During this winter’s illness, I couldn’t read. It happens every time. The words lift off the page. I could call it lack of concentration, but that doesn’t come close to the experience of losing the flow of sentences, one after the other, in the weave of a story that has, due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, not only unraveled, but shattered. I’ll read a hundred pages into, say, García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, am deep into the sensuous love story of two people in their eighties when pop, something misfires behind my eyes. I force myself to read another page, but will have to read it again. That doesn’t help, it just gets more garbled. The sentences turn whip-like and send their words flying. I’m waiting for the day when my synapses will forget what the letters sound like.
This is the amber alert. The adrenal gland has jerked into overdrive, as though something is about to attack. It squeezes out cortisol to put me in fight-or-flight readiness. But there are no threats. No one’s coming after me. I’m sitting here, in a quiet room, with an espresso to one side, ready to read a literary sexy romance. I’m in the High Mass of reading. The invisible—the nonexistent—danger that stands outside the house is pounding at the church doors. Is that what rattles the words off the paper?
After that, it’s not downhill from there, no sir no ma’am, it’s whoosh into the high, paranoiac heavens where a thousand jagged, electrified images and reckonings turn on me. The brain says fuck this I’m out and lets go the throttle. The drop, crash and burn is what the family saw on Christmas day: the breakdown, the episode, the psychotic attack, whatever you want to call it. We don’t know what to call it.
The days that follow shimmer. The mind, exhausted, still tweaks. Weeks pass. A semblance of calm returns, though the synapses still snap and spark. I work to keep calm. Pure will is involved. I’ve been weakened, but I’m not weak.
I’m reading again. Which means I’m starting to feel alive. The senses are returning with a bit more clarity. As is desire. Oh, desire. And here I am reading Love in the Time of Cholera, whose sexy scenes really, really work. How books bleed into our lives. How they can wake me up—Who is that gorgeous woman in the room? She’s been here all along, has held my hand and fed me and driven me to the doctor’s office, for thirty years. And damn, she’s hott with two t’s. Michelle. What are we without lust? What am I without her? I don’t want to think on it. I just want to press my thumbs deep into the arches of her naked feet, where she aches from holding up our world.
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