I was a casual fan
If you’d asked me a few months ago what I thought of The Airborne Toxic Event I’d have answered, “Yeah, they’re cool, I dig their music.” Personally, I couldn’t relate to the heartbreak and I didn’t get the obsession with death but I appreciated how authentic the emotions seemed and how passionately they were delivered. Also, shallowly, I thought they were a damn fine looking bunch.
Then the troubles began
On the same day I was laid off from the job I loved, my partner asked to put an end to our 17 year relationship. Not long after, my cat, my constant companion for 16 years, succumbed to old age. Within a few weeks I found myself leaving behind my old life – city, house, friends – with nothing more to my name than what I could fit in my car. I headed back to the city where I’d been raised, a city I’d sworn I’d never return to again, intending to start over. There I was met by a father we found was in the early stages of dementia and also happened to be going blind. Cognitively impaired and struggling to cope with his loss of vision, he reacted by being in a near constant state of rage. The sweet and gentle man that was my father was no more.
“It could be worse,” I told myself.
Uh, yeah, it indeed could be worse
I noticed my teeth had started to discolor; some had developed hairline cracks, and one day part of a molar just broke away. It turns out the nerves leading to my teeth were inexplicably twisting up, strangling themselves out, killing the teeth in the process. I was told they’re all dying, and while it was just molars that were most damaged at the time, it wouldn’t be long before the rest would be lost too.
This news hit hard. I tried to joke with myself that my Halloween costume is already set; I could go as an end stage meth addict or jack-o-lantern. I tried to tell myself that I’ll be getting implants that’ll probably look much better than the original teeth, and here was my chance to get some Hollywood megawatt teeth. Truth is, nothing helped. All I could see was that the smile I’d considered to be one of my better assets was going to be gone and I was devastated.
So what does all this have to do with Airborne?
When things started to go downhill my music collection increasingly became my refuge; it’s the place where I find 3-4 minutes’ escape under headphones and some dangerous volume. Airborne in particular is like a salve during the worst times. They are on my playlist more often than not and I’ve long since crossed the boundary from casual to die-hard fan, discovering This is Nowhere in the process.
When TIN recently posted Toxic History, Chapter 1: The Week from Hell, I felt I could relate in so many ways, but the auto-immune diagnosis, and the beauty Mikel believes it marred, is where most of my sympathy gathered. I could hear some people saying, “It’s just some [hair, skin, teeth]; at least it’s not some fatal disease.” “Your parent is ill and you’re thinking about your appearance? Seriously?” “Relative to all the other stuff happening in your life your looks should be the least of your worries. Get over yourself.” I even think that about myself sometimes. Why, with so much else going on, do the looks matter so much to me? Why did it matter so much to him?
To be honest, I don’t fucking know. Maybe once time puts this awful period behind me I’ll find some perspective. In the meantime, I’m simply grateful there are people like Mikel, who not only navigated the depths, they took the time to write it down, thus creating a beacon for the rest of us still journeying in the darkness. In his own words, it’s “a wave hello from across this strange abyss of time and distance.” Thank you for the wave, Mikel; it means more to some of us than you might know.
Already, a short time later, there is this postscript
On a remote highway I regularly travel there is an old lodge that was destroyed by a forest fire. All that remains in the mess of cinder and ash is an enormous river stone chimney, standing there, barely scathed, scratching at the sky while the ruins lay scattered at its feet.
The owners don’t plan to rebuild; they’re leaving the plot to be reclaimed by the forest. I imagine that the same nature that consumed the lodge will bring some renewal in the next season. Instead of the hollow and fragile shell that once enveloped the chimney, there will be lush and verdant new growth that will eventually be a grand forest with that sturdy chimney, that old survivor, standing strong in the midst. Inside of me there is something like that chimney, I think. I hope. But instead of songbirds attending the restoration, I have some headphones that more often than not will be piping out some Airborne.