“Hold on, there’s something you should hear. It isn’t much, but it took all year,” — Jonathan Larson, RENT.
March 2020. A mysterious illness flattens me. Never diagnosed. I don’t go to the hospital. Become bed bound. As the illness progresses. I lose the ability to cook. Afraid to turn the stove on, I Instacart prepared food. Chocolate twist pastries. Pies. Snack boxes. Apples.
I heard “What are you?” In San Francisco. At the millennium. As often as Sookie Stackhouse in True Blood. In this time of escalating racial tensions. Reno people make it clear. I am not as white as they. I begin to wonder. Suspect. Amazon Prime Day, I buy a 23 and Me kit. Photograph the DNA barcode on my spit sample. In the sealed vial, part is blood red. Part clear. Strict line between. I don’t know what that means.
My 23 and me results are a mixture of European and colonized peoples. Wikipedia calls that Creole. I am French. German. English. Spanish. Italian. Native American. African. 0.2 percent unidentified. Supernatural whatnot? Perhaps. I am not, culturally, Louisiana Creole. I’m from the West Coast. American, but not the same America of my ex-wife.
“My parents are Trump supporting racists,” my ex-wife said. As explanation. To their absence. In our marriage. Her Southern values. Made me feel distant. More other. Farther apart. I began to speak French to myself. Alone. To have a private language. That she could not understand. But enjoyed hearing. Our ancestors died on decisively different sides of that first Civil War. Our last conversation, my ex-wife said her Confederate Flag T shirts meant “heritage.” To me? They meant divorce.
July 2020. I took a column break. Trump/Biden election ahead. Divorce to settle. So many things hung in the balance. I had to step away. For a season of grief. If Trump won? I’d lose SSDI. No income. No Medicare. No medication. No column.
Biden won that election. I await his inauguration. Wait for 2020 to end. 2021 to begin. Unscrew the plastic pouring nozzle on a box of Creamy Butternut Squash soup. Drink it in one sitting. Nosh cheddar cubes, chicken, trail mix and red grapes from a Sprouts snack box.
Food is fuel for this meat suit. I must keep it alive. Fed. Bathed. Toilet it. Rest. Medicate. I must take this essay in small pieces. I must not wear out. Like the Roomba. Cleaning the hardwood floors. Of this House of the Rising Sun. This cyborg needs regular maintenance, also.
“Alexa, is Andrea Lambert a cyborg?” I ask. The answer is muffled by the vacuum scraping lint on bathroom tiles. Where I smear menstrual blood sigils. Wipe the floor clean before anyone sees. I live alone. Not in a polycule, as Urban Dictionary calls a network of interlocking polyamorous relationships. Or a multiperson, multiple outside interaction household. I live in a monocle.
A monocle, in the archaic sense, is a single eye lens. On a ribbon. Attached to a waistcoat. Used instead of eye glasses. I don’t wear glasses. Medicare does not cover vision. I don’t drive anymore. My left eye is farsighted. Right eye nearsighted. I can’t see three dimensions. Representational drawing eases. Foreshortening translates to clean lines. Teen teeth cut on Alizarin crimson oils.
The word, “monocle,” as I use it now, is my home. This biome. I live alone. Post divorce. I would prefer not to speak of that further. I bear her no ill will, but we must stay apart. Especially in these pandemic times. When a single microbe is murderous.
December 2020. The Winter Solstice. The shortest days of the year. The longest nights. I wake. Scald my tongue on hot black coffee. Oversized Los Angeles mug. Orange and red skyscraper outlines like burning flames over Sunset Boulevard. I nibble ripe green grapes.
The room is dark. Is the power out? I inch under the cherrywood bed. Plug in the power strip. Running the media cave. My bedroom became. During the course of that marriage. Electrical devices alight. Bright. At the end of the bed, filling the space between bedposts, is a flatscreen television. I turn it on. Lie flat on my stomach. Propped on ashy elbows. Calloused and bruised from this posture. Soothed with coconut oil. My stamina gone.
I watch the 2005 film RENT. Based on Jonathan Larson’s rock musical. Filmed on Sixth Street. In San Francisco. Site of The Rosetta Bar in my books. 2009’s Jet Set Desolate. 2020’s Neon Hysteric.
