Milk of Amnesia
She wouldn’t let me touch her on account of my illness. She told me that it wasn’t nothing personal. I thanked her for that.
I won’t deny that I’m ill. That I’ve been ill for quite some time. What she does let me do is to rub her back with her wool sweater on, a beige thing that I bought last Christmas. After about four minutes though it becomes scratchy on her skin and I have to stop. Usually, I’ll pull out the hairs that stick to her back, sometimes the hair of strangers that are too dark, too light, too long, too short to be ours. Once I found a hair that changed between white and black every inch. I wanted to keep that one but didn’t know how to ask her for it. It becomes meditative for both of us, even after she’s fallen asleep.
I hope I got sick while we were together. While I was walking up and down the river in blissful mindlessness. I would like to think that I became sick with her while walking through Inwood Hill Park, during the month of January, at the top of Manhattan, a green sock for the island’s foot. I’d like to think that I caught a bug when we were standing at the base of the Hill, under the Tulip Tree that we kissed. I didn’t even know tulips had trees. If tulips came out of the tree I couldn’t tell because of the month. The month when nothing lives except the things that are always going on dying and living no matter the time.
She’s been working extra hard with the time we’ve had apart. When we can spend more time together again she’ll have made a lot more money. Then we can buy all the things to make up for our lost time together. She works as a paralegal on 53rd and 3rd and she tells me she’s been making a lot more leeway “with the boys upstairs.” She keeps telling me she’s nearly closed an important case with an account in Peking that’ll have her “moving on up in the world.” I haven’t been touching myself either because I don’t think she’d want me to. That way when we can hug again it’ll be extra exciting. She’s been saving up for me with her time away with all the hours of overtime she puts in.
The only thing that worries me these days is how come she never got sick too. When we were walking around the Battery that day she never got sick, and the wind was wiping around so hard that it snatched a Dutch flag from its pole and walloped me round the head so hard I saw flowers of gold instead of stars. I became ill three days after our walk along the river with the sea-dazed Manhattoes but she stayed the same. Now I stay home, until she picks me up and I rub her back and she drives me home.
When I get better I’ll go back to work but I haven’t been able to figure out when that’ll be.
The last time we saw each other in good health was when we went home that day at Peter Minuit Square, at the Battery. She decided to take the Staten Island Ferry for fun and I went home by way of the 1 Line, each of us transferring in our own way across the East River. The next three days we spent apart. Working in our own way, sleeping in our own way, eating in our own way – until I felt an itching in my throat, an aching in my head, and a dripping in my chest. Three days later I had to call in to work and she came to my apartment to take me to her apartment until we went back to my apartment. Then she went back to her apartment. She won’t let herself get sick. When I came over she told me that. It was the first time one of us had been ill since we began seeing each other. She told me, “Listen: I don’t want to be sick again. The last time I was sick I couldn’t have normal dreams. All of my dreams were upside down. Everything was inside out. The ocean was in the sky and I was floating in a bay of helium. It was like that until I got sick again. Now I’m afraid that the next time I get sick it’ll go back, maybe forever. Listen: I won’t let myself get sick again. I’m sorry. But I won’t.”
Being sick has its benefits. I get to look outside all day. I don’t have to talk to people I don’t like. Mostly because they know that I’m sick. I have enough energy to read but not much else. Sometimes I’ll try to watch a television set, but it strains my eyes now that I’m sick. Mostly it’s because what everyone says is always one line ahead of where I am, and I get dizzy trying to follow the camera’s flashes from here to there. Watching the television makes me even more ill when I see all the gaps between there and here. When I’m reading, my eyes jump when I want them to. That and the color red makes me nauseous now. As long as there are enough blues with the reds I can stand it, but too much red makes my stomach churn like the bottom of the Pacific.
I should see a doctor soon but it’s hard to want to get better. Wanting to get better means changing and I think I may be too sick for that now. I think that it’s funny because I changed to be like this. Funny because it reminds me of someone who goes through a door made of horns and into a room to find that ivory is a bad omen, then can’t get out because the other side of the door he came in through is made of ivory. Funny because it doesn’t make sense. Funny because of quantum mechanics. Most funny things don’t really make sense. Maybe all funny things don’t make sense. But I don’t laugh about it, so maybe it’s not that funny.
When she comes home from the hospital, she tells me these stories about what she sees in the anesthesiology ward. About the pains people go through and how she tries to make them go away. She told me about how she had her patient “put under” so that she could induce “anterograde amnesia” in the “hippocampus and other subcortical regions.” She told me that her patient had to have a wound sutured that had reopened. The wound originated from a failed suicide attempt. The wound had split open while bending down to pick up a dropped paperweight. She told me today that the drug induced “priapism” in the patient. It worried me to hear about something that horrible.
After the back rub I thought about the person who had this happen to them. I hoped he would find the Tulip Tree.
Underneath my window I get to watch the Cat Parade. It’s my favorite thing to watch. More than reading and definitely more than watching television. The cats move a lot and I know exactly what’s going on, even though sometimes I can’t see them. It’s like a television show where every episode is the same, so I never have to be reminded of what I missed. In the summertime I can’t find the cats. I think it’s because they go away, but then again, the leaves block the view in the spring, summer, and fall. When winter came I had to buy curtains (before I was sick) because people could watch me across their backyards, undressing, touching myself, having sex. In the spring, summer, and fall this was never an issue and the leaves kept out the light. But now my curtains are also open and I watch the Cat Parade. I don’t know how many cats there are but there are at least three. One is black and chases a second brown and white stripped cat. A third one fights the other two cats. At night I can hear them fight or have sex or both. I can’t tell the difference so maybe they only fight or only have sex. I am not sure. One of the neighbors has a cat though because they put out milk for it even though they aren’t supposed to. You only give milk to baby cats, not adult cats. And it has to be the right kind of milk or else even baby cats could get sick. When I’m laying in bed with my eyes closed and hear the Cat Parade, I tell myself that I’m watching the Cat Parade.
I saw her today for the last time. She told me things are too busy in the oval office to see me anymore and that “executive decisions call for executive measures.” I told her “I understand” and she had to leave. Luckily, I get to watch her on the television when she addresses the Nation. The camerawork is very tasteful and it reminds me of a play because I don’t have to worry about gaps until the commercials come back. Maybe when I get better I can see her again. I haven’t been to Washington D.C. since I was very little. But I don’t worry about getting better. Sometimes I feel like before, but then I remember that I’m still sick because I stay home.
When my eyes start to burn from watching television, or reading, or even watching the Cat Parade, I look at the sky. It’s still winter so I see through the coral branches every time I look at the sky and they remind me of the cold outside. Even the brightness of the sun doesn’t help me see how cold it is. It only “confuses my senses.” That’s why the coral branches help orient me like a thermometer with a top and a bottom. They split my vision and put the whole sky in a wooden frame. Like the trailer park in California that was just as cold and the leaves were just as gone even though it was in California. Not that I can remember the trailer park, or California, or the other stuff. But maybe I’ve been sick longer than my memory serves me, and the only thing I really miss now is feeling the memories sting like before. Before they were memories.