Necessary Action

by John R. Killacky







Jean-Michel Basquiat

Seizures at bedtime. MRIs locate a tumor inside the spinal cord. A hospital gurney takes me into overhead white light. I wake up screaming, covered in blood and iodine, paralyzed from the neck down. Body and mind are ripped apart. I cannot stop the jerking of my limbs, unclench my hand, or move my toes. There is no location on my left side and no sensation on my right.

All I have is Larry. His eyes say "Don't Die." Dawn is the worst—with him asleep and the medical shifts changing, I stare back at the world, whimper, and cry What's the movie today? I fantasize getting to the window, breaking the glass, slitting my throat.

Two boys down the hall—motorcycle crashes screwed cages into their skulls. No one's told them they'll never leave. The elegant woman across the way—flawless on top, but her legs are dead. Another surgery gone wrong. My roommate lost toes to diabetes and had another stroke. His wife screams on the phone to come home.

People worse off make me feel less sorry for myself, until someone more mobile shows up. I'd rather be alone glaring at my swollen and skewed left side that is flaccid, sagging and lifeless. My movie in this room has the helmet kids not shrieking, the young men walking upright, the old ones not drooling, and me tapping my fingers.

Six weeks in the hospital and two months in a wheelchair at home, then I navigate life on the outside. Alarmed expressions, sympathetic smiles, and open-mouthed pity: the more generous people are to me, the more I resent them. Few really care to know, most want only to be reassured. Each encounter makes me smaller.

Meeting other crips, I never ask my real questions. I'm frightened when Jack regresses, Stephanie gets depressed, Judy breaks her hand, or Mark dies. The movie here? Stephanie's legs untangle, Jack walks unassisted, Mark gets published, and Judy rides her horse with me running free. I still dream fully able, they all do too.

Life at home revolves around getting to work and fitting in rehab with Larry as my soccer mom. Cooking and cleaning, the dog and me; I'm a burden to him. While my relation to living remains elusive, I donšt know how to ask his forgiveness to go first. As we drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, I imagine us as Thelma and Louise, blissfully accelerating into oblivion.

With no sensation, sex is purely visual. Reciprocating with my enfeebled fingers and locked-in neck is short-lived. Often, I disassociate to retrieve stored memories of thrusting, receiving, grasping, hardness, wetness, stickiness, and release. It's not enough. The movie should have us rolling around wrestling and jousting, fucking and sucking with gleeful abandon.

I am despondent whenever my body fails and it always fails me. Sadness and anger, frustration and tears are constant—but private. As the neuropathy increases in my legs, I obsess on long-term survivors whose over- compensating bent frames refuse to give in. My debilitation fuels self-loathing. I embarrass myself with fear and shame.

What I wanted to be temporary is permanent. There are no happy endings for the movie today: no transformations, no miracles to celebrate, and no heroic deeds. There's just Larry and me, holding on to one another, slowly making our way in the world, careening side by side.

© 2000 John Killacky


John R. Killacky is a filmmaker, writer, and arts administrator living in San Francisco. The text published here is the voice-over and narration for "Necessary Action," which he wrote, narrated, edited, performed, and shot on color Mini-DV.


BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/July 2001