I have lost my dignity.
Though my wife mourns it daily, is appalled, I say, “Good riddance!”
I sit hunched over and receive the minutes, let each detail sift its way through my noodle. I see things as fundamentally arduous. Which, in the end, just shows how ill-equipped we are. So much, so easy to miss. The nervous system is like a bad joke. A pulse threads every needle. It is not called a punchline for nothing.
And so, we explore out, into colors of pain we call sensation. Like something spilling out all over the ground: living. All my aquiline profile shot to hell. Not very seductive, I would be willing to bet, the remnant of me. Neither a hunter nor a gatherer be. More of a putterer, if we are going to get taxonomical about it. Trying to pretend that sitting here, heaped upon myself like a pile of refuse, that somehow that, that is a form of composure. O peaceful sere and yellow leaf!
She announced it and she is right: dignity begone! No freedom from, though. No rest as such. No peace per se. Just a last slow sonata to tinkle through in the key of clumsy. Drink your water, take your pill, keep the pliés shallow, pirouettes permanently in the rearview mirror now.
Of course, were it to sound like Camptown Races, were the most ambitious leap to result in nothing more than a kind of segmented sag and collapse, no one would say a word. Clearly, visibility must have some truck with dignity.
So we are left with the old one, two, three, or, if you prefer, the ever-popular ten, nine, eight, if that seems more palpitational. Advancing, moving in any case, as worms move, with a dim pulse made up of cramping and stiffening alternately.
In the sample-tube chortles the merry gurgle of the profane blood of the man so like an opening rose of loose flesh, teetering half-uncovered on the examination table. The routine liability of still being nominally alive, like having to wear a frilly tutu for the curtsy before today’s barrister with a stethoscope, whose genderless flesh has decided to extend a pseudopod in my direction in search of safe contact.
When hobbling is not an issue, I usually manage to trundle forth to elementary obligations such as this, or the store, or the rare tête-à-tête. These outings afford bracing portions of open-air and scalp-scalding sunshine. To be out and about and to do things with their sequences and mild crescendos. A fistful of decades of that sort of activity and then it’s nighty-nite to all.
So the plan is to use up what is left of time and this bit of space until the resulting puff of nothing opaques the protruding embarrassment of me that has been. Fair enough.
And now that I am shuck of dignity’s bright coil, I suppose I should be about something. Maybe I could transport things for others, get myself a scooter or some such thing, perhaps with a bright basket on the back, the wind lapping the sagging features across my face. The very thought of it sets my joints a tremble. With a wince, my mind’s eye sees me splaying the pavement with my internal colorings.
Modesty is maybe the more appropriate key. Perhaps I might aspire to clown, tiny gestures only, in a sort of self-effacing, ball-dropping sort of way.
She may say, balls drop as they will, it’s none of yours. I say even the worst fool manages his momentary juggle, his catastrophe in the instance before the scatter. Though to say manages is a bit much, is-dragged-along-by is better, or at least more accurate.
And regarding witnessing, it is not as if I want your crappy blood all over my shoes. It is just that we are both here now, you standing and me hunched over these ebbs, perched above the crumbs from breakfast.
Broken into constellations, details losing their integrity, there amongst the filth. Remember what is left of me, after having slid down from a tilting, remember what is left of me, as sugar on the floor.
What someone else, whose hand is grasped, feels at that moment of contact, had been for me a kind of disintegration, a coming apart, a sort of shimmering psoriasis that could not possibly hold up under the strain of human warmth and would not keep the substance or even consistency of the matter intact for very long. So it’s a sort of entropy in dandruff, and we are off to the races, amen ominous and amends with dominus too, all we’ve known, ever in a pinch underhoof.
If I had my druthers, I’d admit to anything rather than take on domestic topics at this point, may the truth never be told. For we have crossed the threshold into a slow summer, that’s how fall feels, as if summer refused to end, when the truth is that all it does is end, a begrudging and befuddled time, a room with too much furniture, an afternoon beside a lake deep with distractions. And now it seems even harder to get anything to come out right.
But, to revisit this same melody ad nauseum, it’s all we’re left with, in the winding down. The hearth. Before which, two clots in the artery of time and space, haggle feebly before mutually acquiescing in the deafness. This and a well-placed throw-pillow to wedge the coming years into a badly-lit corner already brimming with other people’s noise. Thusly our gummy eyes and phlegmy throats within these after hours are with sunsets stuffed.
All the cheap fanfare of bustling. Good to have let the batteries run out on that radio, at least. So, wherever it is I left my dignity, I hope it’s not being coddled by anyone or running up a bill in some small town.
