I must be isolated. I am not allowed to be with anyone. I’m poison. I can’t pet my cat or nestle in with him. I’m poison. I can’t hug Paul. I can’t receive a hug. I really, really need a hug. I am lonely, a bit sad. I’m kinda scared. I want to be with someone. I want the comfort of another body near me. The reassurance of their breathing would be enough…but I’m poison. I can’t eat with anyone. We can’t share any physical object. I’m poison and all I touch is poison. I am not able to go to meditation or go to a store or a movie. I can’t share a room with anyone. I’m poison. There’s something odd about this. It feels familiar. I don’t know why. It’s a mantra of something from the distant past. I keep saying it to myself. “I am poison.”
What does alll this mean anyway? Why am I so taken with this singular idea? Why is it so painful? Natalie Goldberg says I should describe everything about it.
I sat in a little room with everyone standing in the hall looking in. The “everyone” was a doctor, a nuclear medicine specialist, two student interns, even a nurse. I sit in a chair and there’s a box the size of a rubix cube on the tray table in front of me. It’s made of what looks like leaded cement. In the center there’s a space for a little vial of clear liquid. One man is standing there. He’s got a lead suit on. He hands me a package which has a straw. I am to suck up the liquid. It tastes like it has a little sugar, but tastes mostly like water. Then again, there’s something about it that makes me think it doesn’t take like anything I recognize. I remember wondering what poison was supposed to taste like. Should it burn like bleach or something? Should it be coppery like ipecac? I remember marveling that it’s not terribly offensive. It’s just a bland liquid.
I get the straw unwrapped and suddenly I am drinking it and as I do, I become poison. I don’t look any different and yet there’s a bone deep sense that I am essentially different now. I worry aloud about the safety of everyone I walk by on the way home from the treatment. I am told they are safe, but not to pause or linger with anyone. I will be too radioactive to cross the border of the US for about four months.
How do I live with the poison? Will I still be happy; still be me? Will I manifest more alien growths; more death because I took this poison?
There is something so familiar about the poison and my identification with it. I don’t understand it…but my mind connects dots, chicken pox, mumps, measles, and influenza. Nobody wants to be around that. If you’ve got any of it, you’re persona non grata.
Okay. I get that, but being contagious from a virus isn’t the only kind of familiarity going on. What else is it? How else have I been poison in my life? I remember being called a “worm.” I remember the disgust in her face, in her voice. It’s the same kind that people have when someone pukes or when someone doesn’t want to catch a cold from being sneezed all over. Poison is gross, disgusting, catching…But is this the source of that sense of being basically wrong?
No. No, I’m not at the bottom of this well. I remember her voice again. It’s full of pain and impatience and some desperation I couldn't understand. “Your father isn't coming back. He doesn't want us.” I heard “me” of course. What little child can hear anything else? We simply cannot fathom the complexities of adult relationships. Children can barely understand themselves so others are simply incomprehensible. I can remember thinking that there must be something wrong with me, because he didn't want me.
I carried that idea that I was basically bad and unwanted into my life a long while. Such an idea was obviously poisonous and colored my whole life until well into adulthood. I suppose it should be no surprise that my body interprets this radiation, this poison, as just the same as being unwanted and unlovable. That’s a seed of wisdom right there.
While I sat waiting for my body to shed the radiation, I felt I was drifting. After all, how does anyone distance the pain of being poison? I really could not. It was with me each moment. “I am poison.” I turned to conscience breathing to sooth myself. I just didn’t have much energy for anything else. I didn’t write. I didn’t sing. I didn’t even read much. I let the TV drone around me for some company of sorts. I missed my cat. I missed the sense of rightness I feel in Paul’s arms. I wanted to get away from this poison, but I also embraced it. This poison wasn’t for me. It was for the alien of death growing in me. The alien and the poison were just visitors. At least that’s how I tried to think of it. How could I otherwise revisit some evil idea from the past that simply doesn’t fit and was never right to begin with?