[This is the true story of my life. I'm posting it in installments. The final installment will include post-script-type thoughts, with acknowledgements to those who've helped me along these last two years, as well as those who've been an inspiration. I hope you enjoy reading. -dp]
Chapter Six: Precious is the Flow
I spent the first few days lying on my sleeping bag in my room, too weak to do anything. The bleeding would come intermittently, unexpectedly, but usually whenever I ate or in the middle of the night. I got on the phone and called my sister. She sent all sorts of homeopathic remedies for allergies and every thing else. It was good to hear her caring voice. The mother-in-law of my friend who helped us get our apartment came by when she heard I wasn’t doing so well and took me to their family allergen specialist, an ear, nose, and throat doctor. She was a nice woman with a true Christian spirit; she made it clear that I was family now.
The doctor was a younger man, and had probably just started his practice. I lay on the reclining chair and he sprayed into my nostrils some Afrin-type stuff, except about ten times stronger. My nasal passages immediately opened up—they had been inflamed and congested for days. He brought out a thin metal rod, a telescope about nine inches long. He gently eased it all the way back into my head from my right nostril and saw nothing. Then he tried my left nostril. About half way back, near the rear of my nose cartilage area was a mass blocking his way. He said it was probably a polyp and not much to worry about. He thought that the bleeding was due to an overly-sensitive blood vessel on the inside of my nose and that it could be cauterized once he removed the polyp. He was about to grab some other tool when he decided to get a second opinion. He got on the telephone and called what must have been a more experienced ENT specialist, his mentor or something. I heard him explain what he saw and some mention about grabbing it with some forceps. Who ever was on the other side of the phone started shouting and the doctor seemed to stiffen a bit. He walked back noticeably less jovial, his face sobered. He began filling out CT scan orders, and ordering his nurses around, getting me sample pills of various purposes and printouts of “how to stop bleeding,” which I later found to be completely useless. I got up from the chair a little lightheaded, but I could breathe through my nostrils, which was a relief. I went to the bathroom in the hallway with the nurses following me, asking me if I was alright. I closed the door and leaned over the sink. Two small drops of blood dripped out of my nose onto the white porcelain. I broke out into a cold sweat and tried to brace myself. A few minutes later, after closing my eyes and thanking God it wasn’t going to start again, I looked into the mirror.
Whatever was happening to me wasn’t within my control. I was caught up in something. And yet, while knowing this, I wasn’t ready to give up what control I thought I had. For now, I was still in an epic struggle against those who were trying to take my freedom away. Except now it wasn’t just people, but life itself. What I had tried to carve out and take for myself—the right of existence—was being threatened.
A few days later I underwent the CT scan. (This was a bill I wasn’t able to pay for about two years.) I learned how the micro-catheter is plugged into the artery in the arm, and then the dye-like fluid courses through the cardiovascular system, spreading a chemical wave of uncomfortable heat through the entire body. I remember what the radiologist said before he let it flow: “It’ll get hot, but don’t worry. Just imagine it’s about ninety degrees outside, you’re on the beach, and you just saw a naked woman walk by.” The machine creaked and moaned, and then it was over.
The next day I got a call from the doctor that shouted on the phone to the younger one. He asked me if I would come to see him, that he had seen the scans. I drove across to the next town where he had his practice and met him. I could tell he was a good man, very stern and serious, but that he loved his work. He cut right to the chase and told me I had a condition called juvenile nasopharyngeal angiofibroma, a rare tumor that only occurs in males during their years of adolescence. It must have been growing for many years and only now presented itself with the bleeding in addition to the ongoing nasal blockage which I previously thought was due to allergies. We talked about the symptoms I had had growing up, and I told him of my frequent nasal inflammation, when I would have trouble breathing through my nose. He said my more recent nasal obstruction was expected since the tumor had grown to such a size that it was completely filling my left sphenoid and was starting to fill the cavernous sinus area. It was highly aggressive, eating through my nasal septum, feeding off my carotid artery. Common symptoms included intermittent and uncontrollable bleeding, having to breathe through the mouth, loss of scent, dizziness, and of course the anemia that went with any extensive blood loss.
