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Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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"aram deet, hissa accat!"
september 29, 2001
I woke up in the middle of the night this past Tuesday. Once I realized I actually was awake, this wasn't just another dream, the first thing I did was try to figure out what had wakened me.
When I was younger, waking up in the middle of the night was more of an event, there was an element of silent scariness to it, because it so rarely happened. At night I'd lay my left ear against the pillow, listening to the weave (and it does make all sorts of subtle lullments) and within a minute, Mary's goodnight kiss still fresh on my lips, I'd drop down, mind expanding sideways, rolling over refreshed five hours later to finger-fumble for the alarm button.
But about six years ago I started waking up two or three times during the night, every night. I can't trace it to anything-- it wasn't a tense time in our lives, and it's not like anything had changed in our sleeping arrangements. After a few nights, I mentioned the change to Mary, and it turned out she had started waking up in the middle of the night too. Without realizing it, we had re-synchronized our sleeping habits. It's funny how that happens with married people. When we first moved to Maine, back in 1982, we took a few months off before looking for work (and I took even more time off, to write my first novel, Always Again). Our day consisted of waking up, having an elaborate breakfast, reading in bed for a while, walking into town for groceries, sitting at our kitchen table, reading the Portland paper and doing its crossword together, making an elaborate dinner, going to bed and reading side-by-side for hours. After about a month of this, I said to Mary one day, "You know, this is stupid, but when we each take turns reading the paper, do you know the one comic strip I've started reading each day?" She looked at me, grinning. "Steve Roper?" And she was right. Because she had started reading it, too. We had synchronized again, without knowing it (for those of you who have never heard of Steve Roper, it's a daily comic strip about a photographer or reporter or something like that who gets into all sorts of international adventures. I have no idea if it's still being syndicated. I was aware the comic strip existed for years, since childhood, but never read it or paid any attention to it. But something about being in Maine, and jobless, and having all this free time on our hands, had prompted me to start reading the strip, much like some people take a month off in Summer to read Proust in a hammock. Steve, at this time, and probably still, had a sidekick named Mike Nomad, and we both gleefully agreed that evening at our kitchen table that the best day's strip was the one that ended with Nomad's arrogant face full in the last panel, thumb cockily up, sunglasses at a jaunt, broad black ink lines of his chest in a Hawaiian shirt, announcing he was off to 'Hona-Roo-Roo.' I don't know what's happened to Steve and Mike since. Hopefully, they're doing well).
Anyway, the fact I was awake in the middle of the night this past Tuesday did not particularly alarm me. All the furniture shapes were where they should be in the shadows, the smell in the room was dove gray, and there were no odd sounds.
I was dry-mouthed, to the degree that only seems to happen in the middle of the night (sometimes when I wake up, Mary is just falling back to sleep, and in this overlap of wakefulness I can sense, in the darkness, that she's slaking her thirst also, rationing what's left of her water, just like me).
I swiveled my head on my pillow, and saw in the gloom that my mayonnaise jar was still half-full (we love drinking ice water so much we go to bed with mayonnaise jars instead of water glasses, because the jars hold so much more). In fact, since we had been leaving all the windows in the house open the past few nights, because of the unseasonably cooler weather here in Texas this year, not only was my mayonnaise jar still half-full, but I could see silver ice cubes floating in the water.
Boy, would an ice-cold drink of water taste really good right now, chilling my mouth and throat.
I went to reach for the jar, and noticed my arms weren't moving. I sent the signals from brain to arms again. Still nothing. Limb silence.
My arms were both under my pillow.
I tried again.
Both arms were 'asleep', blood circulation cut off. It may have been the angle the arms were in, or it may have been that my pajama top, twisted around on me, had somehow cut too deeply into the skin of the arms, but whatever it was, both arms were dead.
Body numbness is such a strange feeling.
