EGGS

I

Trauma obliterates memory,

drowns feeling in a silent tide, misery deep.

A crown of thorns that sits just inside the skull.

II

Kind is warm, fleeting.

Compassion, connecting;

a current of tears.

III

One of my friends came out as trans.

I said courage, he said need.

I’m scared for him. And by her.

 

GOING FOR GOALS

I like lists. They help you get all the “should do” clutter out of your head and on to a bit of paper. I usually use the back of an envelope from one of those utilities that seem to send bills twice as often as they used to. One of them sent me a fifty dollar bill the other day, but the lady in the Milk Bar said that I couldn’t buy twenty Choc Wedges and ten dollars of mixed lollies with it because it was made of cardboard not plastic and anyway it was too big. So when I got home with a packet of Minties (all I could afford) I made a list for the afternoon. It went something like this:

  • Have great idea for a film
  • Write best-selling screenplay
  • Get rich
  • Buy box of Chock Wedges
  • Relax

A few minutes later I added a couple more items to the list:

  • Stop eating chewy sweets
  • Make appointment with dentist

When my partner got home she said it was a very impressive list but maybe a bit demanding for one afternoon. I could see what she meant, as the only thing on the list I actually did was ring the dentist. But as I told my partner (who’d spent the day achieving amazing feats in the business world) I had actually done some extra things not on the list. I wrote them at the bottom:

Buy painkillers

Have lie down

It was a great feeling when I drew big black lines through those last two but I could see my partner’s point when she said that maybe I could learn a bit more about goal setting. Her workplace hired this corporate “coach” and it has really helped her get crystal clear about lots of things, so I rang him as soon as I’d written “Ring Coach Chappy” on my list. We arranged to meet the next day right after my dental appointment.

Let me tell you it was a revelation. He gave me more tips than a hairdressers’ convention and all of it was useful. One of the first things he told me about was setting realistic goals. I caught on immediately. Of course I couldn’t write a whole story in one afternoon. A realistic goal soon came to me and I got two pieces of paper. On one I wrote:

  • Think up title for film

and on the other I wrote:

“Going for goals” 

A screenplay by Bruce Jenkins

Then I put a big tick next to the sentence on the first sheet. (That was another tip: tick things off just like the teacher occasionally did in primary school). It felt fantastic! I even came up with an improvement and went out to the toy store and bought my very own elephant stamp. I put a stamp next to the tick and felt even better. Then, because my mouth was still a bit sore from the dental work in the morning, I went back to my goals list and wrote “Have a rest”. I was pretty sure I’d be getting another elephant stamp in an hour or two.

The coach said that breaks are important, so after dinner, some tele and the video of last night’s home improvement program, I settled down to my next planning task: making a “to do” list for the next day. The coach said that many people find it helpful doing this before bed as it enables them to clear their minds and relax. That made sense to me and I concentrated hard on setting achievable goals. 

It made me realise what an amazing number of tasks there are each day just to get ready for work or whatever. I was still fine-tuning my teeth-brushing sub-list (left hand lower molars, right hand lower molars paying special attention to new filling…) when my partner told me in crystal clear terms to turn out the light. I did, of course, but I slept very badly due to the worry of not completing my list, let alone allocating A, B or C priorities to each item. Are upper molars more important than lower? I started leaving messages for the coach about dawn.

Feeling rather tired and anxious, I spent a few hours picking bits of Minty out of the telephone receiver, which might be why it took a while before the coach got through. He thanked me for the amazing detail I left with his paging service and said he now had a good grasp on the problem and what I needed was a goal ladder. Goal at the top and steps to reach it. Sounded good to me and I got right on to it. 

When my partner rang at lunchtime I told her what I had been working on and asked what sort of replacement light fittings she wanted in the dining room. She quite understood that the sort of ladder you need for lofty goals like mine is a bit unwieldy and had some great suggestions for where I might find some new antique vases for the dresser.

So now I’m working on a new strategy for getting things done. It comes from this really amazing web site called the Yellow Pages On-line. You just tap in the service you want and pick someone from the list that magically appears. Ring up and explain your problem and someone comes and does the job for you. Brilliant.

Right now I’m looking up Screen Writers, but after my nap (tick!) I’m going to ring the coach and tell him what I’ve learned. And I’d be happy to be a consultant at his next corporate training to share my knowledge – and maybe the elephant stamp.

 

mind-blowing--unbroken-flower-vase-with-broken-arms

MONITOR

It’s been pushing upwards for a year or more. Doesn’t rush, but doesn’t fall either. 

Being a chronic over-thinker, I associate the higher figures with increased dis-ease. Hopefully not disease. But you don’t know. That’s why it’s called The Silent Killer. You don’t know the pressure has been building, building. Then something bursts, and unless you’re lucky, that’s it, game over. Or it bursts free and lodges somewhere important and you’re worse than dead. The Butterfly and the Diving Bell. Even typing that tightens my chest.

But is it a silent assassin if you can feel the creeping vice of tension and almost hear the rustling tendrils of anxiety? If the danger is not knowing the tension is climbing, and you know you are anxious, does that mean you aren’t in danger?

The doctor suggested a monitor. Twenty-four hours with a sleeve and a box the size of three stacked cassettes, connected by a piece of soft tubing; a synthetic umbilical cord. 

It’s set, the nurse said as she fitted the business end to my upper arm, to take a reading every half hour. Right, OK. And every hour overnight, she added in a voice that invited me to say ‘Phew!’. I didn’t say anything as I was busy noticing the slightly clammy snake of plastic slithering across my back and round to the box at my hip.