I absorbed all this with my eyes glazed over, stunned. He raised his eyebrows and very deliberately said that this was something that would have to be taken care of. I asked what that involved. The only way to do it, he said, was through surgery, opening up the left side of my face like a door, where the tumor could be resected. It was an intensive process, a serious operation, but he had done it before and had the resources to do it again. I asked him how long ago he had performed the surgery. He said it was about twenty years ago. He later went on to ask me if I would be willing to undergo such a surgery, that it was the only solution. I said yes, I guess so, except that as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses I didn’t take blood transfusions. As soon as I mentioned this, he threw his hands up and said he wasn’t going to touch me if I wasn’t going to accept blood. This kind of surgery would most likely require a transfusion, as his last patient lost several pints. I sat there, not knowing what to say. It was an impasse; him wanting to see if I was serious about not taking blood. Our knees nearly touched as he stared at me over his long nose and I stared outside at the palm trees bending in the warm wind. Finally, he nodded his head and asked me if I still wanted his help although he wouldn’t be the one to operate on me. I said yes, and he immediately got on the phone to call a doctor at the University of Miami who was the second-most renowned head and neck surgeon in Florida. The first, he said, in Ft. Lauderdale, was on vacation. He wrote down some numbers on a pad and handed them to me after setting me up with an appointment to see the other specialist. I thanked him and left.
The most frustrating thing about my condition was how it would just disappear for weeks, or even months, on end. No symptoms, except the inability to breathe through my left nostril and a drastically reduced sense of smell. These periods would trick me into a false sense of normalcy. Because of my will to push the weight and drama of it out of my life, I deliberately missed the appointment to see the specialist in Miami. He called my house to ask if I was alright, and we talked for a few minutes. He seemed like a very nice man, truly concerned about my welfare. He said that it might be a little hard to get me in his hospital for the operation without some sort of insurance or state aid, but that he still wanted me to come for an examination. He tried to get me to commit to a date when I would go see him; I’m not sure what I told him in the end. I never did see him, although he was to play a small role in my life over one year later.
For the next eight months of our sojourn in southern Florida we lived as carefree as two bachelors could with one of them having a life-threatening illness. James knew I had a tumor in my head, but I don’t think he was fully aware of the nature of my symptoms. We would be sitting on the couch, watching TV and eating pizza, when suddenly I would put my food down, mechanically walk into my room, close the door, go into my bathroom, brace myself into a somewhat comfortable position over the sink, and then let it flow out of me into the sink, hoping it would be a shorter episode instead of a longer one.
There was nothing I could do to stop the bleeding. It would try to clot, but if it did, it would just back up and start flowing down my throat. I could let it run out my mouth, but the stream would be incredibly irritating, forming long, coagulating strings from somewhere deep inside my head all the way out my mouth. If too much went down my throat, my stomach would reject it.
Seeing large quantities of my own blood did something to my psyche. I was either in a state of utter despair, terrified, trying not to give into sobbing, or in a state of disbelief, dissociated, trying to transcend my condition with only a place of madness to go to. There was occasionally a balance I could achieve, coping through distraction, thinking about other things, but as the blood flowed more and more, filling the bottom of the sink, dripping faster and faster, until finally a steady stream ran, my face grimaced and I broke out into a cold sweat, panicked to my core. I had to wish it away while praying to Jehovah to help me.
Eventually, I found it easiest if I immediately entered that state of disassociation. One of my diversions became a mild fascination with my own blood. I learned all the nuances of its consistency, and always plugged up the sink to see how much each episode would yield—on average, about six to twenty ounces. When the sink was filled with a purplish, coagulated mass at its bottom, and bright red, blood-drenched tissues flowing over the top, my mind expanded into some other space as I became blissfully unfeeling, smearing the fluid across the mirror, over my face, into my hair, down my chest.
I was unable to comprehend what I was going through. In the back of my mind it felt overly tragic, melodramatic. Something inside me was simultaneously downplaying my condition and retaining the inner tragedy, concealing it from others.
