I was recently afflicted with a real humdinger of a sore throat while concurrently and intimately involved with someone who’d had close contact with someone who had tested positive for Covid-19. Finally, I thought. It’s out of my hands. No more torment over my lapses and failures, no more fretting for the future and what may or may not happen; no more deaths to confront, no more addictions to conquer, no more demons to bedevil me. The utter absence of fear or anxiety was itself troubling, at first — I am well-known for dire and terminal self-diagnoses at the first sign of anything amiss in the system — but on consideration deemed my reaction logical and, for someone as chemically addlepated as m’self, remarkably percipient and public-spirited. What better way to serve a community riddled throughout with toxic social pathology than excising a few of the offending cells? After a few days on the street and witnessing the new order among the free folk, which can best be described as Anything Goes, I made two determinations: one, that the prospect of that kind of life was unacceptable, and B, that the possibility of my personal ability to avoid a fate so inherently shitty had a low probability. It’s a pity. For maximum effectiveness, go back and read the previous sentence with a Sharpton/Jackson cadence. I really shouldn’t have to give you people instructions at this late date, but too many people have written too many very serious letters in response to things meant entirely in jest, and being misunderstood is the bane of most writers. Some, of course, thrive on it and do everything but splash hot sauce in your eyes to prevent you reading it, making their work so incomprehensible, disordered, and pointless that I could literally produce better work with a Random House unabridged and a blender. Doris Lessing and William Gaddis come to mind.
And so the prospect of death, not normally a thing to be sought or desired, became a lot less like tragedy and more a way to both escape the pain and ignominy and to recapture a modicum of respectability. No shame in dying from something over which I’ve no control, right? I could even blame Trump. I got tested, though, and came up negative. Luckily there resided a barely discernable residue of hope, buried somewhere deep and inaccessible in my corpus - probably somewhere around the calcaneus - that prevented my finding and making out with the first coronavirus sufferer/carrier I could unearth. If I can somehow find a way to pinpoint, retrieve, nurture, and raise it up to a size where it might be able to do some good around this failing operation, take some steps toward becoming a going concern, I may yet live to do few things I’ve had my mind on while shoving years of my life into the shredder. Seeing my family would be nice, as would spending some time clean and sober when I’m not forced to be so, and perforce being in a state of satisfaction with myself (and my lot) enough to want to and to be happy in that condition. That’d be great.
But for now, things aren’t looking well. Halfway through my assigned term at Humboldt I violated an express oral directive and was invited to seek treatment elsewhere. And just how long did it take me to wind up back in the bag? Before I even left. I was packing up my stuff, saw a likely-looking member of the tribe noodle-grooving down the street (noodle-groove: to, due to prolonged meth use, be unable to control one’s body movements, resulting in bizarre undulations, twists, and particularly one’s arms flailing and intertwining like a pair of sex-mad snakes rolling on Ecstasy), accosted him and after listening to the obligatory tale of monsters in his teeth managed to procure a quantity of just the thing to completely undo the progress I’d made and send me again spiraling drainward. I know, you’re shocked beyond comprehension. What, Flynn relapsed? Inconceivable! I agree, totally took me by surprise too.
So there’s that, and in addition my mother’s condition is worsening and I cannot possibly go back to Colorado without committing a serious parole violation, and I have no place to stay, and someone stole all my valuable property besides my phone, upon which I am now typing, my (wrist) surgery has been postponed because the anesthesiologist won’t even consider putting me under without 2 weeks clean.
I’m turning 60 on Tuesday the 7th and worst of all, or best, or something, I’m in love. So on the one hand I want to just lay down somewhere and die and on the other I want to to unleash a barbaric yawp composed of poetry, testosterone, and valentines and trumpet at deafening decibels my joy and love for the incomparable, the amazing, the one I’ve been waiting my whole life to find, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the talented and charming Miss Dana Savile. I’ll wait as you applaud and cheer.
I haven’t been afflicted with this particular disorder since about ‘02, when after years of serial monogamy, philandering, sexual adventuring, and barely concealed gigolism, I experienced real, honest-to-goodness, major-league heartbreak. Not the self-indulgent type common to teenagers and emotionally stunted young adults I’d taken so much pleasure in, planning and executing elaborate take-me-back schemes involving spray paint and public edifices, writing poetry as purply precious as ripe blackberry drupelets, and flinging myself headlong into any perilous situation she might witness or hear about, but the sitting-in-a-dark-room-with-a-bottle-of-vodka kind, realizing that there’s no trenchcoat long enough, no boombox loud enough, no Phil Collins lyric treacly enough to make her ever look your way again. I knew then that I was done for the duration and every remaining moment of my life was going to suck. It hurt so bad that for years I literally shrank from any suggestion of intimacy, affection, or sexual advance; when I did finally attempt to get back in the saddle it was on provisional and casual bases only, and any mention of the L word sent me into post-traumatic shock. I took it a little hard, is what I’m trying to say.
