If My Cold Were an Old Man

I wrote this recently while in the throes of a cold. In retrospect, I find it funny that I chose to place myself back in Florida to describe my misery. I guess the unrelenting heat helped the fever imagery. But it also speaks to my state of mind when I lived there. Anyway, rest assured, I’m feeling much better now.

I was sitting on my front porch, baking in the heat, desperately clutching a glass of lemonade as if it were a life raft. The sweat from the glass did nothing to assuage the perspiration on my forehead. My light cotton shirt was determined to cling to the small of my back. I felt lifeless and hopeless.

I closed my eyes, trying to resist the urge to start screaming in frustration, knowing that if I did it would be a feeble effort that would come out as a weak moan. And afterwards I’d still feel unheard. I felt like ten kinds of crap, and there was nothing I could do about it.

The occasional gust of wind provided no comfort either. It merely kicked up the dust from the dirt road out front. I felt coated with a layer of grime. I felt heavier, somehow, as if I could easily be buried alive if I didn’t move.

If I could only muster the strength to turn on the garden hose and rinse the clay off my bare feet, I’d feel so much better. Such a nice idea. Just out of reach.

When I opened my eyes, I realized he was there. An old man, standing on the crumbling sidewalk, looking at me, smiling. It made me jump. I felt a little chill. But only for a second. Then the bone-frying heat set in again, seeming to pour out of my eye sockets.

We’d met before. He was a tall man, and so thin you could see his tendons. Weathered is how I would describe him, as if he had been left lying in a ditch like a cast-off doll, in the wind and rain, for his entire life. He looked like he might just blow away like a tumbleweed. This man was made of cracked clay.

He wore a white t-shirt, and dark grey pants held up by suspenders. His leather shoes looked like they were on the verge of disintegration. And he had a fedora. Who wears fedoras anymore? Somehow that fedora irritated me.

He asked if he could come out of the sun for a time. I indicated the rocking chair. I didn’t really feel like I had to say much of anything. He was there. Where else would he have gone?

He settled in and I offered him a glass of lemonade, as you do. He nodded his thanks, and poured it himself. He rocked for a time, as the heat shimmered on the kudzu on the other side of the road. Even the rattlesnakes had taken cover, but the cicadas seemed to be buzzing inside my head. I felt dizzy.

He, on the other hand, seemed just fine. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him slowly rock. It was almost as if he were intent on some goal. The chair creaked, making my nerves jangle. That’s why I had chosen to sit on the steps. Creak. Creak. I wished he would just go away and leave me alone.

I began to realize that he wasn’t as fragile as I first thought. He wouldn’t blow away. No. He was more like tanned leather, or beef jerky. He would endure, quietly, yet stubbornly, for all eternity. He could easily be a thousand years old. He wasn’t going anywhere.

I began to feel desiccated, like a lizard that had been trapped in place until death came to shrivel it up. No amount of lemonade could quench my thirst. My tongue felt as if it were swelling and cracking, and I wanted to cry, but the tears wouldn’t come.

The buzzing inside my head got louder as the pressure began to build. I felt a dull ache, and a suffocating sensation. I felt like I was drowning in hot, bubbling mud, and would soon sink below the surface, with no one there to rescue me, as the old man quietly watched.

He tried to hand me a dirty handkerchief, a grudging gesture at best, but I couldn’t have raised a hand to take it if I had wanted to. He thanked me for the lemonade, and said it was time for him to move on. But he’d see me again sometime.

I slumped on the porch, feeling like Appomattox the day after the battle, long before all the bloody, bloated corpses had been removed. I wondered what would be visited upon me next, as the cicadas continued to buzz and the unrelenting sun shimmered all around me, depriving me of focus and making recovery seem all but impossible.

Cracked clay

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Look Me in the Eye

I just saw a video of some Florida teens mocking a disabled man as he slowly drowns. He cries for help. He struggles. They curse at him and laugh. And they aren’t going to be charged with anything. What they did was immoral, but not illegal.

Personally, I think that if you do something immoral that results in someone’s death, you should be required to have a photograph of that person on your bedroom ceiling for the rest of your life. It should be the last image you see when you go to sleep, and the first one you see when you wake up. Don’t you owe them that much? Should you ever be allowed to forget?

