Harvard is long and wiry, his pelvis narrow with bones poking up. On his back with arms reaching for one wall, toes pointed at another, he is like a ruler for something or other. I try not to stare. His left arm falls asleep nights now. He experiences an electric shock sensation in it, and often screams out from the pain. In a week Harvard’s arm is numb in the day too. He swallows Aleve a lot. Things worsen. Harvard can’t get out of bed. He loses his job. He groans through the afternoons, and sweats. When he needs to pee I bring the wood bowl we fix our salads in. Harvard leans over and urinates into it off the mattress. “Please, Harvard, you need help,” I say, and Harvard says, “No, I deserve this.”
“What do you mean, you deserve this?”
“I deserve it,” Harvard says. “Will you please stop harassing me. Can’t you see I’m fucked-up right now?”
I bitch stronger, and bitch until he lets me take him to a chiropractor. The guy cracks his neck and spine and says Harvard’s got Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. The guy convinces Harvard to return three times a week for a month for the huge discount given to patients with no insurance. I’m thankful and relieved. Each and every day Harvard’s a little better and brighter of spirits. In two weeks he stops the Aleve in favor of anti-inflammatory tea that, now that he can walk around, he makes in the kitchen. I love the sound of his hammer smashing apart the cardamom seeds. Sounds like progress. In the boiling pot Harvard throws fresh cut ginger, cloves, a cinnamon stick, and turns off the flame and puts a dozen green tea bags in there, the dunking strings hanging over the lip of the pot like so many price tags. I cook salmon dinners heavy in turmeric, and we sit in front of the monitor. Here authority figures go haywire, Taser-happy “pigs,” as Harvard calls them, having their fun. One pig shoots a man multiple times in the back as he runs, let’s watch it again, isn’t it romantic?
And groups of pedestrians slammed into by speeding cars, their bodies flying broken and dying every direction with pieces falling off. Compilation vids of drunks dropping from balconies, train platforms, walking through glass doors, slipping on ice. These are the things that Harvard loves. We see a man in a wheelchair fall down an elevator shaft, a young girl fire a rifle, the ejected shell jumping into her bra where it burns her breast. The vids bring Harvard relief, sometimes joy. A parachuting teenager lands in an alligator pit, a marathon jogger slips on a banana peel and bangs his elbow on a guitar case. A little boy, about eight, blows his dad’s head off with a shotgun, an accident is all, but I run to the bedroom.
I lie down and wait for Harvard. When Harvard is finished watching he ambles in super delicate over his condition. He cannot toss me around as once he did, so I blow him. “Swallow,” he says. I just want him to recover and be happy, but the next night he wants a repeat. I say, “Harvard,” and he says, “Come on, it’s good for you,” but I hesitate. We sort of have an argument over it. He says I did it before, so why not now? In the thing of things he grows soft in my hands. I feel prudish. The next night and the nights that follow we don’t even get frisky.
Harvard mopes around over losing his job. He knows, though, that he can get a new one in his field when he recovers. It’s no real problem. The main thing, Harvard says, is he’s not paralyzed, glory hallelujah, thank you Jesus. Harvard is no clubfoot hunchback woman crossing Sumpter Avenue to enter the Taco Bell, like we once saw. I say “Harvard, that’s no way to judge your own status. You are not them, you are you,” but Harvard says “That’s what’s wrong with America, Smarty Pants, wake your ass up. People don’t give a shit about each other. We find shit to distract us is what we do, deities, food, diets, entertainment. Take your fascination with Korean music,” he says, and just looks at me. I feel his disgust, it’s like a thing I can feel, it’s all over me, it’s like a green slime. “Isn’t that your way of covering over the stuff you don’t wanna know about?” he says.
I understand that Harvard is ill. I need to show him only loving kindness, I know this, but I think he is taking advantage of the situation to be mean to me, and maybe he needs to be mean to me to help cope. The stuff he’s saying though doesn’t sound right. I come back at him, and ask how watching vids of people burning to death or getting shot in their faces is different from me watching K-pop vids. Big mistake.
“No, no, no, there’s a huge difference, Smarty Pants,” Harvard says. “I can’t believe you’d even say that. It’s the exact opposite. What I’m doing is peeling the epidermis off the face of the truth.”
“But everybody has things they don’t wanna think about.”
“I’m ripping that shit off to see down into the structure of things.”
“Can we not talk about this?” I say.
