Saturday, June 10, 2006

And nothing was a phrase


Again, the fevered cresting memory pulls me back in, to that moment when I think it was that the future had suddenly vanished for me, had become a soft, deadened wall. Back there at the beginning, the end, when Barry told me flat-out that I had AIDS, I didn't feel it, although I also saw that denial was futile. Barry was not even remotely real to me at that point. He was merely a conductor, a lightning rod of medical error. I still didn't believe he was a good doctor; that would come later. The framework of the self wasn't changed by the words, the general feeling of its being my body and its having been my body all my life didn't dissolve, as it would in a few days. I had no sense of gestating my death.
Ellen says that she hung back and expected me to be violent psychically, and to want death immediately once I had accepted the diagnosis. Well, that was true. But I was also afraid of death, of my own final silence.
And I was ashamed toward her, and angry at her. She does not steadily believe that I love her - it is one of her least endearing traits to expect proof at unreasonable intervals. And what is love? My measure of it is that I should have died to spare her. Her measure is for us to be together longer.
I thought I could feel myself being suffocated second by second. What was strange was that all sense of presence, all sense of poetry and style, all sense of idea left me. It was gone, with not one trace, one flicker remaining. I had a pale sense of the lost strength it would take to think or feel a metaphor, and of how distant it was from me. Everything was suffocation and the sentence of death, the termite-like democracy and chemical gusts of malaise and heat, of twisting fever, and the lazy but busy simmering of the disease in me. Everything outside me was Ellen's breath and the color of the walls in the dim light and was the hospital noises and the television set on its wall mount and a ticking slide of the moments.
And nothing was a phrase or seed of speech, nothing carried illumination in it, nothing spoke of meaning, of anything beyond breath. Attentive to nothing but breath, perhaps in my dying I was alive in a real and complete way, a human way, for the first time after ten or fifteen years of hard work. I lay awake in an almost bright amusement.


Harold Brodkey (1930-1996), The Wild Darkness, The Story of my Death, Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Comapany, New York, 1996

If I had to give up what I've written in order to be clear of this disease, I wouldn't do it.