It all began with a tooth. Beginning of June. Cracked a filling. The only filling I have. My dentist, whom I adore because she loves to cuss and talk politics, holds a q-tip drenched in something so cold it’s smoking in front of her face and in her thick Iranian accent warns, “I’m going to put dis on your toooot. If you scream “F**K!” you haff to haff a rut canal.” Nine visits later I was done. And that’s not a typo. NINE. Because by this time I had entered the vortex.
First of July, I was rear-ended and knocked into the car in front of me. My car was totaled.
One week later, my laptop died.
The next week, my abode became infested with fleas. I have no pets.
Somewhere around this time my doctor told me there was no need to remove the sebaceous cyst on my shoulder unless something crazy happened like I bumped it really hard.
Two days later, I did. And I wasn’t even drunk. A week later, I couldn’t raise my arm over my head. Doc removed it, but not before half the floor came to see as it had become something few had seen outside of a grindhouse movie.
Four days later I sprained my ankle on a hike. Apparently I’d re-injured the only bone I’d ever broken. Twenty years ago. I was told it could take up to six months to heal.
The next night I burned my hand on a fiery-hot saute pan, the worst burn I can remember getting as an adult.
“Dude,” my friend Matt says, blowing a gnat off his beer in the back yard. “Sounds to me like you’re trapped in some sort of vortex.”
“Vortex,” I say. “What do you mean, ‘vortex?’
“Vortex. You’re stuck, Coop.” Matt turns the hose on one of his badass kids who’s trying to comb the dog with a rake. “Google it.”
I carefully reach for my cell with sudden dread as Matt never talks about anything deeper than what he had for breakfast.
“What’s it say?” he asks.
“A whirlpool or maelstrom, ie the hellish vortex of battle.”
Matt blows another gnat and makes a yikes face.
“Are you saying I’m in a maelstrom?”
“I said vortex. You’re the one who made it fancy. And aren’t you?”
I thought about what he said that night as I limped into the shower. I was exhausted from looking at new cars and computers. I looked at the bandage on my shoulder. “Don’t get it wet or something even more horrible will happen to it,” Doc told me. I covered the wound with my hand, dreading what could be next. I thought about all the folks I’d judged who always seemed to have one awful thing after the next. I blamed their world view.
“Chile, you have to come over and we need to chant yourself straight up outa that vortex.” April looks exactly the same as she did when I first moved to LA. We lost touch but a few years ago she recognized my voice on a phone I answered that didn’t even belong to me. Two days later I was seated cross-legged on her living room floor with a mala in my hands. I’ve sat on her floor many times since.
Early this morning I stopped for gas. I stared at the numbers on the pump flipping past at lightning speed – two bucks, three bucks, ten…I thought about the vortex and all the misfortunes that awaited me…six, eight, fifty…For some reason I was remembering when my sister and I were kids we would ask my father, “Who created us?” and my father would answer, “God.” Then we’d say, “Who created God?” and he’d get this deer-in-the-headlights look in his eyes. “Don’t make me think about that!” he’d say. Then he’d jump off his La-z-boy and we’d chase him all over the house. “Who created nothing? And what came before nothing?” we’d shriek. He’d laugh, putting his hands over his head. “Stop! You’ll make me crazy!” Then I’d go outside and think about just how nuts it all was that we were here and there used to be nothing and it would damned near take my breath away. I’d look around the yard like I was seeing it all for the first time. “There’s the garden,” I’d say. “That’s a thing with flowers in it. And there’s a bird. It does something called flying.”
“Hey, can you pleeeease pull up?” the lady says from the bus-sized SUV behind me. My gas had stopped pumping and I hadn’t even noticed. She was clearly huffing. I remembered hearing a guru say, “You can see it, but you don’t have to respond to it.” She toots her horn once. I wonder if she’s going to be part of my next-phase vortex.
“Who created God?” I hear that kid I used to be say. “And what came before nothing?”
I look over the roof of my car trying to shield my eyes from the sun, not to mention the prickly lady below it. I take a deep breath and try to gather what’s left of my wits. “That blue thing is a sky,” I think to myself. “And the scene on that billboard is called a beach. That asphalt surface we drive on over there is a road. And that object on the side of that building is a clock and it counts the minutes we’re all here.”
‘Excuuuuuse me!” I can see the veins sticking out of the SUV lady’s neck. She has no clue whatsoever about the road, the beach or the clock. I wave with a smile, duck back in and head out.
That afternoon, I dropped onto April’s floor and fingered my mala – 108 beads. Connection to nothing and everything. I thought about vortexes. Turns out April had just come out of a vortex of her own, having lost her beloved cat of many years. Life is messy. Vortexes come and go. I thought of the flip side of my vortex – I got a new car, a new computer, new filling/crown/whatever. Plus/minus, black/white, night/day, ying/yang…
I try to keep my eyes closed to focus on my breathing, but my attention is elsewhere. I glance around the room. “There’s a chair,” I’m thinking. “That’s a thing we sit on. We have butts.” I giggle to myself. I look out the window. “That’s a tree. All kinds of things live in and on that tree.” I close my eyes again and began to count beads, not vortexes. I can hear an ambulance on its way to St. John’s down the street. “And that is a vehicle that could be taking someone far away from this messy place.” I can hear April chanting next to me, this friend I figured was gone forever. I can hear myself chanting. It sounds funny. I open one eye and peek back up at the window. “That blue thing is a sky.”