NOTE: This is the third part of the Tale of the Witch of Oaxaca. Those who haven't read the previous two parts might want to peek into this box
to read my description of the witch, her magic cure of insomnia, and my vague desires to try her out again --- on something slightly bigger. Sy Safransky described below is the founder of The Sun magazine.
--- The Author"I think you should see if you can come up with another ending," says Safransky, shortly after he appears at my doorstep. An editor who flies 3,000 miles to visit his writers? That's something different for the publishing world. Do they make flying visits like that out of The New Yorker?
"Jesus, Sy --- I've given you three different ones so far." Right after, Make me a late-blooming dancer, bicyclist, long-distance runner, mountain climber, mother, I tacked on what I thought was a fine conclusion to my tale --- but he would have none of it. Nor the next two I came up with.
Safransky looks just like I thought he would. Not as heavy, though. After reading his 3 A.M. Fret-Stories over the years, I expect him to come in looking like a grizzly bear, a big fat one. Perish the thought. He looks more like a six-foot grey-beard elf. Since I've been accused of being an elf myself, it's like we're having a Convention of The Good Folk, right here in my writing room, in San Diego.
He arrives with wife Norma. They come in, sit down, and we start in talking as if we had known each other for twenty years. Which we have. By mail, and telephone, and manuscript. Never in person.
"You've got the readers right in the palm of your hand for the first eleven pages," he says. "But the dream ending --- Andy Snee and I just didn't get it." He pauses. "We don't want to confuse our readers."
Right, I think. You've been befuddling your readers with tales of magic and misery for twenty-five years, and now suddenly you want to make everything crystal clear. And you want me to fiddle with my words some more. Which it seems to me is all I've been doing since I first finished this mother last May.
In the first version, I concluded the story with a dream about me and Christopher Reeve, who is (you know how dreams are) my younger twin. He and I get up and walk about some. We aren't great at it --- knocking over a few buildings, creating a few earthquakes --- but we keep on trying. It's a dandy conclusion, and I'd slip it right in here for you to read if I could do it without Safransky noticing.
He told me to try something else, so I did. I sent in a 15 page exegesis on the dream --- complete with footnotes from Freud, Jung, Derrida, Alan Watts, The Spice Girls, and Snoop Doggie Dogg.
Norma sits off to the side, looking like a contented cat, watching the tennis match between me and Sy. "What kind of work do you do?" I ask her. When I'm losing an argument, I know best to distract the opposition by changing the subject. "I do counselling," she says. "I work with suicidal women," she says.
Suicidal women? "Salvadore Minuchin said that those were always the scariest kind of patients to work with," I say. "If something goes wrong...well, yikes!"
The distraction doesn't work worth beans. Safransky may look like one of the little people, but he has the persistence of a personal injury trial lawyer out for his 40% commission. "What would happen if you did it?" he says.
"Wrote about it as a possibility?"
"Wrote about what?"
"The curandera. Curing you."
Good Lord, man.
After all these years?
Are you nuts?
They came at me with that neurological weed-wacker, so many years ago: dove right in and frazzled out all my nerves. The first year I couldn't sit up. The second, I couldn't walk. And after that it was a slow crawl across the landscape with braces and crutches and orthopædic corsets. Cars with hand-controls. Houses without porches or stairs. No running in the wheat-fields, racing down the beach, skipping through the hot white sand, diving into cool waters.
So forty-five years later, I go to a witch who slathers me with Vicks and herbs and cures my insomnia and now Safransky wants me to write about what would happen if I went back and she is working on what's left of my bod and me maybe jumping off of the bed, racing across the room, halooing down the street.
"Your work must scare you," I say to Norma.
"No. Not too much. It's not that you get used to it, though." Where'd she get that calm? Certainly not from me or Safransky.
"One time I heard Hubert Selby being interviewed on radio," I say. "He said thinks our lives are made up of two things. 'The first is love. And the second is...' He paused, and I thought for sure he would say 'hate,' but instead, he said, 'fear.'
"I need time," I say.
"Time?" he says.
"To plan my suicide," I think. "To find another ending for my story," I say.
"You got it," he says.
They're nice people. People so nice you want to hand over the keys to the car and give them the deed to the house and head off to the mountains of Tibet to become a hermit-Buddhist, there in a stone ice-cave, just above Lhasa, locked in the frozen meditative state for ten years or so. Just to show some caring, too.
Norma works with women that have reached the end of the line, so far down that they want to end it all. Sy has spent half his life putting out a bulletin for all the spiritual misfits like you and me --- sending out words to give us hope, and sometimes despair. Messages from the deep.
Genuinely good folk. Not half-assed good like some of the rest of us. They worry about the ozone layer; I worry about my nighttime wheezing waking the neighbors. They fret about nuclear waste, the redwoods, whales; I'm fretting about my dewlaps, and the Drooping Spout.
They're concerned about spirituality, suicide, and a country up to its neck in self-imposed woe; I'm concerned that, in five years time, someone is going to stick me in a nightmare HMO nursing home with a dozen Nurse Rachets.
And then, of course, there is the Big R. I figure most of the nice people I know --- like Sy and Norma and most of my old hippy friends --- are going to come back, one last time, as a nightingale, or a butterfly. Just to check it out. Me? After they count up all my many deviations from The Eightfold Path, I figure they'll send me back as a toad. A big ugly one. For the next 5,000 reincarnations or so.
"It'll take a while for me to put something together for you," I tell Safransky. It's going to be hard to resurrect those cure dreams from so long ago, 'cause we buried most of them in the second or third month in the hospital, after I gave up imagining myself at our school's fall prom, the spring picnic at the beach.
We --- my nurses, my doctors, and I --- kept despair at bay by installing high-voltage hazard protectors, shut-off switches to the psyche, circuit-breakers to guard against an overload of soul-crunching, self-ravening, heart-robbing hope --- the impossible dreams that might have driven me bonkers.
"It'll take some time," I tell him.
"You have all the time in the world," he says.
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