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Those Who Still Have Bones –Oct. SF

Those Who Still Have Bones

Matt and Jacob visited us at the Stanyan Park in San Francisco. We had the suite that night, so we weren’t all four cramped on a chair and a bed. Two visitors, yes. Experiments with more than two at a time have been less successful: the intrinsic dynamics of groups stimulates the bones, even with generally quiet people.

In Tracks Along the Left Coast, Andrew Schelling quotes a letter from Jaime de Angelo to his old mentor Franz Boas: “I don’t enjoy visitors. I want to be alone. I seem to resent all people except Lucy and Guiomar. I don’t want any living people around me. I am dead and they have bones! as the ghosts said in the old Shasta story”

The way the Shasta tell it, a man follows his woman to the Land of the Dead, but the people there all stay away from him. Old Man Coyote, who was wandering through, had to explain it to him: “the people won’t let you stay here. They don’t like you because you have bones.”

Maybe the young man had to make up a song, a medicine song, right there on the spot to get Old Man Coyote to show him the way out.

     They don't like you because you have bones.

***
So skeletons are a mark of the living, and all those without at least a foot into the Land of the Dead have them. There are huge differences, however, from one person to the next, in just how many bones they have, how many bones they carry around with them, and how much noise they make with them.

Maybe it reflects how closely each has, themselves, come to the Land of the Dead. My liver donor Matt has been pretty close to the Land of the Dead, both through circumstance and then through choice. With Jacob, much as I love him, there is always a hint of a party going on. And one thing those of us without bones feel especially distant from is a party.

My brother is that way also: always a party in the works. I used to think that had to do with the lush side of his nature: a chance to drink—but now I think it has to with this thing I’m calling “Loud Bones.”

***
A man with a huge loud frame all saggy and hanging came into the Radiology changing room, helped by a somewhat younger but still hoary man who was probably his son.

It looked as if he’d weighed at least 300 pounds until rather recently, but less than two hundred now–way less: his arms and his legs were almost skinny and half the size of the openings they stuck out of in his pajamas, and his skin had that wrinkled and excessive look to it. I was trying to figure out how he had ever fit into his triple-x underwear.

This man had been there. He hardly had a bone in his body. I mean, he had big bones sticking out everywhere with this loose skin hanging on them—but those bones didn’t count—those were ghost bones.

“So are you one of the ‘successes’ here,” he asked me, louder than he needed to.

Actually, that was the perfect icebreaker. I laughed out loud.

“So how old are you?” Asked far too directly for my sense of propriety. I wanted to talk to him but I didn’t want to be bullied. Started my own inventory, on his body.

“My name is Scott,” he told me, evidently deciding to meet me half way.

“I’m seventy,” I told him. Scott was laughing because he could see that I was doing the arithmetic in my head. Scott was seventy-eight. Maybe he’d been a cop. Maybe that was why he was so pushy.

But there was still stuff he wanted to know. Scott’s son, no spring chicken himself, had come over and was folding clothes and trying to get his dad into his open-in-the-back gown and also, I think, to keep him from getting too rude. But Scott wasn’t finished. He skipped everything that was non-essential. No small talk, no miscellaneous information, just what was vital for him to know.

And, exactly, he was asking my own questions.

“Dale, are you a fighter?”

That caught me off guard. And off guard I got close to his face and shrugged.

“I don’t even know,” I complained.

Scott wasn’t buying it. He waited.

“Okay, look,” I said. “IF I had a decent chance of success; IF I still had a chance to do some kind of beautiful or useful work in the world; THEN, sure, I’ll fight. But if I’m living in pain and can’t do anything for myself or anyone else, I’ll gather my sweeties and kiss them goodbye and I’m outta here.”

We had a long hand shake as I left.

“God bless.”

Two men without skeletons: how they talk.

“God bless.”

Walking down the corridor, feeling the pain from each step go around my back, I wondered if endure might be more to the point than fight.

 

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