Monday, December 31, 2012

A Vacation in Goa

I finally got around to watching the movie "Outsourced" and it cleared up seven years in a bit less than two hours - It was a vacation in Goa, nothing more, nothing less......

Monday, December 17, 2012

Rules of Refraction - ROR

*Another short story from earlier but together in one post.......

A short tale about a long night

Eleven pm, time to decide if there would be sleep or not, and if so, how. Sleep aids, alcohol (requiring a hefty renunciation though), hot bath with sea salt and scented candles, an old college textbook, or maybe just a big bottle of her roommate's sedatives settling the issue once and forever. Sleep after all, was a misnomer - there was an alternative to sober consciousness ahead of her, however sleep or slumber was not the order of the evening. Most likely, they were waking up together now, and she needed to escape the moment they would turn to each other, smiling like kids finding a quarter for a tooth under their pillow, stretching just to reunite into the knot they spent hours untying through the night. She really needed to be spared this seven time zone tango tonight.
Distance was another ridiculously named mechanism of relief. Time and distraction two other twins tempting hope but betraying torment. She was rapidly encroaching that threshold where survival no longer bargained the pain, and relief actually resembled release, not recovery. Like one of those stories from the humanities course she had no talent for, she knew what was ahead of her for the next eight hours, a trilogy of trouble that would escalate to the dread of another dawn, the recursion of the reality of his loss, the jealous realization of his gain.
First, there would be the battle to find a place in the bed, the vector between the comforter (hah!), the top sheet, the two pillows, and her vexations. She would doze off, there was no doubt about that - but not before she found the ideal juxtaposition, perhaps two pillows tonight, the blanket folded three times tucked between her knees, her body turned and tilted away from the computer screen that had once been her lifeline to him. Once tucked up, she would find the evening's mantra, a few words at most uttered incessantly until she fell asleep, perpetually driving away his/their spectre like a enamored mosquito too quick to kill, too stupid to leave. The chant would send her to sleep eventually, but the reprieve would be brief, at most, only a few hours. From there, she would enter the second stage of her nocturnal nuance, four hours or so of tossing and tumbling about the bed, vainly invoking the evening's incantation, fighting for every twenty or thirty minutes of amnesiac torpor. Finally, she would face the last two hours of the morning, no longer trying to sleep, just trying to survive to devastating half-wake depression that had no remedy, no respite. Everything hurt so much more acutely right before dawn - God must have created man then she thought, as it had to be the time He would take him back as well. It was a deep, dark place that begat beginnings and endings, never meant for the living. Sleeping sucked.
The weekends were far different though, and if she could, she would sleep straight through them - something about not having to get up and bravely face the world upon demand disrupted her three-fold troika, and she was ever so grateful for the abeyance. The three trials would be there, but not in any sort of concert or coordination, and confused, could be bamboozled blithely with any of a dozen or so distractions she could conjure easily. Trinkets that took her through the weekend - baubles and doodads designed to persevere the pain until she got back to work on Monday. Her life had been distilled to this - rules of refraction, a debutante of deflection......
The computer still had a say-so about things, at night anyway. He was no longer on the other end, but it would provide her a buttressed lullaby, a movie or a song set to repeat though the ordeal, and as she would wake and stir, she would find a familiar miscellany of notes, a comfortable, habituated bit of dialogue and ride it gently back to sleep. Wonderwall or Shutter Island, neither connected directly to him, both oddly and inexplicably were comforting to her - the only question was which. Tonight it would be Wonderwall, the Ryan Adams version, slow and steady, all she had to do was type "repeat" in the YouTube URL and it would play all night. A nice trick she had recently picked up, and she wondered how many other souls were out there in their darkness, burying their pain in some eerie echo, some lovelorn loop.She started the song, turned away from the screen, still unable to cope with the residue of his image burned permanently into the lower corner where MSN Messenger would be if she had ever activated it again after the last time they spent the night streamed together through space and inequitable affection. The tune had no specific meaning for her, a few of the lines were nice, a few not very useful to her now. Perhaps it was just a sweet song she could fantasize singing to him, something to win him back, and if not, to crush him with her pain, buried incessantly in the morose melody. These were stupid little fabrications that gave her temporary mettle, temporary peace.
She pulled the comforter up over her shoulder and slid her head softly between the two pillows that she had always planned to share. Behind her, I don't believe that anybody feels the way I do about you now buffeted her in irony, but not remorse. It was a nice song, she would transcend the lyrical dissonance and just float with it until she found the mental key that would incarcerate her memory, would prohibit their invasion of her sanity. It would be a single word or a short phrase. Something to hammer back the apparition that would come to her, impudent in its inculcation, relentless in its shape shifting synthesis. It was never the same image, never a consistent cognition. She would have to wait with the song until it came, then find a way to battle it.
Backbeat the word is on the street that the fire in your heart is out opened this evening's door. They were somewhere, together laughing lightly at the notion of her still pining over him two and a half years later. The lilt she heard stabbed at her, far too strong this long out. But it did, and as usual, she indulged the injury until she could find its utility, or until it tore open her already hemorrhaging heart. Masochism, she thought, was not an avocation of the perverse or depraved, it was simply a symptom of survival, a prognosis of fairly fought pain. She found her psalm quickly this night, perhaps in inverse proportion to the trauma of this most recent phantom - one word, simple, "jerk."
It wasn't him or her, this was an inward indictment of her own stupidity, her own weakness, her private, pallid pity. Jerk, jerk, jerk....would be the refrain for relief - jerk, jerk, jerk...would pound them back to their privacy and pulse her pliantly to sleep
She was sinking now, feeling the effects of the drugstore sedatives sliding up her body. The sensation was initially unpalatable, as she first felt it in her legs, making them cold and lighter than the rest of her. It would accelerate though, and in a minute or two she would embrace its warmth in her torso then her head. At this point, she would almost feel good again, almost giddy. She reasserted herself fervently into the menage a trois with her goose down paramours, and smiled as she drifted smoothly off in a pleasant portmanteau of there are many things that I would like to say to you but I don't know how and jerk, jerk, jerk.....
