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Everyone Here is Jim Dandy - 28

Posted Mar 07 2013 1:10am

Everyone here is Jim Dandy

At first, my wife was curiously silent about my diagnosis. I remember that we were in the car when I told her the news. Of course, I had done my research prior to the actual diagnosis and had already shared my suspicions with her, seeing that so many of my symptoms pretty clearly pointed to MS. Still, I might have anticipated a more energetic response—tears, for instance, or a hug, or a pep talk. As it happened, though, I might just as well have revealed that there was an irritating pimple on my chin.

“How long will you live?” she asked.
I really had no idea.
“Will you have to use a wheelchair?”
Again, no idea. I supposed it was possible.
And that was it, for a time.
One has expectations when he is diagnosed with a serious disease. Somehow it just comes with the territory. Suddenly it seems that you are in the spotlight, or at least should be. Surely the people you love, friends, close acquaintances, will react with shock, with pity, with concern, with gentleness. You will all draw more closely together in the face of the specter of disease. Ah, there but for the grace of God go I.
But in my case, no such a thing happened.
After asking in her sober way about death and wheelchairs, my wife retreated back into silence on the subject. Her silence, for this period of time just after the diagnosis, coupled with my own stoicism, rendered the disease all but nonexistent for any practical purpose. She did not talk about it, and I did not talk about it.
I remember wondering how such a major blow to my health, and thus to our livelihood together as husband and wife, could be something of so little import for her. Then one evening I discovered that she had been using my laptop computer in her private time to research multiple sclerosis. Dozens of websites popped up on the history list, medical summaries, treatment options, layman’s explanations of the autoimmune system, and so forth.
I did not mention my discovery to her. It was enough to know that she cared, but must simply go about things in he own way. In fact, I had no idea at first of how deeply the disease—my disease—had penetrated to her heart and compromised her own peace of mind. These were things that would be learned, sometimes painfully so, over the year to come.
Adversity is the great revealer of character. What has surprised and saddened me most in the last year has been the chilly disinterest of my stepchildren and their mother. It seems hard to believe—and I hardly believe it, even as I write it down—but not one of my three stepchildren has ever asked after my health or evidenced any interest in my disease.
Again, one somehow automatically believes that disease has made him an object of unusual sympathy, deserving of compassion, at least in word if not in deed. The sting of the past must surely be set aside—unforgiveness forgiven, betrayal betrayed, hard words forgotten—in favor of
acknowledging the bond of love and family that had once existed, that had in fact formed them as children and young adults.

But this did not happen. Rather, the obverse.

I did not receive a phone call. I did not receive a flower or a card. I did not receive even an e-mail.
OMG, Mom told me what had happened! Are you okay? Dad?
I did at one point—in January I think, some seven months after my diagnosis—receive a phone call from my younger stepdaughter, Jamila. It was a hard time for me and for Sant Louis. It was a hard time for our marriage. The woes of sickness and dwindling finances had become oppressive, almost unbearable. The ugliness of winter in Portland seemed to compound our worries over money, my health, the future. It was cold and the rain was frigid, unremitting, the clouds and the cold and the rain seeming to crowd us to a corner. There was a stack of unpaid bills on the dining room table. The bill for the MRI, the bill for the lumbar puncture, the bill for Avonex. Only last year Sant had married a healthy man—sharp-minded, fun-loving—older, yes, but stable, confident, self-possessed, energetic—not rich, but comfortable, safe. Now he was sick. Now he was poor. Now he
walked with a cane, now he injected himself with interferon once a week and lay sick in bed for better part of the ensuing day.
This is where the disease comes to roost in the most essential places. It seeks not only the physical, the anatomical—the nerve, the brain; the myelin and the axon. It seeks ones emotional life as well, the health of the soul, the peace in a marriage.
I had decided just then that we might be best off if I shot myself. It was an impulsive plan, not perfect in the details. I had, for instance, no gun. Nonetheless, taking the well known advice of Fredrich Goethe—Begin!—I did begin by driving my 16 year old dog over to my ex-wife’s house. After all, I could hardly do away with myself without making sure that Norman would be taken care of first. What would he eat, for instance? Who would let him outside. Who would give him a bath?
Struggling in the back of my mind with the problem of the gun, I loaded Norman in the Hyundai (he could not longer, at his age, jump up onto the car seat) and headed for my ex-wife’s house.
What shamed me instantly upon my arrival was the disdainful smirk upon her face. What shamed me was the betrayal of my bond with Sant Louis, no matter how much trouble we had been having.
I knew you would fail, the look on her face seemed to say. I knew you’d be back. I knew your new wife was a loser from the start.
I did not mention the plan to shoot myself without a gun. I did not ask for the shotgun I knew to be stored in the basement. I did not ask if she would care for Norman.
“I’ve got to go home,” I said, though I had only just arrived.
It was perhaps two days after this incident when I received the phone call from my stepdaughter, Jamila. She had no doubt heard of the trouble in paradise. It had been she, after all, who had predicted from the start that my marriage to Sant would never work out. I was too old for her, she was too young for me, I had only known her for two months for Christ’s sake, and besides that I was still in love with her mother.
“Sooo, how are you doing,” she says.
Of course, it seems strange that I am hearing from her at all, for I had not talked to her since May of 2006, this being January 2007.
“How is your wife?” she says. “How is the family?”
I know what she’s getting at. I also know that I’m home now, and that Norman is home, and that I found no gun, and that I’m feeling sick because of my last shot of Avonex, and that Jamila still has not asked about my illness. I know that though things between me and Sant are still rough, still in need of repair, still wanting negotiation and solution, we will find our way, and that I have, as John Paul Jones once said, not yet begun to fight.

“I’m fine, Jamila,” I answer. “Sant Louis is fine. Everyone here is Jim Dandy.”
Branch and Vine

I am the branch
Of winter
And the vine
of inconsolable shadow—
The sun of other days
Knows me no more,
But rises
On another land—
This was my kingdom
Of love,
These my daughters
These my sons—
And now has my anonymous
Reign begun
Of a world unwanted
Yet won
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