Dining Alone

I don’t linger too long or dig my heels into those memories of him.  I stop by for a visit most nights but can’t stay long.  I’ve created so many playlists for this dead person, but mostly for me.    This is how I conjure the catharsis of tears and smeared mascara.  And if I’m especially down then I pull at my hair and beat the floor with my fists.  Angry about everything with nobody to blame.

Currently flowing out of the speaker: “That’s How Strong My Love Is” (Rolling Stones version).  He played this song incessantly in the days before he left.  I don’t know why but he’d do that with a song…just play it non-stop.  Maybe this time he knew something I didn’t.  “I’ll be the moon when the sun goes down, just to let you know that I’m still around.”  But are you?

It’s becoming harder to imagine a life of ours, us, and we.  Table for one; it’ll just be me.

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Love Letter to my Dog

I’m struggling with your mortality.  All living things are also dying things…that’s just the result of metabolism at the most cellular level, and the only possible ending to all of our stories.  I’ve navigated my way through the death of many loved ones and haven’t gone completely mad…yet.

But watching the gray hairs spread across your once solid black muzzle shreds my heart into ribbons.  Your eyes don’t have the same animation and luster as they did a year ago, and they droop like you’ve pulled an all-nighter studying for your heart worm test (don’t worry, you’re going to pass because I give you the most expensive pill on the market).  I can no longer discern the white “milk dribble” streak running down your chin because all of the hair is white now.  You sleep more and eat less.  Sometimes you don’t even follow me to bed and instead opt to sleep alone on the couch. Of course I call for you several times, my voice becoming more desperate with each plea.  I feel so rejected in those moments that I often end up in tears, wondering how you can so effortlessly desert me after 6 years of being my ever-present shadow.  Ultimately I wake up on the couch as close to you as possible and with a very stiff neck…a minor sacrifice I’ll make to be comforted by the lullaby of your steady snoring.

You’re the only reason I have for justifying my existence.  It isn’t that you need me, but I need YOU.  I have forfeited many nights and weekends with my friends to instead pass time rubbing your angry gurgling belly. I spend Friday nights counting your breaths checking that your respiratory rate isn’t too high, or making sure that you haven’t thrown up and aspirated into your lungs…again.   I spend Saturdays hiding your toys behind pillows and under blankets to keep you entertained when it’s 97 degrees outside, and too hot to throw your Flying Squirrel, which you clearly love more than you love me! Sundays are set aside for mourning the fact that Monday is already upon us, and I’ll be separated from you for 9 hours a day.  I smother you with attention and take you shopping at Homegoods and Marshalls for new toys.  Have you noticed how I obnoxiously test everything with a squeaker to see which toys illicit the liveliest responses from you?   Yes, this is how we pick out your stuffed animals which you immediately “kill” by pulling out their insides to retrieve the hateful noise maker.

Are you aware that I tried to make you the beneficiary on my 401k?  I put in my own social security number as yours.  HR caught it and made me change it, even after I argued that we should have the option of converting our 401k into a 401k-9…a fund to take care of our dog if we die.  But nobody understands your importance in my life, except maybe grandma.

She worries about the day you’re no longer here almost as much as I do because she is well aware that you are my life support. You support my life and I support yours.  If there is nothing for me to support, and nothing supporting me, then I see no reason to stay.  Do you understand?

I have selfishly counted on you to provide me with everything that is missing in my life.  And there’s a lot missing as you know.   I can’t imagine coming home to a house absent of fur and the sound of your toenails tapping across the hardwoods.  Yes, you are my tiny dancer!  What will my yard be without your Frisbees and tennis balls scattered across the dirt?  Who is going to alert me when an Amazon package is tossed on the front porch?  Who will patiently listen to me whine about horrible coworkers?  Who will provide the motivation for me to get out of bed and keep trudging through each dreary day of my life? Who will be the recipient of my adoration and love if not you?

Well then, it’s settled.  You must live forever.

Technical Knockout

The funeral director called wanting to know how they should trim Jason’s facial hair.  I had spent the evening before compiling over 50 photos of Jason spanning the 31 years he had spent on this planet, and of course his style had changed throughout the years.  In some pictures he had a goatee. A few featured a 5 o’clock shadow.  But in most of his photos he was squeaky clean.   Between 2008 and 2014 his personal grooming routine had shifted back and forth from exceptionally well-tamed to intentionally rugged with slightly messy hair and a whiskery chin.  I think he was trying for that “not trying” look.

The funeral director’s question had caught me off guard that morning.  I was aware that hair continued to grow even after breath ceased to be, but I had never collided with this scientific fact head on.

