Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Never mind

My mother has left the hospital. Prior to entering surgery, she was re-evaluated by a psychiatrist and judged competent to refuse medical treatment. Her doctor said there was nothing she could do.

Fuck it.

Birthday

As I write this, my mother is under sedation at Toronto Western Hospital.

After refusing to consent to surgery for a kidney infection that will kill her if it is not treated, her doctor asked the Psychiatric Unit to intervene. My mother instantly became psychotic, and, still tethered to her IV, tried to leave the hospital. A Form 1 was hastily filled out, and security called. It took five people to hold her down long enough to for them to inject the Haldol.

Apparently, it worked a charm.

Her doctor called me tonight, and we talked for almost an hour. She told me to expect a call early tomorrow morning to give my consent for the surgery in lieu of my mother’s. I said that I would happily give it, but asked if I could do so anonymously. The doctor said she wasn’t sure this was possible, but that she would look into it.

I also asked the doctor what will happen after the operation. She said that they would see how things go, but that once my mother's physical condition has stabilized, she will be turned over to Psych.

For the first time that I know of, my mother will receive medical care for paranoid schizophrenia.

I called my father soon afterward, and instructed him to contact my brother tomorrow and to send him some money. Then, blindly, I called Ada and Arit and James to let them each know. Then, I sat very quietly and wondered about the sense of elation that I feel.

I don’t actually think that my mother can be helped. As I told her doctor, I suspect that she will vanish the moment she is released from hospital, and that she will never allow a doctor to come near her again. However, I do think that there is some sliver of hope for my brother, that he may benefit from whatever intervention results from this ridiculous turn of events. There’s no guarantee, of course, but it is possible. It is, at least, conceivable.

Still, this slight sense of optimism doesn’t account for the way I feel tonight, at exactly the time I was born thirty-four years ago. Somehow, I feel lighter, even though the events of this evening are, by any measure, grim. I feel unburdened.

For the first time since I was a child, I don’t feel singularly responsible for my mother’s well-being. Someone else has stepped in, someone who has more power than I do, more skill, and more resources at their disposal. Someone who doesn’t feel the paralysing weight of love, and with it, betrayal. It is, finally, out of my hands.

For years, I have dreaded the day of my mother’s funeral. I have imagined myself looking out at an empty room, knowing that there are no friends, not even family left to mourn her passing. I have imagined trying to console myself and failing, knowing that she was not happy, that she did not have a good life, and that she suffered unspeakably.

Most of all, I have feared wondering if things might have different, if she would have suffered less—and, if we would have suffered less too, my father, my brother, and me—if only she had been treated for her disease. I would have wondered that for the rest of my life.

As of tonight, I won’t have to wonder about that anymore. I’ll know, one way or the other.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The saga continues

She’s in hospital again. For those of you keeping score, that makes four ER admissions at three different hospitals in exactly four weeks. This time, they’ve managed to keep her overnight, which is nothing short of a miracle.

So, it was another round of frantic phone calls, another disjointed game of clue, and another night without sleep. I didn’t bother calling my father this time, and I won’t until I’ve spoken with a doctor.

I am so sick of this I can’t even tell you.

I did speak with an ER nurse tonight. When I spelled out our family name, she pronounced it perfectly, which led me to suspect that she was Serbo-Croatian. I am not ashamed to admit that I milked this minor ethnic coincidence for all it was worth. Hell, I would have sworn allegiance to the worm-ridden corpse of Marshall Tito if that’s what it took to get someone to talk to me. Jebiga.

For my trouble, I learned that my mother is stable; that she is being treated for an acute kidney infection; and that her doctors are investigating the possibility of diabetic kidney disease. If she actually sticks around long enough for them to complete the diagnosis, it will confirm my own, which makes me feel good about my research abilities if nothing else.

I will call the hospital again before I set off for work tomorrow. Then, providing the woman doesn’t contract the Ebola virus or Avian flu in the meantime, I will prepare to celebrate my birthday in a manner properly befitting the occasion: i.e., by getting drunk off my ass and picking up a couple of sailors.

Good riddance, August. You fucking sucked.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Katrina

I’ve had the TV on for most of the day. Every news channel has the same weather map and the same spinning red circle, which is slowly stuttering toward New Orleans.

