Sunday, April 11, 2010

Thoughts on Dying --- Coma Dream #2

Let me begin with the obvious: I am alive. But I think of death often. Not with any morbid fascination, but more the casualness one would exhibit looking through a family photo album.

Perhaps we should call this the first glance through an album of memories.

But are they your memories if they didn't happen during your lifetime? What do you call things that happen while your body sleeps and your mind doesn't?


Let me say again: I am alive. I know this because the smells are different. The light is better too.

For a long time I lingered in a twilight haze of ashy shadow and grease. It was always 3am. For years at a time, it was always 3am.

Each day began with me sitting at a table. Outdoors, but without the weather that comes from being outside. The table was made of downward curving metal, perforated with large half-inch holes over the entire surface. The tabletop was covered in a thin rubber coating that once must have been mustard colored but now, like everything else around me, was dingy, grey and fading. Not quite black but never again anything remotely as lively as yellow.

The table was the end of the line for the production of the fast-food joint I was at. No one stood at a counter to take you order... well, not really. There was always someone standing there... but they just looked at you and then looked down as though that would tell you all you needed to know about ordering your meal. A meal. Even now I am not sure I can call it that. Imagine the ubiquity of water fountains and now imagine that in the same way, all food supply units were essentially a bastardized version of Burger King.

After looking down to order, something would be garbled back behind a wall, sounds of movement would begin, quiet, hushed then loud clunking and slow feet shuffling. Far across the open space of the dining plaza, a garbage can would start to beep. Incessantly, but quietly so as to not annoy you if you weren't really sure yet that you wanted the food coming your way.

Then with a whir it would present, through the open slot. Your food. On a tray, grey-brown with wet paper separating the food from the sticky plastic tray. Almost warm but by no means hot. Smells of old onions, scorched coffee and egg shells are the first smack to the face.

Leaving the tray and food intact, I am sure there has to be something better around to eat. I also desperately need to find a bathroom. It has been days since I could pee. I would trade a perfect chocolate milkshake for a chance to pee in a clean bathroom. But there is no bathroom. When I ask at the counter where the meal originated, I get the same bleary eyed response... that downward cast glance as though one could order a trip to the bathroom through this device.

I look down at my clothes. A cover-all that once must have been blue-grey with thin white stripes, but now, like everything else, it was greyed with time, grease and dust. I can't find the sun in the sky. The buildings around me rise ceaselessly into the sky, each one a copy of the one beside it. There is an occasional breeze which at first feels like it might have the warm touch of spring but by the time I can sort out the smell I am overwhelmed with the sickly sweet aroma of decay. The wind grows until I have to duck into an entryway of building so as to escape from the stench that threatens to coat my skin with an oily scum.

Looking through the scratched silver windows of the building lobby, I keep my eyes moving... hoping for someone to talk to. I really want to find a bathroom.

Walking farther down the street, I find a body curled around a bench made from the same perforated metal rounded into tables like I saw earlier. Finding at first his head amongst the papers and rags, I was unsure he was awake. With none of his hands visible I feared that if I asked of their absence, knowing would be worse than the reek wafting from him. Just when I was sure that he was deep aslumber, he opened one eye at me. Asking me with that same downward glaze and soundless hush, he asked why I was there.

I told him I wanted to die.

I also needed to pee.

Laughing into last month's urine soaked newspaper, he turned his head to me. Our eyes met only briefly before I turned away, afraid that his one good eye might see me for what I was. His other eye, caked with drying puss, kept oozing with each blink.If only he would look away... I could ask him again.

Before I can repeat myself he lifts his shriveled hands from beneath his shabby mound and points to an alleyway a few feet away. Slumped between a wall uncertain of its future and the ground well past worn, a woman looks at the needle in her arm, hoping for release. I am not even worth a glare from her direction.

With a plaintive look on my face, I ask again: how can I die?