The litany worked, slowly anyway. Initially, it took four or five "jerks" to drive the laughter away, eventually only one or two. Each salvo kept it away a bit longer until it was just a soft plea from a distant hurt. She slept. She knew better, when she woke, to hope it had been a significant respite; a quick but lazy turn to the clock upheld the verdict - just barely two hours, typical. She would wrestle now, fighting to regain sleep, drifting in and out with the song, and tossing about the bed as if there was some new place, some hidden portal to a good night's sleep long lost to her. There was a byproduct of that short nap though, the remnant of a dream that would stay for the next few hours. She was sitting at a train station, emerging into her own sight as the train pulled away. She was much smaller, but not younger. Just sitting there, diminutive in stature and in her silence.
The image startled her, as did every image every night the last eight hundred nights. It was never the same dream, never the same straggler that followed her through the next series of trials. They were never gruesome or grotesque, just unexpected. She never had them long enough to analyze, their only function was to to emulsify the four or five hours ahead of her, to string together the tussle necessary to deem it an episode. Time for the latest installment, with no prayer for an epilogue anytime soon.
Sitting on the ramp of the train station with her legs dangling over carelessly, staring at nothing in particular. This was where she woke, watching a train move slowly on past. The girl was lonely and haunting, and she couldn't stand looking into the vacant eyes so she thrust herself over and willed herself back to sleep.
It wouldn't be a half an hour or so until she stirred, right back at the train station, her body light and hollow, except for a terrible draft racing through her, a draft of dread. It was an unnamed thing, something that gutted her and left her almost in a panic - a thing that would only be driven away by returning to sleep, or getting up and joining the day. Given that she rarely got enough sleep anyway, waking up and getting out of bed in the middle of the night really wasn't an option. She would continue the pitiful cycle, sleeping, stirring, fretting, and praying for the night to slide past as painlessly as possible. She knew too, that her life was slipping by, and if she survived this period, she would have given him a terribly extravagant gift, she would had given him almost all of her pain.
She knew the rules, she would cycle like this for several more hours before waking and facing that last trimester of the ordeal where the devil was in charge of all the details. For now, she could count on the refractory grace of her turmoil, much like the Karsakoff victim who had no short-term memory - pain and anguish would subside for a bit, before being reconstituted by a new encounter, a new awakening. Most nights she preferred a movie as her companion through the arduous loop, measuring the efficacy of her relief by where she was in the movie each time she woke. The song offered no such luxury with its terse and callous orbit.
She woke four or five times that night, each to a departing train and a despondent witness, perhaps symbolizing her indifferent martyrdom to an insignificant love. She didn't want the little girl to go away necessarily, she only tried to will the train back to obfuscate the petite but living indictment of her pathetic existence, for a few hours anyway. As tormentors went, this evening's phantom was manageable, but residually unsettling - it would be a bad and lonely day when she eventually rose from her bed. Stage two almost complete, she looked with measured insolence at the alarm clock knowing the last bit of the night had arrived, the bit she feared the most. Although awake, it would be like the dream you would become aware of midway, having the assurance you would survive it, but the knowledge that you had yet to endure it. Endurance, the newest notion that she had now lost all romantic connotation for.....
She was awake now with the inevitable yet still pathetic realization that there were a couple of hours before she should really get out of bed - there would be no more sleep, no more cyclical abatement, just the naked, vestiges of the nocturnal trial left to her. Dawn didn't erupt, it crept up and its slow arrival would be far too tardy to spare her the sense of emptiness and nameless dread that would occupy her until she emerged from the confines of her bed. She often wondered why she just didn't get out of bed during this last bit, but she supposed she was obliged by the contract of semi-consciousness and despair - getting out of bed would be a violation of integrity of sorts, she would not deign her depression thus.
She rolled over, nostalgically dragging the comforter up over his ghost - he hated this maneuver he called her crocodile roll. She smiled, sort of, remembering his irritation but finding no pleasure in this phantom spite - only the edge of the threshold she would slide over now, straight into her private wrestling match with her own wretchedness. The song would no longer help.
Consciousness was redefined in these moments stretching into hours. Not awake, not asleep, she just was - empty and suffering from pain with nothing to attach itself to. It drifted through her, stubbornly refusing to stop and reside, not allowing any purchase or her any traction to fight it. It didn't stab or sting, just smothered her hope leaving her less even than the residue of pain, nothing to resurrect later or to learn from. She wondered if he was siphoning off her soul.
Rolling over periodically, glancing at the clock she hated (too fast or too slow, depending on the time of night or the earth's axis she supposed) to measure her accrued endurance and to weigh the penalty of the remaining purgatory, she knew she would survive, but wondered why she should. Time wasn't deterring this daily dramaturgy, if anything, it was fossilizing into a paralyzingly familiar promise. A promise that offered no relief, only an increasing speculation that she must have done something to deserve the torment, for she knew no other human who suffered this way, no other human that could.
As she rose and fell from moments of truce to terror, she kept an eye on the time, knowing it was just a few more minutes before she could free herself to test the futility of the day ahead, to ply at its impotence to offer her one more motive to fight through another night, another embrace with the entropy that had become her life. She pulled the covers back and slid stoically out the other side of the bed, the side he had dominated, a first act of recovery or one last nod to resignation, she wasn't sure. She didn't care much, she was up now and feeling better, cautiously avoiding the acknowledgement of the inevitable decay that would follow what ever type of day she forged. This is what would pass for existence, for loving him and relinquishing her heart as he had demanded. This was the best alternative she could provide to death, the best she could muster.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Amira - New Levels of Admiration