They say the price of oil will skyrocket tomorrow.

I keep thinking about the people who couldn’t get out of the city, the ones without cars or any place to drive them to. This is where you find class difference in a classless society: in the path of a category five hurricane.

My brother called tonight. I don’t feel like writing about it.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Stress Sex (for Wilhelm Reich)

I have it on good authority that, as part of their training for missions in the world’s most troubled areas, United Nations employees receive formal warnings about the dangers of stress sex. Stress sex, in this case, refers to the compulsion to engage in sexual activity for the purpose of relieving high levels of chronic anxiety.

According to UN bureaucrats, stress sex is, apparently, a bad thing, and therefore best avoided.

Being reasonably well acquainted with the scourge of stress, I respectfully suggest that the UN reconsider its stance on the issue. In fact, I propose that the organization harness the therapeutic potential of stress sex and provide its high-risk workers with comprehensive stress sex services. These could be administered by a newly hired legion of interns, whose youth and naive optimism would make them ideal candidates for the job.

Providing that this pilot project is successful—and I have no doubt whatsoever that it would be—stress sex services could be offered in other, non-non-governmental sectors, including law, academia, and IT. Employers could do away with expensive and largely ineffective anti-anxiety measures such as gyms, yoga classes, and lunch-hour massages, and instead conscript recent English and philosophy graduates to tend to the brittle psyches of their staff.

Coincidentally, this would serve the dual purpose of employing vast numbers of otherwise redundant humanities scholars, whose suddenly increased income levels would catalyze an economic boom to rival that of the post-World War Two period. Being humanities scholars, they would clamour for their governments to increase the rate of taxation, with the result that the now-languishing sectors of health care and education would be instantly revived.

It must be acknowledged that the new stress sex economy would require an uncomfortable though brief period of restructuring. For example, the century-old professions of psychiatry and psychology would disappear overnight, and with them the over-inflated profit margins of the pharmaceutical industry.

Happily, these now-obsolete workers would benefit from government retraining programs and a generous public welfare system, which would see them through the transition period. Moreover, they could avail themselves of public stress sex services, which would be offered, free of charge, through a network of community-based clinics.

I understand that the psycho-social benefits of stress sex must first be proven, and to this end I hereby offer myself for preliminary studies on the subject. I do so purely in the interest of science, of course, and expect no financial compensation for my services. Researchers may submit proposals to the email address above.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Epilogue

My father and his girlfriend left this morning, as suddenly as they came. In the hours since, I have swept the floor, washed the dishes, cleaned the bathroom, and done three loads of laundry. All that's left to do is to get on with my life.

Here goes.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Visit

My father and his girlfriend are in Quebec City. I am alone and sitting still, enjoying a suddenly quiet apartment.

The three of us engaged in nothing but small talk for the first three days. I know all about her house in Sarnia, her children, her grandchildren, her garden, her car, her cottage, her bad knee, and her vitamin pills. On the first day, she asked me if I was having a good summer. I said that I wasn’t, but that I was hoping it would get better. She hasn’t asked me anything since.

My father is happy and full of new experiences to relate. A disconcerting number of these concern life at the casino, which is apparently the sole source of entertainment in his adopted city. I can’t help but notice that she has a lot more money than he does, and that he is doing his best to ignore this fact.

He has also adopted his girlfriend’s family as his own. He is giddy with stories about her children, about how well he gets along with them and the things they do together. It is as though he has discovered what a normal family is like and is determined to make up for lost time.

For three days, our family did not exist.

On the third night, after his girlfriend went to sleep, he asked me if I had heard from my mother, phrasing the question in the negative: “I guess you haven’t heard from your mother...” He asked me this as he was getting ready for bed, pausing in the doorway of the kitchen as I sat at the kitchen table. I said that I had, and waited for his response. He stayed where he was, and remained there as we talked.

Watching him, I knew that he did not want to be having this conversation, that his body was pulling him away from what he has left behind. I could see him struggling with it as he stood awkwardly in the doorway, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, neither in the kitchen nor out of it. For almost an hour, he would not sit down.

At moments, he wasn’t my father but a man who was about to leave.

