Monday, March 21, 2016

Facing Paralysis

Fuck, it was happening, and despite all that I had tried to do, it wasn’t enough, it wasn’t enough, it wasn’t…


I had stayed in bed, mostly, but who can stay in bed all the time? And so I had to go to the store, for wine and groceries, and go as well to the café, since I needed to be among people, among the living. Staying inside, in the bedroom, in the bed, meant that my only companion was fear, and I couldn’t have that. But now I had to face it, since I had denied it all during the weekend.

Was I ashamed to go to the hospital—again—on a weekend? Hardly. It was only that there was no way to escape the madness of the San Sebastian Street Festival, which had raged on while I felt my feet, and then my crotch, grow progressively numb.

It was a fate that was supposed to be reserved for someone else, most notably Raf’s parents. What would happen if they fell during the festival? How would they get out and to the hospital—by helicopter? Boat? Because there is a road into the old city, and a road out of the old city, and that’s about it. And since the old city is located on a tiny island attached by bridges to the mainland, traffic for event …wait, did I say traffic? That would imply movement: in fact, it was a parking lot ever so slightly shifting forward.

And so the numbness had started: what the hell was wrong with my feet? Why were they going numb, for hours at a time? Was there some swelling around my spinal cord? If so, was it cutting off sensation to my feet? And why did it come on at some points during the day, and seem to go away at others?

What, I began to wonder, if there was a little chip of fractured bone embedded in the disc surrounding the vertebrae? Could it dislodge at times, press against the spinal column, and then, perhaps due to positional changes, stop pressing against the column? It didn’t seem likely—the discs are hardly fluid or even semi-fluid, but still…

…what in the hell was going on?

Outside, the festival was raging. Inside? We were prisoners, since the only way to go outside of our apartment was before 8 AM. That’s when I would creep out, dump the trash in the containers, and then buy the food and wine for the evening. I then would come back to bed, and sleep fitfully for the rest of the morning.

During the day, the noise volume would rise steadily. What had been a manageable roar in the morning became insufferable during the afternoon. What was the cause? Well, there were the whistles, the fireworks, the snap of the little snappers that the children were flinging onto the pavement. Shouts from one group to another. Impromptu bands baring away, and competing with the band one sidewalk over. Loud groups of people cheering one another on, as they did the bomba y plena, or the salsa, or the merengue. The entire island had come into the old city, to wake it and shake it to its core, and to see whether it would, at last, crumble and fall into the sea, which would rage and froth and consume and revile and spit out rocks and pavement and cobblestones. A tsunami of detritus would rain upon us all, flushing it and us and everyone into the bay, and all would be gone.

True, it had never happened before, but how often could the experiment be made? Yes, the heroin jolts your system, sets off flares in your brain—you know, at some point, you will take too much. The lethargy and the nodding will become sleep, then coma, then death. You know, you know—and you have seen it. Still, you must take the drug.

And so they came into the city—so frail, so pastel—and they raged. They hurled the noise against the old, tired buildings. They spewed vomit on the blue, iridescent cobblestones, they smeared their famished lives onto the houses and the streets and the churches. They used sound as a battering ram—those hordes who had never known music but as something given to other people. Other people, whom they sensed had things they would never have; lived lives they would never live. And so they came here, to destroy it, to vanquish it in the uncaring lust for noise and disorder. Yes, even the cracks in the ceilings of long shut-up rooms were filling and soon disgorging the rampant, surging lust of the anti-lives. They had been given no life of their own: nor could they find the path to make one for themselves. And so they had raged.

Buildings fell: the dust and the plaster rose up in mushroom clouds, and the crowd danced in the ruins, lifting their arms up and showering in the pulverized jetsam of the buildings. The sea reared back, watched anxiously, and then reversed course: no longer willing to kiss, to caress, even to batter the shore. The moon, too, looked down, and then looked away, and then gasped and sputtered and finally, whimpered out. Would there be any god to re-light the moon, to put it shining in the night sky?


No, not if the crowd had its way, since with each triumph, with each sacking, the noise grew and grew, until it was not sound any longer, but vitriol, spite, fury, rage, and need.

There had been no conflict like it. We cowered in the apartment, and then I lost feeling, lost sensation in my feet. But wait—hadn’t the same thing happened a day ago? Or had it? Because it seemed the feeling came and went—or rather, the lack of feeling. Because what had plagued me before—the intense, overwhelming pain of my lower back—was now being mocked.

‘You wanted an end to the pain?’ it seemed to be saying. ‘Fine—I give you paralysis!’

I drove the panic down. I took the noise and disorder and furious chaos outside and I hurled it against the realization: I would never walk again.  And so as the crowds swelled and the noise grew, I battered the truth away from me. I nailed the coffin shut that held the corpse of my old life. I would never walk again. And I would never be entirely free again, because someone always would have to do some things for me. I would learn to accept that there were places I could not reach, places I could not go, things—oh, so many things!—I could not do.

Walking by the sea, early in the morning, listening to Bach or Bieber, seeing the waves crash against the rocky shoreline.


Waking in the night, creeping into the kitchen, boiling the pound of shrimp that I would eat criminally in my bed.

Never again.



And so, finally, the festival came to an end. I woke the next morning with the realization: I had to do whatever I could to escape paralysis. What was impossible I now could do. In a panic, I wrote down things to take to the hospital: Kindle, recharger, cell phone, recharger, blanket, two pillows, passport. I wrote until I noticed that my hands, now shaking badly, were scribbling, and not even I could read what I had written.

Whom to call?


Voice mail.


Voice mail.


My sister-in-law picks up: I tell her that it’s an emergency, we have to go to the hospital. We agree, I will get Raf up (it’s a holiday, he is sleeping) and we will leave in an hour.

I’m sobbing when I tell him: I’m losing sensation in my feet.

“Oh my God,” he cries, though he’s still half asleep. I leave him, because my heart is breaking and I cannot be in a dark room, which the bedroom is. No, because fear consumes darkness and grows; the monster grows ever-bigger and the chain restraining him ever-smaller and weaker. Will I be lying in bed, when he pounces?

No, I’m in the bathtub, because my hair is greasy, and can I go to the hospital with dirty hair? And so I wait for the tub to fill, but I’m in too much of a panic, so I get in when there is barely an inch of water. Obviously, I can barely get my head wet, but I try anyway, and then put shampoo on the wet the part of the head and scrape the foam over the dry part. I get out of the tub as quickly as I can, and so the hair is half shampooed and half rinsed, but I still try to comb it. Unfortunately, my hair is wildly long, since my barber doesn’t make house calls, and whom do I need to impress, anyway, lying in bed?

So my hair is a soapy, frothy, greasy mess; I am stabbing at it with the comb, and pulling the tangles out restlessly, because who cares if I am in pain and half-bald, since…

…I will never walk again.