elephant man …… 3 decades later

John Merrick: There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you for some time now. Dr. Frederick Treves: What’s that? John Merrick: Can you cure me? Dr. Frederick Treves: No. We can care for you, but we can’t cure you. John Merrick: [matter-of-factly] No. I thought not.

John Merrick: There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you for some time now.
Dr. Frederick Treves: What’s that?
John Merrick: Can you cure me?
Dr. Frederick Treves: No. We can care for you, but we can’t cure you.
John Merrick: [matter-of-factly] No. I thought not.

i was working at medusa’s in chicago and my life was moving quickly. there was a sense of awe and inspiration permeating the after hours scene and the troubadours i spent my time with pulsed my chakras in technicolor and jettisoned me to a higher plane.

one day in october, i was in an aerobics class just as i did many other days just like this one. the standout on this day we me fainting. i completely blacked out and found myself on my backside at the studio feeling as if the wind had just left the building. it spooked me. and i decided to go to the doctor for the 1st time in years.

i went to see dr. bernie blough and i remember him taking blood and cataloging  my visit in some sort of secret sanskrit without actually documenting my visit. this was specifically in fear of reprisal towards the infected. so he made a little red plus sign next to my name after the results came back. i had tested positive for the virus that causes aids. i was going to die.

i think i was frozen for a full month before there some sort of thaw. i had been through completely overwhelming year watching my best friend waste away into nothing while i snorted and slurped as much as i could to keep any mental images in blur.

the next month was a trap door which when opened dropped me into a part of my life from which i never expected to return. i wrote about that month after diagnosis at my first blog here.

i had been running since i was 16, but october 1985 sent me into a sprint. i never thought i was a distance runner at all. i never thought many nice thoughts about myself at all. until i got into recovery that is. that part of my life has opened up a brand new world to me. my challenges, my shortcomings, my failure (of which there have always been overstock) became gifts and insights that i could share.

i went to see david bowie perform in “the elephant man” in chicago in the late 70’s. i remember relating to the john merrick character early after my diagnosis. i felt like a separate being among my tribe.  and after losing so many so quickly i became less and less willing to get close to anybody because it usually led to pain and loss.

the category of “long-term survivor” never crossed my mind.  and although the nomenclature does connect with my path, i continue to question my authenticity. i wasn’t angry in the streets in the late 80’s chicago. i couldn’t pull it together to take care of myself by facing my fears. i bawled up. i hid. i drunk-dialed resentment and stayed on the line way too long.

Despite a living in constant physical and emotional pain, The Elephant Man possessed an indomitable spirit. He quickly became the subject of much public sympathy and something of a celebrity in Victorian high society. Alexandra, then Princess of Wales and later Queen Consort, demonstrated a kindly interest in Merrick, leading other members of the upper class to embrace him. He eventually became a favourite of Queen Victoria. However, Treves later commented that Merrick always wanted, even after living at the hospital, to go to a hospital for the blind where he might find a woman who would not be repelled by his appearance and love him. In his later years, he found some solace in writing, composing remarkable heartfelt prose and poetry.

here i am waltzing through another october. i have certainly shaken free from the bonds of shame. but trauma comes and goes like a blue moon might, raising its profile in the sky now and then to remind me that i really don’t know much of anything, but leaving me certain that i am fortunate to still be here. and not in a million little pieces either.

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