Finally, he pulled out a chair and sat down across from me, lighting one of the cigarettes he brought with him from the reserve. I lit one of my own and moved the ashtray to the centre of the table, where we both could reach it. We continued talking until four in the morning, when it started to feel better between us.

When I woke up, they were already on their way out the door. “We’re going to Quebec,” he said. “Don’t know when we’ll be back.” I waved goodbye and promptly went back to bed.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Anticipation

My father and his girlfriend arrive tomorrow. I spent all of today at work, and all of this evening cleaning my apartment. In between, I bought an extra pillow and a new set of sheets. I fully intend to bill my father for the purchase.

A noticeably dark sense of humour has come over me the last couple of days. For example, when my father announced that he was coming with his girlfriend, I almost replied, “Oh, you are so identifying mom's body!” As he continued speaking, I silently planned how I would strategically delay my arrival in Toronto in order to ensure this outcome: by having a couple of beers at the train station, possibly, or by doing a bit of shoe shopping while en route to the morgue.

I am also plotting the moment when I will ask my father for a pony. I am quite certain he will have no idea what I mean, as neither equestrianism nor daughter-bribing is a common pursuit among the peasant class, but I imagine I’ll get a kick out of it just the same.

Or maybe I’ll just greet her by exclaiming “Mommy!” and then give her a great big hug.

(Sighs.)

Patience, Vila, patience...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Update

My mother is home and called last night. She talked in frantic circles for over an hour, raging against the doctors she has seen, the nurses they want to send to look after her, the pills they have given her to take, and the tests that have been abandoned at the lab. She recounted overheard threats; vague collusions between the hospital staff, her neighbours and my father; notes that have mysteriously appeared with instructions to take her house away from her. She says that she is still weak, still dizzy, still in pain, but she insists that she is better.

She doesn’t remember when she was admitted to hospital or how long she was there. I don’t think she knows what day it is now.

I haven’t heard from the doctor who treated her, and I don’t think I will. A nurse I spoke to in the emergency room gave me her office number and encouraged me to call, but so far my messages remain unanswered. All I know is that the doctor is an endocrinologist, and that she had advised my mother to remain in hospital. Beyond this, I have no concrete information about her condition, or what to expect in the days and weeks ahead.

My father called last night as well and we discussed what will happen when my mother dies. Shaking slightly, I told him that I cannot deal with this alone, and he assured me that he will meet me in Toronto when the time comes. But not before. He also announced that he is coming to Montreal to see me this weekend, and that he will be accompanied by his girlfriend.

I am, frankly, reeling from it all, and I find myself suddenly wondering if my father isn’t slightly mad as well.

Faced with preparing my apartment for unexpected houseguests and a small mountain of unfinished work, I decided to see a film tonight. It was a relief to disappear for a couple of hours, and it made me realize how much I have missed going to the movies. I remain on the fence about the film in question—Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers—although I suspect it may deserve a second, less distracted viewing.

Oh god, I hope they don’t have sex in my bed.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

News

My mother has been hospitalized twice since I last wrote about her. I am waiting for a call back from the ER doctor who treated her at St. Joseph's, which may or may not come. I am also smoking myself sick.

Her voice was impossibly weak when I spoke with her last night. She didn’t go for the tests she was supposed to have on the ninth, although she told me that she did. My brother is agitated and clearly afraid. My father is with his girlfriend in Sarnia.

Everything is on hold as I wait.

I have collected all the shards of conversation from the last two weeks and assembled a diagnosis: renal failure. My mother’s kidneys are giving out. This is a common complication of long-term diabetes, and, if it is left untreated, a fatal one.

My mother is refusing treatment. There is nothing I can do. That’s what everybody says.

I still feel like piano wire.

Friday, August 12, 2005

What gives?

By now, the Montrealers among you will have heard about Sefi Amir’s art exhibition Never Needed Nobody, which received a write-up in this week’s Mirror. In a nutshell, the artist recruited twelve of her friends to take pictures of themselves while masturbating, which she subsequently turned into photorealistic paintings.

Strangely, although Amir had no trouble at all finding female models for the project, she was only able to convince one man to participate. As justification, one told her, “You can take a picture of my dick while I'm masturbating, but not of my face—it's too personal.”

