This was not the life I’d planned for. I wanted something in beige.
Time tumbled on and I made it home after an agonizingly long visit to Walgreens for Percocet. The excruciating white spotlight of the drugstore scrambled my head even worse than usual; I had to appear normal again but it was hard. I was among them. As I self-consciously scanned my way through the bright aisles (monstrous, fluorescent shimmers) the products on the shelves made less and less sense. Feathers and Claws. Boxes of brown LARD. Products, products. A blood-spitting blowhole locked next to a fortress of Q-Tips. An old woman stood hunched like a vulture in the candy aisle, brooding over the sugarless chocolate. She was surrounded by a moving aura of thin, colorless filaments and I watched the spikes of no-color as they radiated around her. I felt like saying something. I felt like screaming at her. Warning her. She turned and noticed me noticing her and I quickly averted my gaze. I don’t need this. I made my way down the aisle to the pharmacy. I could barely stand in line and wished for the relief of a collapse. A seizure would be nice. I was standing with a stoop due to the pain of the staples and the cumbersome dressing on my balls (ball, I reminded myself—singular now). I was walking like Groucho Marx without the humor. Do people still say egad? There was one person (?) ahead of me, a man with hands like eels. He glanced at me; his eyes pitted gray cinders in a crumpled paper face. Get me out of here, please. The man (?) was buying vials of ochre pus. I wanted to scream again. I wanted to scream a blood-curdling aboriginal screech of the universe exploding. The man paid for his pus with the smooth swipe of a card. That’s when I realized I had to pay too. How was I supposed to cope with the mystery of money? Did I have money? How much will it cost? I felt separated from myself. My hands were loaves of bread dough. How would I get them to work when I’m locked in the Sudden Singularity of the cash register? Fire at me with a hellish flare gun. Biblical questions dribbled from an old hole in my head and puddled on the floor behind me. I smelled orange juice. This was no good. Standing in line was an absurd rite. I felt a spiritual sickness, like black fluid spurting from an infected tooth. The guy (?) ahead of me winked something in code with his nictitating membranes. The sound they made went, snik snik snik...
And then he was gone and it was my turn. I somehow maneuvered my way forward and placed the prescription (now a dried origami abstraction) on the counter. I felt like an intruder in a dead realm, a taste like muck in my mouth. The girl-thing behind the counter went, “Wuh wuh bluh wuh wuh bluh,” with a blubbery mouth and I nodded and think I answered, “Yes...”
She raked her nails across the slip of paper with sharp, boundless horror. My mind was melting and the fear of fainting returned. I needed a sharp slap in the face. I needed a hard kick in the ass (for several reasons). It finally occurred to me to open my wallet. I handed the girl-thing (I think) my ID. She said something. I think I said something in return—a verbal volley of twaddle. The girl-thing turned and disappeared behind shelves of drugs. I wanted to (but didn’t) drool.
She came back with a little white paper bag. “Wuh wuh bluh bluh...”
She lowered the bag into the wrinkled jaws of a dead albino lizard. She handed me the lizard—now a big plastic bag—and I took it. I took it and I think I said, Thank you. And then I accidently looked into her shining face of reflections; convex, fish-eyed mirrors of myself; glistening, bone-marrow skulls leaking the bloody seepage of my personality all over the floor. All over the floor, splattering like hot gore on the cement deck of a slaughterhouse. I handed her the money and mumbled something and then pushed toward the doors, pushed myself outside where the cool air revived me a bit, bringing a measure of sanity to the tilt-a-whirl landscape.
When I got home I crushed and snorted the Percocet. It paired well with the Ambien that I sometimes swallow for insomnia (fake insomnia I invented for my doctor). I couldn’t stretch-out because of my new handicap, so I lay curled like a fetus on the couch, clouded eyes staring unfocused at the TV screen. The chemotherapy started next week. I had arranged for transportation after my fictional Aunt Roberta shot me down (she’s attending a nonexistent dog show in Topeka). The hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Center would provide a ride. Dana Farber is the cream of the crop (I hear) but I secretly hoped they wouldn’t be able to cure me. I wanted the cancer to snuff me out, like permanently, man. Y’dig?