I had written a post about Amira a short while ago, and I continue to work with her. Soon, she will move on to regular ESL classes and I will no longer tutor her. We have met faithfully for most of the term, twice a week. Amira is about 4'9' tall and couldn't possibly weigh more than 90 pounds. She always wears very elegant Yemeni clothing, and never fails to don a smile when I come into the conference room. We have developed our rituals, and teasing plays a large part, at least on my part. Homework is always a large bone of contention, with me chiding her with taunts that she doesn't really have any competing responsibilities, and her tilting her head and giving me a look only an overworked mother could. We work for an hour each session, and I would suppose that she did several hours of homework assignments between them. We do some grammar, read dialogue, and do activities in two workbooks. We have yet to have a lesson without laughter and without me marvelling at the strength in that small body.
The other day, we were following a lesson where she had to read questions about a family and respond with her personal information. I was shocked by her answers, not expecting them. I discovered that she was dealing with circumstances far more difficult than I  had ever imagined. She told me about them (in the context of the lesson) and I asked just a few questions to make sure I was comprehending. I looked at her and realized for the thousandth time in my life how blessed I was and how insignificant my problems were. She was not saddened by the exchange or deterred by any means. We continued on with the lesson and she told me she wanted to attend the Saturday morning conversation group this weekend. She smiled as we ended the session, and I returned her smile far less playfully than was my custom, and I neglected to tease her about her schedule or impending homework.
God packs His grace in small and humble places, and I am so grateful for the occasional glimpse.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Necessity of Sex

