[Read Part One of Cheryl Wagner’s dispatch from Florida.]
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA — I spend three days a week with a recently radically-mastectomied and self-rehabbed and -vitalized, state-certified power healer whose own body is her billboard. She looks strong, like someone’s mother. Which she is.
Her eighteen-year-old son narrowly escaped the pen over exactly four hits of X when Alachua County’s D.A. set the poor nerd up hoping for Pablo Escobar. The girl who gave her son the blowjob to carry the X to the show pops into the healer’s mind as she plucks my muscles like raw chicken from a bone. The girl who was herself set-up, the e-mails, the attorney fees, that traitorous mouth.
While she takes me apart on her table, I try to snap her out of it. I say look at it this way, at least now they’re broke up.
The healer has potted trees and a rocking chair in her office. She asks me to imagine an ocean. She tells me to breathe in the light. One day, out of the blue, she announces that my insides are beginning to turn green and budding new. I should be excited by this new development, not alarmed.
Reaching green shoots or not, I still have the deep, breath-stealing intracostal ache — either cocked trigger points or costonchondritis thorning my sides whenever I inhale too deeply. I want it weeded and mowed down, tell her green makes me feel pressed and choked, see ribcaged kudzu. The healer retreats on her spectrum. Says maybe my color is yellow, or blue.
I begin to doubt the healer. Yet there she is, sturdy and maternal and smiling, in large flowy dresses three times a week. She turns off her cellphone when I come in. She went to Cancerland and came back in one hearty piece.
I begin to wonder if my progress is slow because I have not been splayed and peeled as she has in oncological precision. If it matters that in my ruin no scalpels or lasers were involved — just a sorry pothead from Braithwaite, Louisiana plowing an eighties van into me on his way to paint a porch in Jefferson parish. My undoing so lo-fi it hurts.
“Shit,” he may have said, like he’d forgotten his lunch.
He did slam his door and throw up his hands, pissed and dirty blond red-eyeing me.
“All I did is my foot probably slipped and now I’m going to jail!”
His bloodied buddy looked worried. He staggered toward me after his head went through their van’s windshield.
“It can’t be more than fifty dollars,” he said woozily, still oozing dark from his hairline, a huge man’s man, swaying on his feet. “I’ll give you seventy. No reason to call any cops. You want my friend to go to jail?”
I wondered if he was Cajun or Italian, but it was just that black blood-dripping hair.
I remember my neck snapped like a shot rubber band. I remember a half-hearted crumple. I remember a state trooper shaking his head and mouthing through my window — “I-wouldn’t-do-that-if-I-were-you.”
I’m high IQ, so I get to suffer my vapors on the edge of Devil’s Millhopper, windows thrown open, instead of locked down with Taco Charlie. I get to heal bathed in the refined light of science. It’s not fair but I am still grateful.
I’m staying in the hive of a famous bugman. This particular bugman specializes in the sex lives of fruitflies. Someone has to. His last name has become Latin nomenclature. Several parasites that live on flies are named for him.
Because of the bugman I know about planting a passionflower vine for a mass butterfly kill to make a documentable point about toxicity before it gets in our food. In his company I have seen other grown bugmen wander through a broken rainforest spatting over the proper spelling of Walking Sticks as they become extinct.
On his wall in the yawning mornings, I study the snapshots of his parasitic firstborns. Caught in the lens of a magnifying camera, they’re all you would think a fruit fly’s sex life would be. Scary hairy microscopic black and white, all pointy-jawed and pinchered.
Last night, over lasagna, the bugman swirled wine in his glass and said, “Curiosity is cruel,” as if that were that. Something I’d said reminded him of an afternoon butterfly hunting with his daughter when she was five. Watching him with his letter opener, decapitating the butterflies they had caught, his little girl asked him why brains get smashed.
He pulled himself up to a rational, moral height and told her that people want answers to certain questions — like do butterflies dream?
“Like who wants to know?” she countered.
“Other entomologists,” he said hastily, wanting to finish off debraining their day’s catch.
“How many?” she persisted.
“Probably about three,” he said. “Why don’t you go find your mother?”
After dinner that night I read a passage from a Heaven book on the bugman’s own shelf. It said butterfly gatherers are high on the list of those not getting into heaven. I ate his food and drank his water and went off to bed. I bookmarked the exact passage so he could read it himself.