I remember the very first time I fell in love. It was May 25th, 1977. On break, in the shadows, behind the new San Francisco Century on Market, planet Tatooine, as a moody Luke Skywalker fawned the anarchy of twilight’s double suns.
Be careful, I read once, an atrocious first kiss portends a certain addiction in all things love. I know the obsession of love in blood, I swear. I’ve fallen in love so many times. Still, I know that quitting is the ultimate high.
Smoke and fire cinch tight inside the glove of sex and love, a universal, complementary fit. That’s where I met Nancy, at UC California. We were hot. When we finally decided to use the bed as invented, exhausted we’d pass out, sleep. In our dreams, we’d conjure sluggish cumuli that buckle and sag their weight, pop rivets. So that when they rained, they’d rain matches. Burn us again.
Nancy was the first to quit me.
It can be anything. Last month it was a commonplace hamburger and fries, catsup, then the aura.
It’s that God-Damned invisible sensation. It begins in the small of my back, moves upward to my thoracic and cervical spine. It wraps itself around and around my neck, sticky and delicate as the scales of a trout fitted in fins of hyaline dragon wings that dissolve in vapor as it thickens my throat, darkens my lungs with nicotine drapes. I’ll just have one, I promise myself again.
Like we used to say AA, the trigger could be one thing, or nothing or everything. Perhaps it is the buried sound of a cracking match, or when you discovered Jesus or lost him. Perhaps when you woke from a pleasant dream, depressed it wasn’t a nightmare. You know the one where you quit and wake in an ice cold sweat, greedy for the next one.
We did break up sex each time the kids were born, for health, and to set an example. You grew angry and fumed stale in the pack under the mattress.
I quit again when Sarah was ten and I lost all my hair, “Daddy, it’s not the real you. I need you alive for my wedding.”
“Ok honey, I can do this. After all, I’ve done it so many times before.”
That was the first time I made a pact with the devil and the blue sky above on the same day. Falling out of the sun, with burning wings never felt so good.
Getting raises or being fired, you were always there for me. Winning and losing a blur, not mutually exclusive. Excuses marched finely dressed armies in Red Square. Wars swallowed battles; battles inhaled insurrections, skirmishes, revolutions in the making.
Erica marched her ass out the front door, maybe May Day, on a Sunday, around 8:30 P.M., 2014.
It’s the way it creates magic in your throat and lungs when it fills you the way nothing else can. Oops, you see, I’ve fallen in love again. Bet most of you knew that was coming.
Lately, it’s become much easier to quit. Like when my mother died, then father. Grief can lend itself to distractions, like nobody’s business, along with Klonopin and Prozac. But the truth is, it’s all a setup, for losing your cherry again. It’s an inexplicable drama in what is otherwise a relatively ordinary existence, Hubba Bubba in the crack of a dam.
My therapist once said, “Don’t isolate, try not to brood, just because the likes of Erika quit you. Jack, now is not the occasion to stop the smallest of addictions. That can wait.”
How convenient I conspired, now I have a licensed excuse.
“I fully understand I say. Especially since this is my second divorce.”
Ten years go up in smoke. I find myself in the glow of a pure white bed, at SF county General, Potrero Ave, on Planet San Francisco again. Except my dark and dusty hospital window hasn’t trapped one single sun in its web.
It’s not cold, but I am shaking.
“Well Jack, now what have you done to yourself. You’re only in your 50’s, right?”
I waken my eyes and invite the haze in his gaze, inhale his words. “Days?”, I ask.
“Days, maybe today,” says Dr. Felk. Sorry for the bluntness chap, that’s all we have time for I am afraid.”
Dr. Felk hasn’t moved his eyes, not really. As chief of Oncology, he must be under a lot of pressure.
I say “Ok!” Eminent death has a way of reducing your vocabulary. Besides, I have this sinking feeling that I won’t need it where I am going.
He continues, “I am afraid Jack, by the time your daughter arrives from Europe, it may be too late. As an aside, I have never seen a pair of lungs as black as two Virginia coal mines.” I need to continue my rounds.”
I know the look. Dr. Felk is about three deaths away from suicide. But we both know neither of us has time to explore that. I think, stumble around in my head. Then I say, “Thank you Dr. Felk for all your empathetic and professional care. I know the weight of your job is heavy with worry. I’m sorry that I presented you with the darkest of constellations.”
“Don’t quit on me, Jack. I know what that feels like,” Says the kind Dr.Felk.
“Don’t worry Dr. Felk, I won’t.”
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