Chapter 11

THIS IS WHY I loved the support groups so much, if people thought you were dying, they gave you their full attention.
If this might be the last time they saw you, they really saw you. Everything else about their checkbook balance and radio songs and messy hair went out the window.
You had their full attention.
People listened instead of just waiting for their turn to speak.
And when they spoke, they weren't telling you a story. When the two of you talked, you were building something, and afterward you were both different than before.
Marla had started going to the support groups after she found the first lump.
The morning after we found her second lump, Marla hopped into the kitchen with both legs in one leg of her pantyhose and said, "Look, I'm a mermaid."
Marla said, "This isn't like when guys sit backward on the toilet and pretend it's a motorcycle. This is a -genuine accident."
Just before Marla and I met at Remaining Men Together, there was the first lump, and now there was a second lump.
What you have to know is that Marla is still alive. Marla's philosophy of life, she told me, is that she can die at any moment. The tragedy of her life is that she doesn't.
When Marla found the first lump, she went to a clinic where slumped scarecrow mothers sat in plastic chairs on three sides of the waiting room with limp doll children balled in their laps or lying at their feet. The children were sunken and dark around their eyes the way or anges or bananas go bad and collapse, and the mothers scratched at mats of dandruff from scalp yeast infections out of control. The way the teeth in the clinic looked huge in everyone's thin face, you saw how teeth are just shards of bone that come through your skin to grind things up.
This is where you end up if you don't have health insurance.
Before anyone knew any better, a lot of gay guys had wanted children, and now the children are sick and the mothers are dying and the fathers are dead, and
sitting in the hospital vomit smell of piss and vinegar while a nurse asks each mother how long she's been sick and how much weight she's lost and if her child has any living parent or guardian, Marla decides, no.
If she was going to die, Marla didn't want to know about it.
Marla walked around the corner from the clinic to City Laundry and stole all the jeans out of the dryers, then walked to a dealer who gave her fifteen bucks a pair. Then Marla bought herself some really good pantyhose, the kind that don't run.
"Even the good kind that don't run," Marla says, "they snag."
Nothing is static. Everything is falling apart.
Marla started going to the support groups since it was easier to be around other human butt wipe. Everyone has something wrong. And for a while, her heart just sort of flatlined.
Marla started a job doing prepaid funeral plans for a mortuary where sometimes great fat men, but usually fat women, would come out of the mortuary showroom carrying a crematory urn the size of an egg cup, and Marla would sit there at her desk in the foyer with her dark hair tied down and her snagged pantyhose and breast lump and doom, and say, "Madam, don't flatter yourself. We couldn't get even your burned-up head into that tiny thing. Go back and get an urn the size of a bowling ball."
Marla's heart looked the way my face was. The crap and the trash of the world. Post-consumer human butt wipe that no one would ever go to the trouble to recycle.
Between the support groups and the clinic, Marla told me, she had met a lot of people who were dead. These people were dead and on the other side, and at night they called on the telephone. Marla would go to bars and hear the bartender calling her name, and when she took the call the line was dead.
At the time, she thought this was hitting bottom.
"When you're twenty-four," Marla says, "you have no idea how far you can really fall, but I was a fast learner."
The first time Marla filled a crematory urn, she didn't wear a face mask, and later she blew her nose and there in the tissue was a black mess of Mr. Whoever.
In the house on Paper Street, if the phone rang only once and you picked it up and the line was dead, you knew it was someone trying to reach Marla. This happened more than you might think.
In the house on Paper Street, a police detective stated calling about my condominium explosion, and Tyler stood with his chest against my shoulder, whispering into my ear while I held the phone to the other ear, and the detective asked if I knew anyone who could make homemade dynamite.
"Disaster is a natural part of my evolution," Tyler whispered, "toward tragedy and dissolution."
I told the detective that it was the refrigerator that blew up my condo.
"I'm breaking my attachment to physical power and possessions,' Tyler whispered, "because only through destroying myself can I discover the greater power of my spirit."
The dynamite, the detective said, there were impurities, a residue of ammonium oxalate and potassium perchloride that might mean the bomb was homemade, and the dead bolt on the front door was shattered.
I said I was in Washington, D.C., that night.
The detective on the phone explained how someone had sprayed a canister of Freon into the dead-bolt lock and then tapped the lock with a cold chisel to shatter the cylinder. This is the way criminals are stealing bicycles.
"The liberator who destroys my property," Tyler said, "is fighting to save my spirit. The teacher who clears all possessions from my path will set me free."
The detective said whoever set the homemade dynamite could've turned on the gas and blown out the pilot lights on the stove days before the explosion took place. The gas was just the trigger. It would take days for the gas to fill the condo before it reached the compressor at the base of the refrigerator and the compressor's electric motor set off the explosion.
"Tell him," Tyler whispered. "Yes, you did it. You blew it all up. That's what he wants to hear."
I tell the detective, no, I did not leave the gas on and then leave town. I loved my life. I loved that condo. I loved every stick of furniture
That was my whole life. Everything, the lamps, the chairs, the rugs were me. The dishes in the cabinets were me. The plants were me. The television was me. It was me that blew up. Couldn't he see that?
The detective said not to leave town.

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