Then, 18 years down the road, comes this woman into my life who is pretty much the exact opposite of every other one I’ve ever been with, being of necessity attracted to upper-middle class liberal-arts majors with trust funds and a burning desire to find and rehabilitate a diamond in the rough with their purifying love. They provided me the means to realize my dreams, which went spectacularly unrealized as I laid on the couch and drank beer. Eventually, of course, they wised up and moved on to a diamond without all that pesky rough exterior to hack through, and I like to think that I am responsible for lots of happy families that got their start because their experience of me brought them around to their parent’s way of thinking, husband- wise.
And then there’s Dana. She’s a survivor of many things - abuse, trauma, hunger, violence, grief, pain of every description, a lot of crappy men doing their level best to lever her and yet, as unlikely as a desert trout, from that adulterant-riddled crucible was cast something .999 fine and now, all mine. Funny, passionate, wise, talented, brave, strong, intelligent, and compassionate, she deserves someone better than me and were I were the sort of man I’d like to be I’d cut her loose and hope that happened, but somehow I’m convincing myself that I can pull myself up to snuff and be worthy of her love.
She’s the unwelcome product of a one-night stand who, at the age of 6, was so self-loathing, the consequence of abuse, that she contrived a scheme for introducing herself to a mean girl down the block as “Dana’s twin sister” and would join her in savaging her “sister,” e.g. “That Dana is so stupid!”
“Ew, I know, and ugly too. She’s so gross.”
Her life followed predictable patterns until she ran away with a punk band at the age of 15 and wound up in Austin, TX, which path ultimately led to our getting together. We never met there, so far as either of us can remember, but I being a figure of some notoriety, or rather infamy, in that scene she knew who I was and seeing me on Facebook thirty-odd years later saw me whining about my drug problem and reached out with a offer of general help-just a blanket carte-blanche for whatever I might need, within reason, I suppose.
She wielded the syringe that delivered her husband’s fatal overdose, and after that moved to New York City where she worked as a dominatrix to support a heroin habit that lasted 12 years. In East Oakland she lived on the street, scavenging aluminum and dumpster-diving, suffering heartbreaking indignities along the way, but emerging triumphantly as a fully-formed person wrought of valuable lessons learned the hard way.
And today? She lives in a mobile home with a sleek, spunky little pinniped of a dog called Lucy, who is her heart and joy. By day she attends Academy of Art University on full scholarship, returning to the education she abandoned and never really invested in anyway at 14, working twice as hard as the other students to compensate for a near-total lack of knowledge of the procedures, routines, and rigors of higher education. And yet her intelligence shines through in her work, as well as her dedication and creativity, and the real beauty of it is that she has undertaken this journey not for financial gain or career opportunities but to acquire a solid foundation in the bedrock principles of the art that has been her driving passion from the beginning, and for the simple joy of learning and the sense of accomplishment she derives from it.
At night she folds papers for a newspaper distribution center, parking her home on the meanish streets of Vallejo among the unfortunates she still claims kinship with, providing what succor she can to all who ask. Her motives are not entirely unselfish, fully aware that peaceful coexistence is the only way to survive in that environment, but her heart is full and her love of humanity genuine.
To have acquired, after her history and experiences, the callouses protecting feelings that simply cannot stand to be hurt anymore would be understandable, and she is capable of sealing up every crack watertight, but at the same time has the vulnerability and capacity for wonder of a child. Witnessing natural beauty moves her to tears and shouting out thanks to God and the universe for the privilege. She makes real human connections wherever she goes and in the briefest encounters, professing (and meaning it) love for all. I imagine she’s become a kind of model for the sort of person Jesus had in mind after rectifying the rather stern strictures Pops had emplaced.
It’s a dizzying and wonderful thing to listen to her expound on the big questions and the unique perspective on them her life has given her. She pooh-poohs my inflexible rationality as her mind roams unfettered and unfiltered wherever she wants, mostly able to resolve the eternal mysteries plaguing philosophers throughout time to her own satisfaction. She’s a little smug about it too, but her confidence is contagious and I enjoy experiencing the convoluted routes to enlightenment she travels.
And what has she done for me? Not much, really, only showed me what real love and real beauty were. Like her ignorance of MLA standards and research papers, my own shallow, self-serving ideas about these concepts rendered me unknowingly bereft. Because of her I’m seeing the world through fresh eyes. If I don’t use them to see something that leads to salvation I’ll lose her, and not spending the rest of my life with this woman is, in a word, unacceptable. It’s a real pivot point I’m at right now and every decision I make has to be the right one- not, it goes without saying, a process I’ve had much success with. But I (and we) will make it, or not, and if we don’t she’ll survive yet again, and I’ll…God knows what, but it won’t be pretty. Wish me luck.