I’ve been promising an update with a bit more on why July wound up being a bad month for comics. But it’s taken a while and turned into a triple update – starting here, with Update 1.
To start, I was returning to the Great Lakes area to celebrate my birthday with my family after a particularly rough year this past July. This requires a bit more context – and a drawing of my father. Here he is as I know him:
My father had lymphoma for 8 years before he received a bone marrow transplant the day before I left for New Delhi in 2010, at which point his health improved. Until it didn’t. And we started yet another series of treatments that staved off death for a while longer. Until they didn’t. To make a long story shorter, as of last October, my father was given until May of 2015. I spoke with a few of my friends, but only a few, about this – I didn’t want to come off as overly self-involved or ignorant of the others’ troubles. And, to be honest, I wanted to be able to make the most of the time we had left without fielding phone calls or emails asking how things were.
But I underestimated what losing someone means.
We started planning his funeral, and then we’d pretty much planned it. I remember that he wanted me to sing a version of “I’ll be there” by the Four Tops, though I’ve rarely sung in public. Myself and one of my sisters would get him and my mother to our brother’s marriage in Boston in May, and, from there, no one wanted to think about anything except the expected shit show that would come when someone in our family would die – to prepare, to cope, to avoid coping. We went through the motions, and we shared some deep moments.
And last November, during Thanksgiving, some of us were enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning when my dad started moaning in his bedroom. We all heard it, but we were also exhausted from helping with medications, with oxygen tanks, with calculating finances, with cooking meals, and helping take care of someone in a world of pain. I couldn’t take it – I couldn’t listen to the pain of the person who’d woken me up in the night to watch comets burn in the sky, who’d helped me keep up with math and science and art, who’d hugged me through difficult situations, who’d taught me to be strong but malleable like soil in the earth, and who’d pushed me to pursue my passion for comics and folklore rather than something easier.
So, I walked into the room and I held him. I might have said he was okay. I might not have. But after a few minutes, the moaning slowed and then stopped. And the loudest man I’ve ever known whispered into my ear – “Thank you.”
That same month, we found out that the pill he likely needed to fight back his health problems would cost 10,000 dollars a month – and he needed to take it for a month. Insurance wouldn’t cover it; my father’s life was worth approximately 120,000 USD. And we didn’t have anything like that.
Around then, I returned to a not-so-good poem I’d written for him when I was living in Chicago; here that is.
The Flame of Odin’s Eye / Learning to Fly
In time, stars become blurred lines in an inky basin.
Fields of crops, a haze of green, golden infinity. The closer
I get to you, the farther the darkness feels,
that cave of claustrophobic ennui that clings to me.
Perhaps my birthright is not that suffocating despair,
instead, a breathing, or digging deep roots into soil.
But we are hardly trees, those carbon sinks that hold
the earth together. Though you are my yggddrasil that
mythology never bore. The aether that exists even though
telescopes cannot spy it, yet nothing more than the air
around the core around the beating heart’s fire.
The sun becomes a blue blotched lie, the farther that I rise.
The moon an eye that coolly catches and observes the flames.
The closer I am to understanding, the farther I am from life, or
cherishing its perfect impossibility. I am the creation of
two parallel bodies, two planets co-orbiting what cannot be said,
sometimes colliding. I sprang from you, father, mother, the veins
and root structures that grew, an extension of former fires. A repeat
of the question given life in your forms: what is being for?
That is a gift I cannot quantify or dare to earn. Perhaps my birthright
is not to end, but breathing fire, building hope from the ashes of despair.
It is just like you taught me, sitting on the porch of my childhood,
you with a log in one hand, a knife in another, a miniature canoe
still forming in your mind. Watched you cut possibility from impossibility.
And I, afraid, saw creation rise up from infinity, from the whorls
of the shattered tree shard. Rising, rising, until, gasping, joyful,
I took it from you. Or you gave it to me. Like life, it does not matter, but
that I loved it like a dragon loves the air, like a lung breathes, like
I love you now, after all the near misses and almost deaths. Like
holding your hand when you thought you might die and thinking
“I don’t deserve to love you, much less be your son.”
And you gave me that canoe and I lost it just as quickly as
it had risen from the chaos of living, perhaps quicker. You gave me
this fire that rumbles in my molecules, this life that wrestles with
my mind, these fears that hang me upside down in tree-like mysteries,
and all the hopes a dragon could need to rise and take faltering flight.
A few months later, myself, my mom, and my dad’s doctors noticed that he was always tired – and then we discovered through sleep tests complicated by his poor health and general stubborn-ness (the latter of which likely kept him going through all the tough spots) that my father was sleeping 10 minutes a night due to severe sleep apnea. He got a sleep machine, and I left for a job in Colorado in January, begrudgingly. Within a few weeks, my dad stopped hallucinating at random (which he’d rather enjoyed – but especially when I coached him back to reality and he’d tell me of his adventures).
He started managing his finances again.
He started remembering our conversations.
He started being a bit more like his baseline self.
And I took a deep breath.
To be continued…some time soon.