I take it as a sign of my advancing age that I’m growing more interested in my wife’s portions of the bookshelves than my own. She has all the real books; Mine seem limited to sci-fi, comics, pop sociology, and whatever dark contemporary lit-fic novels that got made into movies over the past ten years.
I remain unsure, though, of whether I’m trying to experience something of more substance, or merely act in a way that I, for whatever reason, believe that I’m supposed to act. Reading the grown-up books and drinking scotch because I’m too old for vodka.
I’m not afraid of dying until my car spins out on the highway.
My first brush with death, I was 11. My grandfather had a stroke after a surgery. He was supposed to be okay, and then he wasn’t. The loss felt like a black hole in my chest.
The next didn’t come until I was in my 20s. My dog had to be put down. I held him in my arms as he finally stopped breathing, bawling my eyes out the entire time. I think that may have even made my dad cry a little—not the event so much as my reaction to it.
Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time around death. Dead people, dying people. I’ve seen how it comes over a person, the agonal breathing, the look that goes from scared to blank. Most of all, I’ve seen the futility in trying to fight it.
I’m not afraid of dying because life is where all the bad shit happens.
i am the sea
my embrace will keep you afloat
or drown you just the same
(it’s dark down there but you’ll have lots of company)
a familiar sight, but truth is kept submerged
shapeless, but for the boundaries provided for me
still, but never idle
warm and welcoming and full of sharks
stability is a fantasy
the closest I come is standing
on the deck of a ship
deep at sea
it might feel solid
like ground at times
but the only thing keeping me afloat
is bouyancy and a half-hearted promise
that things are never quite as bad
as I make them out to be
but your words carry no weight out here
where the wind can turn at any time
and the cold blue water would like nothing more
than to swallow you whole
leave me alone.
i’m just not as durable as i once was
and i don’t know how many more trips around this track
i can take
before my wheels fall off for good
Even at my best I feel slow, dull, guileless. At least in writing I can still still express an idea, still communicate. Occasionally, anyway. Speaking, though, is a lost cause. The desperate, involuntary flailing of a drowning man trying to keep his head above water, just with words instead of limbs. Inarticulate, ineloquent. Artless.
I don’t like feeling this way.
When I was 10 or 11 my doctor discovered an inguinal hernia. I had discovered it a few weeks or months earlier, of course, seeing as how I suddenly seemed to have an extra testicle sprouting from my abdomen. I was lucky in that it stayed fairly high and it didn’t cause any pain at all. It was just odd. It obviously wasn’t supposed to be there, but I could push the lump of intestine back into my pelvis easily. I assumed it was cancer. I assumed I was going to die. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to worry anyone. I still remembered how panicked everyone was when, as a four-year-old, I sliced my wrist open by shoving my way through a window. I didn’t like all the attention.
But the yearly physical couldn’t be avoided, and so my secret was revealed. I could tell the doctor thought it was important, but that it could be dealt with. “Fixed,” as he put it. “We’ll have to fix it.” Naturally, I assume he meant they had to fix me, as you would a pet. My mind reeled at the news of my impending castration as the doctor spouted off a few brief details to my nodding mother before he disappeared from the room. It was decided, just like that. I had no say in the matter. I would never have kids, never raise a family. Maybe I’d be a priest or something.
I never thought about it after that day, but I’ve since been pretty okay with the idea of never having kids.
But see, in a lot of ways, this is the best I’ve ever been. Sure, maybe I haven’t been leaving the house or socializing much in the past few months, and I haven’t been particularly productive or able to keep my house clean or my hair cut, but. I’m happy, damn it. I’m not hiding from people, convinced I am unwanted and unwelcome. I don’t hate myself, even a little bit. I feel only the mildest of
shame at my physical appearance. I’m
happy but not complacent. I have plans to better myself that have nothing to do with dieting. I’m making friends. I love my wife, without reservation. I have the best dog. I live in a great city where the skies turn purple for no good reason at all except just to make everything even better. And finally, finally, finally, I am able to appreciate this life
Even though I’m the one who picked it out, I still forget that my toothbrush is the pink one.