I dozed off watching a rerun of Hello Larry. I dreamed McLean Stevenson and I were performing Satanic rituals at the end of the world. I awoke at 3:00 a.m. and swallowed three more Percocet. Then three more. Then three Ambien. I chased everything with tepid beer. A serene, dead feeling overcame me. I was floating above a warm grave. I thought, Nothing is better than this. This was bliss the way it was intended. I tested my serenity by thinking about my cancer, I contemplated a horrible, lingering death. I saw black tumors secreting caustic lymph. Bald-headed leukemia kids screaming in pain. Bottomless despair. Needles and nausea and bad TV.
But nothing fazed me. I had no fear. I still felt like a cloud with a sweet, gooey filling.
I spent the next three days lost in a Percocet and Ambien haze. The thing about Ambien is that if you stay awake after it takes effect you will probably hallucinate (more than usual). You will trip balls (or in my case, ball).
My memories of my post-op drug binge are fragmentary and vague. I napped a lot. Here are a few highlights I remember from those two wonderful days:
1. Standing (or floating) in the kitchen eating sugar out of the sugar bowl with my calm hands while an aging invisible college professor lectured me about microeconomics, the sweet granules jittering on my tongue like crunchy white fleas. If I’d thought of it, I’d have snorted it.
2. Sitting in my living room in the bright light of day, surrounded by giant floating cells. Like big misshapen soap bubbles they were, with clearly visible organelles: mitochondria, vacuoles, ribosomes, Golgi apparatus, (and so on and so forth etcetera). They floated like friendly jellyfish before my astonished eyes and I could make them move like balloons by waving my hands in the air and blowing on them. I could see an incredible amount of detail in the strange, lucent organisms. It was as if a dream had gotten loose from my subconscious and hit the atmosphere in my apartment, semi-solidifying into soft, runny matter.
The little floaters kept me occupied for hours. I WILL MISS THEM.
3. I woke up in the warm sun one morning and thought I was a baby. I wasn’t but I did wet the bed. I cried happy, grateful tears.
4. One dark, moist night I believed I was being swallowed by a giant black giraffe, its mild saliva slowly breaking down my cellular integrity, dissolving me to warm, unthinking fluid.
Again, I wet the bed. Warm urine pleasure.
5. Overall, I had never felt so tranquil. So clean and peaceful despite the bladder spills. But all good pills must eventually end. My pleasure slowly dried to dust.
And then I heard a blaring trumpet fanfare and it was chemotherapy time.
* * *
I got picked up on a chilly, vaporous day by a supernatural girl named Wendy who drove a battered orange Miata. I had forced down a calming breakfast of Klondike Ice. I was buzzing into my chemo. Wendy had onyx eyes and spoke with a Maine accent. I immediately recognized her psychic abilities. She was as clear and sound as a bronze bell. Her car smelled of patchouli and factory-produced pine.
“Well, hello there... Henry?” She was consulting a clipboard, moving her finger along the lines of information. I fastened my seatbelt and said, “Yes.”
She drew a checkmark with a nub of pencil and put down the clipboard.
“So, yuh got the cancer, do yuh?” she said. “That sucks.” She jerked the car into DRIVE and we were off.
“It’s no big deal,” I told her.
“What kinda cancer yuh got?”
“In your tentacles, huh?”
“My testicles. Yeah.” I gazed out the window, watching things in my life blur by.
“Yeah, that really blows for yuh, huh?”
I ignored her, looking out the window.
After realizing that small talk with me was impossible, she began to whistle. She didn’t whistle a tune; it was more like one long birdcall. It lasted for ten miles. I walked around in my head. Around and around. An endless loop. The private pornography of my SELF.
“I’m starved,” said Wendy. “Skipped breakfast this morning.”
“After I drop you off I’m, like totally going to McDonald’s for chicken McNuggets.“ She turned to look at me and I felt the familiar sting of fear. I felt icewater in my bowels. “Do you like chicken McNuggets Henry?”
I felt stunned as I replied, “They’re okay I guess.”
And then finally, we reached the hospital. My new home away from home. I told the driver (magical Wendy) “Thanks a lot,” and started to disembark the car.
“No problem. Hey, good luck in there. I’ll send positive vibes your way.”
“Okay. Thanks again.”
I walked toward the building fighting the urge to look back at the Miata. I imagined the car vanishing like rising fog. Magical Wendy’s Miata ascending into outer space to pick up a cancer patient on another planet. Making small talk with Ptoth-23 from the Andromeda galaxy...
A glass door slid open for me. I was in.