When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

25 September 2005

The tracks of my tears

A cheery little piece on crying, and nightmares. You're probably not going to leave the theater humming the theme song from this one, I'm afraid.

OK. On the one hand, I am a person who cries pretty easily, when moved in a positive way.

I am no stranger to tears of joy; I have been known to tear up over sappy movies or sentimental music (recently, a Sam Cooke gospel CD and Regina Carter's violin instrumental version of "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most" have done it to me) and, to the vast amusement of my Ivy-League-educated wife, I routinely choke up during the ritual annual performance of "One Shining Moment" at the end of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, even in years when Carolina doesn't win.

(For the uninitiated, this is essentially a highlight film of the tourney, scored to the most unbelievably cheesy faux-inspirational pop tune you've ever heard. It gets me every time. I once got a lump in my throat describing it to someone. True college basketball fans will have no trouble understanding any of this, by the way, and I refuse to be embarrassed about it.)

And I cry at weddings, dammit. I even cried a little at my own wedding, when the cantor (a moonlighting tenor from the Metropolitan Opera... there are many advantages to living in New York City) started singing the ancient Hebrew words of the marriage ceremony. There was some conspicuous snuffling from the audience, too, and wide reports afterwards of scattered goosebumps, so I think we really got our money's worth out of Bernie.

On the other hand, I'm a person who doesn't cry easily at all, when moved in a negative way or faced with a real crisis.

I cried once, briefly, convulsively, in a surgical waiting room at St. Vincent's Hospital, right after the oncologist told me that my wife had cancer. (Divine Providence sent me, at that very instant, a dear friend of ours, who arrived just on the moment, cried with me and hung on to me for a few minutes until we were composed enough to ask the surgeon, who I'm sure sees this scene played out every day, a few follow-up questions.) After that, it was steely-eyed stoicism all the way. No more tears. Some psychosis much later (that's another story) but no tears, not even when I had to explain to a still-groggy Carrie what the doctors had found, and what was going to happen next. (P.S. She's fine now.)

Much earlier in my life, when my grandmother--who had such a hand in raising me that she was essentially a second mother to me, and who, I thought, hung the sun and the moon and the stars in the sky--passed away, I was very sad, but I didn't cry at all, though I was still in the tender teenage years. I was able to speak at her funeral without even a quaver in my voice. (It wasn't until almost ten years later, while I was making a big pan of her cornbread dressing for a family Thanksgiving meal, that I finally cried a little for Granny Hodges, but I blamed it on the onions.)

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the subject of nightmares. And why I'm typing this at four in the blessed A.M. with a steaming cup of coffee in my hand and not going back to sleep tonight. Not even trying.

Regular readers of this blog know that my father is under Hospice care in North Carolina, and expected to die soon. He is well-cared for by very competent and caring staff who take considerable pains to keep him comfortable and clean, and rationally I know that he is sleeping every night (and most of the day) in his own bedroom, in a high-tech hospital bed, on clean sheets; there are clean bandages, changed every day, on his wounds, and there's hot-and-cold running anything-he-wants. Wouldn't have it any other way. I am travelling to N.C. regularly to see to the needs of both parents, and trying to do everything in my power to make sure they are all right.

I have just shaken myself awake from a long series of nightmares which share one salient fact with reality as we know it: my father is dying.

But in the dreams, he is dying in some Brueghelian horror of a third-world hospital, the stink of shit, gangrene and corruption all around him, and I can't find him.

I am stepping over famine-wasted and festering-sore-laden corpses on the floor, rolling over likely-looking still-breathing bodies in beds to examine their faces closely, bribing, cajoling and pleading with people right and left, because I have to find him; he is there, somewhere, dying, without anyone to comfort him, among people who don't give a good goddamn about him, and I'm morally certain that no one has even offered him a cool drink of water in days.

And pretty much the entire time, I am weeping bitterly for my father. Something I haven't really managed to do yet, and probably won't, if I know me, for some time.

So, doctor, what do you think it all means?

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