Reading this, I was reminded of a conversation I had with Ada several months ago. I was telling her about an idea I had been toying with to start an erotic group blog, to which contributors would receive fully anonymous invitations and which would be limited to invitees only. Ada, who is a card-carrying member of Montreal’s literary set, immediately warned me that men would never do it in a million years. And with that, the idea joined at least a hundred others on a slowly buckling shelf.

Although I heeded Ada’s counsel, I still want to know why this is. Amir suggests that it is because men have a “higher level of attachment” to privacy, but I’m not entirely satisfied with her explanation. My own suspicion is that it has something to do with men being targeted as the consumers of pornographic materials rather than the subjects—the old “men look, women are looked at” argument—but that’s about as far as I get with it.

I was going to conduct a readers' poll, but I think I'll leave it for another time.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Mars Trine Venus

For quite some time now, I have been underwhelmed by my daily horoscopes. Every morning without fail, I have been advised to grin and bear it at my job, to watch my bank account, and, repeatedly, to clean out my closets, which I confess to having put off indefinitely.

Apparently, the heavens have had me confused with an accountant. A destitute accountant. With a slight touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

At first, I thought this state of affairs mildly amusing. “Oh look,” I would say, “Another boring horoscope. How droll!” After several weeks, however, I began to wonder if there wasn’t a minor astrological conspiracy afoot. By the three-month mark, I fell into a deep pit of despond, having become thoroughly convinced that I was born under a bad sign and therefore destined never to have fun again.

I envisioned the day that I would have nothing else to blog about but my work, and began dutifully preparing notes. Perhaps an account of the emails I wrote this afternoon? Or, better, a racy little piece on my last trip to the library? Oh, that’ll send the site meter soaring!

Just as I was on the brink of taking up jogging, I logged on to astro.com for guidance on how best to approach such a risky endeavour, and, god help me, there it was:


Mars Trine Venus exact at 19:17
Activity period from 10 August 2005 until 31 December 2005.

This influence is favorable for sexual relationships and for all kinds of creative activity. It symbolizes the perfect balance between your need to be yourself and your need to relate to another. But this influence is strongly physical rather than psychological in its effects. A purely romantic relationship with no physical sex would not be very satisfactory, but such a relationship is not likely to occur during this time. Your erotic fantasies will certainly be stimulated, and women or men whom you would not usually look at twice seem much more attractive now. In fact you need to have a certain amount of discretion, lest you get involved in a totally inappropriate relationship. But again this influence is not usually that compulsive.


Woo-hoo! Sold!!

Incidentally, if any of you so much as whispers that astrology is hogwash, I will beat you to a bloody pulp and leave you for the vultures. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have carousing to do...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

On neighbourhood

I had iced coffee on a terrasse with Khansahib today. After almost two hours of breathless conversation, we took a leisurely walk through the neighbourhood, which K. photographed as I searched for the perfect tomato for tonight’s caprese salad.

I ran into several friends along the way, and stopped for a few minutes to chat with each one. After the second run-in K. remarked, “Man, you know everybody up here!” I don’t, of course, but it occurred to me that I have lived in Mile End for exactly six years, which is long enough to ensure that I will encounter friends during even the briefest stroll.

Following from another conversation, neighbourhood is one of the ways that we recreate the experience of family. When one’s friends live within walking distance—that is to say, when friends are also neighbours, and when neighbours become friends—they are part of the rhythm of one’s daily life. They’re around for the afternoon coffees, evening walks, and late-night drinks that are not special occasions, to be planned for and journeyed to, but the everyday rituals of happenstance and routine.

The importance of this kind of proximity is most apparent in moments of crisis, when friends can arrive in an instant to help with a misplaced set of keys, a sudden break-up, or a plumbing emergency. There is no bus to wait for, no cab to call, no metro station that has already closed for the night; we turn the corner and we are there, and, when the crisis has ended, we make our way home just as easily.

As K. and I walked today, I pointed out where Ada used to live, before she was evicted by her landlord and had to move north to Park Ex. She is deeply unhappy in her new apartment for a host of reasons, not the least of which is the sense of distance she feels from the neighbourhood that used to be hers.