Shouldering the wet mass of cloth and sopping cardboard, paper and shit, he pushes me headlong towards a guardrail over a highway. Looking down, bits of detritus falling away, he admonishes me to pick one. Slow or fast, both definite. Either way, I could die. Looking for some merciful solution, I look all around, hoping someone would see me in my plight. I asked again: How can I die?

Laughing that piteous laugh again, he slurs through wet teeth that all I need to do is keep eating the food that came out of that slot.


For folks who wonder: I have contemplated suicide only a few times in my life. Mostly during a rough time in college when my girlfriend had been replaced with a demon from hell.

I find it interesting that while in the coma, I needed to pee. I find this to have been almost an omnipresent sensation throughout all of the coma dreams.

But the wish for dying? I did want to know. How could I escape the 3am grey-gloom? I would have done anything to break free of those awful smells and sights. Even now, I feel the need to scrub my body with borax in the shower... anything to get that oily stench off of my skin.

I know you don't smell things in dreams. I never dreamed for years at a time before either.


cookingwithgas said...

Wow- what a dream.
And Alex- I have smelled things in my dreams forever.
I have very vivid dreams.
You just can't make this stuff up.
From the depths of your brain.
I can not even imagine what you went through.
I hope by writing these out it will bring you some healing.
It must be like a trip to hell and back.
Best to you while you are still sorting through it all.

Linda Starr said...

feeling helpless is a debilitating mental process/predictament and I am not sure which is worse - being awake or sleep.

Anonymous said...

hi alex, i missed this when you posted as i've been off the grid a little. it's very interesting and very well-written for one although i wish it were in iambic pentameter. i think that you've captured how certain events that may seem relatively benign to the onlooker can be unbearable to the nth degree and almost torturous. i remember visiting my grandmother in the nursing home weeks before she died and she was getting pain medication every 4 hours (i think pain treatment has progressed since then) and her meds wore off in about 2 hours. by the 3rd hour she was in so much pain that she would rock back and forth counting to... 4. this struck me then and i think of it often. i used to think that the only way i would be able to be ready to check out would be if the pain were so much that i death was a welcome relief and now i'd add things that you've described... not pain in the normal sense but a combination of unpleasant sensations. i'm not suggesting that what i experienced recently was even in the ballpark of your coma but i got sick last week with a horrible virus (i think) and i was writhing around in bed, nauseous, with a headache and a dizzy feeling and i my stomach and kidneys hurt and my feet of course and all i could think of was... how long could i tolerate this before i was ready to let the grim reaper take me? oddly the answer was... not very long. i can only imagine that your feelings were like this somehow only on steroids. very interesting post alex. hope you're doing well.

Anonymous said...

I came across your entry this afternoon, after I couldn't do any more research into my next surgery, which is nothing as close to your trauma, but it will be my 12th process, related to one I had 17 years ago. A car hitting me caused eight other surgeries. My third day outside after surgery four, away from the hospital for three weeks, before the fifth, I sat in a park, near my childhood home with an old friend, a beautiful day. I loved that day, and Percocets. I told my friend I'd give the pain six months to lessen. If it did not, time to go. I knew she'd understand, and I needed to say it out loud. (I also remember lying in a hospital bed, the doctor squeezing the bare muscle and nerves, screaming, "Pain is finite!" That helped too.) It's been twelve years, and it did decrease, the pain is bearable, almost negligible, and I can face this next event in life too. Man, it does get tiring, though. Thank goodness, beauty still stuns my eyes, sometimes I tear up, but my interest is alive too. Your words also give me some comfort. I send good thoughts to you, and hope you get to a soothing place.

Alex Solla said...

Tonight I wish "Anonymous" wasn't so anonymous. Every person I have talked to about my experience, who have shared their similar albeit unique experience, helps me to work through my recovery. If I were to take all the difficulties I had with all of my previous surgeries for my back, my sinuses, wisdom teeth... it wouldn't amount to a hangnail's worth of pain compared to what my body has gone through this year. The difference though, is that now I am a different person.