The Weight




the relief came like a wave. it started as an easy tingle at the base of the spine, slowly spreading upward toward the neck. it was something akin to taking a really big drink of water on a scorching hot day. the recognition of how great the thirst was only becoming apparent when the water hits your throat. you feel it, coating your esophagus until finally it spreads into your whole body. the incongruous chill filling you. but this was like the reverse. the morphine was like a blanket. it covered you, abated the immediate cold, but couldn’t really touch what was underneath. it made it bearable. but it was only after the drug had started to take effect did he realize how immense the pain was. the locomotive echoing through his head, belching thick diesel smoke, clouding his senses finally slowing to a stop. when it got like this, when the tablets and capsules and over the counter stuff stopped working, that’s when the days got long.

the clock wound down slowly. the minutes felt like hours. the seconds, tiny eternities passing between each tick of the second hand. BNSF approaching its next switch. he’d tried everything that Dr Singh had suggested. the breathing exercises, the stretching and meditation, the visualization. everything. he tried to focus on the parts of his body that weren’t in abject agony. where were they? the sensation was constant. some places throbbing. each beat of his heart pounding, driving the spike one step closer to home. some places it was a dull roar, the crowd at a sunny daytime Cubs game from two blocks away. the grip’s epicenter was along his spine. the exact location changed day to day and was sometimes hard to pinpoint. it ran down his spine into his upper legs and stretched into his knees. even into his feet some days. to the other pole, his shoulders, chest and neck were like a charlie-horse that would not abate. there was no position, standing, laying down–on his back, his side, his face, that allowed relief. each place of release offering greater stress somewhere else.



and then there were the migraines. the body pain was one aspect. the thing that made him irritable, cranky, erratic. but the headaches, those were an entirely different dimension. they often came unexpectedly. like a puppy that had been trying to get your attention until finally you realize there is a dog at your feet and you’re standing in a puddle. you had a clue it was there, but you were successfully able to ignore it. until you couldn’t. and that’s when the real drubbing began. with the headaches came the fevers, sweats and chills. the blinding light and the searing darkness.

he rarely left his apartment anymore. many days it was hard enough just to dress himself or make it to the toilet alone. Mary came by a few times a month to make sure he was eating and to refill his prescriptions. but he didn’t otherwise have a lot of social interaction. leaving the apartment left him open to too many variables he couldn’t control. like the time he was coming home from Dr Singh’s office. standing by the back door, the pain of the bus bouncing along the pock-marked street became too unbearable, he got out to walk. but then even the walking became too much. with about 37 blocks to go, he stopped into a bar, just to sit and have a beer and a shot. he thought it might settle his nerves. but as he stumbled in, his feet began to burn. burn with the feeling that every step he took was on hot coals. each step blistered with more pain than the step before. he made his way to a stool. the sweat pouring off his forehead, pooling in his brows and on the end of his nose. he knew he must have looked awful. but at 2PM, most of the other patrons didn’t look much better. the bar tender served him without question. he took the shot, and had made his way through about half the beer when the nausea came on. he stumbled his way to the bathroom. but the light in the hallway was dim. the dark paneled walls gave little reflection of the bright sunlight outside. the sconces had no bulbs.




he woke in the alley not knowing how much time had passed. he was alone, covered in blood and vomit. his face pressed into the pavement. he propped himself, using the dumpster to try to stand. he made his way back to the street to walk home. he arrived two hours later to find Mary in his kitchen. curtains open, low evening light streaming in.

the headaches were like tornadoes. he remembered the twisters that would roll through from the summers he spent at his auntie’s house on the plains. one minute its just a mild afternoon storm. the next minute the skies have changed, gone green with fury and its head to the cellar while you still have a chance. batten the hatches. and when you come out on the other side, debris and flotsam everywhere, you just try to pick up the pieces. to just try to make sense of it. but all that detritus lingered, leaving a sense of confusion an unease.

when did this all start? how long ago? that’s hard to say. he can remember a time when there was no pain. a time before the headaches. or before the headaches got bad. a time when he was able-bodied. free. isolating the transition between the life he had pain-free and the life he has now, that’s a tough one. he’d always been a fairly good artist. his mother knew when he was a boy that his doodles were more than just a child’s drawings. by middle school, it was obvious he was deft with a pen or a pencil. he drew everywhere. on anything he could find. the surface of his desk. every scrap of paper he had was covered with some little cartoon. used paper napkins at the Waffle House. his mark was everywhere. the underside of his hand permanently stained. by high school, even though he wasn’t the greatest student, his teachers had started to take him seriously as an artist. his creative fire grew as he aged, but it also became unpredictable.




