I have three computers, currently. On this one, I haven’t yet set up iCloud Photo Library, which would allow me to look up all of my photos and pick the ones of Ben I want to post, which is what I told him I would do, at his bedside, in room 327 of Grant Hospital in Columbus.
Not really a room, actually. The ICU has more areas than rooms. They can close it off with a curtain, and there is a toilet, but really it’s just a segment of the larger space. Walled off from the other ICUers, but still, not a room.
My photo library is updating itself before I can look at all of my photos. 16000 or so in all, most of which I did not keep on this little MacBook Air, but all of which are already on the cloud, but I guess it has to mitigate that library with what’s on this computer, or something. Technology is my professional field but it is never perfect. Physics is always perfect. I was thinking the other day that gravity is such a spread out force that we never think of it as such, a force, an acceleration, gravity in our case being experienced as a result of the earth’s pull and the earth’s nice spherical formation means that gravity along its surface is more or less constant, as experienced by us. But think about it like something being thrown, like I would throw a ball to you, and then zzzzhhhooooooooooppp slow it down to near imperceptible speed and you’ve got force traveling in one direction (discounting the earth’s gravity, of course) and then zoom in a bunch and put some tiny people on the opposite side and don’t allow them any real perspective in the form of time or telescopes and suddenly, to them, gravity. Their feet stay on the ground.
So chairs and beds are just gravity buckets. Shoes, gravity cushions. Like catcher’s gear, designed to absorb force.
Oh good, it’s treating all the photos on this Mac like new photos even though they’re the same photos I have on my other Macs. So, 1300 new copies of the same photos. Sweet. Good job, technology.
You want to talk about gravity, try adding a bunch of fluid to a body that isn’t currently processing fluids very well. See how it swells. See how the push of directional force affects it. See gravity in action.
I believe in physics and I believe in chemistry to the extent that it is physics on a molecular level. I’m starting to wonder if this is a necessary belief structure that all doctors share, like one would infer based on the title ‘doctor.’ I don’t mean to speak poorly of Ben’s physicians, but the more people in lab coats who showed up in his room, the more I looked at them as people, not lab coats. On television, a lab coat grants you super powers, or at least the power to summon every medical textbook ever written and to compare and contrast all known medical knowledge with the current unprecedented case, as most cases are. But in each new persona I sensed an extreme case of subjectivity, which, if you’re keeping score at home, is the opposite of objectivity, which is what one would expect of a science-based discipline.
But what was I hoping for? In every single instance in which I’ve visited a doctor I’ve come away with a similar impression. As I probably should have. Because as smart as doctors, well, probably ought to be in order to get their licenses, they are still people.
The reason I am not an engineer, by the by, is because I couldn’t make physics sense of Physics 2, which involved the physics—I guess—of electricity. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, and dropped out. And now I work servicing computers for a living.
I want to tell you a reason why I love Ben and you should too. It’s because of trivia, and poetry, and yes these are interrelated aspects, so it counts as one reason, shut up. Probably the defining motivation behind my drive to survive, my reason for being, my will to live, as it were, is to understand things I do not understand. There have been a few I’ve been able to knock off the list. Example: driving a standard transmission. My dad tried to teach me on his Chevy S-10 way back when I was learning to drive, but the clutch and its release remained elusive to me, and I stalled and I stalled and I figured I would never get it, until I bought a car I liked which happened to have a standard and thus I learned it, much to my own surprise and delight. It was a mystery, and I overcame it, challenging because of the inverse relationship of releasing the clutch versus pushing the gas. Like rubbing your belly and patting your head.
Another? Guitar. I watched people do it but couldn’t fathom what that skill might feel like to possess in one’s own brain. Then I got one, a guitar, and I practiced the finger positions, and three years later I realized I could feel a fretboard in my palm and make a G chord with as minimal active frontal lobe activity as to allow me to label it ‘not thinking about it,’ and then I could see how a guitarist with enough practice could recognize a necessary note or chord and essentially sing with a set of six strings instead of a voice. I didn’t master it but I comprehended it. The stick shift, FYI, I did master, not to brag, but I’m really great.
So that’s what it’s like, being inside the brain of someone with an intellect of my capacity, which is not phenomenal, but, you know. Of a certain level.
Technology, by the way: The OS on Macs since Yosemite have a feature that saves processor… processes, I forget what it’s called, but it keeps the active window at the forefront of priority and pauses whatever the other windows are doing, so all this time I’ve been typing, Photos has not really been doing much in terms of uploading those 1300 photos it thinks it needs to. I have to keep clicking over to it to remind it to work.
But Ben again. He is of an intellect greater than my own, on multiple levels. Trivia: we used to play regularly, Thursday night Showdown at BW3′s which is now called Buffalo Wild Wings because nobody knew what Weck was and it confused and infuriated the wing-craving populace. It’s been years since we played but today for some reason I’m getting the impression of being his pupil on those evenings with him and my sister and beer and hot wings, of getting answers wrong and he’d be there getting them right and occasionally but not so much as to appear preachy he’d tell me how he remembered that answer, patiently, infinitely patiently, like a good dog owner who never gets mad at a little rug pee. If you’ve ever had a teacher you think fondly of it’s this exact quality that you adore, their patience, because this is what it takes to deal with those who don’t know as much as you whether by way of time or experience or intellect. Most teachers have the edge because of time, some experience, a select few intellect, but anyone can be a good teacher with a little patience.