Eventually I realized I was losing every shred of control I had over my own life. We couldn’t pay the rent; I couldn’t keep a job due to my symptoms. I gave talks in the hall, was reappointed as a servant, and even kept trying to pioneer, while all this was going on in my bathroom or whatever bathroom I could run to before the blood reached an orifice. A few people knew had a sense of the seriousness of my condition and urged me to “take care of it.” I felt frustrated and a little angry when they said this. I was trying. I needed a job to get the health insurance so I could handle it in an orderly, sure fashion. I had held on to one job long enough to get the insurance application in the mail after 90 days of work, except that very day I had called in and told them I couldn’t make it to work because my car was out of gas and I was out of money.
One of my only comforts—or distractions—was the meetings or service. Serving in the organization had been the most constant thing in my life, and I clung to it as long as I had the strength. The meetings were not devoid of my hidden symptoms, however. I would give a talk and then have to walk quickly into the bathroom, bleeding into the toilet for forty minutes, cleaning up deftly, and then emerging with a shock-white face and a ghostly smile, saying hi to the little old ladies who walked by smiling, telling me they enjoyed my part. James and I would then return home and get on our computers, playing some game together and drinking beer, forgetting our worries through fleeting distraction. These times were some of the best moments I had. My meeting clothes might still be on; my dress shirt unbuttoned, my shined shoes dangling over my crossed ankles. I found comfort in the easy-going nature of my best friend who always gave me a sense that things would be alright. As long as we were together my heart wouldn’t leave me.
I became intimately knowledgeable about the linoleum floor of my bathroom. I studied its every pattern, knew all the cracks and bumps, and was soothed by its cool surface. Leaning over the sink for sometimes hours on end was tiresome, so during the more extended episodes I would have to sit on the floor with my back to the wall, not caring, as the blood dripped out my nose, running down my naked body. I started to experience blackouts, although it took me a while to realize what they were. I would finally stop bleeding, too spent to clean up my mess, and be turning to exit the bathroom to go lie down. Then I would wake up face down on the carpet, my feet still in the bathroom, my arms tangled underneath me. I don’t know for sure, but I think I dreamt during those brief escapes. Fine, crystalline dreams, fast and blurring, more like echoes of thoughts from deep inside me, or echoes of echoes of thoughts. I would wake up with absolutely no feeling; I could physically feel my limbs, but emotionally everything was wiped clean. It was a beautiful thing.
I never went back to Florida, and never will. If not in a sticky everglade, we were in an endless subdivision of stucco bungalows and crab grass creeping out into the streets. The majestic beauty I had grown up around in California was replaced with cheap development filling in the otherwise inhospitable swamps. In a way, I’m glad it wasn’t a nicer place to live; I would have felt like I was missing out on that much more by spending hours in my bathroom when everyone else was off doing other things. One of my most coveted distractions was my continued communication with Laura. We poured out our thoughts and listened to each other. If I wasn’t in the bathroom, I was laying on my bed with the phone to my ear, talking late into the night. I loved her tenderly, but knew we would never be together. We became more of a brother and sister, gradually dispensing with any romantic overtones we started out with, as our relationship became more and more co-dependent. She would call me as soon as she came home from work, and I would call her whenever I thought she was free. We talked about everything. According to the Watchtower Society’s definition of courtship we were dating, although we had long since abandoned any sense of decorum or spiritual sensibility about it. One time she tried to engage me in phone sex. I felt so awkward I didn’t know what to do or say, and the moment sort of fizzled out as I stumbled over words. I felt humiliated at my ineptitude, and abruptly ended the phone call.
She said she loved me, and told me that I was a wonderful person. I wanted to help her, protect her. She once said that someday I would write a book about what I was going through. Inside, I took comfort in that she thought I would live through it, that I had some kind of future. Everything I had hoped for was behind me, and I was learning to live without hopes or dreams.
That summer my brother was going to be married. He had been dating a girl who lived a few states away from Wallkill, New York. We had previously visited her congregation while I was still at Bethel, and this is how I met Laura, with whom I would later build such a close relationship. My brother knew of my condition, and was one of the ones who regularly encouraged me to get it “taken care of.”
