Category Archives: Journalism

Dead by Friday

As seen in HuffPost Comedy – “Dead by Friday”

I am not a hypochondriac, nor am I the kind of worrywart that sweats over the smallest of medical conditions and fantasizes them into gigantic disastrous scenarios. Rather than waste time ruminating on how a hangnail can and will progress rapidly into a full arm amputation, I prefer to bypass the disaster and cut to the chase, where I simply suck up to the fact that, whatever it is, I’ll be dead by Friday.

As a person who has lived through many life-threatening medical situations, I — like many others in my position — feel I have earned the right to mentally accelerate from sneeze to death in seconds. When one has experience with the middleman, a.k.a. hospitalization, treatments, nasty medications and all the other variations on the vileness-of-being-medically-compromised theme, sometimes it’s just best to dream away the hassle of healing and shoot straight for the Last Resort Motel.

Believe me, I, like Susan Hayward, want to live. And when everything is A-OK in my world and I’m tossing and tumbling like a crazy auditioner for Cirque du Soleil’s latest show, Le Schmuck, the last thing I think about is how life is anything less than brilliant, outstanding and full of promise. Until I get something like a nosebleed, or a cramp in my leg — then, all bets are off. That nosebleed, in my mind, is not a temporary result of weakened blood vessels — it’s a brain clot that will render me blind by Tuesday, will propel me into seizures by Wednesday, will have me experiencing several immediate organ failures by Thursday, and of course, will leave me inevitably dead by Friday. That leg cramp? That’s the cramp that officiates the phrase, “One foot in the grave.”

Before tossing me into the psycho bin, let me explain; I did serious time in the cancer penitentiary. I know what it’s like to be so ruined by pharmaceuticals that you end up taking more pills just to combat the diabolical effects of the first hundred thousand. I know what it’s like to be in such pain that my daily trips from bedroom to kitchen and back had to include pulling myself up a flight of stairs due to muscle damage incurred by the poisons I was instructed to inject myself with — just to counteract the vile and most hellacious effects of what is known as “aggressive” chemotherapy. On a side note: Want to torture prisoners? Don’t bother with that namby-pamby water boarding — go straight for the chemo. ‘Cause baby, there ain’t nothin’ in the world that’s more belligerently anti-human or spiritually depleting than being pumped full of lethal toxins 24/7 while staring at yourself in the mirror watching your hair fall out in large, loathsome clumps. Oh that’s right, we don’t torture prisoners.

So. Traumatized much? You betcha.

Having said that, it really doesn’t take much to trigger instantaneous thoughts of catastrophe in a hardcore survivor. Surviving the worst doesn’t automatically make one into a super hero like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable, or Jeff Bridges in Fearless. While I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, I can say that, I, for one, do not walk around all puffed up knowing I kicked cancer’s butt. I’m happy to be a survivor, but survival comes with a very interesting and necessary friend: Dark, black humor. The more morbid, the better. The darker the humor, the lighter the load — isn’t that ironic?

So, while my nose looks it’s seen a hard day on the True Blood set, I simultaneously think about the few days I have left on the planet as I do my best Andrew W.K. impression in the bathroom mirror. This is where I usually set out to blame everybody I know for ruining my short, short life. My set of standard complaints is always the same:

Did you really have to sleep with the man I loved?
Why did you have to take all those years? Wasn’t one enough?
No, I don’t have enough money to be cremated, so just toss me in the dumpster, OK? Sorry!
Why did I trust you? I’m going to die knowing I was an idiot!
Why didn’t you show up? I loved you so much!

Depending on how long my nosebleed lasts is the deciding factor as to how many more complaints I can come up with. The good thing is, knowing I’ll be dead by Friday allows me to eventually rise above and become the benevolent forgiver of all things. So, according to my newly acquired death-is-my-destiny-I-am-above-it-all attitude, if you screwed me, the pain I suffered at your hands was due to my own perception of it, which inevitably makes it my responsibility. Thursday evenings are like Dalai Lama night over here at Hartley’s House of Horrors.

