Sunday, February 9, 2014

the bluffs, pt.2: veteran folds

"It's go time, boys."

In some order, we enter the river. Four pale Scott boys breach the ford in slow motion, all billowing manes and negligible hips.  The water doesn't part.  It wants to, you can tell. It shudders, oscillates. Sees no Pharaoh, settles.  We push farther from the shore, further from our good senses. A darksome hawk descends, disappears without a splash, rises bedraggled, dripping a platinum rain, a gruesome catfish writhing in its golden grasp. Or could have.

In some order, we begin to swim. Probably from youngest to oldest. In some order, we begin to doggie-paddle. Maybe from oldest to youngest. Before long, though, who first, next and so on, what's birth order amongst four brothers out of which group I was born first, we reach the mossy  rocks.  And they are yucky. All slimy and all.  An aquatic orb-spider swims across my shin then the other on its next lap.

The boys start to scale the bluffs, unspoken rotten egg incantation on a trailing breeze, and I follow as closely behind as I can, searching out their hand- and foot- holds as quickly as I can.  Have they detected my dwindling braggadocio and quickened their climb? No matter, down there, there be aquatic orb-spiders.  I climb at their heels.

The air loses warmth as the sun passes intermittently behind gathering clouds and regains less warmth each time the sun reappears. I think tornado. Middle Alabama knows its twisters well, but east Oklahoma knows them by rote. I lose pace with the heels.  Egg-wise, I am spoiling. A brother, I guess the brunette berzerker among us, reaches the top and instantly shoves off; he woo-hoos in a gust going by. The next one peaks, cool and steady, middle among us when we are rightfully five; with no perceptible concern, he briefly situates just long enough to bother facing the water below and jumps. The forever-five brother pulls himself the final few feet, sits calmly, replenishes his lungs, and takes time to appreciate the new perspective. 

Carefully standing, he squats broad-jumper-esque and hurls himself over the edge--offering with markedly less ado than the berzerker (already halfway up a second ascent) his own woo-hoo as he passes me by.  I smile goofily and almost wave with one free hand--a politically incorrect joke in the offing.

The brunette jostles me on his way back up.  Cool and steady, the middle of the birth order is on his way back with a lit smoke bobbing between his lips.

My legs tremble. I make no pretense of moving. I look down against all well known advice. The Baby is on his way up. Go time has made a full revolution. But ready or not, the sky is purpling. And I'm not too far from Kansas anymore. Or is it bright and breezeless. Or pouring pink pearls. I consider the rookiest move of all: stopping short, letting go, feigning slippage. Rookie for being bush-league, rookiest for being the best way to crack your skull for lacking trajectory to clear the jutting rocks.

The dutiful youngster encourages me to make the last little distance with one last little effort.  I do, scramble to the top, and sit in the butt-worn indention of bygone fellow veterans. For thirty minutes. Remarking on the phantom inclemency. Did he see that hawk snag that fish?

"There's a trail along the ridge," he says, no hint of calling me out for a punk, dutifully informative, "it's a little steep but takes you back down."

It's true. I'm a punk.

"I'm gonna jump, the trick is distract yourself . . ."

"Want me count you down?"

"No!" I respond more vehemently than I intend. "That doesn't work for me.  My trick is to distract myself . . . did ever tell y'all about the time . . ."

"Twice as high?"


"Whiplash for a week?"

"Yeah, that was the time I taught myself this trick. Which is to distract yourself, think about something like double cheeseburgers like you're not about fling yourself into thin air, then out of nowhere, thinking about double cheeses, just fling yourself like it's not even . . ."

I fling myself. I mew the pitifulest "woo-hoo" humanity has ever known. Off script. Not a part of the trick. Toothpick! Toothpick! I feel myself tipping. Not somersault! Untipping. Relief. Toothpick. Over-untipping. No, no, not the gainer! Anything but the . . . I'm flailing, a flailing rotten-egg punk of a flailer . . . I look down, never mind the gainer, anything but . . . because I have looked down . . . ohhellanythingbutthechurchpew!

Was it my backward little prayer there at the last? The breeze finally mustering? Some even humbler nudge, say, from a child's splash below, as mere as a Bud's fizzle or as slight as the dust trailing the VW, leaving the lot, heading for home?

Irregardless of how.  As we say in Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and beyond, wherever our cyclones set us down; and irrespective of which as we say in ivory towers, so crisply you can make out the semicolon.

Anyway, toothpick! A daggum toothpick! A propitious toothpick, if I may. In the vernacular of Veterans, because I may, the toothpick.

I flinch. Yet the water parts. Toes on-pointe. Arms spired. God and I reaching for each other across tempera on fresco.

Down, down, down. Through refracted light and bubbles. Down, down. Through blue and bluer. Down. Cold. Down. Bottomless? Up, up, up, up. Frantic. Up, up, up, through warming water, warming blues. Up, up. Through bubbles and refracted light. Up. Toothpick.

Andrew, that's the baby, having dutifully awaited my emergence, claps. I spit like a gargoyle fountain and laugh, giddy with triumph.  Thumbs up, perfect.  I remember the other two. Michael, that's the middle one when we are rightfully five, and Joshua the Impetuous are smoking by the SUV--despite not having my glasses on, the water in my eyes, the distance to shore, I know it's them. Could not not.  They clap. My thumbs, only just now down, up. Perfect. While orienting myself to swim toward the lot, I am taken back under.

In the over fifteen years of dealing with my brain tumor, I've had scores of seizures. Some severe, most moderate. Some memorable, most and increasingly-so forgettable.  Fatigue-triggered, anxiety-unleashed, insomnia-paved. From being startled by noise, scrambled by lights, approached unaware.  Frequently from out of pleasant dreams (rude) now and then from out of bad ones (still rude) and more often than you'd think (maybe rudest) from out of the idyllic twilight between pillow's first fluff and its first darkening from drool.  Some minding my own business, some minding someone else's too intently. In a car after a wreck. In a walk-in refrigerator at Cracker Barrel. During a round of golf in the heat.  During tackle football in the cold. Once on a toilet, indecorously. Once eating barbecue, wastefully.

Out of scores, these instances and sorts are memorable. Out of countless, really, at this point, one truly remarkable--one for the record books and one truly indelible--one for the book of record.
Two years ago I was eating with Joshua's young family at a Tex-Mex restaurant in Mobile, Alabama.  Happily about my belly's business, delving deeply into a guacamole salad, I went into a seizure. And continued to seize and the paramedics were called and I was taken via ambulance, still seizing, to a nearby ER where I was treated for seizure relief, despite which none came.  The rest is hearsay to me.

My neuro-oncologist in Birmingham, Alabama, about four hours from Mobile, was called. He wanted me transferred. To my usual hospital. In Birmingham. About four hours from Mobile, depending on traffic and the civility of other travelers. I was told that Joshua rode along. He reported that I continued to suffer seizures to the tune of every five minutes or so.  What's 4 times 60 divided by 5? Another two and a half score? Irregardless, on account of I kept right on havin’ fits after I got to my usual hospital.  Irrespective of number, none of these convulsive episodes count toward the grand tally.  These were not episodes--a term we had been using for yearr; no, this was an event-- a term instituted afterward to more adequately state the case.   Event--monolithic and stark.  After time though, The Event-- still epic yet now endearing. Remarkable, really.

So, there was that one.  And there is this one. . .

Seventeen years ago, I am taken back under.

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