Life stories


The pain came back this week. Like a thunderous freight train. Inescapable and mightily. Popping pills only proved its power.

Thankfully it lasted only six hours. Then the following night, it stayed away. Perhaps it’s brought on by stress. But bedtime is now this space of uncertainty and dread. And isn’t that the definition of stress – the inability to exercise control over the adverse outcome of an event?

Part of what anthropomorphises pain so is how she chooses foreday morning for her rampage. The time when no one, asleep, overhears you whimpering alone; when reaching out to cry is a calculus of time zones and fingerwork you can’t muster the bandwidth to accomplish.

She made me take note of all I haven’t done in the seven months she has been away.

The Christmas decorations have gone up. In the length of two CDs. Busy with Zoom meetings, prepping a reading list and finalising a proposal, I didn’t lift a finger to help.

I’m not sure how it works for my readers who struggle with Christmas blues. With me the decorations are usually what usher in the seasonal depression, my uselessness in putting them up underscores questions about worth, the “why” wreaths foreshadow the forced pleasantries of each forthcoming visit, and the lights blinking the torture of the long big days. The garlandry also functions as an alarm – a panic – that gifts haven’t been bought, and meaningful ideas for them are no closer in reach.

My Christmas dysphoria was originally grounded in my grandmother’s Christmas Eve burial, but it took on other shapes and forms over the years with adulthood and migration. Christmas competence was a test of adulting. Not just that – failure of that decorating gene to fire was also a sign of underdevelopment as a gay man.

Christmas this year seems meaningful, though. Blah blah blah blah my last Christmas. That, sure. But it also seems like the first in a while where I will be in charge in some way of how I engage with the things I cannot change. And I will have the serenity to choose many things I want.

“Christmas, every day is Christmas,” Sparrow sings in the 1972 road march Drunk and Disorderly, which is classified in my iTunes under Christmas.

On the subject of stereotypes, let me pivot back to another one about gay men, and another useful lesson my cancerous insides are teaching me.

I have the most sensitive gag reflex. Put on cheap generic oral antibiotics for a post-procedure fever, on the drive home I pulled out objects intended for my ingestion that were the size of a child’s fountain pen cartridge. I had my doctor switch me to a nasty syringed oral concoction instead.

In the past few weeks I’ve learned some arts of the retch. Even the most thoughtless drunk can usually exercise some harm reduction when that salty constriction under the tongue starts the countdown like a crosswalk. But I’m learning other small lessons. Taking big pills on an empty stomach is less likely to trigger my gag reflex.

The luckiest solution is to have an appropriate container on hand and make swift decisions. I’ve seen a parent on a plane calculate that a fleece blanket was a better receptacle that the airline seat. It doesn’t always work out neatly, though. Sometimes it does at first, then the save fails.

Around the Thanksgiving table last week, I’d already had my eye try to stretch my stomach beyond its recently reduced capacity. Half my plate remained uneaten. What about your (digestive) enzymes? Charmaine asked. Two big Creon capsules went down fine. So I proceeded to take the entire clutch of afternoon pills with it. The big pink and white Braftovi capsules required a bit more concentration. But I felt like a boss when they too slid right in. Only small ones were left now: Eliquis, Mektovi, MS sulphate. And I ran out of water. They’re tiny, I reasoned, popping two small final pills into my mouth.

And then it happened. They hit the spot. The wrong one. The trigger. And all of Thanksgiving dinner gave itself back. Gracefully into the Dizzy Gillespie extent of my cheeks. Artfully into a porcelain fitting just a few steps distant. It was the third elegant retch for the month.

When people ask insistently how I’m doing, I wonder, are these the stories you need to hear?


"Life stories"

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