The divine comedy is life, and life is a divine comedy; therefore, there is no ceasing. I continued to look at every day’s affairs as a form of divine comedy and to smile at all things, whether they were positive or negative; I saw them merely as the divine comedy of human existence. As the great Dante wrote, “There is no greater sorrow than to be mindful of the happy time in misery.” I am relentlessly mindful. I am continuously aware. Again, as the great Charles Dickens wrote in his masterpiece A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” All is just the same except our mindfulness of the happy time when desolation strikes. I, Alexandre Akpors, have been here and there, at times stretching the fine line between fiction and reality and at other times jumping the line altogether. I have done this so often that I normally have no idea which side I am living on: fiction or nonfiction.
Dear reader, I hope you have not lost track of all the divine comedy’s actions thus far. Remember, I, Alexandre Akpors, have been suffering from MVP, carpal tunnel syndrome, COPD, apnea, bladder cancer, a REM sleep disorder, and, in the year 2010, emphysema. Other challenges about which I have written include prostate problems, erectile dysfunction, repeated urinary-tract infections, gum infections, and cataracts that developed soon after my emphysema. One would suspect that all these ailments were sufficient, but no, life and its divine comedy had more in store for me.
I had been working and writing. I had written several academic books and my autobiography, A Dream Is Just That. In the meantime, I had been flirting with several women on the Internet during my uneventful free time. This flirting ended up with my meeting Eman.
Determined to change my life and be more stable, I entered into this amazing relationship with Eman. I realized then how much I had grown and how much I had changed. Life, however, has its own plans.
Eman was a pretty young maiden, who lived in Montreal, Canada. We communicated for several months and took a liking to each other. We had the noblest of times dialoguing on Skype, and we learned so much about each other.
One sunny day, I was at my computer writing, and suddenly I had a curious thought: traveling to Canada would be a novel idea. Eman and I would meet, and I would see her beautiful, then eight-year-old, son, whom I adored for some reason; he was the most intelligent, polite, communicative child I had ever known. I soon discussed the matter with Eman, and she welcomed the idea with great enthusiasm.
During the Christmas holiday of the year 2009, I took a flight to Canada after I had arranged for a hotel close by where Eman lived. I arrived and was warmly welcomed. Eman and Ali, her son, met me at the airport. It was a jubilant and euphoric time for all of us; it was delightful to see Eman and Ali face-to-face.
Eman is an alluring young woman with an oval-shaped face adorned by her stunning, sharp, intelligent, and sparkling eyes; her long, wavy black hair falling upon her shoulders makes her look seductive. Her cheeks are slightly decorated with blush, and her lips are neither too thin nor too thick and shape her small mouth. This gives her self-confidence. Above her small mouth is her stunning petite nose. Eman’s charm and sensuality projected from her small breasts, matching the words of the French writer: “You flat-chested women, I adore you, for making love with you makes me closer to your heart.” While her chest is flat, she stands at five feet eight inches, which makes her tempting to anyone alive with any senses.
We drove from the airport to my hotel. We sat in the lobby for a while, and I gave each of them a gift and then took my suitcase upstairs. They were waiting for me to go have breakfast at Eman’s apartment. The mood was all very pleasant and optimistic. For a change, life’s divine comedy was being nice to me. Perhaps it was intoxicated, as life at times does appear befuddled and absurd.
At Eman’s gracious apartment, we sat around the dining table, eating the delicious breakfast she had prepared. The conversation was unique in many ways, since we all were from different worlds. The thing I remember the most was when Eman went to the kitchen and I went after her. I hugged and kissed her, a cinematic kiss on the lips; she melted into my arms, and as small as she was, it was not difficult to hold her up and kiss her repeatedly. I believe, or like to believe, that she was more than gratified and certainly was as wet as I had anticipated—as I would find out later.
The three of us were together now: Eman, Ali, and I. We talked, I presented Eman with an engagement ring, and she was happy. Ali was also very happy and all smiles. He shocked his mother and me when he asked me, “Why would you go to the hotel and not stay with us here? We have space, don’t you think, Mom?”
Eman looked at me shyly, and I looked back nervously. No word was said. I think we had both decided to leave it to the divine comedy of life to make such a difficult decision for us. Strangely enough, the divine comedy was surprising once again. I ended up spending the night with Eman.
When we all went to bed, and Eman went to the same bedroom as I, it was a sexual encounter of the third kind—something extraterrestrial, celestial, and somewhat alien. We were both in a state of ecstasy such that neither of us seemed to remember anything like it. The comedy of life made it even more memorable when she and I fell off the bed together and broke into laughter and joy. I thought heaven had opened a new door for me to enter without fear; I entered. That, I believed, would be my new life forever, and all my searching would stop; I found what I needed—I thought I did.
I spent a month and a half in Montreal. I thought this was what I had been seeking, and I would change to be a virtuous family man from then until my return to my before-birth time. I brought Eman and her son, Ali, back with me to California. We planned to get married. She would gain residency in the United States, and I would file for immigration to Canada and work at a university there. This would allow us to enjoy the better of the two worlds. I had had it with America anyway, and it was time for a change.