This is, by far, the cruelest thing about gentrification: if you don’t own the home in which you live, and none of my friends do, it can be taken away from you. And when your family does not live in that home with you—when it resides in the larger, public structure of a neighbourhood—then you risk losing that too.

If I ever win the lottery, I will buy up a whole block of apartment buildings for my friends to live in. Then, I will pay off all their student loans, and we will live happily ever after. Yeah.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Coming out

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a serial monogamist.

I am, I am coming to realize, in the minority on this issue. It wasn’t always so.

I came of age in a loosely networked community of lesbian anarchists, radical fairies, bisexual art students, and feminist intellectuals. What they all had in common was a need to accommodate ways of being in relationship that did not conform to the structures of compulsory heterosexuality, which, beyond universalizing heterosexual desire, assumes marriage or its equivalent to be the final cause of human relationship.

I never thought about it at the time, but it was from these friends that I learned about relationships, and it was among them that I first experienced love. It was, you could say, in the ether.

What has always been difficult for me is finding a language for these experiences. There are certain extant vocabularies to draw from—the multiple relationships of polyamory, for example, or the monogamy without fidelity of gay culture—but even these are based, in whole or in part, on the deep structure of dyadic, long-term relationships.

The thing that comes closest, I think, is the extended family of gay male culture, into which lovers are absorbed as intimate friends. This implied continuum of sex—friendship—family neither assumes a teleology of relationship, as in the case of serial monogamy, nor precludes the experience of love, as does the casual affair.

Is such a thing possible outside of gay culture? More to the point, can a woman create this kind of family?

These are not abstract questions, even if they seem that way.

Friday, August 05, 2005

New Moon

There’s something about the way the streets look
when the air hasn’t cooled
and dawn comes the wrong way around.

There’s something about hailing a cab
in last night’s dress
when the only cars on the road are cabs.

There’s something about watching the streets go by
when you’ve taken things into yourself
that you haven’t in years.

There’s something about arriving home
in the full morning light
and not regretting a thing.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Phone call

I am doing laundry when my mother calls. I decide to pick up.

“Hi mom.”

“Hi cuca, how are you?”

“I’m fine. I’m doing laundry.”

“How’s school?” Her voice sounds strained.

“Fine.” I’m lying. “Busy.”

“And the weather? Is it hot there?”

“Yeah, we both had the same weather today. Hot and rainy.”

“How’s school?”

“Fine. Busy.”

I wonder if she’s forgotten that she’s asked me already, or if she can’t think of what else to say.

She pauses. “I was in the hospital.”

“Really?” My voice strains. “What happened?”

“It’s the carbon monoxide, like last time.”

She thinks the furnace is leaking carbon monoxide. My father had it checked twice last year and it was fine.

“But what happened?”

“I passed out in the garden.”

My stomach tightens. “Oh...”

“Then I got up, and I fell again. Like a bag.”

I wonder if she’s had a heart attack. A doctor told her before that she had two without knowing it.

“What do you mean, passed out?”

“He [my brother] called 911. The ambulance took me to St. Joseph’s Hospital.”

She hates St. Joseph’s Hospital. She thinks they try to kill her there.

“What did they say?”

“It’s the carbon monoxide. I have a detector, and it went off.”

“When?”

“Last time, in October.”

I bring her back. “Wait, what did the doctors say? Did they say it was carbon monoxide?”

“They did some tests.”

“What tests?”

“I have to go for tests on the ninth.”

I take a breath. “But did they do any tests at the hospital?”

“They did a blood test.”

“And what did it say?”

“It was the carbon monoxide. It made me vomit.”

“Did you vomit this time?”

“Yes, in the garden.”

I wonder if it’s her diabetes. She is diabetic but won’t admit it. She can hardly walk because of it. I will look it up later.

“What did the blood tests say?”

“They didn’t tell me anything."

“Really?” I don’t believe her.

“But I have to go on the ninth...”

“Right.”

“And they gave me medication.”

“For what?

“Heart medication.”

So it’s her heart.

“And they did a cardiogram.”

“What did it say?”

“They didn’t tell me anything. I don’t know why they took me to St. Joseph’s...”

“Probably because it’s the closest.”

“We’ve always had trouble there, your brother and me.”