Because these are the traceable times. Wherever my dignity is in fact running amok, no doubt it still has my grubby little prints all over it. Whereas, me my snake-skin self, and my funfare helium-pumping heart, I continue to hang my sighs on going out with a subdued yet panoramic whimper. And so the whine, as of a badly tuned appliance. A horn section would be a sign of privilege, harps almost a birthright.
I have no idea whether dignity is natural, and dropeth like the gentle rain from heaven, but its loss seemed natural enough. Everything began pulling in the direction of just more stuff, until detail became triviality, and recurrence became banality. All troped-out in the n-tropics, nohow to nowhere in the nonow, perceived not as disorientation but as disaffection.
My wife says that dignity is granted when deserved, as if it were a dog biscuit. She says it fetchingly, looking away, disgusted. In the language of intimacy, it is as if she said, “Cheers!” Each shall go down in flames in a particular conflagration. The respectful space granted to humiliation. Which is just as well.
I blow my nose till I get dizzy. My wife says I pretend to be old so people will feel sorry for me. But senility is nothing to be trifled with. It is that thing there, over by that over there place. Nor are the creaky timbers a joy ride through chuckle city on a sunny day. Luckily, they came and took the phone the other day. Not that I ran for it anymore, but it is nice not to be berated about it anymore. Free to concentrate on getting the wax out of my ears, the snot out of my nose, the phlegm out of my lungs, and the palest of piss out of my bladder.
This, shite, flatulence, and the occasional bleeding and suppuration, are the sole contents of my bodily expression, in the end perhaps less important in themselves than the style, the myriad forms of their instances post-evacuation or excavation. These are the works I give to you. All deserve the title labors, despite the differing durations of their processes of extraction. I have given of myself every single time.
Here, this ruddy pile, here lies what I have given to the world. Braver souls than I may be willing someday to dive in, immerse themselves in its pungent and evocative qualities, and so interpret it properly.
She stopped weeping quietly and remained silent for a few moments. Then she got up from the bed and went into the bathroom. Another man would have waited until the door closed behind her, would have risen from the bed, and then walked out on to, and then off of, the seventeenth-floor balcony of the resort hotel.
He would know, as I know, that there would never be more intimate dealings, nor a more essential other than she. He would, however, have ended it cleanly. He would never have allowed misgivings, however small or absolute, to slip into his daily soup. He would have taken destiny into his own hands.
Intents and purposes may have categorized me as a bully whistling past the graveyard, but my tendency is to gambol in the absence of having to muster that much muscle. And though my dignity jilted my arrogance, leaving it veiled and aspiring at the altar, I am not spurred to spar, nor have I ever fee fie foe fumed at anyone. Disappointing, surely, but never disappointed, especially given the musical possibilities.
So the balcony-flying chap can be accused of bad table manners! Just because you no longer have to see a mess, does not make it go away. Continuing on in that confused, compromising bed meant eschewing the heroic splat of dignified edition. So, now with the cameras shut off forever, we entered the mediated universe where, valor gone out the window, only discretion and potential skirmish remain, where the temperature never really changes that much, and where the relative value of any given situation can be calmly, if subjectively, considered. Once this isthmus of tepid halitosis has been arrived at, now with minimum chance of scalding, the disappointed but recalcitrant company of the other is sought after as one of the few unquestionable resources of living. I sometimes wonder at my wife’s curious delay in adjusting to my limitations, but I have no intention of losing myself in sad footnotes of blame, when there are much more resonant ways of getting lost down Breadcrumb Lane. Ask not for whom the bicycle-basket bell tinkles for…
Yes, a taste for musical comedy is a must. Beginning with the two speakered resonator that is one’s belly, out far beyond the rumbling motor of the refrigerator truck parked in front of the house, to the distant voices hubbubbing for attention as if they were sea lions on the rocks, all sound has become a muted call for help, as if urgency were a kind of harmonic gluttony.
Like everything involving life, this turns out to be only a temporary problem. Given such an effervescent context, the paradoxical and ironic situation of still being here cannot help but provoke a stifled chuckle and a surprised sideways glance.
But our former lives have shaped and clappered us and we must live with the consequences. Hollowed out by incessant inflated posturing, bored out by the honing of sharp metaphors that have dug deep within us, we have become vast echoing caves, where we ourselves become lost, if only at the upper levels of sensation. Amenities of puff and bluster, sacrum sanctorum.
As to my spiritual and emotional well-being, these seem to stem directly from the state of my digestion at any given moment. As with economics, we can talk about digestion as the varied outcomes of consumption. Being a matter of flow, intensity can be an important determinant in developing situations. In general, extremes are to be avoided, though periods of scarcity and glut, each with its own accompanying sensations, will inevitably come. Although it is clear that input has its effect, what the direct consequences it has on output are not entirely clear.
