A Musical Stroke

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by JL Mayne

Have you ever seen anyone who has had a severe stroke? Part of their brain starts dying. They lie there, staring at you, wondering what in the hell is going on inside of their head. Part of them tries to talk to you, but all that comes out is a jumble of words and maybe a bit of spittle. You, the outsider, don’t know what is going on either. You watch in agony as they are in agony, trying to make sense of it all.

You watch as the doctor comes into the room and tells you that this nightmare is going to require surgery, and that the surgery needed requires a specialist. You watch as the doctor walks away, and you wonder why they are walking away, you wonder why they aren’t on the phone that very instant, getting that specialist here so that everything can be ok. So that your father can be fixed, so that the miracle of science and medicine can meld into one and repair whatever it is that’s broken.

After it’s all done, after that specialist finally arrives and drills a hole into the side of their head, relieving the pressure, fixing what can be fixed. Now that eighteen hours have passed and the damage is more than it should have been, and you wonder why in the hell they weren’t there, why they couldn’t have been bothered to come sooner. After all, isn’t that their job? Their job to be there? To fix?

Now you cope.

I’ve been in a bad mood the last few days. I’ve heard that men’s hormones can cycle the same as women’s and right now I’m wondering if it’s my time of the month. I’m wondering if I’m just looking for things to be upset about because those chemicals racing in my brain don’t know how to make sense of anything at the moment.

I usually listen to an audiobook on my commute to and from work. Currently It’s book 11 of The Wheel of Time. The heroes just got done decimating a horde of monsters with fire, lightning, and one way gateways to the abyss for the monsters passing through. Perfect for my mood.

On my way home today, I didn’t feel like listening to the drone of the narrator. I blasted Infected Mushroom. A nice balance of rock and electronic with heavy bass. My subwoofer pummels the music into my body, making me feel it. I scream the lyrics, nonsensical noises forcing their way past my vocal cords for the parts I don’t know.

And I love it.

Growing up, I listened to whatever my friends were, or whatever my dad was. He lived and breathed music. It was his gateway drug. He listened to everything from Enya to Black Sabbath. For a picture once, he had the kids all scowl around a rock, crossing our arms and making the devil horns with our pinkies and index fingers like DIO.

He had a poster in his room of the DIO devil standing over a child’s bed, posing the same way we did in our picture. Tentacles slithered from under the bed and other monsters riddled the room while the child slept. My dad always said the devil in the background was actually an angel, watching over the child, making sure that she slept well. She looked a lot like my younger sister.

He used to stay up all night playing his guitar to the sultry sounds of his goth metal. Gothminister, Switchblade Symphony and others. For a time he even wrote songs. A surprise for some of us, and a release for him.

When people would ask, I would tell them I listened to all kinds of music. Then I’d remember country. I was never a big fan of country, but a few bands and songwriters were ok; Johnny Cash, but who doesn’t like him?

I mostly listened to 90’s and early 2000’s punk rock like Blink 182, Yellowcard, and any other band my friends were listening to. We’d stay up late talking about the music and burning CDs for each other of whatever new punk band we could get our hands on. My friend used to tease me about being just like the wannabe in the song Pretty Fly by the Offspring. And I loved it. And I’d listen to the bands my dad did. Rammstein, and Gary Numan. Man did Gary change over the years.

I’d listen to songs when I had a crush on a girl and just wanted to think about her. Imagining my teen self with whatever girl I decided I liked at the moment. I’d listen when my dad was a particularly exceptional douche. And then I’d fall to sleep listening to the tapes of Enya he made for me. Fall asleep the next night listening to the opposite side of the same tape, switch the tape to another Enya album he’d copied, flip it, rinse, and repeat.

I got the call after my dad was already in the hospital. I was at home with my wife, my now adult brain didn’t know what to do and went into auto pilot. I called my boss and told him I wouldn’t be in for a day or two. I drove to the hospital and found my siblings all sitting in the stiff-cushioned chairs of the waiting room. They told me what had happened, that they were all at my grandmother’s where my dad also lived. They sat on the couch waiting for him to come downstairs.

When he finally did, he couldn’t talk. He just groaned and fell onto his face in the couch cushions, drooling and trying to make sense of it all while the ambulance sped to pick him up.

I sat with him in the hospital, lying to him and to myself that it would all be ok. That they’d fix him.

He lived. The specialist finally got there and fixed him best he could. He was paralyzed on his right side. He moved to a nursing home where he would live for the next two years.

I’d visit when I could, taking my wife and my new son. Forcing my kid to give his grandpa a hug even though my tiny monster didn’t want to, even though his grandfather was now stuck in permanent grumpy-ass mode.

After a while, after we realized that he didn’t have the will or strength to get better, we started to accept it. I tried not to. I gathered up all of his old CDs and spent hours putting them onto an MP3 player so that he could listen to them. So that he could have some semblance of normality within the white walls of his room.

I got the songs ready and took them to him, and he yelled.

All it does is piss me off! Piss me off, PISS ME OFF!”

I took the songs with me when I left.

I didn’t go back as often after that. Almost never as it wasn’t often to begin with. That was the real point I knew he’d die there. He had even given up on his music.

Two years after he entered the double doors of the home, I got a call saying he didn’t have long to live. I drove to see him.

Another death came, an unexpected one. Another close relative in that awful place. Right next door to my father.

My siblings and I stood in my father’s room. He could no longer talk. We didn’t know if he knew we were there.

My brothers and sisters, grandmother and aunt went home and I sat; sleeping and watching him, occasionally talking to him. I breathed in the stink and listened to him struggle for breath.

The nurse came in and asked if I wanted him to take some morphine. We both knew it would kill him faster, but he’d die in less pain, he’d die with that slight high the morphine drip provided.

I nodded my head and she gave it to him.

I held his sweat-drenched hand, telling him it would be ok. I watched as his breath slowed, and he finally took those last gasping breaths, whispering to him that it would all be ok.

I still listen to that music. Still reminisce the nights I’d fall asleep listening to Enya. I still have his copy of Birthday Massacre, and all of the CDs he made of his own. The songs he poured his heart and soul into. I still search for new music I can listen to, and love, and scream at the top of my lungs.

And I love it.

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