“That K-pop stuff you watch is fake-ass bullshit to the hilt. Koreans are masters of the fake.”
“Case in point,” Harvard says. “You want me to shutup again. You hate to shine a light into the uncomfortable places.”
“I don’t wanna argue,” I say.
“Take off your clothes,” Harvard says.
“See what I mean? You’re just totally disconnected from the rest of the world. You think your body is worth something, that it’s somehow special, I’m trying to help.”
“I love you, Harvard,” I say, and feel weak, this thing I’ve heard called pusillanimous, that’s me, I get weak and trembly at the slightest sign of conflict.
“Fuck you,” Harvard says.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“No,” Harvard says, and says, “I gave you a chance,” and he says, “No, if people were more compassionate, there’d be no need to look away,” and he plays me the vid of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, where you see houses and people and automobiles and telephone poles getting ground up together into a kind of mud. “We feel less when we see large scale catastrophes than we do when we see a kid blow off his obviously dumbass dad’s head, don’t you agree?” Harvard wants to know. “I mean, the guy was cleaning a fucking shotgun at the time, had probably just come back from hunting ducks in the wilds.”
Harvard’s nuts, but I am off work for the summer, so help him work out the kinks in his system. We walk. From Union City we rail to Manhattan and up through Harlem walk into Washington Heights. Whenever Harvard sees a man looking miserable, he gives over some dollars.
Feeling better, full of hope, poised for a speedy recovery, Harvard walks over to the chiropractor’s office and shares the good news at the end of week three, that his left shoulder has cleared, that the spasms have stopped and he no longer feels the electric shock run down his arm, and even his numb fingers are getting back some sensation. The chiropractor guy seems disappointed by the news, Harvard tells me later, and this crack leaves Harvard with new tingles in his hand, a terrible pain between his shoulder blades, and the conviction that the chiroguy cracked him bad on purpose.
True to Harvard’s custom, he tries to blow it off by watching bad cop vids, and vids of bad stuff in general. Four days later he is in a complete collapsed state. His face twitches. He is dizzy. When he tries to walk he staggers like a severely drunk person and bangs into things. I look up his symptoms online. Is my husband having a stroke? I read all this stuff about chiropractors being responsible for people dying and freak out. I rouse Harvard down to the car and drive him to the emergency room where the doctor recommends an immediate cat scan of his brain.
The bills coming in from our four hour ER visit clock in at eighteen grand and some change, ha! We call it change now! Two or three hundred dollars is just change, ha! Here where we’d been doing without a lot of stuff to pursue our dreams, mine to write a screenplay for the Star Trek Continues series, and Harvard’s to make a documentary movie on turtles trying to cross the road. Since my dream requires only pen and paper, the bills are no problem, but since Harvard wants better equipment, and plus needs time for traveling around, looking for turtles crossing roads, and plus him being unemployed now and in constant pain and not able to walk in a straight line, it’s depressing. The chiroguy who calls himself a doctor basically broke my husband’s back. I feel the need for significant revenge, but every time I talk of it, saying that we could sue him and stuff like this, Harvard reminds me that he’s not paralyzed, glory hallelujah, thank you Jesus. That’s something Harvard says a lot. We are not homeless people. We are not in jail. We are not being tortured in South America. We are not the American woman in Cuernavaca who recently had bamboo shoots stuffed down her fingernails. Her body was found in the driver’s seat of the station wagon she used to deliver food supplies to poor people living up in the hills.
I’m not saying Harvard isn’t mad over what happened to him, that he absolves the asshole chiroguy of guilt due to all the horrible things that’ve happened to people since the beginning of time, no, Harvard’s mad on it, just he’s no “vituperative heathen” as he sometimes calls me. Instead Harvard speaks of what he wished happened to him instead of what did happen. “How much better had I been raped,” is the kind of thing Harvard keeps saying, and I say, “How can you say that to me?” and Harvard says, “My life is not worth eighteen thousand dollars, Smarty Pants. What kind of asshole would prefer not to get raped and beaten over the payment of eighteen thousand dollars?”
Harvard’s morale has dropped so far down below normal. He doesn’t talk of his new equipment anymore, what he wants to buy in preparation for his great documentary on turtles. Thinking one day that if I share my dream a little bit he might poke his head up out of his depression, I say, “I got a new idea for Star Trek Continues.”
We are on the couch in the same place from where we normally watch the vids on people dying on Harvard’s desktop computer screen.