One of the earliest of my childhood memories is the family going over to my paternal grandmother's house, my mother nervous, a lot of cousins I didn't know out in the kitchen, loud and dumb, me watching something by myself on the black-and-white television set in the living room, lying on the carpet on my hip, realizing at some point I couldn't feel anything in my right leg. I got scared, shifting the leg, thickly pinching it, any physical sensation of the pinch heavily muffled, and then, because my leg was now straightened out, feeling the 'pins and needles' sensation of blood reflowing into the veins. I asked my parents about it, but the explanation they gave me was vague-- 'the way you sit'. The only thing I really caught was that it was temporary. I immediately started deliberately cutting off my blood supply to different limbs, just to experiment with how it felt losing bloodflow, and getting it back.
But here, in bed in the middle of the night, really thirsty, I was in a real predicament.
By twisting my trunk left, right on the sheets, I was able to flop my arms out from under the pillow, both spreading out dead and boneless away from me. I turned my chest towards the night table, causing my left arm to slowly drag towards me, until gravity swung it up over my ribs, the stranger's hand of my left arm landing on my abdomen, punching me in the stomach.
Twisting my trunk right, my right arm flopped on top of me too, dead weight, bicep hitting me under the jaw, clacking my teeth together.
(Like I really need this in the middle of the night).
I lay in the darkness, on my back, both dead arms on my abdomen, looking sideways out of the prison of limb numbness at that big, beaded jar of ice water on the night table.
My tongue was sticking to the inside of my mouth.
I became aware the three cats, settled sleepily around our blanketed feet, tails curled around the sides of their bodies until the tips were under their beards, had raised their heads high enough to watch me. The fact their heads were only half-raised suggested to me there was no interest on their part in checking to see if maybe I was in trouble, and needed some Lassie help, but only grumpy annoyance at having been woken.
About twenty years ago, I experienced something extraordinary, body-wise.
I dislocated my jaw.
Mary and I were living in San Mateo, California at the time, in one of those old-fashioned San Francisco apartment buildings, white-washed outside with black wrought iron fire escapes. It was a workday morning, probably a Tuesday or Wednesday. Mary and I were both in the high-ceilinged bathroom, black and green tiles, getting ready, and at one point I laughed, yawned and coughed at the same precise moment.
My jaw dislocated.
I immediately knew something was wrong, because I couldn't close my mouth. Each time I tried, I felt an unnatural swing of my mandible to the left, and an uncomfortable bulge I never experienced before against my right ear.
Mary stopped in the middle of the story she was telling, turning from the mirror to see why I wasn't laughing any more. I pointed at my mouth (like I really needed to), my lower jaw loose in the skin of my face.
Because I couldn't bring my lips together, I couldn't swallow. I started to drool. I couldn't talk normally, only in slow, blurred words.
The dislocation felt uncomfortable, but it wasn't painful. It felt, really, like I was a machine, and an important part had come loose.
Mary helped me dress, her eyes frantic.
The nearest hospital was only a half dozen traffic lights away. I insisted on driving. I wanted to feel I was still in control of the situation. Glancing up into the rearview mirror to back up, I saw the classic slack-jawed, drooling idiot staring back at me. At one red light, two orange-haired kids in the car to the right of us gawked out their side window at me. Their father, behind the wheel, twisted his head around, whispering loudly to them, "Don't stare at that sort of person. It's not polite." I caught the father's eye, wanting him to know I wasn't an idiot, this was an accident. "Aram deet, hissa accat!"
Once we got to the emergency room, the woman behind the counter asked me what my emergency was.
"Isis locay my yaw."
"Excuse me, sir?"
Mary stepped in, stopping what promised to be ten minutes of baggy-pants vaudeville, answering the insurance and past history questions while I was led into a white-curtained space. The doctor and the nurse attending me leaned forward, until their hands were on their white-clothed knees, discussing out of the sides of their mouths how best to get my maxilla and mandible back together again. "We may have to use muscle-relaxant drugs," the doctor told me. I nodded. "Fie." But in the end, they didn't need to. He reached into the back of my mouth with his down-turned thumbs, and gently, but firmly, slid my temporo-mandibular joint down, up, into position.
