I haven’t blogged in a while. The semester’s crazy busy now, but that isn’t why I haven’t blogged. I’m behind on pretty much everything work- or writing-related. I’m behind for reasons that are sending me to a neurologist next week, because of what happened five thousand, one hundred ten nights ago.
Buffalo winters are so brutal, the people develop an unspoken collective agreement. People in New York City have unspoken collective agreements due to the lack of space; privacy and freedom are like the white spy and the black spy in Spy Vs. Spy: there is no endgame. Only the back and forth. Only the tide.
The winters are so soul-sucking, reach so deeply into you, they’re a violation of sorts, an internal wrongdoing. The only way to survive them after awhile is to block out portions. You get tunnel vision. Everyone at some point in a Buffalo winter turns on the autopilot and just breathes and stays upright till spring. Springtime in Buffalo is actual real magical spacetime. Earth exhales and the permaslush gray that seeps sky and street of life goes poof.
In college I lived west of Main Street, on Merrimac Street. Every spring, the trees running east to Main Street turn a lascivious pink. They only bloom for a short while, but when they do they light up the world. After months of gray, there are great long vertical lines of pink running uphill to Main Street.
If you’ve ever lived somewhere the weather’s barbaric, you understand this primal need some have for nature to announce the horrorshow’s over. You know the worst part of the worst winters? Not the onset and not the peak, but the dying throes. The mid-March when it’s 50 degrees, only for three weeks of snow and ice to follow. The first year my family moved upstate, it snowed on May 7th. That’s when I knew. Shit’s no joke. Shit got real.
The real magic is when the pink blossoms die. Before they’re replaced by the white blossoms that last through the summer, the pink ones spend days dying. It’s glorious; like watching someone bleeding to death in an opera, where the blood is slow and rrrrrred and runs for miles. The pink spends seven days dying, a week where color’s forever falling, fluttering. It’s like being kissed back to life.
Merrimac Street was a mixture of college kids and working-class families. To the college kids, it was heaven, many of our first home-of-our-own experience (No parents! No dorms!). To the families, the locals, the non-transients, college kids were depressed real estate values, drinkers and druggers, the “there” in “there goes the neighborhood.”
The intersection of LaSalle Avenue and Cordova Avenue was and likely today still is the proverbial “wrong neighborhood.” It was a Saturday. Classes had ended and I’d celebrated appropriately all day. Shortly after midnight I headed over to a friend’s place. He lived in a hear no evil/see no evil apartment complex. “Camelot Court,” it was called. After the incident that’d make make me smile sometimes, a mirthless smile. Camelot.
My first thought when I heard footsteps was Run.
My second thought was Just because there’s a black guy running up from behind you after midnight in a bad neighborhood doesn’t mean he’s a threat. If I want to live in a world where stereotypes are surrendered, how can I assume the worst in this circumstance?
Then he was choking me.
I was a pretty broke-ass student, even for a student. All I had on me was the change in the wallet my grandfather’d given me when I was 5. Every ticket stub from every concert and ballgame I ever attended was in that wallet. And 87 cents. That’s how broke I was used to being: I always knew down to the penny how much money I had. ‘Cuz a lot of times, it came down to the penny.
I kept trying to say “I got no money, I got no money,” but the guy couldn’t hear me because the choking made my voice a hoarse whisper. I could barely get two syllables out before needing more breath. I got…no…money… got…no…money.
I tried to pull forward and break free, but he was bigger than me, stronger. There was a wall a few feet behind us. I pulled forward again for a moment, he pulled back, and I threw all my weight backward, sending us crashing into the wall, him between me and the bricks, bearing all my impact. For a moment I was free. I stabbed a fingernail into his eye.Then the second guy joined in. He was shorter. I was getting punched by a short guy in front of me and choked by a tall guy behind me. Then, the lights went out.
When I came to I didn’t remember anything. Like, anything. Not like I ran through a series of questions and couldn’t think of the answers. Like, there were no questions. No nothing.