One day he called and asked me to be his best man. A few days later he called again to ask if there were any reason why I shouldn’t be his best man, and that he knew about my relationship with Laura. He was worried that if I was doing wrong things it would tarnish the sanctity of his wedding. This was one of those penetrating kicks in the ribs, although I doubt he knew it hurt so much. My anger boiled out just like it had months before, except this time much more easily, and I told him to go to hell or go fuck himself, I can’t remember which. Of course, this must have really given him reason to question my spiritual state. But at the time I didn’t think cursing in a moment of anger was likely to be an important sin for Jehovah to consider, given my emotional state. I was angry at my brother, though, and I knew that was something wrong. For a few more days I didn’t know where we stood on the matter. But I planned my trip like everything would be fine since I didn’t hear him rescind his offer to be his best man. I knew he was just overly concerned with how things looked to others—that great concern instilled by my mother and encouraged by the Watchtower Society—especially given his status as a Bethelite, thinking everything he did was scrutinized by everyone.
The wedding would be at his fiancé’s kingdom hall, and our family would come from all over the country, converging for his marriage. My mother and step-father were flying from out West and my real father and his wife were also flying in. This was going to be interesting, I thought. I hadn’t seen my mother and father in the same room in about fifteen years. I charged my plane ticket to my dying credit card and hoped the flight would go smoothly for me. I arranged for Laura to pick me up from the airport; I didn’t want to deal with my family, and thought it could be one last-ditch effort to salvage any kind of meaningful relationship with her.
I arrived at the airport and waited in the terminal. She came late, walking up the escalator as I stood above, watching her without being seen. I called after her and she turned around. She had a way of beaming, full of energy, full of life. We hugged. I could wrap my arms twice around her little body and lift her in the air. She smiled and laughed, tugging on my arm as we began walking out of the terminal. We went through the double glass doors and started out into the parking lot. At this point I was a little ways behind her because of the intermingling crowds. She turned back to see where I was. I glanced up, seeing her about twenty feet away. Something in this moment separated us. There were a few long seconds, withheld from the normal passage of time. I looked in her eyes and it felt like she was examining me, finding reasons to strengthen or weaken her attraction. Right then, I knew it was never going to happen. It was over, but for one reason or another I would still limp on, offering myself up.
Over the next few days I spent more time with her than with my family, who were getting ready for the wedding. I didn’t want to see them. Every one of them had betrayed me at some level, and I didn’t want their sympathy or help in my life. My real father, a goofy, clownish man, was thoroughly distracted by the marriage of his firstborn son and had a grand time throwing what money he had around, paying for various wedding expenses. He was overwhelmed with what he saw as a good union, as were my mother and step-father. One of the only times I was with them all was when we had to get fitted for the tuxedos. I engaged in the giddy, wedding-party banter, but detached myself as soon as I was able, having Laura pick me up when I was done.
After the wedding was over, Laura drove me to the airport early in the morning. She was tired as we stood in line for my ticket and yawned, leaning into my shoulder. By now, there was a very noticeable distance between us. She had previously tried to let me off easily, saying how I needed to take care of myself and get through this point in my life, that the time wasn’t right for us to be anything more than friends. This was a reversal of roles somewhat, as she told me very rational, logical things which I knew were absolutely true but didn’t want to accept. I could see she was pushing me away, and I didn’t like that it seemed easy for her. I waited until the last boarding call, standing at her side, not knowing what to do or say. I hugged her one last time, and might have kissed her on the cheek. I walked down the boarding ramp, turning to look back.
I could understand that someone reading this would get the impression that I’m an overly sensitive, melodramatic man, and, while that may be true at my core, I don’t wear my feelings on my sleeve. I’m reserved. But that ride on the plane back to Florida unleashed an unstoppable torrent of tears I couldn’t control. I knew it was the end of our relationship and that was the last thing in my life to keep me going. I tried to divert my face away from the stewardess as she brought me a carton of tissues.