2006. CalArts. “Narrative Ethics.” Drunk on red wine, I wrote sloppy. Submitted an essay. The ethical challenges of writing about HIV+ friends. In Jet Set Desolate, I conflated several into one character. So many dying around me. In class critique, I remember tears.
“This essay performs an ethical disaster.” the professor said. “I have to ask, is she serious?” I dropped the class, humiliated. Took my daily helpings of shame. From the classroom. To the cafeteria.
“We’re not gonna pay. We’re not gonna pay. This year’s rent,” Tenants onscreen sing. As burning screenplays and posters fall over sixth street to pyrotechnic effect. “How we gonna pay? This years rent. Last years rent. Everything is rent.” A song many must sing now. Not for their supper, but for naught. Long lines at food banks. Families starve on Christmas.
I am privileged to be sheltered. In this rent free ancestral home. I do not own. Or rent. I just am. Where I belong. Locked up. Alone. By my own free will.
I hunger. Get a plastic container of Chicken Tortilla Soup from the refrigerator. Eat it cold. I never heat food. Can’t use the microwave. Feel like I shouldn’t enjoy anything, anyway. I do not have that right. I finish the soup. Savory chicken and tomato clumps in my stomach.
“One song, glory. One song, to leave behind. One song, glory. On another empty life,” The HIV+ guitarist sings. In the 1980s. Before the more effective antiretrovirals. While Reagan ignored that pandemic. As so-called, “undesirables,” died off. Homosexuals. Artists. The sexually active. I am undesirable still. My life is not empty. Many words. Essays. Books. Paintings. Images. Films. I leave a media library behind. When I leave this life.
“I’m nineteen. I’m just born to be bad,” the stripper sings. I was nineteen in the nineteen nineties. In 2020’s Scaffolding.
“Living with, living with, living with, not dying from disease.” I take my morning dose of Trileptal. Klonopin. Prozac. Wellbutrin. I am always this desperately close to death. Amid wonders. How many diseases do I live with? I wonder. Further diagnosis is wasteful. Dangerous. All non elective medical care is on hold right now. Hospital ICUs and morgues at capacity. Freezer trucks of corpses line city streets that I once loved.
“This is Calcutta, Bohemia is dead,” the developer sings. Bohemia is/was strife. Portland. San Diego. San Francisco. Los Angeles. I don’t know about Reno. Do I need community for a Bohemia? Friends? Alone, perhaps I can escape the strife. Live my life.
My coffee is cold. A fluffy tabby curls at the foot of the bed. My aunt called him a Maine coon. I don’t feel quite right using that phrase. I don’t feel right talking smack about Calcutta either. America’s first world exceptionalism is nonsense. Post millennium.
I feel RENT’s conflicts. Identify and depart from each character. In my own “cyber studio.” A writer. Performance artist. YouTube filmmaker. Queer. A daughter of colonized peoples.
“A wealthy daughter of the revolution,” RENT’s Maureen Johnson said from a stage in New York. In 1989. Her performance art spoke of future Internet anxiety. Gentrification. Eviction.
“Let us always remember the fallen,” I said from a stage in Los Angeles. In 2015. My performance art spoke of queer love. The LGBT+ death toll. Sacred blessings to gay sex. The West Hollywood Queer History Project. The Adonis Project.
Angel’s funeral rendition of “I’ll cover you,” rings out. Through Old Southwest Reno. With my sobs of hopeless grief. I weep in the wee hours of the morning. Mourning. I live off SSDI now. It covers me. If that’s selling out? A filmmaker was conflicted over selling his protest footage to a news show? I’d gladly sell out that way if I could. I do what I have to do to survive.
In the bath, I sing “Il y a seulement ceci, il y a seulement moi. Ne peut oublié pas le passé. Pour le futur, sans espoir. Pas d’autre mode, pas d’autre vie. Ne jour qu’aujourd’hui. Il y a seulement moi. C’est le matin. J’ai les mots, mais ou est la gloire? Pas d’autre jour. Pas d’autre prière. Je doit écrire.”
There’s only this, there’s only me. Can’t forget the past. For the future, no hope. No other way, no other life. No day but today. There’s only me. it is morning. I have the words, but where is the the glory? No other day. No other prayer. I must write today.
