Sleep-Inducing Figs

With the help of steroids, I can hold and wield my pen. It is miraculous. Pen and paper are my friends. Friends that do not abandon me. Friends that do not betray me. Friends that do not grow tired of me. I carry them wherever I go. I write whenever I can.

I do not hesitate to write all over the white space of the latest book I’m reading. It is a book on writing creative nonfiction and the juices stir. Not even the margins are safe from my flying pen. While I wait during the interval between the Physician’s Assistant and the Rheumatologist, I scribble.

I scribble with my new pen; it feels right in my hand. It is where it belongs, the purple ink flowing resplendent among the fine black text. I’ve been reading an essay about artistic space. How you should carve it out of nothing if you must. How you must value it and not let anything take it from you. How you must snatch it from the very jaws of life.

Because life will attempt to take it from you, snaking out tendrils of despair to coil around your creativity, thereby starngling it. If you allow  it, if you succumb, it is akin to eating “sleep-inducing figs.” Partaking of this poison dish allows you to go through life somnolent, numb to the call. Under the influence of a narcotic that makes you quiescent.

The author’s words resonate with me. I recognize myself. I hear her; she is writing about me. About what has been me, so far. There has always been something else to do, someone else to do for. Compulsively, I would begin pieces, stories, journals, only to abandon them before finishing. Later, I would tell myself, I will write later.

Sitting in my doctor’s office, I realize later is now. Later must be now. I block out the sounds of both hesitant and purposeful footsteps along the hallway. I ignore the office staff’s susurrus voices and the other patients’ nervous responses, and I write. I write furiously and needfully, dreading the moment I will have to stop, my brain a flurry of words, thoughts and feelings.

I marvel at how I can grip my pen so easily, without pain. I feel grateful for this simple gift. I am nothing without a pen in my hand anymore. I jealously guard these moments while the margins of my book disappear in a sea of purple. Every few minutes, I glance toward the open doorway; I am like a starving man guarding his food. Words are my sustenance.

Eventually, my doctor walks in and, reluctantly, I close my book. We talk, we plan, we concur. I’m to stay on steroids to control the pain. I’m to see a pulmonologist to evaluate the persistent productive cough. He reaches for his phone and immediately contacts that office for me. They will call you shortly to verify the appointment, he says.

I gather my things and stand up. He smiles and shakes my hand, holding it gently, always so gently. I walk out of the hospital in which I worked for eighteen years. In the parking garage, I decide to walk up to my car. My body feels light as I climb the sunny open stairwell. When the door to the fourth level slams shut behind me, I realize the only sign of my exertion is a fire in my chest. And that fire makes me feel strangely alive. Acutely awake.

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