Chapter 1: Breathing is Change
this is the story of how I ended up in the Oakwood Annapolis Hospital Emergency Room at 2am on the eve of July 4th 2007. Sitting in a wheel chair, my numb hands crinkled up into limp fists feet quivering against metal, dry heaving into a bucket as they ripped the clothes from my back and began sticking things - beeping things, shiny things, pointy things - into my veins, onto my chest, and through my nasal canals... it suddenly occurred to me somewhere between the EKG and the 2nd needle in my right arm, that this was not the appropriate manner in which to spend a summer evening. I should be having dinner on a river boat with a pale beauty named mary the distant fireworks displaying how we feel better than words. Or at the beach with tim and andrew drinking beer around a campfire singing songs of the old times. I don't even live in Detroit. Two nights ago I was in London, two weeks ago I was in Morocco, two months ago I was in Mexico. Two lifetimes ago I was graduating high school in Kenya. At least that's what it seems like as I cough up a bloody mucus. It feels like someone stuck a blow torch in my mouth and let the flames scorch my throat. The nurses strap a mask on my face and begin urgently throwing around terms like 'possible airborne-quarantine', asking me if I came into contact with anyone who may have contracted swine flu which had become an epidemic at the time. I live in LA when I get a day off. Sometimes I spend just 12 hours there between jobs trying to catch my breath. Which is a joke because if you have ever been to LA you know that there isn't any air left. Whatever oxygen hasn't been toxicified by pollution is quickly cyphened away from the 15 million people living in the expansive suburbs and cities to remote ranches of multibillionaire heirs of famous people living in the hills. Am I having trouble breathing? The nurses attempt to decipher my mumbling nonsense into clues. They want to know about me, but only enough to fix me. The rest is denied triage. I try and answer but some of the simpler questions are confusing. What hurts? Everything. Is the back of your neck sore? Everything. Does your chest feel pain as you inhale? Everything! I'm tired of repeating it. I'm so goddamn tired. Thinking is a waste of energy but I sink into it's mist willingly away from the torment of the tangible. What is the meaning of all this discomfort? What is the outcome? Will death give this pain meaning? Or is it meaningless still? What is the source of darkness? Is light the absence of dark? At what point did the contagions find me? Was it overlooking San Lucas where I saw an old man, his cedar bark skin, his cowboy hat and boots, his white shirt blowing in the wind as the sun set on his aged body? Was it on top of the ferris wheel at the San Diego county fair, the seat next to me empty? Was it eating watermelons from a cart on the road to Casablanca? From the Pizza at the airport in Rome? Was it the girl coughing next to me as we flew over the Grand canyon, news of Michael Jackson's death spreading like a virus on the ground? Was I alone in Paris for 1 too many seconds? Did I stand in the wrong breeze on Kauai? When I stepped foot onto any one of those planes were the events that led to my downfall already set in motion? Or is this planet just a big petrie dish of organisms fighting to live at the mercy of one another? What if the microbes invading my body knew that their existence depended on the survival of higher organisms who have labs dedicated to the complete elimination of their kind. Would it make a difference? Maybe these strands of decrepit DNA don't desire their existence by choice. Maybe they're just trying to solve their equation.
Chapter 2: Language is just Communication
Ladies and gentlemen we would like to take this moment to remind you that all personal belongings must be securely stowed before take-off and landing.
The henna still fading from my arm where just a day before she grabbed me in front of King Hassan tower and began drawing the stuff from a syringe, I fasten my seat belt and thank Allah that I made it onto this plane. Not to say that the tourists were beginning to aggravate me, and not to say that the communication barriers were exhausting, but I was lucky to even be leaving. After missing my alarm, panicking to get a taxi, stopping at an ATM for cash to pay the driver, and then racing from Rabat to the international airport one hour away... my body was still coursing with adrenaline as I dragged my bags to a check-in desk with no airline listed.
The gate is closed at 10.
It's 5 minutes past.
I know I'm very late.
She glares at me like I am a glob of goo she found stuck under the sink. I try and look like a helplessly cute glob of goo.
If you know how to speak someone's language than you can speak to them, that's all. It's something that Briham, my contact and essentially my guide in Morocco had said. He went on explaining that some men stay in one place and judge other people. They look and say that this place is not good or that place is bad. One needs to travel and go and see that we are all just trying to live and open our minds.
Bonjour miseau e tu room service?
Yes hello, english?
The hotel where I stayed was embarrassingly posh. I was there to film local students investing in future opportunities for a technology firm out of the midwest. This wasn't my style. I wanted to see what their lives were like day to day in another country. Not ordering room service from my window overlooking a barbed wire fence between me and the street. And definitely not coercing these college kids to play out a skit scripted to impress the stock holders. I'm a hard worker and sometimes it's nice to get the cushy ride but I grew up moderately poor. Poor enough to be really grateful for everything I have and slightly uncomfortable when experiencing luxury. Especially luxury for it's own sake. The problem for me with extreme wealth is that there is no endgame. You never know when you got the job done because at some point it's unnecessary. You've skyrocketed out of the struggle for survival and into an immense space of vagrancy and weightlessness. At the front desk I ask about the currency exchange board which seems to have changed since yesterday.
