One of my aunts is sitting on the sofa talking about the last time she flew to Colombia. She takes many vacation every year. For her, she doesn’t have to do anything more than be near the ocean, and the ocean – as she happily confirms – is always free. “You can spend the day swimming in the ocean and not have to make any other plans, or bring any money. A cooler will be more than enough. The ocean is great,” she says. “I love the ocean. I don’t know what I’d do without it.” In Colombia, she always stays in Cartagena. Her in-laws have a place close to the airport and the ocean – “Imagine!” On the flight there, the airplane hit a severe air pocket and plummeted long enough to make people scream for dear life. The women sitting on either side of her had panic attacks. But my aunt calmly reports that she didn’t react at all to this potentially fatal crash She remained faithful and collected with her hands folded elegantly on her lap. “I’m ready to go at any time,” she says, a nimbus around her head. “Being in an airplane falling from the sky doesn’t bother me. I’m ready whenever.”
Drunk at an 80’s party, a doctor holds up his iPhone and says, “Look at this.” He shows me a picture of an unusual knee. A disgusting boil with an outgrowth of pustules sits above the patella. I don’t know what to make of this picture. The doctor provides context: “A friend of mine emails me this picture of his knee and asks for my opinion. I take one look at the picture and ask who he’s been sleeping with, right?” [insert my stilted laugh here] “Now I have no idea what’s wrong with his knee. I tell him to lance it, drain the pus, cover it with a bandage and hope no one sees, I don’t fucken know!” I look at the picture again and shake my head and change the topic. Without my laugh, there’s nothing else I can do.
Someone runs the red light and sideswipes my car. The left side of my head crashes into the driver’s window. When I come to, I learn that I’ve been in a hit and run. I have no critical wounds, but scans reveal a tumor in my brain that I didn’t know about. The safe thing to do is excise. No one can say if the tumor is benign or malignant without an excision. I’m awake during the procedure. While people pick at my brain, I’m looking at a small screen that displays images. My job is to tell the doctor what image is on the screen. When I see a pencil, I know very well that it’s a pencil, but when I try to say “pencil” only “peh” comes out – like this, “peh peh peh.” The doctor knows not to cut this part.
I believe in the four humors of Hippocratic medicine. I’m imbalanced. Black bile weighs heavy in me, makes me melancholic. I’m most alive when I’m sad. Sadness roots easily and deeply in my soul. Pull out any family photo album – it doesn’t have to be mine – and give me some alone time with its pictures. I’ll cry. No sniffle will prepare you for my tears. They’ll fall onto the ground and puddle. The passage of time jerks me. There’s tragedy in seeing people age, nothing romantic, nothing comedic. Aging spawned philosophy. I know it’s human to feel this way, and I also know it’s crisis-inducing.