he made it through two years at the Art Institute before he dropped out. he remembered some of that time as the most fertile time in his life. it was like his brain would buzz. his hands unable to keep up. the ink, the paint, the pastels, the rattle cans, none could match the pace. he could work all day and find himself unable to sleep because he was too wound up by his creative energy. he was like a spring constantly turning, unable to release enough to compensate for the next turn. he soon realized that he could use alcohol to help him sleep. and then he was introduced to pills. nothing major. just some Xanax or Percocet. mild stuff. just a little something to slow him down. just enough to bring on a few hours of darkness. just a few minutes of quiet.

as his use increased, so too did his artistic appetite and curiosity. he tried everything, emulating artists he admired. the masterworks of Dali, Varo, Josetsu. he stretched and gessoed canvases that were too big to leave the studio. he filled sketchbooks and used sheet after sheet of Kozo pulp and Sumi-e papers. he met a girl who introduced him to the idea of minimalism. taking it to the extreme, he missed meals and classes and chose to spend his nights and most of his days in the studio. a tiny view of Michigan avenue all he would see some days. one night after several days of hardly any sleep and too many shots of Beam, he tried some little blue stool softeners. she said they’d just knock him out. just put him to sleep for a while. he needed it. on his way home, he took a tumble down the stairs. he got up, dusted himself off. he only fell half a flight. he was fine. a little bruised, but fine. he made it home, to his bed. he slept for twenty-six straight hours. but he’d missed too many classes already. not turned in enough work. it wasn’t that he wasn’t working. he just wasn’t interested in his assignments. so they asked him to leave. to reapply when he was ready to be more serious. MORE SERIOUS? were they crazy? who was more serious?




he thought the headaches might have come from the fumes. after he left school, he took a job as a typesetter. the solvents they used to clean the equipment were strong and there wasn’t enough ventilation. that place was a basement sweatshop anyway. so he left. his boss was an asshole too. fuck that place. but the headaches stayed with him. and at some point came the back pain. it too was mild at first. and irregular. but then it wasn’t. he found himself unable to move. lying on the floor. all he could do was rub his eyes until the itch overcame him. the dreamy sandpapery glow. Dali believed that children rub their eyes to stimulate intrauterine memory. he wasn’t sure about that. but the warm orange light subdued him. at least temporarily. and when that wouldn’t do it anymore, he’d go for the codeine. just a little. he’d cut one in half. crush it up. one quick snort and suddenly the tunnel of his existence wasn’t so dark. things were a little brighter. more bearable. he was set for the night. able to let the day pass.

the months passed like this. the frequency of the aches and pains increased. he sketched less and less. he woke every morning feeling like he’d fallen asleep next to the tracks. the coarse gravel digging into his skin. the dull throb of the passing trains immobilized him. his waking hours were now as slow and water-logged as his sleep. sleep. if you could call it that. it was more like putting on a gauzy blindfold and standing in front of a bright spot light. identifying the shapes became impossible. the noise sounded far off and muffled. but the stimuli were still there. the world still clamoring for his attention. but his senses were subdued. his focus misplaced.




And so he woke, this day like so many before it, lying on the floor. sunlight streaming in under the curtain. the stained stinking carpet making its mark like a brand on his dirty stubbled face. what time was it? he had no idea. the days turned to nights and the nights to days and back again. he waited. finally able to muster the strength to turn to see the clock. 6:07. Was that AM or PM? Did it matter? If it were 6PM, it would only be a few more hours before he would allow himself the luxury of some relief. 9PM was his earliest call. he could crush up another couple codeine or maybe heat up some Dilaudid if things were really bad. but not before 9. that was the rule. and that was three hours away. or maybe 15. maybe today would be a good day. maybe he wouldn’t need it. none of it. maybe today would be a day he would be able to move. a day where he wouldn’t feel like an old wet rag, rung out and left to fester. right now it was all uncertain. he hadn’t yet had the courage to do more than open his eyes and turn his neck.

he realized, lying there in the stillness of his barely conscious state that what made his situation so precarious was the uncertainty. would today be a day where he was able to get up, go for a walk? make himself something more than a piece of toast to eat? maybe even keep it down? perhaps he could shower. if he was feeling really good, he might even masturbate. although his sex drive was pretty much gone. last week, he’d seen the most beautiful woman. both of them, waiting for the bus. her, dressed for work. her hair done, makeup on. nice clothes. probably a lawyer, an accountant, something that brought home six figures, 401k, the whole deal. him, wearing the same t-shirt he’d been wearing for the last 3 years. clean, more or less. plaid button-down over it. hole in the tail. his jeans stained with ink and who knows what else. his hair, disheveled. his face, unshaven. she just smiled at him and said good morning. looking at him an unintimidated moment before going back to her book. he smiled back in the half way he was able to muster a smile. he hadn’t stopped thinking about her since. even still, he couldn’t find the drive to jerk off. when he tried, it just felt like nothing. he might as well have been tugging at his finger. probably the opiates.