"Great! Thanks!" I said.
The doctor and nurse both shot forward, four hands towards my lips. "Don't open your mouth!"
The other morning, I pulled up a sky rocket juniper we planted years ago by the left front side of our home. Instead of rocketing up in front of our gray wood-slatted privacy fence on that side like it was supposed to, it fizzled on the launching pad, turning root beer. However, the massive root itself, once I yanked it out of our world, was interesting in shape. I laid it on the cement floor of our garage, lying down on my stomach on the dirty, oil-stained floor in front of it, taking twenty-three photographs.
Along about photograph fourteen it occurred to me to ask myself, pulling the camera against the bones of my face to steady another shot, "Is this normal behavior?"
I guess it is for me, because the next day I chopped down a juniper blue point tree in our backyard that had also died, and took a lot of photographs of that, too.
When I moved to California, in 1976, one of the first things I did was go to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. Fisherman's Wharf is a tourist attraction. I pushed along the crowds on the pier, past restaurants where short, hatted men stood arms at their sides outside the square doorways, hawking crab diable in shouted, lusciously-enunciated tumbles of vowels and consonants, winding up in a noisy, confusing arcade with colored strobes flashing overhead like upside-down police lights.
Inside the red hell of the arcade, amid the throngs of sideways-pushing teenagers intent on dropping their quarters into Pong, was the garish silence of a machine that supposedly told your future. I entered my full name, date of birth, birthplace, hair color, eye color, and answered yes/no to about twenty additional questions. The machine took a ridiculous period of time to process the information, about twenty minutes, a couple of times during which I debated leaving, but each time I thought I could hear what sounded like paper scrolling somewhere deep inside the machine, so I hung around. Finally, a thin white spool furled from the silver slot at the side of the exhibit. Amid the surrounding noise, I only remember one faint, purple-inked line from the curled prediction: "You will become stranger and stranger the older you get."
Mary and I have gone to a lot of restaurants the past few months. I decided to include on SENTENCE a review of each of the restaurants we've visited. You can read the reviews here. The page also features a rare shot of me looking at an empty fork.
My novel Father Figure may be published in the next year or so, possibly under a different title. It will be the full, uncensored text of the novel, which is important to me. I've received a contract from the publisher who wants to buy it, and have responded asking for some minor changes to the terms. It'll be a trade paperback, with an initial run of 10,000 copies. I'll keep you posted.
A few months ago, I mentioned a tooth in my mouth was causing me a lot of problems. I have an appointment next Thursday to evaluate whether or not I need bone graft surgery. I probably will, which will undoubtedly result in several self-pitying Latelys down the line.
My short story Visibility appeared in the Winter, 2001 issue of ROADWORKS, the British fiction magazine. Letters to the editor, published in the just-released succeeding issue, have been very favorable, including this from novelist Peter Tennant: "Ralph Robert Moore's 'Visibility' was probably my favorite story, a beautifully written character driven piece, subtle and understated in the way it dealt with loss, with so much more effectively left unsaid." British illustrator Desmond Knight wrote, "'Visibility' by Ralph Robert Moore was decidedly sinister, quite subtle and very unnerving. I'm not sure what was going on, but it made for a disturbing read." I thank them both for their kind comments. You can read Visibility here.
Time Magazine on-line has included a link to Every Man A King, the page on SENTENCE that allows visitors to rewrite the opening paragraphs of a Stephen King novella (The Mist). My special thanks go to everyone who's contributed to the feature. If you'd like to participate, please go here. In the navigational table on the left on that page, under PARTICIPATORY FEATURES, you'll also find other pages on SENTENCE to which you can contribute: Every Woman A Koontz, Every Child A Barker, and My Earliest Memory. (For some reason, no one's ever sent in a contribution for Every Child A Barker).
By the way, after several long minutes of my hands landing like limp horseshoes around that cold mayonnaise jar of ice water, I got my gulp.
I'll let you imagine how good it tasted.