Once, she was at St. Joseph’s for kidney stones and she ripped the IV out of her arm and went home. She thought it was poison.

“It’s a good hospital, mom.”

“I’m worried about your brother. He won’t talk about what happened to him.”

“Is he okay?”

“He’s too tame now. He sits there folding a towel over and over.”

I wonder if he’s on medication again, or if he’s trying to calm himself.

“But is he physically okay? Is he healing?”

“He has a scar on his temple, and I see him pressing his throat.”

“Is that where he was hurt?”

“He was beaten all over.”

I didn’t call my brother on his birthday. I should have called him on his birthday.

“Are you okay, mom?”

“I feel better. Everything’s not spinning anymore.”

“Is that because of the medication?”

“I don’t want you to worry.”

My voice softens. “I have to worry. You’re my mother.”

“I only wanted you to know in case something happens to me.”

“Nothing’s going to happen. But you have to do what the doctor tells you.”

“I’m in God’s hands. I just have to live long enough to help your brother. He’s not mental, you know, he just has to get out from under their thumb.”

“Mom...”

Her voice trembles. “What will he do when I’m gone?”

I don’t know what he’ll do when she’s gone. He asked me once if he can come live with me. I told him that wasn’t possible.

“You have to take care of yourself. You can’t take care of him if you don’t take care of yourself.”

“I’m in God’s hands, don’t worry. I want you to be happy. You have your whole life ahead of you.”

My therapist said last week that I have survivor guilt. She’s on vacation this week.

“What happened to that boy you were interested in?”

Did I tell her about him? Why did I tell her about him? I must have been drunk.

“Oh, he disappeared. No big deal.”

“You’re too cautious because you’ve been hurt. You shouldn’t be alone.”

“It’s fine, mom.” I think about telling her that I’ve been writing again. I decide against it.

“So you’ll go for those tests on the ninth?”

“I wish it wasn’t St. Joseph’s...”

“It’s a good hospital. Please go.”

“Your birthday is coming up.”

“Yes it is, in a few weeks.”

“I’ll call you for your birthday.”

“No, call me when you get your test results.”

“Don’t worry, I’m in God’s hands. I'll call you for your birthday”

I wonder how long she can live like this.

“Please take care of yourself.”

“You’re all I have, the two of you. You’re what I live for.”

“I know. Please get the tests done.”

“Don’t worry.”

What if this the last time? I should say it.

“I love you, mom.”

Her voice breaks. “I love you, cuca. Be happy.”

The dryer has stopped. I sit for a while, then start folding laundry.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Reconstruction

I think it is safe to say that I have survived my hangover. James and I went for drinks at the CafĂ© last night, and were briefly joined by Ellen and Shaun, who had gone to see the fireworks and decided to stop in for a nightcap. If memory serves, and I’m not at all sure that it does, it was a fine evening.

At one point, James and I talked about how, when you look at childhood photographs, you can see the continuities in people. Almost instantly, I remembered a picture that was taken of me when I was five years old. I am sitting on the floor of my parents’ living room in a blue taffeta dress, with my feet splayed out in front of me in crisp, white socks. I am laughing—at my father, I imagine, who almost certainly took the picture—which the camera recorded as a beaming, toothy grin.

When I am truly happy, that is still the way I smile.

I realize that I have spent a lot of time, here and elsewhere, remembering. It is, I suppose, what you do in the wake of life-altering events: after death and disease and divorce, which came like a flood not that long ago. Each one is a break in the continuity of a life, and when they cluster together memory comes to a full stop. Reeling, you retreat into the present tense and find comfort there.

But then, inevitably, the question begins to nag: what was I before the break? In time, you want your continuities back, even the ugly ones, the painful ones, the ones that remind you of what you have lost. And then you start remembering, and you are almost surprised at the life you have lived. And then you ask yourself: how is it possible to forget so much?

Suddenly, you are reacquainted with all of your lovers and friends, the ones who are gone but are still part of your DNA, and, thank god, thank fucking god, the ones who remain and remember you too. The ones who know the whole story. Finally, there you are, all of you, with all your roots and tendrils, and everything you have ever felt. You are, incomprehensibly, yourself again.

The ground has shifted, I am certain of it.