It’s been a tough few months for me. I had the flu over the Christmas holiday, turning my 10 days of vacation into nothing but chicken soup and recuperation. My career as a massage therapist in the tech sector feels in peril while Twitter transits the “ugly adolescence” of corporate growth. And, a poem I’d hoped would be published in a literary journal got nixed by an editor who was once my writing mentor. This rejection is a small pothole in the very bumpy road that is the writer’s life, but still, it’s a bummer.
But, my largest heartbreak this winter has been witnessing the plodding decline of “Io”, my elderly dog. I make no bones about it; I adore my Jack Russell Terrier. She’s been my stalwart companion for 16 years, the constant shadow at my side, my shining star when I’m sad or lonely. In mid December, Io had a seizure, her second in less than six months. We’ve spent the last few weeks consulting doggie neurologists, internists, and several other veterinary specialists. Io is stable for now, and although we don’t have a clear diagnosis, she seems okay for the moment; her appetite is as voracious as ever and she’s not in any obvious pain. But, even though she’s doing well, I cry a little almost every day. I’m worried that our time together is short. I’m fearful for what the coming months may hold, and reticent about the intense experience that will come with losing my beloved companion.
“Intense” is the perfect adjective to describe the ways in which synesthesia infiltrates my struggles with Io’s declining health. My synesthetic perception is ever present, it consistently informs each moment of my life and creates the weirdest frictions. For example, the canine neurologist asked about Io’s medications, specifically what we are using to control her seizures. I could see the medicine in my mind’s eye, the periwinkle colored pills that I coat in cream cheese to get my dog to swallow them. But I couldn’t find their name. In my grapheme-color lexicon, words are saturated by the tint of their first letter, and I don’t have a single letter that is this specific hue. So I trawled through my memory searching for the word, seeing a wide swath of light purplish-blue and feeling utterly confused. The nurse was on the verge of calling the critical care vet to get the name of the drug when it came to me. K. Kepra. Seafoam green.
While forgetting a word is a common human experience, the cognitive dissonance I felt in this situation seems aberrant. That disonant feeling is always with me, fed these days by a stream of constant low-level anxiety about my dog’s declining health, and magnified by the many ways in which my synesthesia fosters confusion. One of the procedures Io had recently was a biopsy of a tiny mass in her spleen. She tolerated the procedure easily, and appeared to have little pain. But even three weeks later, when I see the place where her belly was shaved, I get bolts of electricity that shoot from my hips to my heels. I don’t even need to view the tiny crimson spot where the needle entered her body; my synesthesia-for-pain is triggered continuosly by the rectangle of cropped fur. And, while her coat is slowly regrowing, my synesthetic pain is unchanged.
I’m fond of February 1st, in part because of its ties to Celtic cultures and the feast of St. Brigid, but also because here in California, the first hints of spring are typically on display. I really like the lovely blue-violet hue of the word “February”, and the way the pale color of “1” makes me feel. 1 is pure white on its own, and yellowy-white in pairs, full of promise and opportunity. On this February 1st, it’s sunny and bright in San Francisco, a hopeful omen for what looks like a difficult year ahead of me. I’m wishing for strength in these strange days so that I can take excellent care of my sweet Io. But I’m certain that my synesthesia will challenge me in ways that are both familiar and odd.