I started drinking heavily, even though it was hard on my body and kept my blood thin and easier to flow. One time I remember drinking to the point of tears, stumbling out of our apartment in broad daylight with a bottle of something in my hand, and down into an alleyway behind the liquor store. I sat down on the pavement and dirt, my head against the cob-webbed wall, and let the ants crawl over my body. I wanted to subject myself to Jehovah, to either feel a connection to him, or to let him ignore me and not answer a single one of my prayers.
If I was going to die then it would be of his will. If I lived it would also be his will. No matter what happened to me, I realized, he would always be righteous. I thought of Job blaming him for the bad things that happened to people. What was the purpose in thanking him for the good things if all the bad things would also be on their way, or if they were just left up to chance? Was Jehovah only in charge or concerned with the good things in life? If so, when, and why, did he withhold good things? Job’s great lesson was that it wasn’t his place to ask these things of God; it was only his place to thank him for what he had, even if it was nothing. It was only his place to worship Him, since he wouldn’t have even had the chance to feel such agony if he weren’t alive.
Something would always happen, and whatever happened, it would change things. So perhaps we were impelled to thank God for whatever in our life changed and any ability we had to continue on. This conclusion wasn’t entirely satisfactory, and I doubt I thought everything out then and there, but it did come to me around this time. Even while knowing this, the futility of praying when I couldn’t feel His help in my life stuck to me. I was alone, and in a sense, I preferred it.
Eventually I embraced my pain, anguish, and depression. They were things that would shape me into something good. If I lived through it, they would be valuable touchstones, things that most others would never have. Slowly, I lost the need for ambition. All I had to do was live. I tried hard to shun my self-pity, but it was hard while leaning over the sink, trying to calm my panicked heart as I watched my life drip away.
Finally, after eight or nine months of living in our self-inflicted bachelor hell, we threw in the towel. We ran out of money, and I maxed out my credit card buying food and gas. James called his parents to let them know we were coming home, and if they could send some money. I called my father (my real father) and asked for money also. He gave me a hard time, saying how he expected me to pay it back and so forth. I had no qualms about asking for it. I suppose I thought that eight-hundred dollars would be small compensation for leaving our family and removing himself as a present and active father in my life. If I would have been healthier, and with an intact ego, I would have promised to pay it back, but since my expectancy of long-term survival was waning, I didn’t bother.
As soon as we gathered enough money, selling off most our belongings, we left. We drove back across the country, taking a more northern route than the first time. Our car gave us trouble, and occasionally wouldn’t start, but we made it back in one piece. We hardly spoke on the trip home, each of us processing defeat. Also, I think James was developing a love interest back home, and was preoccupied with possibilities.
I really didn’t care about much anymore, or where I ended up. Needless to say, I had previously quit pioneering. I had been ill, trying to hold down a job, giving talks, and trying to get my time in. It was an absurd attempt at holding on to my sense of self-respect. I hadn’t known anything but full-time service to Jehovah, and regardless of how irrational it was of me to expect to be able to pioneer and set an example in the congregation at that time, I didn’t let it go easily. All my life, “spiritual” activities were synonymous with self-worth. After all, faith without works was dead.
My parents had previously moved away from our hometown, so I had no fear of having to stay with them or of running into them anywhere. I called my sister and she beckoned me to come and live with her and her husband where they lived near the ocean a few hundred miles away. She had been reinstated a few years back and was happily married, but suffered chronic illnesses. Still, she wanted to take care of me so I could, in her words, “heal.” It was a refreshing prospect.
I pulled up in front of James’ parent’s house (a few houses down from where I spent my teenage years and from where my parents had moved away from a few months prior) and helped him unload his stuff. I don’t remember our parting very well. We were exhausted from our journey and adventure, and I think a little tired of each other at that point. However, this didn’t diminish the shared love we had as true brothers. I watched as he went up the steps to his house, pet the old family dog, and hugged his parents as they walked out onto the porch. They waved, and I drove off… alone again.
