(Inspired by Eddie Vedder)
I was coming to like I did one time on a splintery bench, still dressed in armor, in the middle of the third period of a hockey game, except this time my nose was not broken. The room was all white. There must have been other colors. The surgery tools were not white. I was not in there for surgery. No, it was an emergency room and when I began to see these foggy red clouds and the room tilted up and then down away from me, I wondered why the bed did not coast to the bottom of the room with the tilt. I was surprised at not being belted. I’ve had a belt every time but not this one. Rookie ER. At the bottom of the room, people were outside the windows looking in at me. Suddenly zoo. I was in a zoo and they were entertained by me. They did have white coats on. No, it was a mental hospital, and on cue, my psychologist, Lisa, she was on top of my bed on her hands and knees and quickly, her right hand, open-palmed, was heading for my face. She was working to restrain me, but I wasn’t going anywhere, so I was back down flat on the bed. Fully cooperative. Puzzled. Why was Lisa here and perhaps more pertinent was this driving need to know what was happening in my life before I got to this position in this wimpy hospital.
Lisa asked me a stream of questions. Many were sounds like blurry horns with baggies until she asked, “Have you been drinking?”
“I haven’t had a drink in seven years! You know…”
“Well, you’re out of it. Thursday, I thought I smelled alcohol.”
“Well, I haven’t had a drop.”
“Have you had any drugs? Ones that I don’t know about?”
“Hell no! I think… just really tired on Thursday.”
It didn’t sound like an explanation to me but she bought it. Maybe she didn’t smell anything Thursday. How did I get here?
Lisa and I went back and forth for a while.
Someone had found me walking in the swamp part of the lake at the park, thought I looked a bit out sorts and called an ambulance. I did remember driving to the park, searching for some peace. Apparently, my brain shut down once I got there.
It wasn’t long after Lisa sent me through the grilling and left to consult with others, perhaps about the pros and cons of the mercy of killing me right there in the room, that she came back and told me they thought I was good to go. I stared at her. Another doctor came in and checked my blood pressure, pulse, eyes and a few other things and gave me the thumbs up. It’s a good thing the MRI machines don’t show them what’s really inside of me, seemingly left from centuries of trying to climb walls and being hit by bricks while doing so.
I was a tourist and if there was a home somewhere that held the bed I slept in not many days ago, I did not know where it was. I never knew where home was and when I tried to go home I was always terribly frightened of going home. When I am frightened of going home, I figure it must not be home to which I am going. Sometimes I believe home can’t be on earth because every place I’ve been to on earth has been a tiny slice of hell, but I remind myself that my perceptions are a bit wacked at times and indeed I have had times when I believed that when people speak of heaven here on earth, they are not as allusive as they think because it can be found right here on earth.
I was wondering through town, still lost in this mesmerizing stupor that must strike anyone who should not be let out of the hospital while incompetent, feeling like a dilapidated jellyfish of a beached whale sifting through the grains of old camp fires.
I came upon a smallish, empty lot amongst the buildings which make up what my town calls downtown, which is generously measured as four blocks long. Waterford is the main drag, but it’s not really a drag. There’s no dragging. Main drag to me feels like being plagued by an overwhelmingly diseased storm of sparkles from Toyota emblems looking like drunk cowboys without brains, and the Honda’s with the fucked up H’s, not to mention the ever-sluttish Chevrolet bow ties. At this part it is 2 lanes both ways with the extraordinary luxury of that shared middle turn lane, and most people drive slower than you’d like to walk, mostly because they are stuck with the aforementioned branded cars, which often are not equipped with brakes.
In the lot there were the beginnings of weeds for the new season, lots of loose dust which allowed me to make plush footprints feeling like stepping in cookie dough with lots of butter in it to make it soft but still allowing for the dryness that freed the dirt to travel around like hyenas, some dead weeds from the long-ago summer, the summer after the summer during which I last felt human, but what sucked me in with a grainy, gravitational pull was the oak tree. I immediately ticked it off to be 80-years old, but I don’t know anything about trees. This tree looked to be for public consumption, looked unoccupied, and appeared to be terrific shelter with these big leaves that were not fully in tune with the summer season and not yet at their mature and stately darkest green. I remember being flooded with all of the lines of the millions of branches, and I remember imagining working to count all of the branches, how long it would take, and imagining it was more in the neighborhood of billions of branches and zillions of lines. If you squared off the view there were more lines than there was space. I didn’t want to count all of the branches. It was taller than the three-story building that was next to the lot that had just been transformed, the building, into these townhouses on the second and third stories that had an outside appearance of being post-modernist museum architecture with more glass than the surface of the city park, lived in, the townhouses, by those guys who really imagine they got the juice flowing strong, the ones who drive their current-year Ferrari’s which only come in the fire-engine versions of red or yellow. (It would blister me good to see a white Ferrari some day. That would be amazing – Not your average punk’s Ferrari but an Oldsmobile-white Ferrari. That would be hot!)
This oak tree became my tree right away because nothing else was mine.
It was late afternoon, still warm, not humid. I remember it being a desert dry and the city landscape looked to be like a desert also because I do not remember spotting even a solitary person, but this desert had all of the shiny blurring of the drunk cowboys without brains, fucked up H’s, and slutty bow ties, blurring and blurring to the point it wasn’t blurring but it was a foggy silver desert with brick buildings, some with acres of glass that seemed to be begging to get broken. Oddly, the windows were reflecting the deep murky brown of the canal a few blocks down the way, and I would look between the streets and the windows over and over, wondering where the silver disappears to before it gets to the windows.