maybe today would be the day. the day things all started to turn around. he just needed one good week. one week of reduced pain and he could finally kick the opiates. and if he could kick the real drugs, he could start to manage his pain in more productive ways. over the counter stuff. exercise. shit, maybe he’d even put some weight back on. get some color back in his skin. stop looking like the 1990’s poster boy for AIDS. was today the day? the first step in finding out was sitting up. make it to the chair. that was all he had to do. what if today wasn’t the day? what if getting into the chair was the worst pain he’d ever had? what if the searing jolt ran through his sacrum, down the sciatic? what if it were the blinding crush between his shoulders and into his neck? he could find out. or he could stay right where he was, not moving. not comfortable, but not wishing for death either. just a couple more minutes. right here. moments of undeterminable length, passing.

he took a breath. was he ready? he was ready. he was going to do it. count of 3. was he really doing it? really? right now? he had to. finding out how bad it was was better than the internal dialogue. he had to know. either way, he couldn’t stay like this any longer. ready. go.

he twisted himself to the floor. pushing his hands into the soft synthetic wooly carpet beneath him. he pushed. made it to his knees. and then to the chair. the stabbing prod followed not far behind. but it was OK. not OK, tolerable. but OK. he took some breaths. mopped at his brow with the back of his hand. he sat and collected himself, contemplated his next move. time passed. more time passed. he wasn’t sure how long. moments. three minutes? 17? he didn’t know. but he knew if he’d made it this far, he could stand. and if he could stand, he could probably make it to the kitchen for a drink of water. his mouth felt like a dry sponge.

7:15 AM. the glass shaking in his hand, water hit his throat. at first it was like a mouthful of broken glass. sharp stabbing everywhere. but then cooling liquid soothed his parched tongue. he drained the glass. refilled it, drained it again. it was Thursday. in just under four hours, he was to see Dr Singh. he’d made it this far already. the next step was a shower.




and so the days went. moments passing slowly. weeks passing in retrospect alone. each one identical to the one before it. every unit of time only distinguished by the agony of what was beyond his immediate environment. the barking dog on the street. the neighbor upstairs yelling or a tv’s volume turned up too loud. every sound grated at him. every lull drone like a little scrape at his sanity. repeatedly. scrape. scrape. over and over. leaving him raw. unceasingly. when he felt like this the question of which thing to ignore became like a paradox. the scorching pain in his leg. try to ignore. focus on something else. but then some asshole is outside honking the horn. too lazy to get out and use the fucking doorbell. would that really be so hard? and that yippy little pomeranian upstairs. why wont that thing ever shut up?

that’s when the migraines begin. or that’s when the body pain turns into something more. to say that the headaches have a starting point would be inaccurate. its more like passing a threshold. the sensation starts elsewhere. between the shoulders, the lumbar spine, the legs. As the day progresses, the pain swells. it demands more and more attention. wearing you down until you can’t ignore anymore. and just when you think its at its apex, the crescendo hits and you realize the room is getting dark and your vision begins to tunnel. you are subsumed in either a pinhole’s darkness, waiting for the light, the shadows, the shapes to resolve as your pupils slowly dilate. or blinding white. the brightness envelopes everything around you. your eyes unable to fix upon subject or distance. pins and needles all over. your teeth. your eyes. your sinuses filling with large coarse sand. the heat comes over you. as the sweat pours from your forehead and cascades down your face, the chills set in. like a fever. like a sledgehammer. the biting winter wind coming off the lake. hitting you. worse than you imagined.




all that was not today. at least not yet. today was a new day. perhaps a different day. a day he could survive. find a little more ease in. there was the possibility, however slim, that it might not be so bad. that it might be manageable. he was vertical. upright. standing. the sun, above the horizon just beginning to crest the tops of the high rises across the street. the walk to Dr Singh’s office would do him good. the movement. the spring air. he just had to stay upright. to just keep moving. one foot in front of the other. focused on this moment alone. a time without preordained value. a future who’s significance is not yet set.

conversely, it could be the worst day he’d had in a long time. he didn’t know. what he did know was that what was required of him was the patience to find out. the willingness to decide not to decide. not until that future was present.




TheWeight_6x6 22

~ by namderf on April 1, 2015.