I suppose my pause before answering the question lasted long enough to warrant input from the mortician, who explained that it would be much easier if they could shave his face since they would need to fill in the large gash on his chin and apply makeup.  “What gash on his chin?” I asked.  Apparently Jason had made no attempt to stop or brace himself as he fell forward at the crest of Boylan Avenue; mile 11.  His chin had taken the brunt of the impact, splitting open upon contact with the pavement.  I was told some of his teeth had also been broken.  He was born with a perfect smile, worthy of starring in a Crest commercial.

This injury was a detail I had failed to notice at the hospital.  A bulky plastic brace encircled his neck and a large blue tube, secured by surgical tape, fed into his mouth to keep him artificially breathing.   They were planning to “harvest” his lungs, and whatever else they could pick and carve from him like pitiless scavengers.  They had wiped away all of the blood from his face.  Although his death had been sudden, there was most certainly an element of violence in those final seconds.

I was unsettled by this new knowledge.  My mind went back to that morning.

The police escort drove me from mile 9 to the hospital where I was greeted by a social worker.   I, still in my sweaty running clothes, was handed a box of cheap tissues and quickly tucked away in a windowless room while I awaited my (his, our) fate.   My heart already knew but my head needed to hear a doctor say it.  Out loud.

I could hear the family of the other newly deceased runner screaming between hysteric sobs in the room next to me.  “What are the chances?” I thought.   The chances of dying during a marathon are thought to be 1 in 259,000.  I sat completely still and silent, wondering what I was supposed to do next.

The memory of the nurse pulling back the curtain and guiding me to where Jason was waiting to say goodbye is branded into every corner of my mind.  A sensation of weakness filled my body as the undeniable truth now lay before me.  I had seen him roughly 5 hours earlier at 6am, hurdling towards the front of the pack to await the sound of the horn signaling the start of the marathon.  He was in the first group: elite runners.  I was in the last group: average walkers.

I leaned over him as I studied his face hoping in vain that my mere presence might coax him back into this world.  His eyes were closed but there was a slight gap beneath his handsomely long lashes.  I studied this space too, as if looking at a closed door to a room where someone had forgotten to turn off the light.  I was searching for a warm glow around the edges but I only saw a small sliver of white, absent of illumination.  I realized at that moment that I would never look into his eyes again.  Had I known this the morning of the race, then perhaps I would have stared straight into him absorbing every last drop of his essence knowing time was about to run out.   But we were running so late that morning.  I hurriedly wished him luck with a casual pat on the butt and said “see you at the finish line.”  The finish line.  Such an ominous and foreboding farewell in hindsight.

I approached the bed slowly and with caution, afraid to touch him.    The 6’1” man in the bed looked so fragile and delicate.  How could this be my athletic and svelte Jason?  It took me several minutes to process the fact that I could inflict no further damage…he was already broken.  I traced my fingers across his warm sticky forehead.  I raked my fingers through his sweaty wet hair.  It wasn’t until I finally reached out for his right hand that I realized just how cold he was.  He had been dead for at least two hours and yet his chest still moved up and down in harmony with the beeps and sighs of the machines surrounding him.  I gave his hand a slight squeeze hoping he’d squeeze back.  Nothing.

My eyes moved back up to his face and lingered on the mole above his right eyebrow.  This was the mole I affectionately referred to as his “power on” button.   I was an early riser and always woke up hungry and impatient.  I would shift around in the bed and make noises willing him to wake up for huevos rancheros and a Bloody Mary.  Most of the time my subtleties failed and that’s when I would resort to pressing on his mole…provoking the bear.  This obnoxious but effective tactic would bring him to life on Saturday mornings.  I scanned the room.  Nobody was watching me so I thought “fuck it, it’s worth a try!”  I gently pressed.  But still nothing.

Feeling unsteady and bewildered, I lowered myself into the chair next to his bed.  My body slumped forward with exhaustion.  A bruised and battered boxer retreating to the corner of the ring, acknowledging my defeat.

Life is Shit

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This is the view from my toilet.  Pretty nice huh?  Here’s the problem though: I’m only witnessing the world from this side of the window lately.  I wasn’t even using the restroom when I took this picture…I was just trying to see the sky without walking outside for fear the neighbors would invite me to their cookout.  I can’t do social situations lately.  While I do have some valid excuses such as being sick with strep throat followed by pink eye (and no, I didn’t get this from my dog farting feces particles in my face all the time…it was a secondary infection to the strep), I really can’t justify my anti-social behavior for the past year.  I know I probably spend more time than necessary coddling my dog but he’s had a lot of health issues lately, and frankly I’m not sure how long he’s going to be with me.  I want to savor every last drop of his amazingness and be the best human to him that I can be.  He has been my life-support for the past several years and I NEED HIM.   Tears well up just at the anticipation of him not being here with me.

