I’m not good around sick people. It’s a character flaw. I ask them what they need but if they aren’t clear as day, I miss the signs and don’t know what to do. I’m not intuitive. I’m not patient. I’m brutal, like something you pick up and put back down because it’s too heavy. I don’t know how to behave or make somebody feel any better. I’m not sexy around sickness. I know it’s not my job to make them feel better and I know it’s not their job to make me feel better when I’m sick. I always figure that sick people want to be left alone in the bleak terrain of the theoretical life without other people until life comes back in full company. For me, a sick person is a version of a person—the body-snatched version, which, of course isn’t true which is why I’m not good around sick people. My hard wiring in the illness area is sloppy and wrong. I have empathy for somebody right up until they get sick. Most people get better and I wait for that to happen. My mother skidded on black ice one morning in the country on her way to work at the Seamless Rubber Company. We can’t hold people in the world. There’s no notice that we can make. When I get sick I never surrender to it. I can only feel it as something fighting my body like a matador. Health is the bull. I’ll take anything and everything to not feel pain because my recovering alcoholism says that I do and because I say that I have too much to do. Which isn’t true. Edmund White once said in an interview that writing can make him physically ill. Joyce Carol Oates once said to write even when you are sick.  Elizabeth Hardwick wrote in Sleepless Nights—a book that comes out of a dream when it talks about Billie Holiday—that when you travel, you don’t exist—which is how I feel most of the time I get sick. Nobody can see me because I don’t know what I am feeling when I’m sick except the sickness. Illness possesses me completely—which may finally be the reason why I’m so bad around sick people. I don’t exist. How can you?

 

 

 

 

Michael Klein
is a five-time Lambda Literary Award Finalist and won twice for poetry (Poets for Life: 76 Poets Respond to AIDS, and 1990, his first book of poems). His fourth book of poems and some prose, When I Was a Twin, will be published in September by Sibling Rivalry Press. He teaches writing at Goddard College and Hunter College and lives in New York City and Provincetown.
Filed under: Poetry

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