The other day I stood huddled under an umbrella halfway between reinvention and regression, not unlike the rest of my fellow citizens, prodded, poked, and punctured by a succession of professionals trying to determine whether my body or my mind would betray me first. I secretly hoped a brick would fall on my head, thereby allowing me to forego the pleasure of backsliding into a second babyhood, filled with babbling and embarrassing infirmities. An increase in life expectancy the demographers dub it. What bullshit. I don't want to wear diapers again.
But then, I had long ago given up that human sovereignty over self I supposedly was born with, back in Jamaica, Queens, late, disturbingly so according to my mother who used to tease me about my reluctance to enter the world. When she was having a bad day she would sigh and say, Dr. K told me that the first born is always the hardest but, even so, you were a doozy. The birthing was a marathon, an epic, and, in the end, a close call. You gave me such a problem. Day turned to night and night back into day. It was the sweltering end of a humid summer. Drugs were administered, the good doctor nearly passed out, and my poor petite mother was being stretched beyond her limit. Finally I arrived, headfirst, into a post-war world of white-coats, concerned faces, medicinal smells, and inadequate air-conditioning. Bloody paradise.
Why did my mother tell me about her protracted labor? I hadn't deliberately hurt her. I never hurt her deliberately. I tried to sympathize, but it was a stretch. A newborn is only aware of its own pain, thumb in mouth, wanting to savor those last few hours suspended in that sweet amniotic universe, while outside a bunch of professionals eggs it on, telling it to quit malingering and get the hell born. I've learned to love the world since then, in a zen kind of way, like the reeds giving way to the wind, but I've never really gotten over the fact that I was the one, along with my fellow creatures, forced to comply with its natural laws, not the other way around. It's easy to resent a world that won't hew to your demands.
These dark thoughts come to me occasionally, as quickly as shadows do when the sun peeks through parted clouds. It usually happens when I'm contemplating medical or financial matters. Standing there with my hands in my pockets at a NJ Transit bus stop, on my way into work, trying to earn enough money to keep the effin bankers in clover, anyone could tell that I had given up my sovereignty and my dignity. My metaphorical pants were down around my aging ankles. My mother had been dead for thirty-eight years and I was caught out with my fellow commuters, an army of dull and dim-witted automatons, hoping against hope that the right numbers would come up in the next Pick Six.
Cripes, sometimes all I want is a little extra dough at the end of the week, so I can go out and buy something nice, something I don't need or really even want. It feels good. Sometimes all I want is to be able to exercise my freedom of choice, along with my fellow citizens, and order something online. I know the game is rigged. Hell, I've known that since the first breath I took outside my mother's womb. But that doesn't stop me from buying things if I have a little extra dough. Freedom of choice. Call it what you want. At least it takes my mind off the professional diagnosis of my condition.