. I think the night shirts were his idea. It’s like we are brothers sharing something a thousand miles apart. In the middle of the night I woke up drenched in sweat, my nightshirt completely wet. It’s that time of year in Los Angeles when it’s cold and then it’s hot and then it’s cold again, all within a few hours. I think it’s just the desert, there’s no place for the heat to be stored. So I took off my nightshirt, and tried to get back to sleep. But I had been asleep for several hours, in fact went to bed early due to the headache, and I couldn’t find that peaceful place of slumber. I woke up several hours later, freezing.

So now I just lie there.

I often wish, or at least secretly hope, sometimes, that as I’m lying there, and I’m attempting to let go of myself, that in a moment of triumph, I can really let go of myself, my body, my life. Just drift away casually, and never come back down, simply float away into the cosmos and be free. No muss, no fuss. I feel guilty about leaving this all behind for someone else to clean up; I am having trouble with my will because I don’t want to burden anyone with the dreadful remains of my sorry and wasted life. That’s maybe what keeps me here. Guilt. Much more than desire, or even hope.

Although I know if I cleaned everything up and got rid of all the debris and clutter, if I tidied up and streamlined my life enough to the point where I wouldn’t feel bad about leaving it to someone, that I would feel free, and positive and maybe even a little graceful, enough so that I could move on to a better life all of my own. That makes me want to sit up, get out of bed, and make some progress. I really want to wash the floor, for starters. It’s bothering me. But the second I begin to move my head, I am reminded of why I am here. With my head propped up only slightly, and a pillow under my knees, waiting, impatiently and helplessly for the drugs to repair me.

So I just lie there.

- Rod Reynolds Los Angeles February 2003 © The Art Dept LA

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