But I miss my human friends too.  I miss laughing. I miss monopolizing TouchTunes with 80’s hits.  I miss hugging people. I miss great conversations.  I miss offending people with my sense of humor and lack of filter.  I even miss waking up on Saturday mornings with a hangover headache.  I miss participating in life.

I wish I could understand my isolationist attitude lately, and promptly squash it.  Depression and anxiety don’t make great bedfellows because they’re constantly struggling against one another. I’m depressed because I’m lonely but my anxiety keeps me from interacting with others thereby pushing me further into my hole…so my internal thoughts are at war all the fucking time. I’m only relieved of this conflict when I’m sleeping…so I sleep too much now as well.  And the lack of activity  has made my ass fatter, which means none of my jeans fit.  So now even if I can muster up the courage to go out, I have nothing to wear…or I feel like a can of Pillsbury Biscuits getting ready to pop.

I’m just really hating my fucking life today and it’s not even 2pm.  I still have another 8 hours of horrible self-reflection left before I can justify taking my Xanax and drifting off into nothingness.

Take Me to Burning Man!

I spend an unconscionable amount of time vicariously living through the lives of others largely in the form of documentaries and memoirs.  My social anxiety is partially to blame for my imprisonment but I’m also incredibly lazy, so just moving from my couch nest to search for my Apple remote leaves me fatigued…and usually it’s just hiding in a cushion crevice!  I can’t imagine the energy it would take to actually leave my house beyond my obligatory work requirements.  Ugh, it’s just too much!

I recently watched Taking My Parents to Burning Man which came out in 2014 but didn’t cross my path until this past weekend while I was perusing the documentary genre on Hulu, which is surprisingly impressive!  The film sets out to answer the question: “What is Burning Man?” but it does so through an endearing tale of family bonding that left me sentimentally misty-eyed.  And also really envious of extroverts who are actually having the fun instead of passively streaming it into their living rooms.

So Bryant Boesen decides he is taking his 60 year old parents to Burning Man so they can experience it for themselves since trying to explain it can’t possibly do it justice.  As with all good documentaries, Bryant is presented with numerous setbacks and challenges along the way, but he manages to rip a rabbit out of his skinny little leggings at the last minute and pull off what seemed improbable at times.  Sorry, but someone that adorable cannot fail!

I was aware of the Burning Man Festival and the general philosophy behind it prior to watching this documentary but I had no idea how large it is, and I certainly had no clue of the exhaustive planning involved just to attend the event.  Holy shit!  I’d have to hire someone to plan my trip because just going car-camping overnight sends me into a tailspin and results in me saying “oops, I think I forgot to bring that” way too many times. I also learned that most all of the attendants and participants are beautifully chiseled works of art and look awesome naked.  So yeah, it is kind of like being on another planet considering I’m writing this from my work office, which overlooks a sea of bloated and pale people who gave up long long ago.

The engineering and creative genius that goes into the art displays and interactive exhibits is inspiring.  I almost grabbed my glue stick and some construction paper afterwards but I was distracted by another Hulu recommendation.  Dammit.   I was also impressed by Bryant Boesen’s ability to make it all come together at the last minute…like literally hours before they were set to depart Vancouver, B.C. and head into the desert of Nevada.   Bryant’s optimism and personal philosophy of “the Universe will provide” made me want to hire him as my life coach.  I need someone to scrape me off the floor and breathe some colorful positivity into my dank-ass existence.  I know he could do it too, and he’s also incredibly cute and charming.  He’s just one of those people you want as a best friend, like the kind you can keep in your pocket and pull out when times get sour.

It was incredibly heartwarming (yep, I just used that term) to watch Bryant’s parents rediscovering their adolescent selves and genuinely enjoying their experiences.   They were total troopers too because his mom went into the trip with a broken foot and his dad was incredibly sun-baked after day one.  Resilience!  I gotta get me some of that shit.

So yeah, now I kind of want to attend Burning Man before I die, but I definitely don’t want to take my parents.  My dad is frighteningly conservative and wouldn’t do well out of his element. And his element is  his living room with Fox News obnoxiously blaring in the background and a bowl of Wether’s Originals within reach.  My mom might be kinda fun but she has a heart condition, so a week in the brutal elements of the desert probably wouldn’t be ideal.  And I have no idea how to use an AED defibrillator but that shit rarely works anyway.  She also suffers from IBD…I don’t think that even needs further explanation since there’s no plumbing at Burning Man…just rows of porto-potties festering with a week’s worth of shit, piss and vomit.  Who wants dinner?

If by chance a Burner reads this and wants to bring along some virgin blood next year, please call me.  I’ve already got my goggles and sunscreen.  I’ll need a bit of notice though so I can head to the gym and get my boobs done.  I can’t take the risk of these sandbags getting caught in my bike tires!