Another strange night

A view across Hong Kong toward Tai Hang and Braemar hill behind.

I go to bed in a hospital room. From the window I can see our apartment. This is closer to home than any of our other hospital stays, and less stressful. We age, we injure, we heal. Or we go through the traumas of childbirth, and heal. The pain is not always evenly distributed. It is shared though, which is both comforting and real. I look across the sports fields beside the Hong Kong Central library at Tai Hang, at our tiny box, the lights that mean home, that mean people, and relax.

I’ll be out of here in another twelve hours. I’ll probably still have a job. Things aren’t always as bad as they have been, and there’s a lot of hope in our corner of the world. A lot of growth, new words, new abilities. Hopefully some of the old abilities, too, returning after rehab and intention, after focus and time.

We get older, and we keep going to the gym. Our fitness plans remain much the same, climbing frisbee yoga and the occasional jog, on either side of these milestones. On either side of these years. My shoulder, the cause of that stay in twenty twenty, is pretty functional. I boulder on it, lay out on it, swing on it, and carry a small child with it. The rehab took a long time, but I had little to do. Tomorrow’s rehab will be lighter, more like the last op than the shoulder. More like stiches rather than reconstruction. I’m happy with that, happy with the ability to fix things before they’re impossible.

You woke up smelling horrible every day. Like pain,” my partner says of the three months pre-shoulder surgery. After surgery you immediately smelled like yourself again.”

Smelling like myself instead of like pain seems like a big step. The gift of a mediocre memory, of being unable to hold my body’s prior feelings very well, is that I do not remember. I hope never to remember. I hope to read these words in a few years and be startled by them.

Do you re-read your own writing,” a friend asked me in December.

All the time, I said. All the time. It’s a way of remembering, of anchoring myself. Most of these posts are written for me, to help me tell the story of my life, across time, to myself.

Because otherwise I’d forget. Otherwise I might never remember all the things I’ve done. I might not remember who I am, or who I’m trying to be. I definitely wouldn’t remember how it felt, ten or fifteen years back, to discover things I now struggle to notice. I might not remember all those nights listening to the Blade Runner soundtrack in Chinese hotel rooms, happy and healthy or sick and uncertain. I wouldn’t remember all my odd interactions with friends, or what it felt like to drive the PCH before finding a job in San Francisco.

Sometimes, when it’s hard to remember, it’s good to be able to remember, to have triggers. To create them. I do it with music a lot, and with people. Mostly, though, I do it with this site, with writing, and with time.

It’s another kind of healing, perfect for this quiet hospital room.

What reverberates

The view from Toranomon Hospital towards Akasaka as the sun sets

Time with people. Even though they will all be dead soon too, even though the world is on fire, even though our lives are transient and brief. What matters is our time together, regardless of circumstance. Financial capabilities matter only in the service of our friendships, of the time we spend together.

This is to say we’ve spent thousands on plane tickets to weddings.

There’s no where else we would be, nothing else we would really want to do anyway. Our highest ambitions are to spend more time in more places with more people. Sometimes, of course, with just each other. Rarely. Usually with someone we met somewhere else, in a third place that itself contains so many good memories. Be it Houston’s bars and the BMX long board rides to them, be it Denver pick ups in Fits, be it knocks on doors in early San Francisco mornings, or be it odd Hong Kong evenings scouting the server’s pants at a local bar.

They’re all the moments we travel for, the moments we save and work and grind and learn and think and grow for. They’re the moments we live in if not for.

All too often now my photos remind me of friends I can no longer call. Of people I can no longer email. Of humans our daughter will never meet.

I can’t say good things about those moments, other than that I am lucky to have met so many people, here or gone, in the country I was born to or in those I no longer live in. In countries I never have. For each of those memories I am lucky, and for all the memories we’ve already made that I am not yet so poignantly attached to. May I not be for quite a while more.

Walking towards Toranomon Hospital from a business hotel in Shimbashi at eight am on a Sunday I am grateful. I am finally certain of release, and that this hospital will be just one more story, one more odd memory. I am grateful to be here, then, in the July sunshine, in Tokyo, in the early morning summer not-yet-heat. I am grateful for my partner, for our daughter, for the friends we saw here, for the friends we missed seeing here. For my roommate, more than twenty years ago now, who came down from Tochigi to go for a long walk with each of us, give us a break from our own worries. I’m grateful for the friends who messaged, who looked after our cat, and who share their own worries.

I’m grateful to be human and alive, for however long it lasts. It’s wonderful to know so many people in so many ways. No matter where we may be.

Hospitals

A Bangkok hospital view

Some parts of life don’t bear talking about. Factories, mostly. I spend a lot of time in factories, time that forms a base of knowledge I have spent so many hours on the road to acquire. And yet it’s hard to talk about factories. Complicated, really.

Hospitals are like that too. Except I didn’t mean to spend so much time in them. Some days I remember the details. I remember waiting in the UCSF hospital while Tara got ACL surgery, nervous and uncertain in a tiny sitting area with no windows. Reading bad old magazines and trying not to stare at the only other visitor, an old man. Wondering over and over what or who he was waiting for but neither of us in any mood for talk.

The next time I had to wait through Tara’s surgery I went sneaker shopping in Siam Discovery, a fancy Bangkok mall. I had a couple hours they’d said, and knew better than to sit still. Sneaker shopping sounds fun, and often is fun. I remember walking the BTS stations almost surprised how normal everything felt. How normal my body was, despite the huge scrapes on my arms and legs. I felt worried, but also lucky, the doctor having cleared my shoulder after an exam. Only Tara’s wrist broken, after the motorcycle crash in northern Laos. Just the small bones. Just her right hand. Five years later it’s still a hard week to think about.

The third time wasn’t even surgery. Just stitches and a lot of cleaning, a lot of cutting dead skin away. She was awake. I left the room, pacing the entry to the fancy Hong Kong hospital for an hour at midnight on a Sunday. Nervous and tired but pretty sure she’d be ok. That was easier, but still too hard.

In March of last year it was again voluntary, or scheduled: one night in the hospital alone after shoulder surgery. My left, beat up by years of climbing and frisbee. And probably never a hundred percent since New York. Or since that motorcycle crash. Overnight hospital stays, like Ben Watt says in his book Patient, are strange things. Peaceful but without rest, the body either shutting down or being woken up for pills, for checks, by pain. It’s hard to sleep, even in a private room, even with luxury. I got laid off that morning, by phone, before the nurses brought more pain killers. Overnight hospital stays, when they’re going ok, are an awful lot of time to think, and no energy at all for thinking.

And then New York, of course. Two different hospitals. Five nights each. Surgery with fingers and biting on sweatshirts. A lot of pain and long waits to try walking. A lot of slow hellos with nothing to say. A lot of time to stare and think and no energy at all.

Hospitals are hard to talk about. Like factories.