Part Six in the Death of Picante Saga
In which the demon Judgment speaks...
“Now what just happened... I’m hearing my voice... well, not my voice... your voice, Charles. Not a bad voice... sort of low-rent Keanu Reeves, if you will. But definitely not the voice I’ve thrown for untold eons all over Hell. Eviscerating the vestigial egos of sad sacks like you. So... what are you up to, then? Hmm, you cast a spell, is that it? That’s what you did, you Asian Dr. Strange wannabe. You found an article on the Internet, mumbled some incantations, and now I’m talking through your pipes like a mystical voice changer app.
"Sure, I’ve been on that TV Tropes website... I can hear the triumphant call-out: ‘Look everyone, look at this demon trolling me inside my head! He sure runs his mouth like a scumbag, doesn’t he?’ Yep, I’ve got your number, dude. You hope to diminish my power by making me hyper-aware of myself. You know, my infernal circuits start frying and suddenly I’m stuck in this loop of cruel but disconnected phrases, powerless to do harm anymore. It always worked in old Star Trek episodes.
"But here’s the thing, Charles. This isn’t Star Trek. You went on a whole other five-year mission. That kind of mission can destroy a mind without any acts of sabotage on my part. I’m telling you this play will backfire. I’m telling you this move right here is something you will deeply regret. See, I’ve been practicing my trade for a long time. I can tell you my next move and still grind your self-respect to dust. And if you think her ‘presence’ here will help you weaken me, if you think she can somehow ‘hold space’ for the two of you against me, well... let’s test that theory. The holidays are coming and I’m feeling generous. So I’ll grant you a couple points.
"One, people who seem successful tend to be more fucked up than you think. Yeah, I omitted that part from previous speeches. Duh. If you can’t figure that out for yourself, then you deserve to feel stupid. But anyway, two, yes, you failed your wife, colossally, but hey, you TRIED. Okay? You tried. And let’s be real, sometimes no matter how hard you fight for the one you love, you simply cannot save them. When their time comes, their time comes. But now let’s talk about time...
"Come on, you knew we were going there. Ten days. The most important ones. Sooo... it’s the beginning of June now. Chaos has stormed the gates of the House of Muir. You’ve got pigeons shitting all over your driveway. Baby skunks dying in your backyard. College kid neighbors smoking up outside at all hours. Airbnb renters screwing your ratings because of a stray hair on the welcome mat. Your yard is falling apart. Your house is falling apart. And yeah, your wife seems to be falling apart, too. Just can’t shake the fallout from that second trial drug which she quit over a month ago.
"Swelling in her face and neck. Difficulty breathing. Heartburn. Coughing. Stoma prolapse. Anemia. Wounds gushing cancer and abscess. Trouble peeing—that’s a new one. And ongoing insomnia thanks to a steroid regimen that would raise the eyebrows of an ‘80s Soviet weightlifting coach. Good times... like Candyland with tumors. She’s been to the ER twice in four weeks. She’s heaving for breath after taking five steps. She’s having trouble getting off the toilet. Yeah, your wife—the woman who could kick you in the head, throw sandbags over her shoulder, and shred an air guitar with her legs wrapped around a stripper pole. Kara is up against something she has never faced, and she knows it.
"Only what? What is the root problem exactly? Is there one? No one really knows. She’s asking, though. She wants to know where her blood is disappearing to. She wants to know... but her trial nurses are overwhelmingly busy and her oncologist is carrying the load of three cancer doctors. Instead she gets a nurse practitioner who tells her she looks like shit. ‘One day it will be time to make THOSE decisions...’ Yeah. I’m a demon and even I wouldn’t say that to a cancer patient. But anyway.
"Where were you during this time, Charles? Where were you when Kara got so weak and feverish that she left the infusion room for the first time in a wheelchair? That’s right, you got off work, went home, and knocked off those tasks in your bullet journal. Without coming up for air, just straight hustling all through the weekend. Checking off those boxes. Never mind that she’s got to crawl to climb stairs or that she needs you to drag her caveman-style from the den to the living room because she blew all her energy getting off the toilet.