There was a full moon directly over me. I looked at it for what felt like a long time. It was kind of like what I imagine nirvana’s like. I was completely satisfied and at ease. I didn’t know who I was or where I was. I didn’t care. This white shiny thing I was looking at was all I needed.
Slowly it dawned on me that I was laying in the middle of a road, and that cars used roads, and it was dark. I got up and checked my pockets. My wallet was gone. And my housekey. And my inhaler.
I got to my friend’s apartment. Later he drove me home. I didn’t go to the hospital. My girlfriend and my parents thought I should, but I shook it off. My pride was injured. My body felt fine. I didn’t even feel hurt. I was secretly worried I’d passed out from fear during the fight, like just suddenly fainted, as if I’d had stage fright.
When I woke the next morning and the adrenaline I’d never considered was long gone, I felt like I got hit by a train. At the hospital they said I had a bruised skull and a wrist fracture. There was a thumbprint-sized bruise on my neck where I’d been choked. Lasted three days.
I thought the worst of it was the first few weeks. I was jumpy. A friend at work surprised me by jumping down from an awning and I felt like I was having a heart attack. I kept sensing people around corners, behind doors, about to jump me. The wrist injury was my main worry. I’d been a music major my first few years and my summer job was waiting tables. For the first time, my left hand grew tired when I played certain long piano pieces. My left wrist and forearm were the fulcrum of my dish-balancing powers; now I had to reverse everything.
The first weeks were not the worst of it. What’s happening now is.
Five years ago I started experiencing vertigo. At first it only happened when I was driving; I thought I needed new contact lenses. The first time it happened I was passing Syracuse on the thruway: just as I neared an off-ramp, the world spun out of control. One time it hit in the middle of traffic on the Grand Central Parkway. The vertigo started happening more and more often, and for longer periods of time.
Then I started having migraines. They’ve also picked up in frequency. Pills don’t help. The only thing that helps is turning off all lights and laying in the dark, waiting.
Two years ago, I started having seizures. I lived with a girlfriend at the time. We were talking one day and next thing I knew I was on my back, she looking down at me, worriedly asking if I was OK. She said a look came over me like I “went somewhere else,” then I shook for a few moments and passed out for 30 seconds.
This semester the symptoms have been problematic. There was a week of non-stop vertigo. I taught three classes one day and was so clearly loopy that when I stood to write something on the board, the students asked me not to. They could see. I was hurting. I had to cancel the following class.
Last weekend, I had headaches for 60 hours in a row. I’ve lost so much work time due to these symptoms, I’ve been playing catch-up for a month.
I saw my doctor last week to get the referral for the neurologist. Told him all that had happened. It’d never made sense to me that I had a bruised skull and no one ever checked for a concussion. No one at the hospital suggested any follow-up. Gave me a brace for my wrist and sent me on my way.
It was a different time then, much simpler in some ways, dangerously so. It always stuns me how long drunk driving used to be tacitly accepted. I remember being a kid and riding my bike or skateboard without a helmet through heavy traffic. I saw the generation under me saddled with elbow pads and helmets and snickered. Concussions were “getting your bell rung.” Shake it off. I was proud I hadn’t gone to the hospital after the attack. There was something affirming in that. Sure, two guys got the better of me. But it was two-on-one. And though I lost, at least I’d handled it like a man.
I’m seeing the neurologist this week. Going in for tests soon. It’s weird. In one sense, I don’t want an answer, because the question of what’s behind all this could have a lot of unpleasant answers. But I do want an answer, because then at least there might be something preventative to try, something to make it better.
So I’m behind at work. Behind on my classes, behind on extracurricular work stuff. Behind on my novel (the brainstorming/sketching’s coming along great; the actual page-production, not so much). Behind on my blog. But health insurance is a good ally to have. I usually long for the simpler times I remember. In this case, I’m grateful my now’s now.