putting this up mostly because i don’t want to forget about it now being text.
editing will happen – probably after i finish. if i finish. if any of this finishes.
how do you begin to tell a story about vertigo
I call it vertigo because I don’t have any other name for it, even though there are a lot of different kinds that you can get.
I can tell you about them because I’ve googled all of them, crying at some, puzzled at others.
I can tell you about the one that is scary because it never goes away sometimes and it sounds like the kind that I have. People have suffered with it for years, with varying degrees of success.
I can tell you about convoluted pretzels you can make with your body to coax small crystals through the alarm-bell hairs of your ear canals back to the safety of the delicate inner shell that makes them
The organ looks like a cross between a conch shell and an ancient greek wine jug with an extra handle in the middle
I can tell you about meniere’s disease and labyrinthitis and tinnitus and psychogenic vertigo and chronic dizziness
But I can’t tell you yet while I’m googling all of these things what it is that I have
It doesn’t quite fit anything except for the scary one – mal de debarquement syndrome, French for the sensation of rocking you get when you’re off a boat and back on land, except it doesn’t go away.
The last time I was on a boat was this past September, or October, which is horrible because I don’t remember the date of my grandparents’ ashes swirling together with hothouse rose petals in the bay.
I remember being on the boat in the cabin with another family that we didn’t know would be there, we thought it would be private, and I had to go outside and plant my feet on either side of a small hatch in the prow and hold onto the slippery railing and smile with salt in my teeth in the early morning sun. that was the only thing that made the rocking easier.
Look at the horizon, my dad said. Look at something that isn’t going to move, and you’ll feel better.
I only cried when we got out the urns – my grandma in a cylindrical cardboard contraption that looked more like we were giving a bottle of wine as a gift, and my grandfather in a squat black box. They suited.
I only cried when my aunt almost cried and I watched my dad pull a small piece of printer paper out of his pocket and read what he wrote. Simple, but he’d folded it several times and it was worn. He worries things with his hands when he’s nervous or upset and can’t pace or dance around. Always in motion. The paper seemed like it was not enough. A late homework assignment he read with sweaty hands in the front of the class, printed out at the library and pocketed and gone over too late before the presentation.
I did not cry after that. I had to go into the bow of the small boat when the other family had their turn because I couldn’t stay inside even though it was disrespectful, but I promised that I would be quiet as long as I could be outside and not have a roof over my head. It made the rocking worse. There was a pole in the middle of our table for rough weather – you could grab this instead of the wraparound bar seat with no purchase. Something to ground you, but I couldn’t stay inside the box because it was bobbing like we’d been thrown in the ocean, or turned consideringly from side to side by giant unsteady hands.
I went outside and grabbed the railing again and watched around the side of the cabin as the other family said their goodbyes. There was champagne and a good deal of laughter. We didn’t laugh. They circled the ashes after they’d gone over the side, downwind, and then we went back to the harbor around Alcatraz which I’ve never been to, still.
The dock floated and I stumbled over the lip of the boat but I got back to land, and didn’t rock at all that night or for a few weeks afterward.
The only other memory of note was my cousin leaving before we went to lunch without saying goodbye to my parents.
She had to move out of the upstairs flat when my grandmother died, after living there for ten years without paying rent, and this was a trauma.
She was grieving, her mom (my aunt) said, like we all were and are not.
I still haven’t forgiven her that.
Three or maybe is it four years older than me and acting like a child (like I never do that, or did that at all during this whole process)
At christmas this year she was better, she smiled and spoke with us but it’s never going to be the same again. She has that lilt in her polite conversation of not giving a shit. I can’t blame her in some ways because we never see her, but it rings a little falsely now. maybe it always did, and maybe I just never watched her closely or really listened. It’s hard to say.
The first memory I can call up now of my grandma is her dying in the hospice bed on pride when we went to visit her.
She stayed for a few days at the first aids hospice in the castro. It was faded 80’s pretty, painted over a lot of pain and terror a few times by the time we all got there.