We went through the process; Eman and Ali received their green cards, thanks to my friend, the best attorney in America, Mrs. Ruth Shamir. And I had my immigration to Canada approved with no difficulties, as though the divine comedian who ruled life had died—but no, there was a sinister and ominous plan in store for me.
Eman and I agreed that the better of the two countries would be Canada and we would move to Canada. My health situation had been stable, but things began to change. Suddenly I started to have seizures; my body would involuntarily convulse, and my legs and arms would move violently. This happened a few times, so Eman and I went to the doctor.
First, I saw Dr. Kaplan, a specialist in epilepsy. She determined that I had what she called myoclonic seizures and referred me to a brilliant neurologist, Dr. David Rosenberg, who would later become my favorite physician and friend ever. His talents and intelligence surpassed anything I had ever known. Dr. David Rosenberg gave me many tests, including nerve-conduction tests, and ordered several MRIs of my brain.
Poor Eman! She thought she would be staying only to test life in the United States and compare it to life in Canada; then we would both decide where to live. But she had to stay a little longer and eventually much longer. At that point, I was a fifty-four-year-old young-at-heart man, vibrant and full of hopes and dreams. I believed I had changed.
I believed I loved Eman and that she felt the same. Religious differences had never crossed my mind because of Eman’s high intellect and intelligence. She drank wine with me, and she had never brought up the matter of religious differences. Moreover, she had known that I was an agnostic who actually detested religions and conformity.
Dr. David Rosenberg concurred with Dr. Kaplan’s diagnosis of chronic myoclonic seizures. He treated me for that and for other new ailments, such as balance disorder, memory disorder, and one of the strangest phenomena—so strange that even Dr. Rosenberg cannot understand it—I persistently switched letters in the middle of words while writing. He and the other doctors I saw could not find an explanation for this. It is a mystery of the divine comedy.
Dear reader, my regular internal medicine doctor, David Shen, must be revealed here. He is the maestro of my symphony of physicians. He manages all my medical affairs. Dr. Shen is a brilliant young man, whose talents and skills are admirable. Once, he operated on a large lump on my back. We had no idea what the lump was; after the pathology report, we learned that it was not serious. His nurse, the talented Elizabeth, gives me my weekly testosterone shot. Ah! I have forgotten, evidently, to mention that life’s divine comedy desired to be a little more comic and prevented my body from producing testosterone for many years. I need shots to keep the level normal.
The divine comedy of life had decided that Dr. Rosenberg would diagnose me with the following: Crohn’s disease, peripheral neuropathy, Parsonage-Turner syndrome, fibromyalgia, and gait-balance disorder. Well, dear reader, it is dumbfounding what divine comedy is. “Through me, you pass into the passage of woe. Through me, you pass into eternal pain.” And all is comedy, divine comedy.
As Dante wrote, “Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.” Dr. Rosenberg referred me to a great rheumatologist, suspecting that I had rheumatoid arthritis.
At that time, Eman, Ali, and I were preparing to leave the United States and move to Canada for good. I had given all my belongings away and shipped some to Montreal already. We were excited despite all that the divine comedy was executing.
The rheumatologist, Dr. Nancy Godfrey, saw me and did some special tests. A couple of days later, she told me, “You are not going anywhere.” She explained that I had a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis and—guess what, dear reader—systemic lupus erythematosus, a chronic inflammatory connective-tissue disorder that can involve joints, kidneys, skin, mucous membranes, and blood-vessel walls.
Ah! At that moment, I realized divine comedy was at its worst. I could not leave for Montreal, according to Dr. Godfrey. She said she had to put me on a form of chemotherapy called IVIG (intravenous immunoglobulin) right away. Before I went on IVIG, Dr. Godfrey ordered me to take antituberculosis medications for nine months. I started right away.
At that point, I decided, upon my physicians’ advice, to retire from teaching and go on disability retirement at the young age of fifty-five. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System was evidently overwhelmed with my medical condition, and they granted me permanent disability retirement effective December 2010. I have not taught a class since. I have missed teaching so very much, and that is divine comedy at work. As the great Dante in his Divine Comedy wrote, “O human race, born to fly upward, wherefore at a little wind dost thou so fall?”
Life’s divine comedy was merciless indeed. Eman had her green card, which allowed her to live and work in the United States, but she and Ali hated living here, and I never blamed them for that. I had my immigration papers to Canada and was ready to leave except for my health. It was a serious dilemma indeed. Six months passed, and Eman had planned to stay only one month. Ali hated America, school, and the children there; he could not adjust and wanted to go home.
Ironically, though I thought I had changed and that I was a happy man, I felt alone in my struggle with my frail body that was falling apart, and I would not share my pains with Eman in order to protect her and Ali. My existence seemed a burden in itself. So, alone, I would sit at my desk, writing my inner thoughts and feelings and realizing the changes in my personality and character. Again, I was calmer, more tolerant, more understanding, and much kinder.
