Lasantha Rodrigo is a Ph.D. student in English Studies (Creative Writing focus) at Illinois State University. He earned his B.A. in English and Theater from Pacific Lutheran University, WA and two MAs in English from St. Bonaventure University, NY and University of Rochester, NY. He specializes in Creative Non-fiction, especially through a lens of gender and sexuality.
Andrea took me to the doctor’s office to get the results of my
spinal tap. It was a chilly morning in December, the day after Christmas.
Dr. Clifford looked at me compassionately, the silver of his luxurious
hair looking more ominous than usual.
“Classes going okay, buddy?”
“How long do I have to live?”
“Now, now! I know you are a theater major. It’s not so bad,
trust me. We suspect you have a condition called multiple sclerosis, commonly
known as MS.”
“Oh, I remember. I was in a play once, and the central character
in that play dies of this disease.”
“Ah, must be an old play. It’s not that bad now. You will
live to be a hundred!”
“Merry Christmas to you too, Doc! I’m kidding.” I smile.
He tries to hide his face.
After getting the life-altering news, Andrea and I go to Starbucks for steaming coffee to pacify the steam
within me. I see Andrea’s big
brown eyes and slightly tilted head assessing me with the love of the
world. She is my boss at The Student Services Center where I work. She
has a son and a daughter. I didn’t think I was going to cry, but
Andrea was already there to hold me. I’m not sure if I cried because
I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis or because I was thinking of the mellow
blue of Kyle’s eyes.
It was just a week before the Brute dumped me. He said I was limiting
him. That he couldn’t do much with me. I got the hint. He needed
someone with perfect limbs. Someone who could jive on his bed. Someone
who could tango with his eyes closed. I’m glad the alcoholic is
out of the picture, but I think about the mellow blue every once in a
while; the mellow blue of his eyes.
I must have been guided by some heavenly power. How could this truckload
of brown flesh transport itself from A to B without help? One day at a
time, Mom said. One breath at a time. One word at a time. And all these
limitations on someone who wanted it all. Someone who wanted to tango
with closed eyes on a raised platform, exposed to the whole world. One
day at a time. But some of these days are nothing short of wingless gnats
swimming imperceptibly in boiling cauldrons.
I used to tie shoe laces. My shoes used to have laces that needed tying.
Not anymore. I wear slip-ons. Like a frikkin’ ballerina. But they
work. No laces. Sometimes, I realize, though, that I need to get the wretched
foot inside the shoe first. Then I perform a Spartan battle. Grinding and
groaning, I shove in the unfeeling foot. Closure. No laces to tie. Thank
God for Walmart. Then I look all dandy. I creep to the bathroom, feeling
the texture of dead walls along the way. I must see myself in the mirror,
all 145 pounds of me.
Initially, when I was having difficulty walking, the Brute carried me
on his shoulders. Coming out of the “Night of Musical Theater,”
the Brute offered to carry me all the way to my dorm room. I was shy.
The whole campus could see, I thought. It was hard balancing myself on
the Brute’s shoulders. I clung to his wartank with both my hands.
I had faith in the Brute. I didn’t think for a moment that he’d
drop me. And even if he did, I knew he’d catch me. I felt safe with
Oatmeal is good for cholesterol, so I eat oatmeal in the morning. I dump
loads of raisins and peanuts to make it more palatable. One bite at a
time. I still choke. Oatmeal, raisins, and peanuts all come out sometimes
in nasty, semi-chewed crap-resembling smelly matter. I try to cough, but
coughing is not within my list of the “possible.” I drink
water, or to be precise, whatever drinkable liquid lies closest to me.
Eventually it all goes down, but I’m impatient. I dump the oatmeal,
bowl and all, in the trashcan. I hate oatmeal. It makes me choke. I hate
Walmart because they sell oatmeal. I hate the logo on Quaker Oats.
I used to steal an apple every day from the cafeteria for the Brute.
Once he bit into one with the sticker on. We laughed. The late afternoon
in Tacoma was orange and saffron. The streets were squalid, but I was
squeaky-clean, he said. He said he liked my accent. He said it sounded
arrogant. He said it was sexy. Sexy, my ass. I can’t even get my
words out now. I struggle with words moving inside my oral cavity, desperate
to escape. Like semi-digested bile. Unbaked cookie dough. They come out,
failing to match up to the intended meanings in intended phraseology.
Then I have to make presentations in class. How in the hell do I present
when my heart palpitates, and I die a thousand times before one thought
is made audible? Intelligible. Mello blue, they were. The Brute’s
I hum Moon River in the shower. I have good vibrato, apparently. The
white tiles amplify it. I keep singing like a brown ghost in a white bathroom.
I see the playground through the open window. No kids playing. No picnics
in the dead of winter. I try to reach my back with blue liquid soap. Arms
are locked. Maybe some other day I’ll get to the back. I try the
neck, which is closer. Arms are still locked. Must be a bad day. I turn
the water off. I’m still singing Moon River. My feet are like raisins
now. The Brute liked to hear me sing. On weekends we went to “The
Platinum Box” for their scareoke, or whatever it was called. Sammy
hosted the show with a wandering eye, clad sometimes, in shiny head gear.
Against her ebony skin, the shiny material looked ghostly, and coupled
with her wandering eye, she scared the shit out of me when I first met
her. She had big vibrato, and the room shook. When I sang, the Brute held
me in his arms against mild protestations from me. The wartank was a safe
place to be.
On my way to Smith Hall where all my classes are held, I fasten my posh
Londonfog coat tighter. The wind is brutal. When I wear the stocking hat,
it messes up my hair. But the cold is too much to handle. Who knows how
MS would react to exposure to extreme temperatures. My nerves could freeze
and turn purple. That was the thespian in me. Drama queen. So I hobble
out of my apartment, trying to find the right key to lock the door out
of five or six keys marked by key identifiers. It’s a red, bordering
on pink. Even the key to my humble abode challenges established gender
behavior. After dangling the noisy bunch of keys several times with the
tasteless cane leaned to the Londonfog, I locate the gender-bending pink
key. Well, red, really. I walk out of the apartment, squeak through the
outer door, lose my balance a couple of times, and finally insert the
red key and lock the apartment. I hear the click. I take the key out
and fasten the outer door. The bus stop is less than a block, and I hurry
my unsteady steps on the glittering carpet of snow. The bus leaves at
7:35 a.m., and I look at my watch, it reads 7:35. A distant screeching
of a macho vehicle distracts me, and I look up from the watch to see the
bus taking off from the bus stop. I can’t run. So I just sigh. I
tell myself to plan better next time. I will tell the Big Boss when I
write in my journal tonight, I say. Ah the wind, the wind. My eyes tear.
Through the morning canopy of hazy eyes, I see the blank wall in front of me. The alarm clock screams. My thermostat is at 72. It’s warm. My comforter is blue. Inanimate comfort. I peel it off. I creep to the shower. I feel drywall along unsteady steps. One leg at a time into the bathtub. I start the water. I turn the shower on. I make the water steaming hot. It attacks me with unannounced aggression. I close my eyes. I think of mellow blue. I fade.