These times weren’t sad, as I they probably sound now. They were invigorating, rejuvenating. It was just one more separation; a braking away from foundation, strength, love, companionship, weight, expectancy. James could return and begin his life like he had never left, all his old friends, his constant parents, food spilling out of the cupboards, his bed in his old bedroom. How did he feel? I’m not sure if I’ve ever concerned myself with it until now. Was he depressed that it didn’t work out? Was he in love with that one girl already? Was he trying to be positive about his ability to find a job and get out on his own? Did he worry about me when I left again?
The drive down to my sister’s place was over too quickly. It was one of my extended respites from bleeding, and I had no overwhelming fear of an onset. I remember getting a cheeseburger from In-N-Out, biting into it, chewing with mild trepidation to see if I would bleed. But there was nothing. Each one of those times was like walking a tightrope, wobbling high above a huge abyss of despair. Realizing I was making it all the way across, stepping onto firm ground, exhilarated and relieved me, at least until next time.
I arrived at my destination at night and smelled the fresh ocean air as I rolled down the window. It was completely different than the filth and stagnation of southern Florida, and also different than the dry hotness of where I grew up. I was beginning to feel different. I didn’t know what or who I was becoming, but I knew I was getting older and wiser.
Within three days of arriving at my sister’s house we were more than caught up on each other’s lives. She at first paid me excessive amounts of attention, fawning over me as one of her new pets. I liked it. However, over the course of a month she reverted to her self-absorbed habits and her wallowing, hypocondriatic tendencies. I ended up taking care of her as well as myself as best I could. She required constant care, with strict procedures and rules regarding what food she was to eat when, and her many different medications. I didn’t know it at the time, but she had become addicted to oxycontin, as well as reliant on other supplemental pain killers such as oxycodone and codeine. Her husband, although extraordinarily hardworking and dedicated to her wellbeing, became her enabler. Not trusting conventional medicine, and yet completely dependent on engineered narcotics, she diagnosed herself into a dozen different disorders that all required very specific treatments. She refused to see medical doctors or go to a hospital, saying that her deathly allergic reactions to such places would be the end of her. What this meant, of course, was that she had created her own version of the world, one that revolved around her. Anything that disrupted her control became something to cut out of her life.
But my time with my sister (about six months) had an incredibly bright side. Before my sister moved to this area, she lived in our hometown, where she made a good friend who lived nearby. They became close for a while. Then my sister left her husband and was disfellowshiped. A while later, she got married again and was reinstated, also getting back in touch with her friend from before. My sister and her new husband wanted to move to a coastal city for her health, and invited this young woman to move with them, living with them until she could find a place of her own. It was a mutually benefiting arrangement: my sister would have a friend, someone to help her as a caregiver, and this woman would also be able to leave and start a new life. Her name was Angela.
Angela had been living with my sister for about six months when she finally left, prior to when I arrived. My sister and her husband had offered her room and board in return for care-giving services, but this situation later turned a little coercive as they tried to remove her ability to save up money in order to move out. My sister wanted Angela all to herself, to be her personal assistant, maid, friend, sister, and, in a sense, her daughter. They had little “family meetings” with mandatory attendance from Angela, turning into sessions where my sister orchestrated how the house was to be run, and dispensing any counsel that she deemed appropriate. At this time, Angela was about twenty-three years old.
Despite the manipulation, she was eventually able to move out. Perhaps it was this reason why my sister was eager to have me come live with her, to take Angela’s place as someone to love her and be at her beck and call. In any case, Angela was young, attractive, had tons of energy, was thoughtful and artistic, appreciated the finer things in life, and was the nicest, sweetest person I had ever met. She was still coming around the house to run errands for my sister, even though they had a falling out. She was never short on sisterly love and affection, even when slighted and taken advantage of. This was probably the first important thing I noticed about her.