Soapsuds cleanse tear stains and body’s stench of night sweats. I plait long blue grey hair to dry. Wrap a black scarf around two braids. Pull on a purple velvet housecoat. Put on heavy heirloom jewelry. Feel the weight of the past on my light brown skin.
I must eat something. Right now, I feel like passing out. I tear open a Sprouts Chicken Salad and Colby Box. Four plastic sections. Toss cube after cube of jack cheese into my mouth. Alternate with flat pretzels. Purple Grapes. Plump. Ripe. Juicy. Spoon chicken salad into my ravenous body.
In the Disability theory sense, a spoon is a unit of energy to complete a task. 2020 took so spoons. Rest provides further spoons. To cough up this lung of an essay.
Putting away literal silverware. After my ex wife was gone. I found spoons bottom scorched. I didn’t know what she was doing. Until it was too late. I curse my naïveté. I like to think I’m so worldly, but no. It’s hard to talk about. Between July and December. As if scooped out of my brain. C-PTSD. Solid black walls close off portions of my memory.
I woke up. Bed bound. Watching Sookie Stackhouse scream at nosy townspeople. Over her dead grandmother’s half pecan pie. In that True Blood episode, Sookie eats the half pie weeping over her dead gran. Exhausted with grief, I eat the half pecan pie I was saving for Christmas. Crunch of burnt brown sugar and molasses on pecans, smooth brown corn syrup mush beneath. Delicious.
I used to tell my Southern butch ex-wife I would make her a pecan pie. Someday. When I still could bake. When I still had that ability. Or believed it would return. Then I got sick. The perhaps COVID. I no longer believe that those abilities will return. This is the new normal. Post pandemic. PP. Post COVID. PC.
“I’d be happy to die for a piece of what Angel had. Someone to live for. Someone not afraid to say I love you,” RENT sings. I had someone live for. I didn’t die for it. Worse. I lived. Past her death. I had others to love. To live for. I legally married one. Till I loved her no longer. I am still alive. Why? To bear witness. To record.
“We’re still dying in America, at the end of the millennium. We’re dying in America, to come into our own. But when you’re dying in America. at the end of the millennium. You’re not alone,” the filmmaker sings. Reuniting with his guitarist friend. I’m still dying in America. After the millennium. To come into my own. But I am alone. I must stay alone. To survive. Survivors guilt. I am a surviving witness of 1976 to 2020. Lives lost. Cities. Only the art remains.
I don’t want to die. I am fighting so hard. To hold onto life. These days. I do everything horizontally now. Computing screens arrayed around. On white sheeted mattress pad. Or bench. Voice operated Alexa. On bedside table. To turn off lights. Pause television. When I cannot move.
The film ends. I feel tears heavy behind my eyes. Is it finally time? For these words. To lay my burden down. My dead grandmother’s hankies are drenched with tears and mucous. So many dead. Mine. Yours. All over. Over and over. I see the numbers climb. On the screen frame side of CNN. In the 525,600 minutes of 2020? What will the sum total death toll be?
I sing alone to the Alexa, “Il y a seulement moi. Seulement maintenant. Je peut mourir. Bientot, je sais. Pas d’autre vie, pas d’autre métier. Pas de jour qu’aujourd’hui. Il y a seulement moi. Seulement aujourd’hui. Beaucoup regretter. J’essaie à rester. Pas d’autre jour, pas d’autre matin. Mourir ou ne pas, c’est à moi de faire. Pas d’autre mode, pas d’autre vie. Je doit vit cette vie. Je vivra ma vie.
There’s only me. Only right now. I could die. Anytime, I know. No other life, no other way. No day but today. There’s only me. Only today. Much to regret. I try to stay. No other morning. No other day. To die or not, it is for me to do. No other way, no other life. I must live this life. I will live my life.
No-one’s land of the week between Christmas and New Years. I put a leather jacket over grey shirt and sugar skull leggings. Zip on combat boots. Loop a black mask over my mouth,
”Can’t talk now, doing hot girl shit,” I whisper. Wipe cat vomit off the laundry room carpet with a paper towel. Trundle out the morning trash at dawn.