Heart Throbs in Vegas

We had met before, obviously. But if we'd really accepted each other, would terror have accompanied me every day?

The experience was: Because of the presence of death--because I could not resist the impulse to withstand and stare down my terror--my life became my friend. It had always been my friend, I realized. A difficult friend, a friend I'd sometimes not spoken to, sometimes betrayed, sometimes forgiven, and sometimes it forgave me, but still: my friend. Stronger than I, somehow. Watching my antics with astounding tolerance. Trying to get through to me. Not with any particular message, but with something more: a kind of acceptance. I don't know how to name it except to say, my life, no matter what it does, is my friend--and I, no matter what I do, am its friend. Now there are times with others when I pause, see their life beside them, and wonder if they know they are accompanied by a friend.

See, a while ago I realized I had to forgive my life. Not just forgive myself, but forgive my life. All of it. Maybe that's when those moments at the Rio really began. As though when I forgave my life, it knew (though I didn't yet) that it was my friend. Perhaps then it was only a matter of time before it would become palpable and hold my hand.

This may be why, when the terror shook me and I really thought I would die, I had no impulse to call anyone. That would have only frightened people, and what could they have said? The same thing I would have said if I got such a call: "Go to a fucking doctor right now." If I was dying there were no goodbyes to say. ("Goodbye" is so feeble, and no one ever really means it.) Nothing that had been wrong could be made right. And there was nothing to resolve--the heart is too complex, it laughs at attempts at resolution. Or hides. (Soon will come another overwhelming moment that shatters all supposed resolutions.) As for being comforted--Zelda Fitzgerald wrote to Scott, from her perch in a mental ward, "Don't look for comfort, there isn't any; and if there was, life would be a baby affair." (Yes, I trust that tortured woman more than I do most philosophers and literary lions. They play for prestige and she played for keeps.) So...

Sitting in a Vegas hotel room beside my life, my friend, which was me yet not-me, while my heart pounded, stopped, pounded--the fear never left (the body does not want to die, however reckless the spirit may be), but the terror found this question unanswerable: "If my life is my friend, then isn't my death also my friend? Hasn't my death given me this night of extraordinary life?"

The question shocked me. Somewhere in the reverberations of that shock, sometime the next night, the terror left.

A woman I know asked Carlos Castaneda how she could develop a spiritual life. He said, "Sometime each day, sit down and remember that you are going to die. You'll develop a spiritual life." When this was told to me, months after those nights in Vegas last summer, I laughed. (The truth makes you laugh sometimes, like a joke.) He was saying that her death is her friend, and that if she sat with that friend, it would teach her something every day. That's how good a friend one's death really is.

Now, when things of the day get too upsetting, I consult my friend--my death. Its presence has a way of putting anything in perspective.

On the second or third night, I forget which... when the lights of Las Vegas had become like an inner landscape to me, as though I were projecting them myself... and the great murderous desert that surrounds the city had become for me what it really always was, an immensely strong being that invites our greatest extremes to enact themselves... the terror left my body. Because life, my life, with all its failures and contradictions and paradoxes, had held my hand. I can't explain it, but that's how it was. I drove back to L.A. Got the medical attention I needed. My death had visited, and I flatter myself that, after so many years of being met as an enemy, it was a little surprised to be treated like a guest.

This was months ago. I'm as silly as ever, but the terror hasn't returned. It's still in the room, but my body is free of it. I no longer awake with it. My heart occasionally misses a beat and pounds harder. The specialist said not to worry about that and I don't. It isn't important to me to live a long time now that I know my life is my friend. I will not die alone, for something that is me and that is not me has always held my hand.

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