7 Dirham for 1 dollar.
Everyday they may change it sir.
Alright. I also need to book a room for tomorrow night.
Yes sir, it's not a problem.
So it's booked then?
Fantastic. Oh and the elevator isn't working.
Yes sir, sometimes.
And he meant it. The same way she did the last time we spoke. She was leaving to spend the summer at a camp tutoring ESL to US immigrants. I'd been planning our last evening together for about a week. We were going to go wine tasting which I thought would be a nice way to talk and also have something to distract us from the eminent departure. I didn't know until they called 5 minutes before she showed up that I would also be leaving. They asked if I could be in Morocco the next morning. It's so exciting when the call comes but it's unnerving. Suddenly all these things in your life loose traction as your ship instantly changes course. Like someone unhitching the latches of gravity from whatever direction you were headed. An invisible force pulling the puppet strings on what you thought was your own life.
We climbed the hill over Los Angeles one last time. There in the twilight of a city illuminating the foggy sky we held each other in despondency to the static forces pulling us in opposite directions. The next 12 hours were lost in a light speed haze of time that won't slow down. Like in star trek when the stars become lines because your moving so fast.
I can't wake up.
I love you.
One last hug, then I gotta go.
This is the last time we will ever be happy together.
Why are you saying that?
Sometimes that's how it is.
You don't... we... I don't know that yet.
Yes you do.
Passport, luggage, security, gate, seatbelt. Like it was always meant to be. Hello, this is Bensaid I was just calling to see that you are finding everything in the hotel satisfactory? You are fine? Ok?
Chapter 4: What is a mouse when it spins?
This is also the story of how two years ago I ended up sitting on the shores of Lake Victoria on the Kenyan side, getting progressively drunk with my best friend Tim on the third of July after nearly dying at the top of Mt. Kilamanjaro trying to forget about her.
It started in the 10th grade. In a school of 500 students where the first day of school was one of the most exciting because any new students were especially exotic. It was easy to be curious but rarely was I astounded or taken aback by any new beauty to join the ranks. This year was different. This year brought the girl that made my blood temperature rise at the very site of her. The kind of girl I could watch for hours from the second floor of the history building and never be able to recreate her image in my mind. I always had to look and see her again. She was an ether, she was emanating light. She was --- and this is the moment where you pause because you don't want to say something that will in any way diminish the feeling you have about that perfectly arrayed assortment of youthful atoms that are --- Mary Crane, the elixir become poison.
I could say it ended there by the sea with Tim or in Kisumu the next day. That's when Mary Crane got married to Jeremy E Perkins, a stud her own age. I like to think I was her high school sweetheart because they were both in college on that fateful day.
Chapter 5: This is not rocket science.
At first I'm trying to focus, to not think about it... the smell of her on my shirt. The scent left by a creature so subtly intoxicating. she must, she's a good thing, she's bad. I am a tree in a forest, I am a fish in the sea, I am a star in the sky. Where you will find one, you will find many.
Chapter 6: Rest in reason and move in passion
And with one breath he let the art completely overtake him. He embraced the chaos and they became one. This is truth, this is life, this is change. Other forms of art so contrived and deliberate now seemed transparent and wasteful, like chaff that blows away in the wind. Truth is blood, that flows unsteadily from the wound. Truth is change, that breaths and sweats continuously. Truth is weighted down by it's own existence. Did he know at that very moment what he was experiencing? Or was it only in reflection that he saw the sorrow carving a hole where the happiness would go?
Chapter 7: Amen
When the clock says 6am, this time I've had enough.
I turn the lights down low, when the sun comes up.
The morning brightness is clearest when my eyes have burned all night.
I see the world fresh. Without bias or presumption. The night is finished.
Why is it that when we wake up after sleeping we are so blunt and the world so dull.
Everything is oppressive and blurred. We struggle to think of it.
3 pairs of parrots take flight. Fish of the air. Free to move in any direction.
Chapter 10: Experience
We were there at my favorite hookah lounge. The girl from Ivory Coast, the Colombian, and me. Good place, good people, great music - was natures toast to this night. Armenian 2nd generation immigrants danced in the center as we smoked our way to oblivion on arabic pillows lining the walls. The colombian bit half a chili thinking it was some other green pepper shaped food. He nearly passed out shoving rice down his throat, wiping his tongue with a napkin. SHE was glorious and bohemian, a nose ring, a necklace from Senegal. I pictured her with a tatoo on her shoulder. This is a love triangle - I think to myself. I dream of a marriage that kills everyone involved. We look up and the lamps hanging from the ceiling are captivating. Each one is a different color and shape - like us. We argue about what to call our phalanx in plural and where is Rhodesia anyway?