Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Notes from Bizarroland 3: Letter from the HVAC Monster

During the week Dad spent in the hospital, I noticed an occasional buzzing sound coming from the ceiling intake vent just outside the bedroom my wife and I have been using since moving to Tucson. It first became audible one morning as an intermittent buzz…buzz…buzz when the thermostat prompted the system to give off warm air.

For a couple of days before and after Dad’s passing I lost track of the buzzing sound, being of course preoccupied with other matters. Yesterday evening the intake vent let out more than just that intermittent buzzing. From the grill covering the vent fell a clean white envelope containing neatly-folded letter-size sheets of paper, upon which was typed a letter. Paranoia seized me from the intestines up. Upon touching the crisp white sheets of paper I instantly had the premonition that a hideous creature, some malformed, shrunken, troll-like being had been living in the ducts of the HVAC system in my parents’ house. This goblin, this monster, had powers of clairvoyance that would boggle and frighten the human mind, and it had composed a private letter to me. The parcel looked like something that might be issued from a law office, so clean were the folds, so crisp the black ink. It is written in a stilted and somewhat pompous diction…

To the First- and Only-Born Son,
            Perhaps now you see that you are a fool. Perhaps now, after witnessing the emotional work of months and weeks, the preemptive mentations you erected to shield yourself against the eventual onslaught of the inevitable, hammered and quickly felled by the vicissitudes of an unknowing Cosmos, perhaps now you can truly perceive how foolish was your hubris, how ill-founded your sense of poise.
There are so many things I could tell you about yourself, young one. Yes, young, as you well see now, despite the recent occurrence of your thirtieth birthday, in contradiction to the feelings of weariness this milestone incited in you, you are still young.
            I can still see you standing in the hospital room after the abrupt utterance of a nurse new both to your family and your ailing father, “He’s gone.” And this said almost in haste, nearly blurted out, as if this nurse somehow knew the events of the past days and held the same expectation of at least a day or two in the relative comfort of hospice care that you had held. You notice the redness and gleaming of her eyes, creases of incomprehension upon her forehead as she tells all of you the news she ascertained not two fifths of a second before the speaking of it, “He’s gone.” I can see your mind digesting her words, then this same mind realizing that it had fallen behind just a bit, that your stomach had actually digested moments before her motions with the stethoscope over his body, the beginnings of worry in the skin and muscles of her face. And yet, in the next moment, as you relay the fact to your mother, who has already begun to weep because of the sadness of his being toted off to a hospice to perish and not because she has just seen the perishing itself, you cannot yourself understand it. And so as your mother immediately embraces the full thundering pulverizing truth in a forward swoon and instant wracking sobs, you offer the most pedestrian suggestion - “Come here, Ma” – and clumsily catch/lift her in your arms lest she fall face first onto the linoleum floor from an apparently pure grief that you cannot yet know.
            Yes, I can still see at this very moment into the cavern that looms beyond the opaque, obsidian lacquer painted by your words of a few minutes later, “I don’t understand.” I can see behind and beneath those sounds to what even they in their awkward inarticulation hide: raw fear. You feared not only the jarring closure, not only the grief and anguish to come, but you feared the dead body. You feared a foreign object in the room, a mass of protein, minerals, and water that stood in as a perverse doppelganger for what had moments before been your father. The seizure of your body and mind by fear was analogously sudden to the switch of animated being into dead matter – and, yes, I know and knew at that moment that your bloated, overanalytical mind was already spinning out myriad explications; I detected even from my lair back home the concoctions of a suffocating psyche gasping desperately for some whiff of knowing or being rather than gagging on its own production of putrid thought and theory. You feared the great mystery of this instant transformation of your father into notfather, as many others have. Your own ignorance confronted you from without – ignorance of how easily you slipped into the awe and dread about death that you knew had plagued human hearts for millennia, but which seemed to have been resurrected afresh for your own private torment. Not “death” as an abstract concept to be discussed round a table amidst vague friends and hearty drink, but death as the plain cessation of breathing, death as the sudden metaphysical flattening-out of a person with spirit and mind into a body with only volume and mass.
            I can look ahead, too, to see your bafflement at how the work of eight months seems to be erased in the passage of a day. I can peer into your embryonic questioning of Causality, Effort, Time, Memory. I can already hear the tiresome discussions you will hold about the meaning of a life, whether your father was reconciled to his death even as he perceived its coming, the stunning infinity suggested by the finality of his departure from a physical and apparently objectively-verifiable reality. I can feel my stomach turn when I listen to the pre-echoes of your pontifications about “anima” and “breath” and how “expiration” is a fitting word for death since it refers to the final irrevocable release of breath.
            I have chuckled quietly to myself over the past few days as I have listened to you repeatedly observe the habitual nature of Mind, surprised that you keep expecting to find him sitting in his usual armchair when you enter the house or to see a missed-call alert from his number on your mobile phone. And I know, perhaps more than anyone else, that each one of your verbal utterances to this effect hides countless more silent reminders whispered to yourself, that you will never see him AGAIN…

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