One day she called ahead to say she was coming over to pick up my sister’s grocery list. My sister, having schemed previously that we would probably hit it off, talked me into going with her. So we left at about five in the afternoon and didn’t get home until about midnight. We talked about everything. I was intrigued by her energy and lust for life, also by her easy-going manner, again, refreshing, like how it was with James. She laughed easily, got excited about little things, and did some things that made no sense whatsoever. She wasn’t critical, practical, overly serious, sad, or angry. She didn’t complain about her lot in life. It became apparent that she struggled for every thing she had, was nearly destitute as far as physical things were concerned, but she didn’t feel she was entitled to anything in particular. She had ambition, but it was for personal change and self-control, and not for power over others.
After that first long date shopping, going out to eat, walking along the pier, and sitting in her car, I knew somewhere deep inside that I would marry her. All the pieces hadn’t come together yet, but if I try to reverse my growing affection for her to pinpoint when I fell in love, I find it goes all the way back to our first time together. And to top it all off, she had grown up in the same town as me, only in another congregation. I knew her brother, although I was never regular friends with him. Her parents were inactive for over twenty years and she had struggled to make the truth her own. That was her theme in life: doing it all on her own. Her parents were hands-off on her development and seemingly had no interest in whether she took an interest in Jehovah or anything else. They had their own problems and it would be a little while till they emerged from being so self-involved. She had struggled with anorexia for many years, and had become deathly ill at one point. She had lived alone in a tiny studio apartment, nursing herself to physical and spiritual health. In this way, I believe, these two things became one with her: If she was to hold on to physical well-being, it meant holding on to Jehovah. He was her strength in every respect. She struggled with anorexia for many years, and even still had relapses at that point. This was probably the second important thing I noticed: her strength and lack of self-pity.
It wasn’t long until we were seeing each other every day. I would drive to her place of work and leave notes on her car in the parking lot; she would call me and we would talk into the night. We wrote letters back and forth, exploring every means of communication. She knew I had a serious illness, but never seemed daunted by its implications. She was proud of the spiritual man I was, that I was a thoughtful person, seemingly insightful, that I could derive great meaning from the Scriptures, and I think this was a source of strength for her, knowing she could rely on me for balance.
We went to the meetings together and a few brothers and sisters at the Hall would go with us on some of our dates as friendly chaperones. But most of the time we went out alone, as long is it was in public. Even then, we engaged in what the Society would call “heavy petting,” but I suppose we just weren’t that bothered by it. I knew it was probably wrong, but I just didn’t care in the face of all these other important things we had to deal with. I guess I felt that Jehovah was glad for me that I found something good, someone that helped me heal, and that in the end, he would overlook our slight infractions.
We would often stay at Starbucks until closing time, talking after the meeting, drinking tea or just some hot water—neither of us had more than a couple dollars at any given time—and enjoying each other’s company. One time we were discussing my illness. It was still off and on, intermittently debilitating. I had been trying to get state aid, but wasn’t taking any firm steps in any direction. I was still struggling with knowing what to do and how to go about it. But as we sat there, snuggling on the nagahyde bench, she explained that she accepted my condition and that even if she could only be with me for a little while, for her it was worth it.
On a perfect spring day, I proposed to her in a green park with tall trees and patches of white light breaking through the leaves. We had been reading “The Wind in the Willows” together one night, and were inspired to go on a picnic like Mr. Mole and Rat. She made watercress sandwiches and dozens of other little delectables that I can’t remember. (They’re all in the book, though, if you want to look them up.) We were sitting out on a blanket and lazily digesting our food when I turned and pulled out a ring. She immediately started to cry, explaining that she never even expected a ring, knowing I didn’t have any money.
We soon announced our engagement to our congregation and planned a small, backyard wedding to be held at our presiding overseer’s house in a few months. People mentioned how soon it seemed, but we were tired of seeing each other every day and then having to part. It felt like we should already be married.
A week before our wedding was to take place I had series of unusually heavy bleeding episodes. I was unable to do much more than go to the bathroom and return to my bed, exhausted. I had grown weak and very anemic, due to the continued symptoms and the myriad of homeopathic remedies my sister encouraged. I was eating vegan most of the time, as was my sister, almost believing myself that this was one of the many keys to regaining my health. It was as if I had willingly forgotten about a very real tumor the size of a tennis ball in my head, sucking out my blood and pouring it down the drain for me.