Yes, I realize that people who score high on the psychopathy scale probably won’t be affected by the eyes of the people whose lives they have destroyed, but even so, they should not be allowed to move on. Those whom they have harmed have been deprived of a future, so theirs should be, at the very least, made a little less pleasant. I hope, though, for society’s sake, these dangerously warped Florida children get help.

tell_me_how_to_be__me__by_whats_left_of_me-d5dqcxc

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The Right to Breathe

When I was about 11 years old, a guy that had a crush on my sister went swimming with us. He was about 18, and his hormones were such that I’m sure he viewed me as a nuisance, just another obstacle blocking his path to the Promised Land. At one point my sister went off to get a snack or take a bathroom break or something, and this boy, who was sitting on the edge of the pool as I was clinging to the side in the deep end, put his hand on top of my head and pushed me under the water and locked his elbow.

I still remember this vividly– watching all my air bubble past my face, feeling my lungs spasm, hearing myself making primal animal-like noises underwater as I struggled and kicked and thrashed and panicked and clawed at his hand  and desperately tried to get to the surface. I got tunnel vision, and the tunnel kept getting darker and darker and smaller and smaller. It felt like it lasted for an eternity. I have never been so terrified or felt so helpless in my entire life. I still have nightmares based on that experience.

Finally he let go of my head because my sister was coming back. I burst to the surface, coughing and gasping and crying hysterically. He laughed. Given his reaction, and her assumption that I tended toward the dramatic, my sister didn’t take the situation at all seriously. I went home crying, and my mother didn’t take it seriously either. But looking back at it from an adult perspective, I’m quite certain that little weasel could have killed me that day. Thank God my sister came back when she did or things could have been quite different. He laughed.

There is nothing worse than not being able to breathe. Nothing. The fact that my boyfriend died all alone while most likely struggling to breathe is something I’ll never get over. I used to help him through his asthma attacks, and the worst part about it was the panic in his eyes. But that last, most critical time, I wasn’t there. He died alone in his truck, clutching his rescue inhaler.

So when I hear Republicans say that waterboarding isn’t torture, or that it’s justified torture, I take it kind of personally. Everyone should have the right to breathe. I don’t think these people understand the waterboarding concept at all. It’s simulated drowning. It’s the same as being held under water. Your air passages fill with water. And when you try to struggle toward the “surface”, that surface is covered in wet cloth.

I once saw an episode of Strangers in Danger where one of the hosts volunteered to be waterboarded to see what it was like. He lasted about 3 seconds, and when he sat up, he looked terrified. He said it was much worse than he thought.

I think every politician who says waterboarding isn’t torture should have to experience it, right in the middle of the rotunda of the House of Representatives. Call it a practical experiment. I strongly suspect that they’d change their minds about the practice right then and there. End of freakin’ debate.

According to The Guardian, a winner of the Pulitzer prize, the recently released Senate report on the torture committed by the CIA includes this description:

“At times Abu Zubaydah was described as ‘hysterical’ and ‘distressed to the level that he was unable effectively to communicate’. Waterboarding sessions ‘resulted in immediate fluid intake and involuntary leg, chest and arm spasms’ and ‘hysterical pleas’. In at least one waterboarding session, Abu Zubaydah ‘became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth’ … Abu Zubaydah remained unresponsive until medical intervention, when he regained consciousness and ‘expelled copious amounts of liquid’.”

The Guardian further stated: The CIA doctor overseeing the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said that the prisoner was ingesting so much water that he or she was no longer concerned that regurgitated gastric acid was likely to damage his oesophagus. But, the doctor warned, the CIA should start using saline, because his electrolytes were becoming too diluted.

My first thought is, what kind of a doctor would participate in that sort of treatment? Whatever happened to “first, do no harm”? And he or she was being paid with our tax dollars.

That there is even a question in any civilized human being’s mind that this treatment is torture makes me weep for humanity. And that’s but one of the grisly tales in that report. Standing on broken limbs, rectal rehydration, sleep deprivation, beatings, detainment in coffin-sized boxes, and hypothermia are only the tip of the iceberg. If this is what we are capable of as a society, then all is truly lost. I’m sickened.

But I’m hardly one to talk. What happened to that 18 year old boy who tried to drown me? He stopped coming around for some reason. It probably had something to do with the fact that he stopped by to visit my sister one day when I was the only one home, and I kicked him so hard in the stomach that I actually felt my toes going underneath his rib cage. As he stood doubled over, gasping for air, I quietly shut the door. I never saw him again.

water-boarding

[Image credit: fitsnews.com]