It was strange to be there, queer and still feeling like I took on too much with that word, dyke march two blocks away, with my entire family. We only ever see each other 3 times a year.
I dressed what I thought was well. Blue v-neck, grey terry pencil skirt, ankle boots, leather strap with an o-ring around my wrist as homage to the celebration I couldn’t attend and honestly didn’t become a fixation or issue until I was there for a harder less joyous thing.
She passed a little over 24 hours afterward.
I cried briefly when I first saw her because she didn’t look anything like herself – she was always small and frail to me, even when I was young, but she was losing her hair and her skin was wrapped closely around her bones. Her fingers were black and her nails were opaque and just starting to slough. She was more than done, as she’d told us repeatedly throughout the year, and the frown she wore in her sleep meant to me at least that she was just waiting, and wishing it would hurry up already.
She was 96, or did she turn 96 this year? Was she 95?
I had a moment with her and I touched her hand and I am proud that I did that. I didn’t want to, and I don’t know if it mattered or if she even knew, but I touched her hand and told her I was there and that I loved her and that I would miss her. And I didn’t blame her if she wanted to go, and that I hoped she went soon. We could all see that it was supposed to be soon.
She’d woken up the previous day but this time she didn’t. she moved her mouth a few times and twitched and moaned a little when my aunt tried to wake her, too roughly. But she was in the in-between space, or the waiting room or whatever it is that we pass into before we finally drop the body and go. She didn’t come back before she left. I think that is probably a good thing.
At lunch that day I cried too and said I never really knew her, which is true. I know my mom’s parents way better. She was Grandma, all the way over in San Francisco who would call and ask me about the weather and give me a check at my birthday and Christmas. She would hug you like she was dancing, eager to get close, but she never told me any stories about herself or her life. I knew nothing about her other than she liked swing music, she liked her kids okay and she was happier after my bepop passed because she didn’t have to take care of anyone anymore.
Until then I’d never seen or touched someone who was dead or close to dying. When my bepop died when I was in high school my parents woke me one morning and asked me if I wanted to come to the hospital because it looked like it was soon – it was abrupt, he’d just gone in a day or so ago. I rolled over in bed and told them no. I didn’t want to go. He died that day.
About him? He was an alcoholic that I would talk back to, memorably, when I was six across a table in lake tahoe when he told me he didn’t like me and I proclaimed that I didn’t like him either. He was a man I hugged once when I came to visit their house and once when I left. Once at a restaurant for someone’s birthday and once after the meal. His nose was purple from broken blood vessels and he wore thick square glasses and still had hair on the side of his head, snow white, up until he died.
I have a better recollection of the painting my cousin did of him that was in my grandma’s hallway than the man himself.
i didn’t know him or her, really, and it should probably bother me even more now that they’re gone but I can’t tell right now if I’m disturbed that I didn’t know them, or disturbed that I am less upset than I should be. I think I did tell my grandma I loved her at least once when she was alive enough to hear it. I don’t remember if I ever told my grandfather.
He has a memorial brick outside AT&T park that says bye bye baby, which he’d yell at the tv every time there was a home run. I never heard him do this, but my aunt and uncle and dad tell me he did. He liked baseball. He used to take my dad to baseball games at candlestick and gave him a wrench to take apart the old wood seats in front of him when my dad was a little kid. Fiddling. It’s what we do.
A month or so later, I get swimmer’s ear from temescal pool and I get stereoid and antibiotic drops for my ears and I work out even harder the week I’m supposed to take them for whatever reason, to compensate, I don’t know anything at the time but now I can say there was a thin piano wire of tension drawing up through my body that I cranked way too tight, and it finally snapped.
I have a panic attack a few days after I stop using the drops because they irritate me, and I wake up the next day rocking. Back and forth, back and forth
One of the things I learned and have to keep relearning throughout all this is that if you shout loudly enough at the world that you’re a badass and you’re special and important, it’s going to take notice, and it’s going to let you know all the small and brutally calm ways you are not.