The periodic yearning for input, and the slavish necessity of being prepared for output, must both be suffered as attendant mysteries of living. This brings us to the state of things, which is our central matter.
The state of things emanates, with varying distinctness, from the abdomen. In cases of distress, the state of things can extend upward to the top of throat, and downward to the pucker of the anus and its environs.
The key indicator of the state of things is its level of stability. This is a process. If the process of breaking down the structural integrity of comestibles is gradual, the level of discomfort will be minimal, and there will be a sensation almost of lightness. In these cases, it may even be hard to tell that digestion is taking place.
However, if the process moves forward by stops and starts, or even by great leaps forward, then instability ensues. Such instability can lead to a variety of results. One of these is a churning effervescence, which releases gas, causing increased pressure within the abdomen as the gas expands looking for a way out. Another is a chance encounter of irritants, which quickly results in sharp pains and a highly liquid rush to expel them from the body. Lastly, a knotty hardening of swallowed nourishment can take place, once it is in the lower abdomen, and this can halt all flow for an indeterminate period of time. All three of these possibilities are felt as heavy, and typically result in highly odorous discharge of some sort, eventually.
Such internal havoc all but incapacitates the person experiencing digestion. It can cause drowsiness or sleeplessness, and at the very least is a continual source of distraction and loss of concentration.
Each digestion is a different Stradivarius tuned to play its own disastrous rhapsody of discomfort and unease. So it is impossible to tell which combination of dietary ingredients will throw it out of whack, though we fool ourselves into thinking we know what to stay away from. This is compounded by the strange fact that what irritates us changes over the years. There is also of course the slow irreversible wearing down of the mechanism, which manifests itself in trouble chewing, trouble swallowing, heartburn, indigestion, reflux, ulcers, obstructions, tumors, colon shock, loss of sphincter control, torn rectum, and of course, piles.
This means that my emotional and spiritual well-being becomes each day more tenuous. It is also the reason that those near me have found me to be increasingly absent and preoccupied over the years. My bowels obsess me. If I did not catch your question, I am sorry. But I am committed to my passions. Is this a losing battle? Will I live the rest of my life fretting over my internal workings instead of listening to the birds chattering, grimacing and searching for a clean bathroom instead of feeling the warmth of the sun on my face. All indications seem to practically scream it out.
My response? So be it. I shall certify myself in my own internal plumbing. I will become a tripe whisperer, and never be completely free of the twists and turns of the labyrinthine bickering of competing spices about to unsettle things. I will spend the time I have left tied to the instant, like someone observing a Swiss watch as it begins to turn in the wrong direction. Just me, easy-beesy, the rest of life as one long school night.
And when there was no more digestion, the bleeding would come. Of course the bleeding would come. It would come and then it would go. A couple of times coming and going. That was part of it, the bleeding, and the coming and going. Because, eventually it would stop. Which would stop first, the bleeding or the coming and going? One led to the other. The important thing was that the stopping was coming.
So that would be it. Sticky husk, pecked clean and bloodless. And beyond sweet numbness, where might that leave us? What would the cold night-sparklers be indifferently twinkling over then, at that point, and so forth?
Once the dignity is gone, all that is left is the rub. The rub against the surface of life. The smear. That grazing touch. Exposed for the chafing. Friction and irritation. The scrape we are in, the scrub. After the froth, the only thing left is the scummy-scum that floats, and the muddy sediment that sinks, two firmaments. Scabs and snot. No dignity to be seen anywhere. Just the substance in the smudge. Just residue separated by spit. The spit of trying, of exertion in the moment. Excreted into the situation like gelatin, taking up space, separating component syllables. But the print is in the residue. Only the residue can be put together again. Only the residue, above and below the spit, can be read.
About the Author
George Mario Angel Quintero was born in 1964 in San Francisco, California, where he spent his first thirty years. As George Angel, he has published poetry, fiction, and essays in English and a book of short fiction, The Fifth Season, won the 1995 Fiction Collective 2 Nilon Award. A selection of poems, On the Voice, was published in 2016. Since 1995, he has lived in Medellin, Colombia, authoring seven books of poetry, and three books of theater plays all in Spanish as Mario Angel Quintero. He continues to write and publish in both English and Spanish. He is a visual artist and the director and playwright of the theatre company Parpado Teatro, as well as a founding member of several musical groups. More recently, he has explored the possibilities of performance-based video. Parpado Teatro videos have been selected for inclusion by the Findecoin, Dreamachine, Portoviejo, and Continental Film Festivals.