Then of course there’s the waking up on Saturday morning, along with the lack of issues, the clean slate and the whole, “Let’s just do this wonderful thing called life!” kind of feeling. Bounce on over to the kitchen, whip up some fake vegetarian eggs and bacon (my personal joy), sprint happily down the stairs, hop in my speedster (Well, my Corolla…) and take that pretty baby out for a spin. Life in the sun — sweet, sweet, precious life in the sun… I’m like a Vampire on Fairy blood, hoohah! Oh yes, the majesty, the glory, the perfection of being imperfect, the thrill of being alive in a body that won’t last forever but while it lasts I’m sure as hell going to work it for all it’s worth…

And then, as I’m driving — that odd twitch in the thigh, or a flutter in my eyelid. Why did it last more than a millisecond? What the hell is wrong with me? A flutter in my eyelid — what next? A tumor the size of a human head growing off my eyebrow? A sudden inability to speak anything but gibberish? Oh, I know where this goes, you can’t fool me. And you, (picks random bastard) you bastard — you ruined my life, yeah, that’s right, you.

From the inspiring film, Gladiator, lead character Maximus says: “I knew a man who once said, ‘Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back.'”

Agreed. And it doesn’t hurt to throw a lemon meringue pie in his face either.

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Bottoming Out in the Adolescent Unit

Just the other week, 14-yr-old poet and future tattoo artist, Alex C., found herself grappling with some difficult life issues — ones that were not easily diffused through poetry or art. Troubled and depressed, Alex was concerned that if she wasn’t able to fully tackle some of her more worrisome matters, she would be forever lost to the downward spiral that had become her life. The truth is, it’s hard to be a teenager, and there aren’t many teens who would disagree.

So, Alex reached out for help by enlisting her parents in what would be a strange and surreal journey back to mental health and well-being. The young woman asked to voluntarily be placed in a psychiatric hospital for observation. Her parents listened and acted immediately, having been advised by experts to take very seriously the cries of help issued by children.

If a child is in emotional pain, you listen. You don’t walk away and you don’t leave them on their own. You listen and then you act.

Alex was checked into the adolescent psychiatric ward, for a week of care.

Now, if you put an artistically inclined teenage poet in a psych ward, you can probably expect at least one predictable result: a poem about the experience.

This is the poem that Alex C. wrote upon being released from what she affectionately calls, “The Adolescent Unit”.

Back From the Dead
by Alex C

Back from the dead
She thinks she’s found herself again
Dried tears on her face
Goosebumps on her skin
Her hospital gown sways when she walks
Caught in her feet as she strolls up the stairs
The chairs were plastic
Her hairs stood up
Upon the looks of stories untold
A shattered room of broken souls
Cold shoulder
Some kids couldn’t get through it
A strange little place called the adolescent unit
Spared roses for the lives saved
Bloody noses for the tried and failed
Chemicals inhaled
It’s a lifestyle, not a choice
Behind the blood and scars, you’ll hear the danger in her voice
With dilated eyes
Denying what her denial denies
She cries
A bottle of pills means a quick way of death
But he sighs
It means “let’s get fucked up”
Up in the clouds
He’s crowned the king
Doesn’t feel so much like king
When he’s crying and relapsing
The walls weren’t walls
More like pages in a book
But a book so different
Surreal yet so innocent
Innocence is gold
Folded underneath a pile of crooked trust and acid dust
Or burrowed in the holes in the wall
Just like the anger from when you rise and fall
Fall down to rock bottom
Who knew rock bottom was so fun?
But to get to that place you need to be tazed and stunned?
Or have your hand on a gun?
Your mind on destruction
Expression so blank that you cant even function
The adolescent unit
It goes by fast
At least the memories last

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Filed under Dark POETRY, Journalism, Uncategorized