Dede is beside me on the bed, helping me write my newest essay. The first page or so is slow going, until I find my rhythm. This one is about Carla and it’s hard to write as everything is changing so quickly, the feelings are so raw, and everything feels too alive, vulnerable and sacred to be frozen into print so fast. But I want to get the word out, want people to know and buy her CDs and maybe contribute to her medical fund. The cat turns around three or four times, looking for an appropriate nest, and then settles in next to my legs, a comfortable vantage point where she can watch C eat his breakfast—leftover Chinese food, eggs, toast, coffee, and lick herself.
For the past week the rhythm has been: work on the in-law—scraping paint off the old cabinets, stripping away layers and layers of paint, washing ceilings, washing walls, and then write. Or try to. Write a little, strip a little. Monday I skipped practice and went to Home Depot with C where we bought industrial size dust pans, a baby lime tree, rope, a redwood two-by-four and orange eco-goo paint-stripper (not its real name,) in hopes of avoiding death by toxic fumes while we do this work.
Tuesday Carla and I went shopping and had girl-talk and death talk and life talk. She has a new breathing machine now, to help her get more oxygenated. A good thing, but a bad reminder. Thank God for dating and sex, the best distractions on the planet. I see her being pulled between death and life, almost pulled apart, like that dance in her last show, where the young woman dances with death and is bound by and supported in stretchy bands while the soundtrack played a song Carla had written and sung for the show, achingly beautiful.
At her apartment, Carla lets me listen to me her latest songs, the ones she recorded last week. Songs are pouring out of her. A dark love song, a hilarious song about blow jobs that would go viral on Youtube in one minute if she released it there; a brilliant funny song about disillusionment in relationships; the death song, others. I listen and think “I wish she’d started writing songs twenty years ago.” But of course twenty years ago the conditions were not ripe as they are now.
I learned how to break down and reassemble her wheelchair, pack it into the trunk of my car, and, not to brag, but if there were an Olympic trial for wheelchair packing (which there should be,) I would definitely be a contender. I can take the thing apart in three minutes, put it back together in four. I’ve always excelled at demolition. Carla promised to help me make a tee-shirt that says “DESTRUCTOGRRRL.”
The new hard developments—more difficulty walking, more weakness, the new breathing machine—bring home the awfulness of this disease and the rapidity of its progression. We talk about this, and then when I’m home I get an email from her: “We have to find a man for F---“ (one of our single friends.) I laugh and am grateful that the storm has passed for the moment, grateful for the lovely tracks of her original songs that she laid down last week so we can always have them, grateful to be playing yenta with her, grateful she can still get in and out of my car, grateful I’ve got the strength to do the wheelchair. Grateful and at the same time so sick of this damn disease and so heartbroken.
Wednesday I got a tooth pulled and now my tongue keeps moving up to the hole in my jaw where the dentist took a stitch and tied a knot. I did that in the morning; in the afternoon it was back to scraping. C is careful and meticulous; I’m not. This leads to clashes of core values against core personality traits, but we go through it honestly, all the way, not holding back and not running away. Tears on both sides. In the end we’re closer. Working this hard takes a toll.
.The work on the house is the work on the relationship and vice versa. As the house gets stripped down, rotting wood exposed and removed or repaired, as old dead plants are tossed and replaced with fresh blooming ones, as layers of dirt and old paint come off, so do layers of defenses, history and baggage we’ve accumulated over the years. Until there’s just this: me stripping, scraping layers and layers on the warm sun, and C coming out to offer a glass of water and touch my back and we stand there savoring each other for a moment before he picks up the paintbrush and apply another layer of ec-goo.