Ted had had enough of living, and planned to shut off his defibrillator, so I was surprised when he emailed the other day to tell me that instead, he was having it (like the Affordable Care Act) repealed and replaced. It seems he’d started getting blisters around it, then it just emerged like the thing in Alien. So they took it out, and explained to me that they’d gotten every last wire, a thing it would not have occurred to me to ask. Doctors do magic. That’s all I need to know. They couldn’t close the wound because it might trap an infection, so he’s going home Friday in a life vest to await the next surgical adventures, namely getting a new defibrillator put in, and having his bladder removed.
The bladder operation is related to problems with what Ted calls his “wee-wee,” and this depresses him, because he still yearns for true love. It sometimes seems tantalizingly close, as when guys from abroad send him pictures over the internet of what they claim is their buff, shirtless, well-coifed selves. They and Ted discover in a vertiginously short time that they are soul mates, and then they ask Ted for money for a ticket to the states– which he would send, if he had it.
Finding partners has been rough, always. Being obviously gay in rural Indiana would have been no picnic in any case, but his mother’s conversion to the Jehovah’s Witnesses when he was nine complicated things. He has lived in a demon-filled world. People in his congregation saw possession everywhere. Once his family had to burn their couch when they could not succeed in exorcising it. This is not a life into which love can easily descend, though sex occasionally enlivens an otherwise harrowing meander to the grave.
Ted’s mother, gruesomely misnamed Joy, once wrote a poem of which I can remember only the first verse:
Who is that yonder standing there
Who beckons me with bony hand
And sweetly softly calls my name
And bids me not to be afraid
Death would naturally be her familiar ally, with a husband whose beatings barely stopped short of killing her. And when Ted looks in his bathroom mirror and sees the skeletal hand caress his shoulder, and the shrouded figure of Miss Death materialize behind him, her head is bent at a motherly, questioning angle.
Besides, Ted has already been at his own funeral. When a JW comes out as gay, or an open sinner of some other kind, there follows a dis-fellowshipping ceremonly, essentially a funeral at which the corpse mingles instead of posing in a casket. After accepting the goodbyes of every JW you have ever known and loved, you are dead to them. They can no longer contact you. There’s some fudging on that– once in a rare while a sibling will send Ted some money, but even if they speak to him briedly by phone, they aren’t allowed to “greet” him (so no saying “hello” or “goodbye”). His mother, who could be faithful to the extent of having o Christmas trees and to banishing the last demonic futon or ottoman from their home, blew off the rules in this instance. His psychopathic brother was an unregenerate sinner in any case, so the three of them shared a trailer until the car crash that left Ted as the sole survivor. Ted can still see their trailer from his apartment window.
So Ted faces surgery having already “died.” But there’s more. There’s also the question of how many, and which, are going to die.
Ted tells me he believes he was multiple in the womb. I don’t actually think that makes sense, but at any rate he feels there was never a time when he was a single person, alone in his own skin, and neither he nor the rest of the Community wants to integrate. Being friends is a tad confusing, since he doesn’t always remember conversations we’ve had. Also, we can go along cheerily enough, and then it can turn out that somebody inside has been pissed at me for a long time about something I said years ago, and is ready to duke it out. There’s not much point in being pissed off later, because he might not remember, or the ones who are still mad at me may go underground for a long, long time. So it’s hard to know how to take an apology. One wants to be completely open to it, knowing that it’s not something he does often or easily. He’s more inclined to tell you off and sweep out of the room (figuratively speaking), slamming the door behind him.
Because he does this kind of thing a LOT, he’s down to a very few people who will deal with him at all, and only three of these (including me) are not abusive and/or psychotic. Which is not what you want if you might die soon.
“We’re all in this together” is a tough concept for someone who experiences themselves as many people. How can you believe that you will die right along with your host’s body, when all you see in the mirror is a five year old boy called Jimmy? Or a thirty year old Lothario called Bill? Or a yogurt-eating Yoga-practicing peacemaking young woman named Dharma.
Let’s be clear about DID– Dissociative Identity Disorder, which used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder, until folks realized that calling it that made people think of some sort of alien invation, with different people running around inside your brain. Actually, it means you’ve been hurt so bad, someone has taken a sledgehammer to your very self, and the pieces have taken on lives of their own. Anger, fear, love, shame, confidence, these things just don’t fit anymore into one person, so you experience yourself as many.
The first literary instance of it I know is the young man in the Gospels who is thought by his neighbors to be possessed. Jesus asks his name. He replies, “I am called Legion, for there are many of us.” And Jesus finds out what a trauma therapist could have told him, that you can’t get rid of the split off parts of a whole person. They have to go somewhere. The story says that Jesus sends them into some pigs, and those pigs plunge to their deaths. It doesn’t really work that way. The parts of a Legion, like Ted’s “Community,” live and die together.
Which leaves “Jimmy” the problem of accepting his mortality when he feels he hasn’t had the chance to grow up. Jimmy once created for me a virtual trip to the cellar in his old house, seeing it so vividly that I did, too. Down to the furnace. Down to the fire where something may have happened, or may not, and if anyone inside knows more about it than Jimmy, they aren’t telling. As far as Jimmy is concerned, he’s never grown older since that moment. He doesn’t feel fifty-seven. I don’t always feel fifty-seven. Do you feel that you’ve had the chance to grow up? Enough for death to be okay now?
And “Bill” has to wrap his head around dying when there are so many lovers to enjoy, so much new flesh to discover. Do you feel you’ve been loved enough to die satisfied? Or even fucked enough?
Then there’s the question of how to settle on one among the array of things that death can mean– or life, for that matter. One member of the Community is JW. Another is Mormon. Several are Wiccan. Of course, from my “singleton” point of view, that just means Ted is very conflicted about religion, and there’s nothing like the prospect of death to bring that conflict to the fore.
Or to inspire an answer, in the form of an image from a single heart binding many personas. The only thing they seem to agree on is mother. She is high on a ladder. She has been waiting for them. She is calling them up– like Death, who sweetly softly called her name.
Dharma wants to live the time she has left as a woman. I hope she can do it without so-called friends coming by to try to “father” Jimmy or seduce Bill, so they can crash for the night and steal his meds.
Meanwhile, since Ted left for the hospital with no specific plans for his cats or his pirranha, my assignment for teday is to get his keys and go make sure all God’s creatures are fed.