The shade is mostly drawn, but the light in the courtyard helps to guide me past the dresser and bookcase in the bedroom. It's almost 11pm, but that bulb is so very bright. My bed is in the far corner, in the darkness except for a streak of light several inches wide. It slips in between the shade and side of the window and cuts across the end table, the bed, and up the wall, almost to the ceiling.
I'm standing at the foot of the bed. My dog, Annie, is anticipating my actions and has already claimed a section of the mattress next to where I sleep, on the left side. One of my cats, Impy, is watching me from atop the bookcase. My eyes are adjusting to the gloom. First my pants come off, then my underwear and shirt. My socks come off carefully, as my feet are raw and bleeding a bit from picking at them the night before.
The room is cold, but a fan is spinning in the corner behind me and my naked body is in front of the stream of air. I've always slept with a fan blowing on me. Sometimes I wake up in the night, sweaty and terrified of being smothered, or of drowning. The air blowing over me, under that heavy blanket, is comforting.
For a moment, I enjoy the brisk breeze and the feeling of being naked. My hands run over my body, first to my face, which is hot, then to my breasts (made large by testosterone therapy), down to my thighs, which are cold. My right hand moves between my legs, and butterflies start to flutter in my stomach as I feel my empty, tight scrotum. There in the darkness, with only my eyes and my hands revealing my flaws, scars, and loose skin, I feel like a freak. Losing 250 pounds should be a source of pride, of confidence, but it's not. My skin hangs off of me. My chest constricts, my head is in a fog, and those butterflies keep winging about in my stomach. I'm having an anxiety attack.
Before I climb into bed, my fingers explore and press each side of my groin. I'm numb in those spots, from the orchiectomies; one in 2005 and one in 2007. There are also strange sensations in those creases. A dull ache that has been a constant source of irritation on the left side. Of tingling and itching somewhere under the numbness. Scratching the spot provides no relief. The nerve damage from the surgery has created a phantom tickle that can never be scratched.
I climb into bed and wrap a sheet around me, and then claim a portion of the blanket. Lorazepam, Lamictal and Tramadol have made me sleepy, and I'm pleased. Few things are more upsetting than insomnia, which always travels with racing thoughts, and they are always withering and unkind. Before I sleep tonight, an unwelcome memory or two will be considered. Uninvited thoughts will force their way in. Nothing can be done to stop this, and my anxiety continues to get worse.
The first memory, very clear and oft considered, is of speaking at the Socialist Party National Convention at the Hotel Wisconsin in 1992. The night before, the National Committee had asked me to talk about health care reform. At that moment, my confidence was high and I was in a fine mood. Earlier in the evening, I had spoken with Ann Rosenhaft, Kari Fischer, Quinn Brisben, and Frank Zeidler. The memory of Frank Zeidler, old but very much alive and vital, is burned into my memory. He was once the mayor of Milwaukee, the last Socialist to be elected as the mayor of a major American city. A "Sewer Socialist." We spoke often at that convention, but not as much as I would have liked.
The night before my presentation, I took notes on what to say. But again, my confidence was high, and I decided to speak off the cuff. And I knew every piece of legislation, and wanted the SPUSA to support Marty Russo's bill. To support the passage of specific legislation.
Every detail of that little speech seems to be whole and stored away in gray, to be considered and re-considered countless times. How well did I do? I really don't know. But I've since decided to be cruel, to mock myself. How many times since 1992 have I attacked myself for being pathetic, stupid and absurd for thinking I could speak to 100 intellectual activists in public? Perhaps 1,000. Perhaps 10,000. A lot.
My stomach is churning now, and my thoughts jump to 2003, when I received 15 sessions of "electric shock therapy." Headaches. There were headaches. And a warning that the sessions would destroy some of my memory. My mother died just before the ECT, but I don't remember her last moments. I'm told that I delivered the eulogy, but that memory is gone, too. In a random universe, some things are bound to feel like mercy. Everything moves about for reasons that are beyond me, out of understanding. Into the light, or hidden in darkness.
What a mercy it would be to forget all of it. To come into the world new again. Whole. To cut the weights loose and appreciate the night and the comfort of my warm bed, to be in my body and not get lost in my mind, in thoughts that mostly seem designed to destroy me. And in a way they are, through a dark place behind my eyes.
Other memories are crowding in now. A cruel thing said to an ex-girlfriend is hovering in the mist, waiting to be considered. Before my mind goes there, I think about suicide for a moment. They say that suicidal people are just trying to escape pain. The loss of memory could be a setting sun that would take the light away from things we don't care to see. Suicide is no longer an option for me, not since another very long night earlier this year. This is going to be a long night, as well, but sleep will cut me down before other thoughts and memories have a chance to be heard, seen, and felt. Another mercy I never take for granted.