The Necessity of Sex

I can imagine
a thousand and one nights
illuminated by a soft crescent moon
cascading a perfect silhouette
over you as you sleep
I can imagine
tracing this journey
down the length of your body
my fingertip sliding slowly
over every curve, every nuance
of your silky ochre skin
I can imagine
laying there balanced on one elbow
leaning over you
marveling at your beauty, your grace
watching you rise and fall
with every breath
And I can imagine
quietly contemplating
The necessity of sex

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Mental States - The Trajectory of Diarrhea, Following Mommy From Shelter to Shelter, Circumscribed Schizophrenia, Bicycle Parades, Love, and Other Thoughts from 2 - 7AM in the Morning

Early Saturday morning (2am), I was sitting at the entrance of the homeless shelter providing security of sorts. It was slow and all the folks inside (55 of them) were asleep. I was reading an old favorite of mine, Phantom Limbs by V.S. Ramachandran. Each time I read it, I take away something new, and this past weekend was no different. While reading a section about the neurology of the brain, I found that due to the millions of ganglia, axons, dendrites and their subsequent connections, there are more possible conscious mental states than there are elemental particles on earth! This started me thinking about mental states, particularly those of others. I wondered about the men, women, and children inside sleeping on thin mats on a tiled floor in a large open banquet hall. I thought about them a lot.
Around 3am, the first mother-daughter pair appeared out of the darkness for a bathroom trip. A small, heavy set woman led the way with a much shorter girl sporting long, pretty hair in step behind her. The little girl looked neither sad nor happy, just tired. I wondered what she was thinking, I wondered if she was old enough yet to be weary (a special kind of tiredness) of the trip to new shelters each day, and of the tired and defeated look on her mother's face. They emerged a few minutes later, in the same lock-step and disappeared back into the hall. I wondered how much of a chance this little girl had for a normal life. I wondered until I became too sad to wonder anymore and I stopped.
After ten or fifteen minutes, a very non-descript man shuffled around the corner and went into the bathroom. I forgot about him until another man, a bit taller followed him in a few minutes later. From around the corner, I heard the second man bellow, "That is so fucking wrong." I started to get up, imagining some conflict between the two over something I did not want to imagine, but I sat back down and waited. Eventually, the first, slower patron came back out and turned into the hall without a word. Several minutes later, the second offended party came out and over to my station. After a flurry of blurred obscenities, I grasped his complaint and hardened myself to the coming task. Someone, evidently, had made a terrible mess in the bathroom. I reassured him things would be ok and I went around a couple of corners to the men's room.
I have worked in hospitals, psych wards, and have changed a few diapers in my lifetime. Having done those things, I thought had seen it all, fecally speaking. I was wrong. I smelled the disaster before I got near it. When I opened the stall, there was fecal matter all over the toilet, floor and up three feet of all three adjoining walls. I had no choice but to clean it up, I couldn't leave the area like that for five more hours. The whole process took me an hour and a half with mops, bleach, rags, scrub pads, and more bleach.  I kept thinking about mental states though, and what kind of mental state would prompt a human to make such a deliberate and over-achieving mess. I drew a blank.
Back to my post near the front door, I once again took up my pondering on other mental states like depression, happiness, and love. I wondered how we might direct those synaptic episodes in such a way to be happy, to avoid worse mental conditions. I wondered how being homeless, wondering from sleeping arrangement to sleeping arrangement would affect my neurons and subsequent mental states. I wondered how much transient existence I could withstand before I would lose a good part of my humanity. As these thoughts passed by, more folks came and went on bathroom trips, most greeting my respectfully. Another mother-daugther pair made the journey, and I desperately wished I had the wherewithal to do something, to help. The mother smiled at me as the daughter stumbled half asleep behind her. Human beings I thought, caught in inhuman circumstances. All of a sudden, the hundreds if not thousands of inane arguments I had heard and been part in regarding the causes and responsibilities of homelessness seemed base and inhumane - no one deserved this kind of life, no one.
