It’s that time of year again, The Gloom setting in and taking hold. The birthday and my father’s deathversary and last year’s suicidal spiral and every year’s rundown of events and misdeeds and hurts and misunderstandings and this year there is a goddamn twist of twists to add to the mix:

I had a massive heart attack the day before Halloween and almost died.

Apparently this was a storm inside of my chest that was ready to go off at any time. It happened while I was working—yes, I am working again, finally finding steady work in late July—walking dogs in Prospect Heights. I tried to tell myself that it was just anxiety, the feeling in my chest far stronger than regular anxiety or the kind that I normally suffer from, but I still tried to play it off as such so as not to lose my shit and actually drop dead on the street while caring for someone else’s family pet, so as not to give credence to what I knew was happening inside of my chest, arteries closed off and no blood flowing into and out of my motor. Throughout the day it was happening, I kept stopping and looking at the dogs in my charge, asking them if they knew something I didn’t. They knew something was wrong, multiple times during the day a dog would turn back and look up at my face, concerned and nervous about me and for once not the stupid songs I sing to them when I walk with them. Their concern concerned me, to say the least.


Breathing is hard work.


I met the sweetest bird who sang me beautiful songs that made me feel as though the sun was inside of me, but I held on too tight and now all I can do is dream and hope to be able to hear those songs again and to feel the sun inside of me again some day.


I am learning that to mean what I say and to say what I mean are things I am more than capable of, and that whatever possible wreckage that creates isn’t always my wreckage, it’s just what happens when I deal in truth instead of what I think will keep everything safe and serene.


I keep thinking about how it felt, reading Murakami’s Norwegian Wood while listening to my father drowning in his lungs, high on his morphine, avoiding dealing with his wife, dealing with their wreckage and their damage field. I don’t know if I can ever read that book again. Sometimes the things we use to distract us from the pain we are sitting within get soiled with that pain, bloodstained and bruised and broken and incapable of revisiting or enjoying again. I don’t know much. I only know my own experience and what has continued to shock me thirteen years later is that I was somehow able to navigate everything that was happening in that tiny apartment of death without going to jail, without losing my mind completely, without walking into traffic.

[Sometimes it does feel as though I walked out into traffic and all of this is a dreamstate and there is an answer somewhere in this dreamstate that will free me, that will allow me to sit on a cloud and glow at everyone and everything]


Spending my days with dogs has been one of the most incredible and emotionally/spiritually rewarding experiences I have ever had. I’m soft, I know. These dogs are magick, each one a gift, each one a reminder that love is infinite and pure, a thing that cannot be contained or described adequately. There is the anxious and misunderstood pitbull I identify with, our size and movement and attitude a misrepresentation of what we actually are, soft boys who just want to be held, to be loved. There is the magnificent thirteen year old coon hound who has to take herbs in her food and a monthly injection to keep her kidneys from failing, her gait and appearance a little camouflage to her mischievous and playful demeanor. There is the tiny rat terrier named after an alcoholic character on a popular television show, the little one who licked my face when I was walking her around while having the heart attack I tried to play off as anxiety, the one who hates everyone but loves me and a small handful of others, showing her teeth when she really just wants to play, like me, like you. There are the two goofy boxers, both of whom get stared at on the street because of their size and their looks, much like the misunderstood pitbull, much like me, but both boys are so aloof and so silly, every walk with them is a wild ride, both of them prone to bursts of hyperactivity and both giving no warning before they shit in the middle of a crowded sidewalk. There is the blind pitbull, the one who trusts me and rests his head on my calf as we walk, knowing I would never let him run into anything with his perfectly giant head and his big sad eyes, reminding me of me as a kid and reminding me that trust is a real thing and that honoring it is as important to me as earning it and I would step in front of a car for this dog, really, for all the dogs, and that says more about them than it does about me, a man who one year ago could only think about suicide, a man who attempted it and failed, a man who felt like what had happened to me and around me and because of me—and my actions/inactions—up to that point in my life warranted such an action.


I was never one to speak about prayer, never one to admit to such a thing. Yet, I find myself more often than not in a constant state of prayer, a series of moments strung together asking for grace and for wisdom and for patience and for understanding and for love.


The sun rises. The moon sets. The birds sing. The world is the world. The bird is the word.


You can lose everything or you can let go of everything and embrace a new set of ideas and habits and make new memories and get on with the business at hand and finally bury your dead.


I cannot describe the way it felt, on that cold operating table being pumped full of oxygen and having someone slide a catheter into my wrist, snaking it into the arteries that had clogged to zero passage, to feel that close to death, to have it on my lips. I’m only a man and a human and someone who is lucky to be alive and to be aware and to want to find a life out there in this world that feels like the sun did on my skin on that beach full of fossilized trees and rocks. I’m only a man and a human who has felt like his entire life has been a series of tests and events coded just to push me closer and closer to some stupid idea I had as a kid about self-actualization being the way “through” this life, only a man and a human who is just now seeing that these have not been tests, but moments to cherish and hold on to when it gets dark inside of me, when I feel like burning the whole shitshow down and turning to dust. I am only a man and a human who has no family other than my chosen family—and my chosen family is strong and true and I would bleed for each and every member—and there were moments on that table and leading up to being on that table when I was in prayer and I was calling out to my late mother and my late grandmother and even my late father and begging them to let me stay here, to let me continue this life, to let me try harder to be a good man and a good human and to let me experience love and to let me experience truth and to let me walk through fear.


The cardiologist who worked on me told me that in the thirty years he has been tinkering around with hearts, I am only one of three patients with the level of occlusion I had to survive. I did not want to know this. This knowledge rattles around in my brainpan every day, fucking with me, taunting me, reminding me how close I came to the oblivion I used to seek.


Being my father’s final caretaker was a role I never knew I would take, considering the conflicted relationship we had and how hard it was for us to see one another as anything other than enemies bonded by blood and DNA and chance. That role has changed me, and continues to change me thirteen years on, changing the way I relate to things, the ways in which I can be cold and terse and the ways in which I can be a firehose spraying my own dopey idea of love at everything instead of being patient and tender and kind. I was somehow patient and tender and kind with my father as he left this world, even though I had to steal his morphine and drug his wife’s coffee just to be present. His ghost is always with me, even after silencing his voice through hypnosis, even after years and years and years of denial and delusion and self-flagellation and self-abuse and putting myself into the meat grinder of a marriage to someone who was just like him and working for people just like him and seeking out the oblivion over and over again. I think about handing the box with his ashes to his wife and her son, about how in that moment I was actually free and how I have carried that box of ashes around with me for years, inside of me, like a worry stone gone sideways.

I can bury my dead now.




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