“My plot,” I say, “is like, there’s a disturbance in the space-time continuum. The crew of the Enterprise see all this fluctuating color through the windows of the bridge. ‘What is it?’ Sulu says. Lieutenant Uhura says, ‘I’m getting a signal, Captain. It sounds like . . . music.’ Captain Kirk says ‘Put it on speaker,’ and the sounds—”
“It’s Barry Manilow singing I write the songs.”
“No, it’s much more lively than Barry Manilow, my darling. It fades in and fades out, and Spock looks confused. Just then Scotty pages Kirk and says ‘You better get down here quick, Captain, somebody is trying to beam in.’ Kirk and Spock and McCoy go down to the transporter room. The figures on the beaming pads look like they might not make it. Who are these people? Can you guess?”
“Six Barry Manilows would be interesting.”
“It’s a K-pop girl band. I know you hate K-pop, but hear me out, my love. When they are beamed in they are still dancing and look fabulous, like aliens in their black hair and bangs and high heel shoes and tight dresses and glitter.”
“No, no, stop it, I don’t like it.”
“They have been grabbed off a stage somewhere,” I say, “and are just as confused as the crew.”
“It’ll never work,” Harvard says.
“So what’s happening here,” I say, “is I don’t know yet what is happening. In my mind I see them speaking to each other in Korean like they are confused.”
“As I am confused,” Harvard says, but I like my idea, and refuse to be deterred in my conviction that something cool could be made of it. I wanna tell Harvard more to try and convince him, but he takes charge and switches our gear to a vid of a massacre in Chechnya, where we see still photos of slaughtered children, each photo fading out and blending in to the next, each image just as horrible as the image before it. The children are bloody, burned, maimed, naked, mutilated with pieces of their bodies missing while even still alive.
To distract Harvard, or at least get him off the topic of dead and dying children, I say, “Whattaya say we watch something a little more upbeat tonight?”
“Take off your clothes,” Harvard says, and then I hear, just barely audible, under his breath, “you stupid fucking bitch,” unless it was my imagination.
I say, “Let’s watch something about art, honey. Let’s enjoy some violin prodigies on YouTube. How about Riverdance? You wanna check out MOMA tomorrow? It’s Friday tomorrow, free admission, let’s go, what say, my darling?”
Harvard says “I am shit” and says, “I really wish somebody would slam my chiropractor over the head with a crowbar. Too bad karma’s a bunch of baloney. What determines things in America is money. Pay a guy to hit a guy over the head with a crowbar, sure.”
“Shutup,” I say.
“Take off your clothes,” Harvard says, a little louder than before.
It is August now. Earlier, while Harvard was walking around, working out the kinks, his fulltime job nowadays, I was using the computer. I looked into the browsing history to search for a Sistar vid I’d seen several weeks before, but had forgotten the name of. What immediately came up were what looked like thousands of links with words like “fuckslut” and “whore” in them. I clicked one and was taken to a vid of a long-necked Russian girl with short brown hair and a tan. Her face was very round and she was very skinny and wore a dog collar and green flipflops. On her arm was a robot tattoo. Otherwise she was naked, and these men were calling her a stupid fat pig and saying other disgusting things to her. She was on her knees, I guess it was in a barn. You saw pitchforks and tilling machines back there. One stocky man slapped her across the face so hard that she fell over. Another fellow with a long beard grabbed her collar and yanked her up and I cut it off.
I pulled off my shirt.
“That’s right,” Harvard said, and smiled. I took off my bra. “Good girl,” he said. I took off the rest and he complimented my body. But it was worthless, he said, and wanted me to admit it, and say it out loud. “My body is worthless,” I said, and thought of the girl in the link, her kicked on the oily floor and spat on, and guessed this was what Harvard wanted from me. I knew fucking was good for his spine, he’d said as much. We hadn’t had sex since the night I’d copped out on him. My guilt trip had been growing, so when he started spanking me, I didn’t wiggle out of it, and I swallowed, he spit in my face, it seemed to make him feel better, and I felt very generous, as if I was doing something kind of important, and as if I was being put to good use.
The next day, as Harvard stretches on my yoga mat, I start my script for Star Trek Continues. Previously I had emailed the producer, Vic Mignogna, who also plays Captain Kirk, and he wrote back saying yes, he liked my idea. He wanted to know what would come of it, so I’m excited. To think that something I write might one day make it into the Star Trek legacy is too thrilling to even begin to think about. As Harvard recovers throughout the month of August, I work on my script. All the while Harvard watches the vids, scouring the internet for every gruesome instance of injustice or plain carnage, senseless, and so often deliberate.