What I never asked Ben about is poetry, because I don’t give a shit about poetry, which is my way of saying I’ve given up on understanding it. I will never put my fingers on those strings. But I remember seeing two poems he wrote for my sister which she’d framed and hung up on her wall and I read them and I liked them. And I don’t know if they are what the academy would call good poems but I liked them, and I’d been studying writing long enough to know when a writer could see something that I couldn’t, whether in verse or otherwise, and I knew he could see it, both in form and content. He was beyond me.
He knew that, too, he didn’t need a trivia scoreboard to tell him so. I found out once he was writing a script with some of his friends and I’d done grad school long enough to feel like I could contribute to such a project and I asked him about including me in on it and he didn’t. I mean he said sure sure sure but he didn’t, and I don’t think it was because it just a thing for he and his friends, I don’t think it was just my outsider status, like I wouldn’t be able to feel the essence of the project or something, I got the impression that he believed I just couldn’t hack it. That I couldn’t do what he could do.
I don’t bring this up out of bitterness, or some need to make you think I’m not galvanizing the man needlessly in his final hours, but just to say, nothing bites at my heels like the truth, and that was probably the truth, at the time. It stuck with me because it made me look at something I didn’t want to look at but was nonetheless true. He was driving a car I couldn’t drive, and here I was asking for a shot behind the wheel.
I’ve had a few friends tell me they believe me to be the smartest person they’ve ever known, which I do take to heart, but hey, speaking of ALS, Stephen Hawking. What I wouldn’t give to have that brain of his for even ten minutes, just to feel what it feels like to understand what I cannot understand.
These days, writing-wise, I feel like I’m solid enough to crap out a romance novel should I ever need the cash badly enough, or to write a screen play I wouldn’t mind having my name on. Short stories, yeah, I think I’ve come across a good one or two, and as for novels, I think I’m in guitarland there, like I can totally imagine what it’s like to have that in my repertoire, but I haven’t hit the bullseye yet. And the man I most want to read my novels never will.
The real bitch of it is that he’s been communicating for the past however long in yeses and nos.
But this is not another ALS entry, it is not, I am not here to debate fair and unfair. I only want to acknowledge what is and was and will remain.
Here’s some more physics for you: when all you can give a man is fluids because he can’t chew and the fluids aren’t being processed and he’s puffing up like an X-Men special effect, the doctors subjectively say, Oh, well maybe we should trying something else, and they say let’s try albumen, which sounds like and is the whites of an egg but hopefully means something different in medical terms. We’re going to give him albumen because that’s a component of the blood and that will stay in the blood stream longer and not leak into the tissue and skin as quickly and hopefully that will reduce the swelling. They subjectively say no, we haven’t given him any morphine lately, even though the last time he was communicative one of his specific requests was for morphine because the pain of the surgery was very real and painful despite whether or not one has the ability to react to pain in a recognizable way.
Perhaps I am going through a bit of an anger stage. Fucking Kubler-Ross.
Something else? Musical taste. Ben loves so, so many varieties of music, and this too has struck me as a piece of information I could not be privy to, for as long as I’ve known him. He could listen to the most basic of tunes in a straight four-four in a major key and a simplistic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure, like all quarter notes even, all down beat and on beat, and see something beautiful in it. And then at the other extreme there was stuff that didn’t even sound like music to me, atonal, off beat, off key, bizarre.
He hasn’t woken up since the night before last night and my sister’s gut is telling her tonight will be the night. And really, all I came here to do was post one picture I can’t get to right now, because technology. Sure, I could go onto another device and get it and like email it to myself or whatever but I don’t believe in expending effort to change plans just because a plan results in something unexpected, like a 2000 word essay all of a sudden.
But I do believe in physics. There’s been a water bottle in my car, empty, for about four months now, and it’s empty but it’s still under the passenger seat, and when it’s cold the bottle contracts and then if I’m driving for some time and the interior of the car heats up the air in the bottle expands enough to pop it back into form, and about the first five times it happened I didn’t tell Gretchen what was doing it and she just kept saying that isn’t me, and I kept looking at her side-eyed even though I knew exactly. Until my mom was in the car riding with us to the hospital and it popped and I said what it was. I do not know why I cannot tease my mom. She’s got as much of a sense of humor as anyone.
Anyway. We left the hospital today with the information from the doctors and from my sister that Ben will not hold out much longer, and Gretchen and I were driving back home and we remained in silence mostly, because I’m not much of a talker anyway, especially when I’m driving, and Gretchen has been there this whole time to bear the brunt of the emotional weight for me, at least in the moment, because my emotions arrive much later than they ought to, even on these pills. And then the bottle popped beneath the seat, and I smiled, and she half-laughed with me because it happened just as I was starting to say something meaningless, as most spoken words are.
Pop. There’s physics again. Reliable. Universal. The earth tumbles along.
I thought maybe I could end there and post the photo, but now Photos is doing something else that will take forever and I have to work tomorrow, so. Funny pictures to come another day.