The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here, that life exists, and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
“Am I doing the right thing?”
Not before, nor since, have I asked that question aloud, posed 15 years ago today.
My organs were in. I was flying from New York, on the tick tock clock, for my double transplant. The doctors prepped me: gown and gurney, hair net and thin blanket. Shivering, cold as hell. Now all that awaited were the new kidney and pancreas down the hall.
I had been waiting more than year for this moment. A perfect genetic match. A chance. Yet I wasn’t sure that moment. Spencer and Michael had offered their kidneys. My god. Their kidneys. I never told them, but I got two calls that my donor pancreas was in. Tick tock. That we could move forward as soon as a volunteer was ready to be cut.
I was a shitty diabetic. I chose to run from the disease I contracted when I was 14. I barely paid notice to my blood level unless it sank perilously low or soared dangerously high. I chewed sugared gum to fit in with the kids at the basketball court behind Pierce Middle School. They hit up the Good Humor truck every lunch period. I didn’t want to be that one kid who couldn’t chew goddamned bubblegum. I convinced myself that I was like any other kid, that nothing like juvenile diabetes, a disease I’d heard of until I got it, could conquer Ultraman.
Now I’m on the gurney, forced to face the cost of my flight.
“Am I doing the right thing?” I asked my ex-wife, Julie. In all my hubris, I needed reassurance.
“I don’t know,” she said. “But if you want to call this off, we can leave here right now.”
Now, I know. It is the right thing. Better to die on the table than of diabetes’ decay, I said, feigning bravery. The real reason I was ready: Finally, after so much running, I realized I did not face this alone. Over the years, I’ve discovered, that’s the key to facing what appears so frightening, so insurmountable, so entrenched within. That there’s another option besides facing your demons, or not.
You can hunt them. Corner them. Force them into the light and make those motherfucker pay before you finish them off.
If you are afraid of love, love. If you fear faith, believe. If you are frightened of the dark, get up in the middle of night. Don’t turn on the light. Walk to the center of the room, the center of the dark, and challenge the spirits to show themselves, to take their best goddamn shot.
They won’t. That’s the thing about inner demons. They are crafty, malleable, terrific at making you believe they are actual. Undefeated on the field, they will say, and you are but grass to be mowed.
But that’s a lie. They are cowards.
I was a crime writer the first half of my professional career, and saw real monsters. Michael’s brain tumor. Ronald Gene Simmons, who killed 14 relatives over Christmas because he snooped a note that his wife was tired of the abuse and was going to leave for good. Those are monsters materialized. I cried when one took Michael, sighed relief to see the other executed.
Yet how often do we face such demons? How often do we instead convince ourselves that they’ve become so fierce that we’re not up to repelling them? That we…just…can’t.
We can. It is within us, because we created that darkness. Perhaps let it grow out of control until it appeared in control.
Is this not of our own creation? Is it really that impossible to smite that enemy, god-like and vengeful? The bible loves to preach of demons and gods borne outside our world. Adam and Eve were fine until that nasty serpent pulled up in the fruit cart.
Fuck that. Maybe Adam was just jonesing for some fructose. Maybe if he’d faced his own demons instead of blaming one in a tree, we wouldn’t have ever had to say goodbye to Samuel Flegel. Instead, he rests inside me. I carry him, perhaps because of my own demons.
But, on this day every year, he taps me on the shoulder. He is a gentle but literal reminder. I do not walk among the night spirits alone. That he is here, bow at the ready. That my quiver is full, filled with arrows sharpened by Spencer and Michael and those who were always less fearful than I.