One day Harvard calls me out of my writing space to say, “Smarty Pants, you gotta see this.” I sit in the couch beside him, and he immediately uncovers my breasts. He fiddles around with my nipples, and my clitoris, stimulating me, and makes the vid play, the vid that shows the dashboard view from a car rolling down a highway, and there are two women conversing in what I recognize as Korean. They talk along pleasant, but a car traveling the opposite direction jumps over the concrete divider of the highway, flips upside down and slams into their windshield. The vid goes black, but the sobs and crying of one woman remain. I hate my husband.
I return to my writing space. My Korean dancers are in Sick Bay after breaking out in leprotic sores, probably due to the environment change. My idea was to have Bones inject them with a cure that, instead of curing them, turns them into vicious animals. The girls try to alleviate their pain by attacking members the crew, biting into their necks as if with rabies. In my mind things are coming together, but now I cannot write. All I think of is that horrible video, the sound of the one woman crying in the dark. This is more horrible, even, than my memory of Mom vomiting into the back yard while shitting diarrhea, weeping, afraid to die.
When my mother died of breast cancer two years ago, Harvard’s method for cheering me was to show video footage of the Chinese gymnast, Sang Lan, during the 1998 Goodwill Games held in New York. She was seventeen. During warm-up on the vault, she landed on her head and was paralyzed from the chest down. The vid shows her from above, flat on her back motionless in her proud one-piece performance suit, legs there so still, and her beautiful body. Five or six men hover over her, hoping for the best, please, don’t let this horrible thing be. Harvard had prepped me for the vid by showing the gymnast’s previous performances, where she moved across the blue mat like a magic girl of helium and light. Cut to the image of her paralyzed. It was the saddest thing I ever saw. The Sang Lan vid gave me a clear understanding of the word suddenly. Though seeing her broken body did not make me feel better, I forgot, for the moment, about Mom.
Some days pass. We watch a cop jab a stick into a guy’s face. Remember Waco? We watch the story all over, and review the Marshall Applewhite affair. A vid on the Jim Jones mass suicide is another Harvard fave. He watched the Jim Jones movie starring Powers Booth as a kid, and it stuck with him. We are watching it now. “Look at his beautiful face,” Harvard says, “Wouldn’t you follow a guy who looked like Powers?” We watch vids of snake handlers in church up there in the Appalachian Mountains, vids of people breaking bones, and funny vids of people thinking they got shit smeared on them, when really all it is is Nutella, and a vid of Kim Jung Un standing with his missiles and armies.
One day, coming home from a substitute teaching gig, I find Harvard engrossed in one of his links. I always make plenty of noise when I come home to the apartment, banging my feet on the stairs and shuffling, so I know he heard me coming. I’m perturbed that he didn’t cut the damn thing off, and ignore the sound. It’s like of this girl, it sounds like they are ripping her guts out and making her eat them. I try to bypass it, just walk into the kitchen, hey, for a glass of water, thinking he’ll turn it off now that I am home, but Harvard grabs my arm, saying, “You gotta see this, you gotta see it, Smarty Pants.”
“No,” I say, “I don’t wanna see any more horrible things!”
My husband says, “No, no, it’s important!”
“No!” I insist, but he pulls me into the living room and I close my eyes. “I don’t want to be a part of this,” I say, but he guides me to the couch and sits me down. Though I can’t see what’s on the monitor, the sound is playing. A woman gags, is being hit, vomiting. “Harvard, please,” I say, and right after that the woman in the vid cries out, “Stop!” which is exactly what I am thinking. “Stop it!” I cry, and Harvard begins to laugh. “Open your mind, Smarty Pants, come on, don’t be a wimp,” he says, and reaches down my shirt. He is ill. He needs loving kindness, that’s what he needs, I remind myself, love and kindness and he still can’t even walk straight. Don’t be selfish, I tell myself. Be compassionate, I say to myself. Harvard has taken off my shirt. He slips the band off my ponytail, and holds my face with both hands, pointing it towards the monitor. “Do it,” he says, but I refuse. “Stop resisting,” he says, and shakes me. I want him happy. “Do it, goddamnit!” he screams, and I guess I just kind of open my eyes right then to the horrible things.
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