Imagining something, hearing about it, speculating about it, trying to prepare for it, are not the same as experiencing it.
Of course I knew that. And I knew I knew it. And I knew it was something that must be perpetually re-learned. We always believe our projections. But projection and belief—are they not the same?
The difference in this instance was the magnitude. The fact that those who have undergone the procedure invariably fall silent—effectively disappear—should have been a signal, but this decision, once you make it, is the end result of such a long and intimate process it won’t stand for anything that undermines it.
But now, I ask myself, if I had known what was in store, would I have done it anyway? And the fact that the answer is almost certainly no, says less about me than about the nature of time. Time, in its ingenious way, separates motive from consequence. If we knew what was coming, we wouldn’t do anything. We would decline to be born. Not knowing drives the universe.
Of course I knew the procedure was “unpleasant.” And an earthquake is “inconvenient.” But I also knew it took only twenty-four hours. Yes, even seconds can be eternities, but I felt I could handle twenty-four hours. Others had.
Impasse propels life, those points where the status quo and the escape from it are equally unbearable. Du mußt dein Leben ändern. From the unknowable, random, multiple menu of possibilities we call the future and that don’t exist we create the knowable now. When we are ready.
Simply put, I was there.
I find that naivety amusing now.
The place was beautiful, serene. Nothing cold or metallic, none of the trappings of the medical. A comfortable room, windows open on all sides to a lovely landscape, a stream just outside, a vernal fragrance in the air. The attendants young and attractive, tastefully dressed. The table, hardly a bed, was far from cozy, but apart from the padded straps and the trough at the foot end, not suggestive of the torturer’s board. All necessary, I knew, but declined to ponder the details.
Derobed down to only me and comfortably fastened, I began to feel the first tremors of fear. The agreement I had signed stipulated no release from beyond this point. No matter how hard I begged. Fear is engineered into the organism, and the organism was the crux of the impasse.
The insertion of the drain tubes into my two heels was more an affair of pressure than pain. I’d been assured they had deadening agents for this, and they did, but still it felt like I had cleared the first hurdle. Ha.
They lowered the apparatus, a long bar like a fluorescent tube, to about a foot above me, just behind the crown of my secured head. They didn’t say anything, they just withdrew, the room became dim, and it began.
There is no reason even to try to describe the twenty-four hours that followed. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t—the details are mostly lost in the anesthesia of trauma. It began with a feeling like a saw cutting into my head, followed by the excruciating inching of the bar down the length of my body. You can say twenty-four hours—you can say blabblabblabblubba—it’s all meaningless.
I had not known such agony was possible. Physical, of course—as every system, every organ, every cell was cleansed of its contaminants, every pathogen, toxin, parasite, blood clot, infection, all inflammation, plaque, decay—the bar pushed it all down, the agony increasing exponentially with every tortured millimeter. But spiritual too. The process dug into the sealed depths of hopelessness, despair, self-loathing, the primordial terror that powers our souls, and freed it all in a flood that felt like suffocation. If any offer had been made to escape, to stop it, to die, or better, never to have been, I would have taken it as a drowning man would have taken air.
But none was.
When the bar reached my abdomen, the (I saw later) thick, black, viscous tar began to ooze from the tubes on my heels, feeling for endless hours like something about to rupture.
I don’t know how the end finally came, but when it did I felt the last surge in my burning feet like a gathering boil, and I could hear the hot sludge gurgling and slopping into the trough. It had a foul odor, and that took my attention for a while, until I could finally understand that the pain was gone.
I fell into something more trance than sleep and stayed in that state for a long long time. I guess. I didn’t care about time now. And it felt that what had been purged from my body was me—not me, because here I was—but the burden of me.
The thought of defiling my body in any way was not horrifying but simply impossible. I loathed the thought of anything passing from the material world into me. And no dread can compare to the dread of me coming back.
And then I was left to contemplate what in no way I could have prepared for: what to do now. How does one comport oneself as a spirit?
I had to laugh at the question.
Everything was rhythm and possibility, and a fragrance—I don’t know what else to call it—showed me where.
March 19, 2019