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Medicine

     Desire is not my problem. My craving is misunderstood. It slithered out of the atmosphere, coagulating from plain air, and then hardened into a foot. Now it's stuck in my boot. If I could only pick it up and move it.

     However, for any practical purpose, my feet are a great distance from my head---at the other end of the bed, in fact. For hours, I've stared at it (my foot), buried in leather the color of burnt butter and almost that creamy. It's propped up on a pillow. It's not even mine, this boot. I borrowed it. I never steal things anymore. I'm too soft, spreading out inside the warm leather of my skin. Probably I am stuck in this bed.

     When the next craving hits my breath, I'll yelp help help yelp.

     Doze.

     When I open my eyes, a ray of light has fallen from the churning sky onto my blanket. It is moonlight, warm as my throat, swimming towards me through muddy clouds. The beam shivers like a ghost and so I speak to it. "Even now," I mumble, "Now, now..."

     My eyelids quiver and sink and I find myself back in the dream. It's dark, and I'm on a cliff near the sea. As the wind grows harder, flattening the grass, my muscles swell, pop off, and run away. All I can do is look after their swarming brown backs, greasy and beautiful, my dear lemmings, with their stricken appetites. They are headed somewhere, down into the waves, perhaps.

     Wind pours through my bones. I cry out, jaw snapping, after the fleeing shapes on the beach, and that wakes me up---the sound of molars grinding as my jaw worked something chewy and stringy.

     Later, I tell Margo this dream and she says...It's the history of your sexual identity. Like any mountain it's changed shape.

     I admire her so much. When I called this morning and whispered, "Be my visitor," her laughter poured into my ear, breezy and butch. We share a chunk of the same bloody heart. She pulls off my boots, straightens the covers, opens the window, all the while chattering about her engineering courses at the technical university. She's at the tippy top of her classes now; she feels smart. That's a switch, from the days when she first returned to the community college, and wanted to put a gun to her head after almost every exam. Now it's so close she can almost grab it---a job with health insurance.

     We had plans to be engineers together. To buy cars and so on.

     Margo brings me a cup of black tea, then sits at the end of the bed. Fern missed another meeting of her cancer support group, she gossips to me. Her laugh is a broom pushing the trash around.

     I know the background. In her 20's, Fern ran into smack like a bug hits a windshield---smash flat. She backed off, cleaned up, everyone was relieved. This lasted a decade, until she got cancer. Her friends gathered round as Fern spiraled back into addiction. Did she have cancer or not? If not, how'd she get a prescription for dilaudid? With enough extra to sell to her friends. There were three years of legal morphine with no cancer symptoms, no doctor's appointments. At the most recent meeting of her cancer support group, Fern never showed. She'd pulled off the road, nodding.

     NO ONE KNOWS WHAT TO THINK.

     Margo snickers and opens her palm; it holds a yellow dot, one of Fern's pills. If I shrink fast enough, like Alice, there won't even be room in my mouth for that thing.

     What do I do when I can't move? A breeze drifts over the bed. I close my eyes, falling into my body, visiting its parts. There's creamy cheese in my heart organ.

     Doze.

     I used to be so easily amazed. It was really my philosophy, one which went like this: In the dark sex war, I would be interested in the flowering shrub. My idea felt beautifully true, and I held it up with tenderness, my crucifix, as I stumbled through the bars---among the dykes and fags, drag queens and whores...

     The phone rings. It's Harry's voice on the answering machine, calling from the AIDS ward---his second call today. "I need to talk to you. Please call me..."

     I've barely moved all day. My goal was to lie completely still, tiny lumps for breath, my eyes closed. Margo's vaporized, along with the drug craving. I could get up now---in fact, I could accomplish anything I desire. But this moment is so precious, I'll stay here just a little longer, waiting, as realism washes back into my nervous system. That's the effect of Harry's voice as it creaks along, a pioneer wagon navigating the rutty trails of my answering machine tape.

     "I hope I'm not being inappropriate." When his speech gets this slow and blurry it means they've dosed him hard with tranquilizers. My thighs flutter at the thought. "It's okay here. Really. Better than the psych ward."

     (Last week he walked off the AIDS dementia unit, against doctor's orders.)

     REALISM, my version. It's a simulcast from an early '60's news hour, the distorted images of blonds, train wrecks, Walter Cronkite, skittering across my stone patio (my green lawn). The big real. It's not forceful, or even persuasive, but just resides passively in my brain, like the hundred or so stills from the Dark Shadows horror soap opera that I glimpsed as my commuter train hurtled through suburbia. They were stenciled on banners in a mall parking lot---a county fair for the horror crowd?

     "Please call me babe, okay? Bye for now. I love you." The phone clicks.

     Love. My friend Bob says, It's always inappropriate---a fabrication I'm supposed to point to (for Harry's sake) like a planted witness. When that got depressing, I put myself to bed, curling up in a communion of knee caps, tits and belly. I've spent hours smelling myself. That's all I do, lately. Harry thinks my taking-to-my-bed is a sympathetic nervous reaction to his catastrophe, since it started after I checked him into the hospital.

     Fat chance.

     This is one of those friendships where you don't know how close you are until you get asked to accept power of attorney.

     Earlier. (The first hospitalization.) I was slouched in the chair in the doctor's office, watching as Harry gathered up his interesting and terrible collection of pills---12 brown bottles, 3 pill boxes with sliding panels, a mysterious small pastel yellow tube, several small white boxes with illegible messages written in ink. He wasn't allowed to go anywhere without a briefcase full of pharmaceuticals. How did they all fit into his tiny, shrinking, stomach?

     As part of the check out procedure, Harry and his doctor were reviewing the medication schedule. Harry was going home (a worrisome prospect). I wanted to know what Harry was going to DO. What about the time he poured rubbing alcohol into a glass, and then drank it, thinking it was water? Harry didn't remember these things, which made it embarrassing to describe particular incidents. I felt like I was lying before I said anything, so I kept my mouth shut. But I always feel that way. The doctor had the padded, kindly face of a Buddha for children---offering reassurance but no prognosis.

     Hugs all around, and we headed out to the parking lot. I was navigating with the car keys, the briefcase, and a paper bag filled with his clothes. Harry was walking steadlily. He was so thin (of course). His eyes were brilliant and very dark. I didn't know if it was fear or dementia that closed off his face, that froze the skin to his bones in an expression of empty alertness---mania. I wondered if I could rouse the old Harry out of his scarecrow body.

     "Even now, Harry," I said, "You're the sanest person I've ever known who had two shrinks for parents."

     He threw his head back and bawled with laughter.

     Now Harry's demented. To tell you the truth, I want to be that way too. I love that word. It fills a hole in my own brain.

     Dear Demented...

     I think we're alike in some ways. Two brains folded up into pieces of tiny origami and then folded some more. We're stuck like that, yet we crave pieces of active reasoning...If I were to die soon, would my brain float off, free as a bird (as the human soul)?

     Do you know what's happening to me? Tell me the difference between fantasy death and the real thing. Is it... fantasy death is a singing detective, while the real thing is the black tongue of a skunk. But I'm wrong, aren't I. Give me a clue and I'll let you suck this blue lozenge I've got in my pocket. It's my very last one. It melts tenderly. All my pleasures plus enigma---the little pieces roll away, though I still want one.

     Yours always,

     camille