The rest of the night passed uneventfully until around 6am when people began to stir and have breakfast. The crew before mine had made lunches for our guests, and I lined them up alphabetically on the table in the front so they could collect them on their way out for the day. I also manned the locked door, as they went out and returned from smoke breaks. At one point I noticed a sad little twinge in my heart as I watched a tall, muscular man about 35 reach down into the cigarette can to take up a few butts. He would be handsome if cleaned up I supposed, and I could only guess at what downfall brought him here. I wondered about his mental state as he picked up the throw aways, sat down on the large ash can and stared blankly off into the early morning mist.
As I sat watching a few early risers come out and take their lunches, one of them hovered nearby and started up a conversation with me. He was about 40 I supposed, well kept and healthy looking. I had forgotten I was sitting in front of a nearly life-sized statue of Jesus until he referenced the prophet several times in our ten minute talk. We started fairly enough on the terrible colds and flus rummaging around the group that night. After a couple of minutes, he switched smoothly into a discussion about some of the other guests who were talking about him behind his back, and how Jesus had frowned upon such things. I knew this path we were heading down, but his pace and gait were different, not typically schizophrenic. The slow-evolving conspiracy he was weaving grew steadily more implausible, but the paranoia in its threads did not match his tone and tenor. He didn't get excited as he elaborated, and from time to time he seemed to step back and acknowledge that most people wouldn't understand the dynamics he found himself immersed in. He assured me he wasn't drinking or on drugs, the prescribed or illegal sort. He had found a way to put a bubble around his malady, and could discuss it dispassionately but with firm conviction. He never once asked for my agreement or affirmation though, and I was grateful for that decency. Our conversation slowly reached its end, and he excused himself to go out and face a world of whispers and cold collusion.
Reading more about the loss of limbs and the phenomenon of phantom pains made me think about love, and the impossible task of getting over one. I learned that input from different parts of our body are mapped in different locations in our brains. Some are very close to each other - the most amusing pair were stimuli experienced by our toes and our genitalia, mapped virtually on top of each other in a small place in our brain, possibly explaining the proliferation of foot fetishes in many societies.  I thought about love and intimacy, and the fact that a man or a woman could "map" their partner completely with their hands and lips and eyes and embrace. How they could overlay all the sensory data, touch, smell, sight, sound, and taste over their own mannequin of desire and hope, creating a spectre destined to outlive any ill-fated romance or immature love. I understood my own pain better at that point, but the knowledge lent no insight into its cessation.
At nearly 7am, most of the evening's guests were leaving the church. I hadn't dared to venture back into the bathroom, not wanting to find another surprise there. Several had ridden bikes, and a few left pushing strollers. Most thanked me as they picked up their sack lunches, and I felt woefully inadequate accepting their gratitude. Some went out to cars, some left on their bikes in twos and threes, and some just ambled away. Sitting inside, I didn't think much about where they would go or what their day would be like until one gentleman stuck his head outside and said "Good, no rain." In a moment of intense clarity, I knew my thoughts about the inconveniences the weather sometimes presents me would all be silly from that moment. I did know it would be twelve more hours until the next shelter would open to them, and I began to wonder about the rest of the day, the rest of their days.
I left the church/shelter at 7am and drove the short distance back to my apartment. During the five minute trip, I saw them dispersing on their bikes, on foot, pushing their strollers. Some were still paired up, others moving on on their own. I wondered on man's desire to live and push forward through any circumstance just to survive. I hoped their lives would again be about something other than survival, if indeed they ever had been. I felt guilty, sad, and somewhat irrelevant by the time I got home, and I took a very long bath, for many reasons.