Ed wanders the desert seeking denial

So I’m in the desert east of San Diego stalking wildflowers and staring down bighorn sheep and wondering, to slightly misquote one of our more interesting pop bards, “My God! How did I get here?” Which leads of course to a tale.

A doctor recently pointed out my sense of denial is missing. You know, that state of bliss we wander in most of the time? The bliss that says: I’ll exercise tomorrow. Supersized French fries and a double burger don’t bother me. I am NOT getting old! Breathing hard climbing a flight of stairs doesn’t mean anything. Yeah, granddad died of heart failure, grandma died of cancer, mom has diabetes and pop can’t remember where he is half the time. So? None of that stuff’s going to happen to me! Die? I’m not going to die!

You know, that sense of denial.

Alas, mine must’ve been located between my liver and gallbladder because I just don’t have it anymore and it didn’t take a doc telling me to figure it out either. Meet for lunch? Sure, if I’m not in the hospital. A movie? Great, if I’m not wacko from this week’s injections. Take a trip – like this week’s to San Diego? With my track record??? You nuts.

But I did get here, not that I believed it until the plane touched ground at Lindbergh Field. Yes, I planned the flight. But the ticket was paid for with funds left over from the same trip scheduled and canceled twice (guess why) in the last year. The suitcase didn’t even come out of the closet until 9pm the night before I left. Something would happen. Something always happens. Yet despite late commuter trains, two flight delays (including one of those lovely sit-on-the-tarmac experiences) I made it to SoCal. Not even the airport security rambos stopped me. Amazing.

Absence of denial isn’t the same as being a pessimist. I’ve been a disciple of Candide (“The best of all possible worlds!”) most of my life – at least the good parts. Life with denial is comfortable; you get to take each other for granted. As with most relationships you’ll usually survive a single infidelity: a body-bending car accident say, or a bout of pneumonia or Lymes. Sometimes denial even sticks with you after a hard-won battle with cancer.

But for the chronic among us, different rules. Two years of cirrhosis, hepatitis, cancer, chemo, liver transplant, injections, another surgery etcetera dumped a truckload of reality all over me and now I can’t help but see denial for what it really is: a preposterous wish. I still don’t run around expecting the worst but I’m not surprised at all when it comes.

One of my more impossible fantasies for this trip was to drive to the desert 150 kilometers east of San Diego known as Anza Borrego. During late February and March Anza Borrego presents one of the most formidable wildflower blooms around, and with California’s generous rainfall this year it looked to be a great time to go. But if the prospect of getting on a plane was doubtful, the prospect of driving to wildflowers… well!

I’ll skip the details but I did make it to AB, for two days and a night. I managed a sunset walk of a kilometer or two, and wonder of wonders, an early morning hike up a palm canyon, six kilometers of climbing rocks and dodging thorns hunting down a grove of wild palms. No one is more amazed than I am that I pulled this off.

So there I am, hiking around Anza Borrego’s foothills and the “denial issue” keeps popping into my head and I can’t figure out why. I’m here to escape all things medical. Denial left long ago; I know this. “Old news, Ed! Now look at the pretty ocotillo!” Yet I keep obsessing.

As anyone who lives in one knows, there are reasons revelations happen to people who wander deserts. Relentless sun, mirages, austere beauty, heat and cold, often at the same moment… deserts disorient. They banish endings and beginnings, strip away time and reason. When you’re in a desert you are alone with the here, the now. Wander in one long enough and revelations ooze out the scenery. And so I have mine, and I understand my obsession and the real reason I came to Anza Borrego.

I miss denial. I want it back.

I want to fret about the errands I have to do, about next month’s plans, what to make for dinner. I want to complain about minor aches and getting old and having too many responsibilities and yes, even a job, something I haven’t been able to do for too too long because I haven’t been able to work. I want… I want…

I want to obsess about living again, not about staying alive.

This trip is my fantasy reunion with denial. Here in Anza Borrego I take pictures of flowers and bighorn sheep and cactus green from rain. I watch the sun rise orange and set in an annihilation of color. To get here I drove the winding hills as I did in my sports car days: free, fast, exhilarated. I explore and plan and have conversations with strangers about where to go and what to do filled with phrases like “yes, isn’t it beautiful?” and “you have to see…?” conversations that do not once touch on anything medical.

Oh, denial does visit from time to time. I don’t think I could survive if it didn’t. Sometimes it drops by during a walk with Otto along San Francisco’s waterfront by the Golden Gate, or for a few minutes while I’m working in the garden. Sometimes, oddly, denial comes around while I’m writing these words, bringing hope that I can write more and without a medical theme. But these visits are always brief and porous. My visit to Anza Borrego is no exception.

Right now, my energy flags from all these heady adventures and from the euphoria of having pulled them off. Soon I’ll get on a plane home. Monday I’ll have a blood draw, in a week my next visit to the docs. There are prescriptions to fill and important medical decisions coming…

Denial and I parted two years ago; there’s no way I can pretend we’re still intimate. Our separation is permanent.

[Click on this link for more pictures of Anza Borrego.]

 

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2 Responses to “Ed wanders the desert seeking denial”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Ed, thanks for sharing. As always, I am deeply moved by your writing; it makes me smile and shed tears at the same time. To go wandering off into the AB desert to find yourself in the desert’s austere beauty and the wildflowers after all you have been through is just amazing. What a journey and I’m glad to be a part of it. How about a pic of you and Otto so the other folks can see what you guys look like?

  2. Gerry Says:

    You write so well. I hope you continue doing so for you are touching other people’s lives.

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