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my glamorous life

episodes & recollections

#71 life during wartime

In the year since we fell in love, she’s survived divorce, the cancer of both parents, and two changes of address. From the entrance to her workplace on Fifth Avenue, she saw the twin towers burning and ran downtown to make sure I was all right. One week after her mother recovered from cancer and returned to work, her father was diagnosed with the same disease.

Last June, she rented an apartment the size of a crackerjack box and got stuck paying a year’s rent when she moved out a few months later to share my messy life. In post-September 11th New York, landlords no longer allow you to break a lease.

She found a subtenant to take over her place, but the guy immediately lost his job. So she pays the rent of the middle-aged stranger who lives in her old place. I pay our rent and that of my former love, who had her own problems and needed time to get on her feet. To pay my ex’s rent, I went into debt, took on even more work, and stopped indulging in frivolities like personal medical and dental care. I don’t begrudge my ex one dime and her pain is the only thing I regret in this year of love and calamity.

The dental hygienist is new to me, but then, I haven’t been here in eighteen months. From the blood spraying everywhere, you’d think I was giving birth. I’ll need work. Months of costly, painful work. Regular care over the past year could have prevented the ordeal I face now.

What should have been a routine cleaning takes nearly 90 minutes. I leave weighted down with cards scheduling future appointments. I’m also seeing doctors again. All kinds of doctors, not that there’s anything wrong with me except for the catastrophe of my mouth. My general practitioner just wants to be sure.

I’m at that age. The Elvis Costello age. The Billy-Bob Thorton age. The age where every cough or hiccup requires a full medical evaluation.

Smoking through bloody gums, I make my way home along coldly gleaming Fifth Avenue, a dot among architectural masterpieces. All the way down, the newstands proclaim with vice presidential certainty that more Americans will be attacked, uh, sometime. “Not if, but when,” the vice president says. Good to know.

We might as well be told we’re all going to die one day in smelly hospital beds, choking on our own phlegm, the last face we see that of an orderly shaking his head at a monitor beyond range of our fading vision and exclaiming, “Oh, shit.”

Two nights ago I could not sleep. I live above one of New York City’s main arteries and have learned to tune out the perpetual flow. But Saturday, after the Veep clued us in to the inevitability of more deaths coming soon to a loved one near you, every police siren conjured images of nerve gas in the subways, chemical weapons in the water supply, the discovery of an armed thermonuclear warhead in a men’s room at the top of the Empire State Building. Thanks for sharing, Dick.

Not his fault, of course. If he hadn’t spoken up, he’d have been blamed, later. It’s a tough spot for everyone, leaders most of all.

I live near the Empire State Building. It is my compass, and God is my compass. I decide to eat more fish and less pasta. More fruit and fewer chocolate chocolate chunk cookies. I decide to go on.

21 May 2002

previously: <adios, amigo>

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