My disregard for and distrust of technical language seems so deeply rooted in my past that the matter seems incurable. Still, even the middle-aged mind has to open occasionally. So damned if it didn’t come to me, tilted back in my wheelchair in the midst of a morning muse upon my current state of anxiety. That is to say, things came into focus. The light bouncing off my retina finally wound its way through the right cells of my brain, producing a sort of harmony between, if nothing else, words and meaning.
Indeterminate, the word assigned to the class of tomatoes I was viewing, had proven itself. No, this was not the Secretary of Defense from my late adolescence promising to ‘escalate’ matters military into the splattered brains and dismembered torsos of millions of constituents of Haiphong and elsewhere…. Nor was it my former electronics clients aiming words like ‘virtual’ at the very edge of the target zone of meaning. No, there is a reason why they call them ‘indeterminate tomatoes.’ It is because their growth cannot be determined. One can match them, this year’s crop of cherry tomatoes with last year’s, seeds from the former generating the latter. But one cannot match their height. That being indeterminate. Yes, thanks to the aforementioned compost, climate change, the absence of a Republican in the White House, or some other unknowable factor, my current crop of cherry tomatoes is reeling under its own 12 foot height.
The real message linking directly to the one arising from the waters of Monterey Bay the day Marlou’s ashes sank in one direction, dolphins and everything alive and aquatic rising in the other. Life, unstoppable, inexplicable and, yes, indeterminate.
A good reminder in a time of fear. The latter arising from indeterminate sources., Although this is not quite accurate. Indeterminate timing would be closer to the mark. For some reason the most essential fears springing from my injury and its origins…well, they are with me. They seemed to drop in uninvited last week in Inverness (California). And have stayed around like vagrants crashing in an unlocked house. My mind being an attractive squat for reasons that are not quite clear. After all, there is a reason why one calls it the past. Except one that has that I-recall-it-as-though-it-were-yesterday vividness of memory seared into place by emotion. More permanent than a good tattoo.
I even recall the weary mindlessness of the moments before, an idle thought of knocking on a neighbor’s door, such were the midnight habits of undergraduates…then changing my mind, probably wise for the couple in question, mortally unwise for me, of course. Rattling through a few Spanish verb endings as the cross street approached, the one I did not cross. And the way three black kids stepped off a distant curb, crossed the street, headed toward me. And, no, I didn’t have any spare change…womp, the puzzling and disorienting feel of getting slugged in the mouth…and the proud leer of the young man producing the most American power object…the shot, and why was everything descending? And then.
I do recall, months, maybe almost one year afterwards, still having the fear that ‘they’ were after me. Friends were puzzled. I was puzzled. Too bad there wasn’t someone to discuss this puzzling matter with, although the matter would have demanded vast wisdom. Not to mention confidence, even chutzpah on the part of any listener. So there we were. And here we are…the essentials remarkably unchanged. At least the fear unchanged…and how such a thing can be unchanged after 43 years is downright indeterminate. Nothing can get that old and out of hand, not even tomatoes…which, by the way, have grown past their stakes, supported now by unseen, possibly supernatural forces. But still growing.
And if it is any consolation, and frankly, it isn’t much, so am I. That is the only thing that can be said to justify my current fearfulness, sleeplessness and mind-boggling preoccupation with events many decades old. Acknowledging the very visible effects. The worsening effects. But I will admit that if I can stick with…whatever it is, something will become clearer. And so what lies ahead but, eventually…as the sleeplessness transitions…a wondrously revealing nightmare or two? I can’t wait.
Meanwhile, one stays alert. Life is going on all around. And some of it comes at me in ways that demand appreciation, even gratitude. In the local supermarket one of the young men who stock the shelves and spray the vegetables looked, well, thoughtful. So I must have said something, asked how things were going, what he was up to. This happened either long enough ago, for the details to have blurred, or fairly recently and the memory is now muddled by my couple of weeks of insomnia. Whatever, there he was just yesterday, stacking peaches and stopping me to provide an update on his life. How old is he? Late 20s, early 30s? In any case, yesterday I was feeling somewhat frayed when he began telling me that it had come to him that his depression was really joy trying to burst through. Now, he assured me, he was a happy person. I took this in, struggling to remember if I needed another avocado, desperate to get away…aware that especially here, in this America Of the Lonely, I had to do my best to listen. I did so, giving it a good shot. He was a happy person, he was saying, while I was mentally noting the suicide prevention hotline in this area. Great, I said. Adding, somehow, for I had found a way to extend this interaction in the general direction of romaine lettuce, watching as he presented this head and that head, then opening a plastic bag for me. Well, depression, I assured him, is part of life. Good luck, I added. Being both the least and the most I could do at that particular moment. We are our brother’s keeper, and this is undeniable, but not every keeper is on shift at every moment…and some caffeine would not hurt matters. Off to Peets.
But not for long, the appointment with the wheelchair repair guy appearing like a genie in my cappuccino foam. Homeward. Only to find that the expert, the true wheelchair mechanic, was off on some other emergency and here was his assistant. Michael. A nice guy, but no expert. And what I need, always need, is expertise. For that is what is required in a disabled life. A superior level of knowledge, not to mention caution, and certain inherent skills. All right. Michael. I would make the best of it. Let us start with the folding power wheelchair. Singularly unilluminating, this was, Michael’s entire point being that the thing takes strength. A very unsatisfactory, not to mention inelegant, finding. He snapped the wheelchair open, flipped the battery tray into place, clicked the rubber-clad red connectors together. Force being the key to all of these things apparently. The very thing I cannot supply, and really can’t even describe to others who will assemble this thing for me.
We had a discussion of batteries and their charging. He adjusted an armrest. I adjusted my attitude, trying to get beyond impatience and exhaustion to…let the young man know I appreciated whenever he had to offer. While I dealt with matters on my desk and, business concluded, said goodbye to Michael…who asked about the sketch on my computer screen. A book cover, I told him. Whose…being the next question and the answer, mine, sparking an urgent request for a copy. Which also made my head wobble, for what was there to gain by such a request? No one gives gratuities in these wheelchair-repair
transactions, for example. And here he was, writing his name on his boss’s business card. Please let him know. He would buy one for his mother.
Why not? Or, better, why? Ours is not…. Reasoning why being fruitless, being grateful much more reliable. And grateful for what? For being able to connect with people across generation and class, let us say. Which when I think about it is closely related to…in this case, fear. The same thing that keeps me awake at night keeps me awake during the day. Even awake in the right ways. Good to make connections. And by the way, I asked Michael, can you crank up the speed on my wheelchair? Turns out that he needs a portable programming device, but sure, he said, next time he’s in Menlo Park. Good news, for if I can’t sleep, at least I can speed.