"Yeah. She’s falling apart. Can’t talk without coughing. Can’t sleep without having to get up to pee. Can’t pee, though. Can’t see straight. At least not through the pain and exhaustion. Her belly is distended—that’s new, too—and she’s blowing off bags and leaking poo on the comforter unbeknownst to her. She can’t even lie on the couch for long. Instead she keeps passing out in the new zero-gravity chair she got for the back deck, now the latest medical upgrade to the living room.
"Poor determined woman, she's doing everything she can think of to claw her way out of this shitfuck cancer crisis, but her ailments keep dragging her back down into the pit. And still you’re shrugging off the situation. ‘I mean, I guess this must be the New Normal!’ Amazing, isn’t it, what humans can ignore while thinking they’re being resilient? You’re the Bruce Lee of cancer caregivers, Charles. ‘Be water, my friend.’ That’s right. Go with the flow. Water. Be water while your soulmate is losing her voice, her breath, her mobility. Be water—not flesh, the kind of substance that can pick up a phone and ask a qualified professional, ‘Should my wife who has stage 4 cancer be feeling this way?’
"Be water when Monday rolls around. Water gets shit done. Hop in a car with a friend. Grab a birthday lunch. Get the wife something she can barely eat. Start editing the book she basically wrote from almost four hundred blog posts. Speaking of content creation... does it occur to you that she hasn’t posted a selfie in almost four weeks? Not like her at all. But of course you don’t notice this form of social withdrawal. You’re bouncing around in the New Normal. And you’re not sure what to say when Tuesday rolls around and she texts you at work: ‘Can’t feed myself.’ Hey, that doesn’t sound good, but you know... you are water, my friend.
"So you flow home. You flow through a no-show client on Zoom. You flow through a nap. You flow off the couch when you hear her calling for help from the bathroom. You’re water and she’s fire. She’s gasping and sobbing from a burning pain in her legs. You help her to the living room and set her down on the floor. Now you are flesh again, picking up the phone because she’s yelling at you to dial the three digits she has never once asked you hit in the four years you’ve been doing cancer together. Boom. You finally get it now, don’t you? You’re a few hours from the news yet, but you basically know what happened. She was brewing a deadly infection and you were working on a publishing campaign through Kickstarter... ha! Isn’t that the way of the world these days? Hashtag be water hashtag goals hashtag holy fuck hashtag what have I done.
"End of mindfuck speech. Well, almost. And how am I doing so far? Higher Self Kara—what do you think? Pretty accurate, am I right? I mean, this isn’t a smear campaign... I don’t need to put a spin on Florence Nightingale’s conduct at the most critical moment in your cancer journey. You see, he wasn’t really water, he was as stiff as a board. Facing chaos like a tree splitting apart in a windstorm. Only it was you that snapped, tragically. You who suffered from your hubby’s control issues. And you, Charles... look at you now. The holidays were always such busy times. Not anymore, woohoo! Actually, I think Kara has something to say to you about this. The real soul of Kara, none of this Higher Self B.S.... a message from Hell.
"She’s saying... excuse my low-rent Keanu Reeves voice, ahem... ‘Aren’t you glad now, Charles, that you don’t have to stuff my butt anymore? That you don’t have to take me to my medical appointments? That you don’t have to get me more pills, more maxi-pads, more toilet paper? That you will never again get a text from me when you’re in the middle of writing? That you can march through the house without ever having to wait for me to get out of your way? That you let me suffer from digestive issues for ONE WHOLE YEAR before you finally took me to that test everyone’s bragging about getting these days in the name of responsible medical citizenship? A simple screening that could have kept me around for decades to come! It really is that easy, you know. But really, this worked out better for you--and I am happy you are free. When you love something, you set it free. So I set you free. Be free, Charles. Thank you for putting up with me all these years... and keep checking off those boxes.’
"There you go, my man. Don’t listen to me, listen to her. Listen to her in the silence of the night and the gift of time she’s given back to you. Kara always gave way more than you ever did, dude. And take a shower—you stink like the Lord of Flies himself. Anyway, thanks for listening to my TED talk. Happy holidays.”
Next: Room 5R 05. Kara here. I'm covered in shit. Can someone please help me? Anyone? Anyone?
--Charles Austin Muir