The Wind Chime Phase

notes on a diagnosis



Many of the memories I cherish most are auditory.

Like the song of the ice-cream truck tinkling down Lake drive, or the bird in the ivy outside my first bedroom window that’d tahwee-tee in a descending third every morning. The glass wind chime on the back porch of my second house, and me sitting there in a cast-iron rocking chair in my bathrobe with my eyes closed, listening.

Still, there’s something about a disembodied voice that makes my mind wander. My mom talks to me from a hospital room 1000 miles away and I wonder if Olivia would want to come over and hang out later. I hear my mom pass the Latin name from her lips. Something with an M. I don’t hear much; I’m wondering if Olivia wants to hang out.

From tumor Wikipedia redirects me: Neoplasm, from Ancient Greek neo "new" and plasma "formation, creation", an abnormal growth of cells, a gory chunk of mucous flesh resembling an inside-out starfish according to the picture on the webpage, or, somewhat more pleasantly, a new creation, all depending on who you ask. For the sake of my stomach I defer to the Greeks.

There’s certainly something arborescent about a tumor. It starts out small, a miniature seedlet cocooned in a paper husk. A rain falls and then genesis, meiosis, a thousand tiny divisions in secret. Shoots and tubers burrow into the host and take root, pulsing with a dark and quiet energy; a flower grows in my mother’s brain.

I get off the phone, close my laptop and walk into the street.

I wear my mother’s jacket and smoke her father’s cigarettes. Does it skip a generation?

The chorus of “Memories of You” by Louis Armstrong plays in my head. I see birds singing but can’t hear them over my headphones.

I watch a kid in a blue fox cap slide backwards on his belly down Foss Hill and think, me too.

In Usdan I buy a cornflower-blue package of potato chips and leave them on the counter.

When light enters the atmosphere at great speeds only the tenacious blue wavelengths make it through, so objects entering the earth’s atmosphere appear blue. This is called blueshifting.

 At the writer’s circle I torture over whether I should share what I’ve written. I do. One girl in curls, referring to a line about me walking through a mirror, says,

“I like all the glass-words and translucence in your prose.”

“Thank you.” I say. “There’s a lot of glass.”

I imagine describing how I feel to these people and then suddenly a liquid torrent of superheated glass bursts through the windows and inundates the room where I sit at a round table trying not to make eye contact, listening to compliments about my vocabulary, saying thank you.

There’s a flower growing in my mother’s brain. I call it Grief Orchid.

Grief Orchid. This is one whose Latin name I know. Dolorus orchideae. I know it because I made it up; it’s the title of my book. For my senior thesis I’m writing a novella about a group of hippy neo-liberal conservationists threatening a made-up town in Wisconsin with hallucinogenic terrorism under the name of a medieval German doomsday cult. The name of the weapon they wield is the Grief Orchid, a mythic flower with a hallucinogenic perfume supposedly lost to time. The group, who call themselves the Society of the Woman in the Wilderness, threatens to drop a Grief Orchid seed bomb on the town unless ChemoDyne, an agrochemical and agricultural corporation headquartered there, packs up shop and moves out. ChemoDyne’s not having any of it; they claim the Grief Orchid is a hoax. I’m not sure if it is yet.

When I first heard the diagnosis I couldn’t help but think of the novella. The struggle between a carcinogenic chemical manufacturing company and a small town in Wisconsin seemed almost too allegorical to be true. This was in my first stage of grief: The Romantic Stage.

A vast extrasensory nexus of silk threads connected the world I lived in with the world I’d created. Parallels and coincidences abounded; a forced orchestration. ChemoDyne and chemo. Harold Munn, my detached protagonist, and my father, who sent me a video of the snowstorm blowing outside of the hospital room but refused to turn the camera around.  My teenage sister, who nearly crashed the car when I told her the news over the telephone, and the novella’s villainesse Desdemona Glass, who crashes stolen Lamborghinis for fun.

But soon that faded, and another phase kicked in: The Skeptical Phase. Doubt reached its feelers into the orchestry. I began to feel like I was trying to find my way through a forest with a constellation map.

And then memories of my mother entered my atmosphere at great speeds. Like the one of her holding me in her arms when I was little and the two of us singing along at the top of our lungs to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” while dancing around the blue glass table in the kitchen. What strikes me now about the memories was how quickly they would alight and then leave me. Another thought would swoop in and take its place, and I’d think of the Hegel I needed to read for class, and of Olivia, and of tea or coffee? and of the jean jacket my mom gave me, and of another cigarette, etc.

And now surgery. 1000 miles away my mother’s head is open under glass. The surgeons are looking for a flower. As I sit here, writing in the intervening hours before news comes, I come to understand the way that thoughts move through me resembles the way sound travels through a wind chime.

 From a young age wind chimes have always bewitched me. The glass ones, especially. There’s one at my house in Milwaukee I’m fond of: ten ornaments of glass revolving from ten threads of various lengths, like pieces of a broken window suspended in the air. On a sunny day, when each token of glass spins independently with the wind, catching and loosening a bright glance of light, the romantic in me marvels at the threefold synesthesia of this object, the translation of movement to sound and light making a lustrous instrument of the air, as if the glass is ringing with the wind and the sun.