Ali was the only child who taught me fatherhood. Although I had two sons, I had them in my early twenties, so I was growing up myself and never had a chance to be a good, kind, and patient father; Ali taught me that. He and I would play every evening before bedtime. He would throw a ball at me, and I would throw it back to him. He would laugh; his laughter was worth a billion dollars. Then we would talk:
“Why don’t you like school here, Ali?”
“Dad”—he called me dad—“children here are rude and bullying. All they talk about is how rich their parents are and where they live and how big their house is.”
“Aren’t children in Montreal the same?”
“No, Dad, they talk about our classes and teachers and fun things like films and theater.”
“Well, son, we will go back to Montreal soon, as soon as my doctors allow me, OK?”
“Yes, Dad. I hope very soon.”
I could not argue with my beloved Ali. He was absolutely right. I had lived in America for more than thirty years, and I know what interests Americans the most: money.
I must not forget to write that Ali had to go to school in Belmont Shore, and I was the one who walked him to school. We would often have charming conversations on life, science, nature, people’s behavior, and other matters I had never thought a child could be aware of.
We decided that Eman and Ali would return to Montreal. Since I had to be under the close observation of my doctors, once I finished with my antituberculosis medication, I would go to Canada and ask for the IVIG treatment. Eman and Ali left, and I was alone again, dueling with the divine comedy and the unpredictability of life. Yes, I was married to Eman, but I was alone in my own sphere of life’s comedy. I continued to visit doctors and dentists, and I even experienced a few months of physical therapy, the effectiveness of which I have never believed in. It was quite a funny time for me.
I remember that Dr. Rosenberg ordered that my brain be monitored for a few days. I asked my old friend Tracey to take me to the hospital, where they wired my brain and covered all the wiring so that I looked like a conehead. Pedestrians looked at me with a smile and, sometimes, loud laughter. I must admit that I looked rather funny, and, as I have always done, I laughed at the majestic divine comedy of life and at myself.
After I finished my tuberculosis treatment, I sought permission from Dr. Godfrey to travel to Canada to see if I could get the IVIG treatment in Montreal. She approved, and I prepared myself for the trip. But I was smart enough not to give up my beautiful apartment at 301 Bay Shore on the bay.
After giving the matter some thought and making an analysis of possibilities and considerations, I summoned my courage and made the final decision to travel to Canada.
Eman and Ali were thrilled, and I was on cloud nine, hoping that I would never return to the United States. But the divine comedy had other plans for me.
Eman was as gracious as she had always been. She took me to doctors, including one specialist, a rheumatologist, who concurred with Dr. Nancy Godfrey that I suffered from systemic lupus erythematosus and that I needed IVIG. The doctor submitted a request to the state for approval, and the treatment was approved. Eman and I were very pleased indeed. However, the divine comedy of life does not allow one to be pleased for long; it has to present one challenge or another. For me, the divine comedy of life presented several severe challenges.
Although Eman and I had had a great relationship, one that was respectful and warm, and Ali added to the joy—the three of us were a model family—things were not as they appeared. Eman wanted me to convert to Islam to please her very Islamic family. In Islam, it is a sin for a Muslim woman to be married to a non-Muslim man. In some countries, these women could be stoned and executed. Although Eman was not religious, pleasing her family was more significant to her than our marriage. In all fairness, I must add that Eman did not like my affinity for red wine and my drinking a lot of it. To this day, I am not sure whether she thought that I was an alcoholic and was worried that Ali would be influenced. I cannot blame her for that.
Nevertheless, the divine comedy saw to it that my relationship with Eman had to end. Eman tried all persuasive techniques to make me change my mind and convert to Islam as a pretense to please her family. They did not know who I was, really. The divine comedy of life succeeded in ending that relationship; Eman asked for a divorce. I had to return to California. Thankfully, I still had my apartment. I filed for a divorce per Eman’s request. I shall never forget this very sad narrative, for Eman and Ali have been two important people in my life.
Alone again, I spent time in my apartment, reading and writing, and I visited doctors. I started the IVIG treatment. Helen, my ex-wife, whom I had married long ago when I had been studying law in England (I was only twenty-one then, and I divorced her after two years), took me to the cancer center for the first session. It was supposed to last for seven hours, but lo and behold, I turned out to be allergic to the chemotherapy drug. I started feeling suffocated and unable to breathe, my throat was itchy, and I became terribly irritable. I shared these symptoms with my nurse, and after about four hours, the doctor ordered the nursing staff to abort the treatment.
The divine comedy was at play again. What should we do? Dr. Godfrey changed the drug to another, and I went for treatment again the following week. This time, I took a taxi. Helen had said she would take me, but she called one hour before my appointment to tell me she would not; to this day, I cannot explain that. Anyway, I had my new chemotherapy drug, and it was fine. This drug was infused in only two hours. I did not tell the staff that I was returning home in a taxi. Since then I have been receiving therapy every four weeks, except when I had surgery.
I continued my life as I had always done, except now that I had seizures and asthma. I decided to refrain from driving in order not to put my physicians at risk; they were supposed to report me to the Department of Motor Vehicles. They did not, and I am sure this was because they trusted my responsible nature. So all my travel to and from doctors and hospitals was either by taxi or with a friend’s help.