I haven’t left my home on my own since early March. I haven’t driven a car since then. I haven’t been able to take a walk around the neighborhood. I haven’t been able to clean house or even work in my garage office. I can’t concentrate on much and any physical exertion — up to and including taking a shower — results in me being whacked out and collapsed in the recliner for a good long stay.
I am, in essence, in jail.
The greatest fear I’ve ever had in my life, even greater than that of death, has been jail.
As a punk kid, mixing it up with a bad character or two and getting myself into mostly harmless but occasionally serious trouble, I lived in fear I’d be nabbed doing something stupid and be slammed away for a few months or even years. The very idea petrified me. In fact, the one time I was nailed for a real crime and was compelled to partake of the hospitality of the Chicago Police Dept.’s accommodations, I was so mortified that I actually changed my whole life around. I ceased hanging out with the bad character or two as well as participating in any trouble, kid stuff or serious. Suffice it to say the realities of a cell toilet sans toilet seat and bologna sandwich meals did the trick.
The jail cell I occupy now is a tad more homey. It is, in fact, home. I’ve got my comfy pillow and my blankets, my slippers, my books, the dogs and cats, The Loved One, heat I can control, and windows I can throw open when it’s glorious out. It’s a hell of a gilded cage.
But it’s a cage nonetheless.
The whole confinement thing has depressed me no end. My world has shrunk to an area of about 1700 square feet. I can walk from the bedroom to the study in fewer than ten seconds — and that’s with me shuffling along on chemoradiation-weakened gams. I’m awfully tired of looking at the same tile pattern, the same pine floor grain, the same pictures on the walls with no variety ever entering into my days. I’d love to see a painting hanging on the wall of IU’s Art Museum, or the shelves of Penguin Classics at the Book Corner, or even a flat-screen TV picture of some stupid soccer game at, say, The Office Lounge on 3rd Street.
Give me anything other than what I have to look at 24 goddamned hours a day here at the Big Mike Correctional Center.
Fortunately, the skies have been brilliant blue and the sunshine radiant gold the last couple of days. I don’t know how I’d feel if these last few days were overcast. I don’t want to know.
Of course, the spectacular weather might even be adding to my misery. I’d love nothing more than to go outside and gambol in the sun. Steve the Dog and I haven’t gone down to Lake Monroe for one of our long walks in months. I haven’t been out in the backyard in just as long.
I see bikers furiously pedaling by on SR 446 outside my study window, preparing for the Little 500 in a couple of weeks. Joggers and walkers pass by too, some of them with their own hounds on leashes. I have the urge to throw the window open and shout to them, “Help me! Get me out of here!” but I don’t think they’d understand.
In any case, what comes as a surprise to me throughout this ordeal is the knowledge that my psyche as well as my bod need care and nurturing. I had no idea this cancer stuff could harm my mind and spirit so profoundly.
I crowed from the rooftop (well, on social media at least) yesterday about at last being able to get a half bowl of creamy butternut squash soup down my gullet. Now, this is a big deal for someone who hasn’t swallowed in better than a month. I’m told I could even have lost the ability to swallow and would have to learn, with the help — believe it or not — of the radiation center’s Swallow Team, how to do it all over again.
For a veteran trencherman such as I, learning how to gulp anything would seem to be something written large and deep in my genes, but apparently not.
In any case, the soup slid down as if it somehow knew it belonged in my belly. Home, as it were. The problem was, it was the most foul tasting stuff I can recall ever introducing into my facehole. The soup, per se, is fine, see. It’s one of the the aftereffects of chemotherapy that change a guy’s taste for a while after treatment. My taste is abominable at this point in time.
Sadly, I doubt if I’ll ever be able to eat that specific flavor of Pacific brand boxed soup again. The whole association thing, you know. A small sacrifice, I’d say, for the sake of experimenting to make sure I don’t forget how to swallow.