The day of Angela’s bridal shower a very kind and generous brother from my congregation came over to give me a suit. He found it at a store somewhere, and was excited to see me try it on. I stepped through the legs, almost falling over, and hitched it up around my waist. Although it was my regular size, it was about two inches too big. I told him it would do fine with a belt, and thanked him. He was very happy to see Angela and I get married. That afternoon, after he left, I went into the bathroom and didn’t come out for a long time. I was bleeding uncontrollably, for hours on end. I lost track of time; I had passed out several times, and as soon as I woke up the bleeding would start again. I eventually tumbled out and collapsed on the couch in the living room. My brother-in-law was very worried, and encouraged me to let him take me to the hospital. I was too weak to respond. I broke out in a cold sweat and started hyperventilating. The bathroom door swung wide and he saw the blood-filled sink and the red smears on the mirror, floor, cabinets, and rug. At this point I believe he became a little more earnest in his pleadings. I think he was treating me as he would my sister, not forcing me to do anything against my will, even though it may have been absurd for me to refuse help. I observed all this at a distance. Not a disassociation incurred by mental or emotional trauma, but by a physical removal of my willpower. I couldn’t speak and I couldn’t seem to get enough air.
My sister called Angela, and she drove over from her shower as fast as she could. Once she arrived, I felt more strength and also an obligation to finally do what I knew it was all coming down to. I realized my DPA (“durable power of attorney”—used to provide extra weight to deny blood transfusions) hadn’t been updated since I moved. The next hour or so was spent with everyone scrambling around for the right forms, and with my brother-in-law going to the neighbor’s house for a witness to watch me sign the papers. It was an odd experience having this stranger standing there, but a slightly comforting one. He was completely calm and collected and smiled and told me he was sure everything would turn out all right. I’m not sure if I believed him, but I knew he was earnest.
Angela drove me to the closest hospital. By the time we pulled into the parking lot I couldn’t get myself up out of the car. She helped to lift me, holding my arm over her shoulder as we walked into the emergency room. Time was slowing down.
Sometime during these drawn-out moments I made a final, complete resignation; a resignation of my control over my own body, a resignation of hope. In my euphoria I felt the presence of Jehovah, but I couldn’t pray for him to spare my life. Again, I realized, just like I had when I was in Florida, if I died it would be because he allowed it to happen. There was no such thing as fate or destiny, and certainly we didn’t believe that God “called” those from the Earth to be with him in heaven, so my impending death was merely nothing more than complete chance. If he took such a hands-off approach, what did I have to pray to him about? Well, I only had one last thing to do in order to strengthen the possibility of my resurrection in the New System, and I asked Him for the strength to do it.
When the doctors saw me they said I looked like a ghost. My face was placid and serene from the massive blood loss. Angela helped to place me in a wheelchair and began communicating with the doctors. She was calm and strong. Soon, there where a couple brothers from my congregation there to help us with anything we needed. The doctor in charge of the ER that night spoke with them and me, looking over my CT scans (which I had carted around with me since Florida), explaining that he didn’t have the resources to treat me there, especially at that late hour of night. He made a call to the LA County-USC Medical Center, telling them I would be arriving in about an hour. He gave me the blood expander saline—which immediately gave me a little soberness—and left the intravenous catheter in my arm to hasten any treatment I was to undergo in Los Angeles. He thought about sending me down in an ambulance, but said it would probably be quicker if we just drove ourselves at this point.
Angela and I drove in her car with my brother-in-law following in his vehicle behind. We may have said a few things, but I was mostly silent, comfortably receding from the body and mind that I had inhabited for twenty-one years.
It was past midnight and the roads were sparse. I began replaying my entire life, processing all the things that had happened…
…the feeling of trying so hard to make the right choices.
…serving Jehovah in the way in which I had been taught, finding contentment in spiritual privacy.
…getting excited about life.
…learning how to cope with failure.
…falling in love.
…begging Jehovah for things which always seemed threatened.
…trying to let go of everything, knowing that that was my only means of not being reduced to less than what I was.
I held on softly to one of her hands as she drove.