This the man who survived Khe Sanh, my father the Marine corpsman, the savior of God knows how many lives despite his wounds.
This the man who, back in the states came close to dying by the bottle, recovered and started saving others.
This the man who hoisted his first car atop a pole and served thousands of meals, sometimes without charge.
This the man who never stood by watching without rolling up his sleeves to help where he could, never shirking.
This the man lying blue and gasping for breath, refusing the respirator so another’s life might be saved.
I never got the influenza, though I am far from the strongest in my family.
That would be Pa, and then Brother Jim.
I recall that one day they was both sneezing and the next day Doc took them and Ma to the Consolidated School where they’d set up the hospital.
They took the sick folks to the gym where they had rows of cots set up.
When they got worse they’d take them upstairs to die in Mrs. Lee’s third-grade room.
The cafeteria was the morgue, long tables set out.
I doubt I’ll ever go back to that school.
The 1918 Spanish flu strain killed its victims with a swiftness never seen before. In the United States stories abounded of people waking up sick and dying on their way to work. The symptoms were gruesome: Sufferers would develop a fever and become short of breath. Lack of oxygen meant their faces appeared tinged with blue. Hemorrhages filled the lungs with blood and caused catastrophic vomiting and nosebleeds, with victims drowning in their own fluids. Unlike so many strains of influenza before it, Spanish flu attacked not only the very young and the very old, but also healthy adults between the ages of 20 and 40.
“You’re kidding me. This is it?”
“Just what you see.”
“To you, maybe. But just you wait a while. Even wormy apples look good once you’re hungry enough.”
“Seriously, what happened? This is the worst I’ve seen it.”
“My truck was waylaid. I had to give up most of the cargo. I was lucky to get away with as much as you see here.”
“Times are hard.”
“And getting harder. In a few weeks, this might seem like the good old days.”
“I suppose so. I guess I’ll take three of those apples, then.”
“Fine. That’ll be sixty Euro.”
He felt a fool in white tights and the thin Capezio slippers.
Zoritch walked around him, inspecting his body from all angles as though he was a sculpture.
“Turn out your leg, like so,” said Zoritch. “And arms thus.”
He did as directed, watched the mirror as the master studied him.
“You want my opinion, then?” said Zoritch.
“You have an ideal physique for ballet, but at eighteen you are far too old. Boys at the Kirov start when they are five, six. Physical attributes, yes. But the mental toughness? It is doubtful.”
It was the perfect thing to tell him.
This is a true story.
Now it’s a barn, a ballroom really
the posts wait,
lit by beams of dust
She pushes me against
the wall, holding me
On the phone the faces hang,
mouths open, talking
I cannot hear anything through the window
the shadow of me
pushes back against my shoes
no matter how fast I walk
the night windows
spill yellow light
I step around
the lines of some sidewalks
make deep sense
constantly saying something
wider than it seems
when I walk over it
Nothing I now know
looks the same
from the river
My sponsor says that times like this I need to run through my gratitude list.
- I’m sober, which is ironic considering how many drunken spills I’ve taken and never hurt myself
- I’m wearing my winter coat and snowpants.
- Though they hurt like hell, I can’t actually see any bones sticking out of my leg or arm.
- It’s Sunday, so the mailman won’t come, but it’s not a holiday weekend
- The ice storm stopped before I fell so I at least I’m dry
- They say dying of cold is the most painless
- I don’t have any kids
- Probably nobody’ll miss me
It started with the Bible. She hid it in her room like porn, read it secretly at night. She stopped hanging out with the girls she’d known since pre-school, instead preferring the company of people she would name but never introduce.
Only full names, which was odd. Joshua. Stephen. Bethany. No Jeff or Steph or Liz.
We confronted her when the attendance office called to report she’d not been to school all semester. She sat there, placid as a marble bust, staring through us as though we were apparitions.
We woke next morning to find she was gone.
“What’s with that concrete trough?”
“They used to fill it during the winter and use it as an ice rink.”
“Doesn’t it melt?”
“No it doesn’t melt, Arizona boy. Come December, this place hardly ever breaks twenty degrees, let alone thirty-two.”
“Damn. How did you deal?”
“Bundle up. You get used to it. Ice on the sidewalks is tricky, but you learn.”
“God. I’ll take shorts and flipflops over long-johns any day.”
“Summers in Arizona aren’t exactly a picnic.”
“A/C baby. It’s how we do.”
“My dad taught me to ice-skate here. I still hate this place. Let’s go.”
His life had been depicted as an utter failure of self-will, an utter collapse of self-respect, even of essential humanity.
Of course they hadn’t told him before he signed the contract.
“We want to share stories of medically obese for our viewers,” were the exact words they’d used.
“We’ll be extremely respectful.”
And they had been while they filmed him recumbent in the extra-duty recliner that served as his bed, his chair, his platform for viewing the world through his laptop and television.
When the show had aired, he was appalled.
The low-angle shots of his face particularly grieved him.
Briggs stepped out from the sally-port and released the pressure valve of his already-fogging helmet. It came off with a little hiss and he breathed in the moist and verdant air. He peered around, speechless.
Colonel Wright smiled. “Pretty amazing, eh?”
“How does all this stuff stay alive?” Briggs asked.
“I keep forgetting you’re not another scientist. Put simply, it’s a biosphere. It maintains itself. The original idea was to make the whole planet like this, but you know. Politicians.”
Briggs peered through the glass at the blackened rubble of the once-great city. “Too bad they couldn’t figure it out.”