I couldn't make my Day of the Dead shrine this year. I thought about it a lot, but I just couldn't do it.
It's something that's really important to me--remembering the dead at this time every year--and making the shrine is usually something I enjoy. Creating the shrine purposefully sets time aside where it's okay to reflect on what the people were like, the moments you shared, the good times, the challenging ones. It's really important. But I couldn't do it this year.
I mean, somewhere in the back of my head, I admitted that Mr. Badger would be up there on my little altar, and I think I might have been prepared for that. But with Tom gone too, now...I just couldn't. I couldn't add two new people to the shrine. I couldn't face decorating their pictures with ribbon and ric-rac and glitter. I couldn't face looking at both of them in photograph form, knowing that's the only form I'll ever see them in again.
So I couldn't. I didn't. And now tonight, I feel as though I've neglected my duty. That I haven't paid the proper respect. And I feel guilty about that.
See, I've been pretending that I wasn't able to do it because I've been so sick. And I don't mean the PTSD. The past week I've been in and out of the emergency room, and the time not in the emergency room, I've been completely loaded on SuperVicodin, and not in the fun way.
A week ago I woke up and feeling like someone was stabbing me in the ear with a knife. (P.S. That's not hyperbole--that's what it actually felt like.) Thinking my eardrum had ruptured in the night, I threw on some clothes and made my way to the emergency. I tried to relax and breathe and hold it together in public, and for the most part I did. And the doctor said I had an inner and outer ear infection, put me on some antibiotics and regular Vicodin and sent me home.
But the Vicodin didn't really do anything, which I should have seen as a sign of trouble. It took the edge off a little, but only enough to keep me from, say, constantly screaming in pain. But I'm tough, right? With a high pain tolerance. I can man up until the antibiotics kick in.
I made it about 36 hours. The pain got worse and worse, and it basically took over my whole head, which I could have handled if not for the feeling of sharp blades sliding in and out of my ears constantly--both sides now. I tried as hard as I could to endure it, but by early Wednesday morning I was curled in bed, sobbing as hard as I could because the pain was so bad. And it took all that I had to drag myself to the car and drive myself back to the emergency room, crying to beat the band the whole way there.
And good god, there ain' nothin' so lonely as driving yourself to the emergency room. Christ on a bike, nothing feels as lonely as that--being in that kind of distress and having no one to help. And everything kind of crystalized for me in that moment in my car. I thought about Mr. Badger and Tom and The Leaving of 2011 and the PTSD that is still 1,000 kinds of Not Under Control, and I thought about being in Rust City by myself and saw how, while sure, I have some friends here, when you don't have anyone in town to take you to the emergency room, you really don't have anyone. And I thought, of course it has all led to this. Of course. There's no bigger sense of isolation than the one you get when you're in unbearable pain and you're all alone.
In the waiting room, I couldn't stop sobbing--even though there were other patients there who were handing their respective emergencies far, far better than me, even though the receptionist and the nurse looked at me with these shocked expressions--like they couldn't believe that someone was actually crying from pain. And when the doctor examined me--telling me that both of my inner ears were infected now, and that they were really bad, and telling me "you have got to get this under control fast", as if I had somehow been neglectful and had caused it myself--I still couldn't stop crying, even though I was absolutely humiliated beyond belief.
He put me on some SuperVicodin and forbade me from going to work, even though I couldn't exactly just take the rest of the week off. There aren't substitutes at the university level. So I spent the last week pretty much just curled up in a ball, totally high on SuperVicodin, still in pain and crying and absolutely miserable.
And with my brain as fuzzy as it was, all I could think was that this would somehow be bearable if someone just came over and curled up in my bed next to me. That I just needed someone physically present. And really, I wouldn't much care who it was. But just to have someone here while I was in so much pain--that would make me able to tough it out, to know that there was someone here.
But that didn't happen. Sensing something was wrong, Rudy and Baby Girl took turns nestling down next to me, or sometimes on me, or sometimes both at once. And in my drug haze, I thought about how if this happened at this time last year, I would have called Mr. Badger. And he would have either given me so much sympathy it would have made me feel a bit better, or he would have said something that pissed me off so much I would have been too angry to remember how much pain I was in. Either way it would have helped, feeling connected in one way or another. It would have helped for a little while.
So instead I made lists in my head of the offerings I'd have to make to Mr. Badger and Tom on my Day of the Dead altar. Chocolate chip pancakes, Irish tea, and Scotch whisky for Mr. Badger; raspberry torte, smoothies, and, well, pot for Tom. I'd have to make a playlist with Bruce Springsteen and The Pogues mixed with Patti Lupone and Betty Buckley to play in the background. There was so much to get done before the actual Day of the Dead, if I could only stand up long enough to do it...
And I couldn't. I didn't. As it ends up, I did have to miss work, although I was really stupid and drove across town on the SuperVicodin to teach a couple of classes--which I don't remember at all because hey, I was totally loaded. And my balance was so bad, I'd have to hang onto the walls just to walk down the hall, and I'd hope so hard that I wouldn't run into anyone, because I knew they'd think I was drunk. And I kept thinking that if I could just toughen up a little bit, I could do the proper thing, the respectful thing, and get it together enough to put up my altar, with Mr. Badger and Tom at the center of it this year.
But no. Not this year.
So this will have to suffice as a substitute. I've decorated the pictures and put out the offerings. The candles are lit, and the paper flowers are strewn about.
Now all that is left is the remembering.