It’s my tree and it called me. I knew it wasn’t home but I was going to make it home and it was asking me to stay. The first sturdy branch was probably 14 feet high, but it was as if the tree launched me on top of that branch, which was mostly horizontal and stronger than you might imagine.
When I was seven, my uncle climbed to the top of a birch and took an amazing photo of me from atop of this tree with a straight down perspective on me climbing and having arms and legs pointed in four distinct directions. It was not amazing because of how cute I was but because the perspective was stunning, leaves of the late fall were strewn about below and no ground could be perceived and the white and brown and black of the birch trunk and branches mixed in a stunning fashion with my white shoe laces in my dark boots, my dark navy sweater, my ugly speckled face, and with beautiful brown hair being the only smooth and consistently-textured space in the photo. This was in my mind as I climbed, my limbs going in all directions, but I am sure the tree lifted me by my ass.
At last, I felt as though I found my resting place about two-thirds to the top. It was a strong, strong branch that was at perhaps a 20 degree angle upward, and I laid down lining my spine with the branch, anchoring my grimy tennis shoes against the trunk. The bark looked like bark but it was as smooth as Formica while still holding me in place and then there was this unbelievable cushioned feel. This was magic and I closed my eyes wondering whether the five angels from the hospital had guided me here and made a supernatural bed, a resting place for me to either pass some time getting better or perhaps to slip to death. I wondered if anyone would get me if I died in my tree and concluded that it was unlikely and that it would be a spectacle to watch until winter when my clothes would stand out as grotesque in the bare tree and people would have fear when they looked up at hundreds of pieces of my body slowly rotting and turning into this goo, the goo that causes my mind to hate me, for the goo would be the only thing left along with my heavy, wet wool blanket, the blanket that causes a despair that is deeper than you can imagine.
But that day, there was life and I was in my tree. It was time to rest and to recover and to become useful to society and begin to produce the greatest things the world has ever seen and to help all of the people in the world who have the diseases that I have. I needed rest. My eyes closed. I heard Eddie Vedder’s mournful, bouncy, jolting, energetic voice sing me a lullaby, “In My Tree.”
I slept for a time and when I awoke, it was evening, still light. I sat there looking all around, trying to ascertain from my mind what day it was and where I was. It was that feeling when you are sure that you should not have awakened. Maybe others don’t get that, but it is as if I would almost rather die because the sleep did not refresh me but seemed to take hold of all my defects and magnify them and intensify them directing them toward this pot acting as a furnace eliminating all that falls in, hating all that I am.
It was nasty foggy in my mind but the scene was clear, crisp, not bright but sharp and the silver was so far gone my mind was convinced the town was deserted and empty and all of the cars were gone.
I was waving my arms around as if I had acquired some spiritual dance that would revive my soul. I heard incessant music in jolting time signatures. It was in my mind, in 5’s and 7’s and 11’s. It was propelling my spirit into a frame of action.
I saw my old drinking buddy, and I waved, but he was looking down counting all of the cracks in the sidewalk, so I called out to him, “Hey, Tim!” But he was too busy so it did not even cause him to glance. I was sad because even though I didn’t drink anymore and couldn’t spend much time with the old drinking crew, Tim was one of my favorite buddies. As I watched him counting the cracks like they were cracks in his very own life, I contemplated how bad I must be if the old drinking guys wouldn’t even say hi to me. More and more people were appearing on the sidewalks and all of them were counting the cracks. How long can someone walk and just count cracks? Forever? My thought was that it felt like it would be such a dismal living arrangement. I had blazing contrast, not looking down, looking around the world, and as I looked, the sky was starting to get fired with tinges of peach from the sunset.
Tim held a newspaper between his arm and his torso. It struck me hard. What did they have that I didn’t have? They had the newspaper. They had the gossip in the coffee shop. They had the TV. Oh, my, did they ever have the TV. Life in America had become a spectator sport where we are plunged into the middle of a plush beach, lying on our towels, with a TV to the right, newspaper in front, food to the left, and earphones with noise all day, noise from friends, from radios, from the TV, and none of this involved action – who needs action when everything in your environment consists of some sort of report on action? And when we’re not in the middle of the action, we forget how difficult it is for everyone else to carry on with the action of life. When I was in the daily action of American life, I was stunned daily at the robotic manner I used to get through and how with robotic actions, I had forgotten to value anything.
Sitting in my tree, I had no value, but I felt as though I were swimming in a big river of life that was smooth and glassy, slow-moving, stuck together, bonded, and nothing of that bond was going to allow me to be let loose to the lions waiting on the banks. That’s the value of my life – Being fully inside life and being who I am. I don’t know why I had to be in a tree, half insane with depression, to know about that.
At one point, when the sky was still not black, an old man came from nowhere in the alley behind my tree and he told me to hold out my hands. He tossed me a large bag of Fritos, and I have no idea how but it practically landed in my lap. I screamed thank you and started to concentrate on opening the bag so as not to have chips rain down on him when he shouted that I needed something to drink with that. He tossed a generic can of cola, again landing in my lap. He waved me off from the second thank you.
(to be continued, possibly…)