Thursday, August 07, 2014

Karen Thomason was here

My friend Karen died while I was on vacation a couple days ago. She had been in what they call a persistent vegetative state for the last 12 years, stemming from a rapid succession of catastrophic health crises that were not diagnosed until after they had laid her low.

Karen and I worked side by side for some years at the same newspaper, and her ex-husband and I had played together in a band of questionable artistic merit. I had already moved away to another town when I received the news, 12 years ago, that she had been discovered, unresponsive, in her apartment after not showing up to work one day.

Going back, I liked Karen right off. She struck me as kind of sad, and broken inside, but had the kindest eyes I’ve maybe ever seen. They were quiet but burned with a keen intelligence. She had clearly been dragged down a rough, rural road throughout her life, but she still had a lot of heart and was a survivor.

She was my kind of people.

Karen had epically low self-esteem, as a result of a childhood worthy of an E.A. Poe or Stephen King story. Being a hard-luck case myself, I found her immediately compelling, with the weird vibe of self-loathing/love for mankind she exuded. She should have hated the world—not herself—by the time I met her. She had every right to, but she didn’t.

She was a better person than I can ever even imagine myself becoming. It seemed to me she needed and deserved a better friend than she had at the time, so I determined I would be that friend.

I remember times the bosses would light into her for this oversight or that miscommunication—as often as not originating from them, not her—and I would march up to their office and champion her cause. Not because she asked me to, or even because she thought herself worth defending, but because in the absence of anyone else taking her side, I felt it incumbent upon someone to do so.

I remember the night her husband left her. Now, Karen never asked for help, it wasn’t in her nature. But that night, she picked up the phone and called me, in tears. I grabbed my dog, jumped in the car and drove over and picked her up. She spent that first awful night at my house because we both knew, I think, that she shouldn’t be alone.

After that, she was my beard and I was hers. We went to innumerable movies together, only one of which she couldn’t find anything good to say about (“The Postman”). We went to dozens of concerts—the good kind, that we had to drive to LA for.

When I made mix tapes for whatever girl I was dating at the time, I always secretly routed her a copy, and she always talked to me about it afterward in much greater detail and with more enthusiasm than the person for whom I had collected the songs.

She also had my back. One night, in the depths of my depravity, I was loaded on tranquilizers and a box of Franzia ‘chardonnay,’ and was talking to her on the phone when I passed out. She contacted a colleague—neither of them drove—but they drove over to my place anyhow to find me unconscious on my couch and non-reactive, the phone on the floor under my hand where it fell. The other employee wanted to call 911, but Karen talked her out of it, and made sure I was revived enough to survive the night on my own before she left.

She was also a voracious reader and consumer of popular entertainment. When I was writing my magnum opus, she was the person to whom I gave the chapters as I cranked them out, and I still thrill at the memory of her running down the office hallway one early morning before business hours and hugging me after reading the second chapter. She loved it, and she told me why in a way I understood and had frankly been looking for it to be loved.

She became, in a word, indispensable to my life, especially after her divorce. Other than my official Best Friend, she was my best friend, although I didn’t appreciate that fact at the time. In my own way, without even realizing it, I also took her for granted. I suppose at some point, I accepted the fact that I wanted to ‘save’ Karen a lot more than she wanted to be saved, and to some extent just went with that.

The worst part for me is, as much as I meddled in her life and kept her close to me socially, when she slipped into a coma a few months after I moved out of town—I mean, like three months—I was plenty narcissistic enough to believe that if I hadn’t bailed on her too, she might still be alive today and one of my best friends.

And the final arc of her life, spending the last twelve years in a persistent vegetative state, is enough to make one question the whole concept of a loving, forgiving God. Nobody would give me a straight answer about whether she was conscious inside her locked-down body, but I can tell you that when I went to visit her, I would sing softly to her, some of our favorite songs, and tears would begin to roll down her cheeks.

That old line of hooey about, “Oh, they’re in a better place now” usually rings awfully hollow, but in Karen’s case, I cannot imagine a truer statement. I miss her still, acutely as I write this, but am so grateful and relieved that her period of torment has finally come to an end.

What follows was one of her favorite songs, and I’ll close with it. She and Hank Williams and I all vibrated at the same frequency, and like Hank Williams, she did not live long enough to rise above it. We always sang this song at the end of our shows and dedicated it to some worthy who had recently passed—the first time I dedicated it from stage, it was for Julio Gallo. Today, this number goes out to my friend, my confidante, my amiga inseparable, Karen Thomason. Requiescat in pace, good and faithful friend. You have earned it, and you deserve it. Really, you do.

Lost Highway

I’m a rollin’ stone all alone and lost

For a life of sin I have paid the cost

When I pass by all the people say

Just another guy on the lost highway

I was just a lad, nearly 22

Neither good nor bad, just a kid like you

And now I’m lost, too late to pray

Lord I paid the cost, on the lost highway

Now boys don’t start to ramblin’ round

On this road of sin are you sorrow bound

Take my advice or you’ll curse the day

You started rollin’ down that lost highway

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Fun at the walk-in clinic

So the doctor I saw this morning wasn’t my usual person. Today’s doctor was all about drilling the rules and regulations of the place into my head. This is the exact same thing I’ve gone in for a number of times before: Zap-a-mole and take a quick look at a couple of other things while I’m there.

So this doctor—who was crazy, smoking hot, so I was initially inclined to LOVE working with her—starts off by telling me that 2 is the number of things they’re supposed to see a patient about per visit, not 3, so I would have to Sophie’s Choice one of my complaints. Then she looks at my mole and sighs (I could imagine her eyes rolling), “THIS kind of mole is FINE. [pause] It looks just like the kind of mole that is dangerous and has all the same outward appearances, but [dismissively] THIS is not that kind of mole.”

I go, well, what then? Leave it alone?

She: (sigh) No, I’ll remove it for you, but there is a 98... 99% chance that it is nothing.

Then I decide to have my athlete’s foot situation dealt with, because if I talk about my bruised but unbroken ribs, she’s at best just going to try to push drugs on me because that’s all that can be done until they heal. Long story short, in the end she forgot entirely to deal with my foot deal, which I’ll have my regular sawbones take care of when I go to have my stitches removed next week.

Oh, that’s the other thing. She must have mentioned it about 6 or 7 times: APPOINTMENTS ARE PREFERRED. (Especially if you’re just going to waste my time with non-life threatening injuries that I can’t run into the next room and blab about on social media.)

I think we all know who’s to blame here... ME! No wait, I meant to say, "OBAMA!!!" [shakes fist angrily]