Emily Dickinson wrote some wonderful things. This, perhaps, is my favorite, one of her almost weightless poems that carries all the weight of the world.
After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?
The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –
This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –
Miss Emily wrote a lot of great things in a too-short life. This was one of the best. And at the risk of being called (again) a pussy, it still makes me cry. Every time.
Everyone with a nervous system has, I think, been to that house of pain. Sometimes it seems almost unbearable. Going broke. Break-ups. Divorces. Death. “How shall I survive this? How can I survive it? How can I let it go? Where did I leave my real life while this was happening in spite of me…or even because of me? What do I do now?”
Do I want to survive it? The house is full of sharp knives and cleaning chemicals.
Sometimes I just wish I were dead and this shit would be over once and for all. But after all, who would want to miss the next chapter of this adventure?
Feels pretty bad.
Even the good stuff can suck. And at times it certainly does.
This at last is about one of those times.
A few weeks ago, the Superior Court of Bergen County, New Jersey, freed me from what had begun in 1998 as lifetime spousal support. That’s also known as alimony. That also known as a life sentence. It lasted “only” 17 years, but that’s bad enough. Jesus Christ! Would you have liked even more?
I didn’t think it would happen. I was representing myself in court while my ex always had a lawyer. Where I’d begun as the plaintiff, now I became the defendant. And still the Judge ruled for me.
When the Court clerk told me, I began to cry. All I’d let myself hope for was a reduced amount, at best. But a complete release from my chains? Impossible. No. But it happened.
Then something else happened that entirely blindsided me. I immediately became sick to my stomach. I began having renewed panic attacks. I could barely sleep. I’d been in a mental and financial prison for so long I could not absorb it.
I still can’t. Oh, I’m not planning in giving her the money back. A reversal of fortune is not making me rich. I wasn’t married to Sunny Von Bulow. I’m just trying to figure out how to live like a free man.
So re-enter panic attacks, intensified peripheral neuropathy, pain that makes walking so horrible I can barely believe it. And my set of questions. Starting with: what the hell kind of half-man are you, anyway? You wanted release, you got it. So shut the fuck up, fag-man.
I won’t. I can’t.
I’d settle for a “formal feeling” right about now. I’m sick to death of great pain. I’d like for the nerves to quit crawling all over me. Will the hurt never end?
So tomorrow morning I get to go to my doctor again. He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He doesn’t like prescribing pain meds and he knows shit about psychiatry. But my body hurts. My soul is brutalized. I can’t break both ends of the cycle without starting someplace, can I? I came out of that late Forties/early Fifties generation where the word of the doctor was the word of God. Yeah, right. How far can I throw my house? I had some great, artistic diagnosticians and practitioners, one of whom saved my life in 1958. I’ve had others who are assholes. Guess which one I go to now?
…to live in the age of Henry VIII? I’m rereading and have seen several times Wolf Hall, the magnificent saga of Henry’s chief Minister, Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell died by decapitation for high treason on July 28, 1540, but really for the Unpardonable Crime of Fucking Up. He was 55 years old, way old for those days. What else could have killed him? Plague, war (he’d been a professional soldier), smallpox, sweating sickness (look it up in your Funk & Wagnall’s), murder, a street fight. No question, Cromwell was a man of his age: objectively, he was a bastard who guarded his boss’s power and wealth, even with his own life. He sent men and women to their deaths by beheading and burning at the stake (ever hear of Thomas More?). Not a man you might want to entertain for dinner. But for years he was the true power behind Henry VIII, and within months of Cromwell’s execution, Henry lived to regret his ill-considered move.
The point, if there is one, is that life 500 years ago was nasty, brutish, and short. It was always precarious. And then, as now, you took your chances on the Great Stage of Fools.