Sunday, January 16, 2005

Residual Life in Basements

"So the great affair is over, but whoever would have guessed
It would leave us all so vacant and so deeply unimpressed
It’s like our visit to the moon or to that other star
I guess you go for nothing if you really want to go that far"
-Leonard Cohen, The Death of a Ladies' Man

There is a strange vernacular floating around the stroke ward. Mostly spoken in slurs and wild arm gestures: the clutched throat, late night groans, fingers jabbing at numb cheeks and flesh— different types of hospital slang that all seem to say, “why am I still alive?” to which I smile, point at myself and say “me.”

The ward is really just a room in my basement. “Single? Depressed? Had a Stroke?” the ad asked, followed by a colon and the letter ‘r’ to mimic their paralytic smiles. And from what I’ve come to learn these past 3 months, stroke victims love bunk-beds.

“I call bottom bunk,” number 7 might have said. Or maybe he’s hungry. Or dying. Possibly frowning, number 3 1/2 struggles to climb the ladder with one arm. These are the only two residents I have living in my basement. Their numbers were chosen arbitrarily, but I’ve come to believe it was an unconscious estimate of how much I value their lives, 100 being the highest.

3 1/2 chews on my old Leonard Cohen t-shirt. The words “Death of a Ladies’ Man” are now illegible, mangled by molars and slob. I’ve gathered that it keeps the working side of his mouth busy, but each time I see it hanging from his loose face, he just grumbles and moans and keeps on destroying my Leonard Cohen t-shirt like a zombie that feeds on folk memorabilia.

It was somewhere in the fifth month when 3 1/2 choked 7 to death with the Leonard Cohen t-shirt, which, I must say, was quite impressive. It takes great ingenuity to choke someone with one working arm and a tattered t-shirt. Now he wears it everyday. I sewed it up for him and presented the mended shirt as a badge of honor. “The Death of a Man,” it says across his chest as he boastfully sleeps on the bottom bunk.

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