Felt odd, having something medical attached. Waiting for the big squeeze. And the device itself, a lump under my untucked shirt. If I’d brought headphones I could have pulled off the Walkman thing, easily. Just relax, were the nurse’s parting words. If you move your arm or tense, it’ll beep to say the reading has failed.

I was on the ring-road when the contractions started. I tried to relax my arm, dropping it into my lap like a prosthesis. Compression builds until the thump of blood is quite loud. It’s not painful, just a bit unpleasant. With eight hours on night-shift and sixteen at two per hour, there’ll be another forty or so of these. 

Beep. 

Shit. Must’ve moved my arm. The little box thinks for a moment and tries again. My free hand grips the steering wheel tighter.

Already I’m focussed on the moment where the release begins. The sleeve relaxes in beats. I notice I’ve been holding my breath. Take a couple of deep ones; probably worth staying aerated.

digital-blood-pressure-monitor-class-2_1400x

It’s put me into an odd space, this innocent little recording device. Forced me to adopt its cycle. When is the next one? What will the data show?

I should ignore it, but I can’t. I’m tense. I’m waiting. It’s going to happen, but when?

Probably shouldn’t drink, but what-the-hell. Couple of glasses of evening red. By half-past ten I’m wrung out. Tense and wary. How will it be to sleep with this thing grabbing my arm every hour? Quite a lot to do tomorrow, errands galore. Need some sleep. Half a sleeping pill just to help me get off. I feel sheepish but promise myself I’ll own up to the doctor when I see her next week.

The night isn’t so bad. In fact, I resent coming to consciousness in the morning as the anxiety jags straight back up.

Late morning there is a space for reflection. I realise that the feeling of waiting, of marking time until the next event, is deeply familiar. It’s a frozen place; not necessarily cold but immobile. It’s a waiting place, but not with particular expectations. There’s a level of dread, but it is diffuse and difficult to pin down. Something’s coming; cortisol says ‘tense’. There is only the now; a kind of rigid stillness that is alert and ready to be alarmed. 

I notice how every time the gentle vibration signals another squeeze, I jump. It’s such an old response there are no words. The reptilian brain, the ancient brain, the reactive brain, whose early programming sneers at thinking and defies overwriting.

So I wait, for twenty-four hours. Can’t think about anything, can’t write. Fold washing, load the dishwasher; music plays but I’m not hearing. The periodic lub-dub pulsing in my upper arm is the metronome of this day. Not until much later, does it occur to me that I was incapable of imagining an end to the process. Marking time, standing on the spot; it’s not a choice, but a state. Like a rest on a music stave, it signifies an absence, not relaxation.

The power of the metaphor rocks me a little. It’s a truth that can be felt. I see from a different angle why I’ve always been useless at planning. Can’t look ahead, don’t set goals, reticent to take initiatives, risk averse. But really good at monitoring, at waiting. At enduring. Stillness on the outside, tight inside with a dull throbbing undercurrent of fear. 

Waiting for a safety that never came.

*

 

WATCH

Got a new band put on the watch yesterday. The old one had curled up from years clasping my wrist. Looked all right on the outside, but inside it was worn and stained, the leather disintegrating under the surface. Looks horrid, Cal said, cracked and scaly. It reminded me of my legs. Old man’s legs with papery skin. Running about a tennis court doesn’t result in fresher, younger epidermis. Not to look at anyway; it must be doing something for the muscles, surely.

Played a couple of mixed doubles matches, standing in for a chap who’s injured. Last week the opposing team were all so young you could see the outline of school uniforms on the tennis kit. I did all right for someone giving away multiple decades; the sets were even but we lost by a few games on count-back. It not being my team, I didn’t care much as long as I played OK, which I did.

Afterwards there is supper. A couple of Men’s teams were outside singeing sausages and drinking beer. We were inside with cheese and crackers and dips and grapes and lemonade. Someone’s mum put this together, I thought.

They were nice kids, and not quite as young as I thought. Three in first year uni and one in second. He was the captain. I asked what they were studying and one, a girl built like a willow-wand but with the heaviest serve of all the women, grinned and challenged me to guess. I got two straight off and one with a bit of help. Smartarse. But I could not guess Twiggy. 

Politics, she said. How depressing, I thought, but didn’t say.

Got home and limped to the shower. Three close sets on a Thursday night. Jeez.

Horizontal at last, but legs aching so much I couldn’t sleep. Got up and did a few laps inside the house, trying to avoid cramp. Kept the lights low, to fool myself I was a few laps away from Lethe. Clocks grinned in the gloom as I passed them. Reckon they were mocking me. Eventually I took half a pill. Fuck it, I need sleep.

A Sunday morning game with a mate has become a ritual. Sometimes I manage to beat him, mostly he out-runs me. Younger legs and years of playing competition squash. He’s an executive. Knows how to get the job done. Last week it was a war of attrition; at six-all we agreed on an honourable draw. This week he rolled over me. My body was still grizzling about the mixed doubles. Recovery times lengthen, relentlessly, until you tear or break something and it ends. Now that’s depressing.

But I love it (though less when I’m crap, like Sunday).

When I got home the boy asked, could you not play next week as it’s my birthday?

There was a hesitation. I was thinking, the party is not until the afternoon, what’s the problem. A childless moment that passed. Sure, I said. We’re having pancakes, he said. Excellent.

It’s a significant birthday, though he won’t let us talk about the obvious. Thirteen. That last syllable serves up all kinds of complications, and soon he won’t want to spend time with his boring oldies. Tempus fugit says the smug new band on my watch. Shut the fuck up, I snarl. But somewhere I feel hourglass tears falling.

hourglass

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