I am not sure I ever thought I was immortal — probably because I didn’t think about it at all. Until sometime in college, I did not ponder the nature of life and death.
College was a peak time for that kind of mental muck-raking. Was it the drugs? No, I’m inclined to think it was going to classes. You see, college presents no danger unless you actually attend lectures and stuff. If you just hang out on the quad, it’ll be okay. But I took courses like “The Philosophy of Religion” and went to lectures on Phenomenology. And, I had a steady assignment of existential novels to read by Sartre, Camus, et al. Deep stuff. The kind of books I totally won’t look at any more.
That this hyper-intellectual phase of my life coincided nicely with my first actual near-death experience was pure chance. It didn’t improve my personality, that’s for sure. There is nothing more aggravating than a teenage college student contemplating the philosophical meaning of life. And death. Had I not already been me, I would have had to expel myself as a punishment for being so annoying.
I’m pretty sure all of us thought we were very smart and had a solid grip on the life and death stuff. Even adding on my botched spine surgery — which nearly killed me for real and all — I was still an obnoxious wise-ass with an inflated sense of my intellectual prowess.
Things have really improved. Now I’m an aging senior citizen wise-ass. Oh, and I am pretty sure — not 100%, but maybe 90% — I am not immortal. Eventually, I’ll know for 100% certain.
My husband and I have an agreement. We will never say those words. Not say them or even think them. Because no matter how bad things are, no matter how dark life looks, there’s always something else that can go wrong. If you are alive, you are already money ahead. You could be not alive.
A fair number of people I counted as friends and loved ones are long gone and more are on that final leg of life’s journey. In the immortal words of Tom Lehrer“Soon we’ll all be sliding down that razor blade of life.” Ouch.
The other day, I was deep in a miasma of self-pity. It’s my least favorite place to be except in a hospital bed waking up to realize “Oh shit, this is going to be really bad …” I thought to myself, “You really are going to die.”
Then I said out loud. “Of course you are going to die. Was there ever the least bit of doubt about it? It was never an “if.” We are all going to die. When and how remain the only questions, but that’s a journey we’re all taking.”
None of the people I know have come back to tell me about the other side. Not one single person has reported back, so I’m not counting on going to a better place. I’m going to try to make the best of this place and let the next take care of itself.
So what could go wrong? You think things couldn’t get worse?
They can go wronger and they can get worser. And given the shit-storm life is, it probably will. Go wronger. Get worser. So I will shut up and enjoy whatever there is to enjoy because we never know. Actually, we know. We just don’t want to think about it.
He had been in the business for almost 40 years. The last twenty-seven of those with the same company. He liked his job and thought he was good at it. In just a few more years he would retire. Everything seemed to be on track.
When Carl started in his career, orders were processed with typewriters. Carbon paper was used when multiple copies were required. Details of international orders were sent overseas by telex machine. Everything was done manually and file cabinets were stuffed with files of all the orders and shipments.
Carl made it through all the changes. At first he thought an electronic typewriter with memory was just about the coolest thing. Fax machines took the place of telex machines and world-wide communication was getting easier. As the decades went on, technology and communications advanced faster and faster, but Carl kept right up with everything. You could never say that Carl was behind the times.
Despite the efficiency of his work life, the same could not be said of Carl’s personal life until recent years. Only as retirement thoughts started weighing on his mind did Carl pay attention to his accounts. For the last few years he contributed to the 401K plan. He even took out some small CDs for better interest return, since savings and checking accounts returned him only pennies per month, literally.
With age, came the problems of advancing age. Bifocals were no longer good enough to do his job. He was recommended to get trifocals but opted for a second pair of glasses just to see the computer. His hands were stiff and sore and he needed medication for that.
Nerve pain in the feet demanded a drug as did high cholesterol. His blood tests never satisfied his doctor and even when he felt well, there were many pills to take. With all these issues, Carl still carried on in grand fashion and handled his job like a pro.
When Carl got a new boss, they seemed to get along well. She appeared to appreciate his experience and they often had nice little chats. When Carl asked if he could come in late so he could have his annual physical, his boss seemed disappointed. He assured her he would make up the time during the week and she finally voiced approval.
The doctor’s visit showed the usual issues, but also “abnormal cells in undetermined significance.” Carl was referred to a specialist and he had to ask for another morning off. The boss looked quite perturbed when she said “OK, if you must.” Unfortunately for Carl, he did in fact feel he must see the doctor.
The specialist was a handsome young man with a sunny disposition. He indicated all the dire situations that may be happening with such a cute smile, Carl still felt at ease. His examination and subsequent biopsy lead to “dysplasia but cells are undetermined.” Carl was recommended to a surgeon.
Again, Carl asked for a morning off. The stares of the boss led Carl to say he would make up his time the same week and he would not ask for any more time off in the coming months. He was greeted with a long and painful silence. “Fine,” the boss stated with an air of exasperation.
The following day was a Wednesday and Carl worked hard all day under the glares of his much younger boss. Whenever Carl looked around, she seemed to be nearby staring at him. Needless to say, it was a rather uncomfortable day. Normally, Carl had pleasant days and nice little chats with coworkers. He never got close to any of them or saw them socially. One young man loved having random little conversations with Carl about anything everyday, but he was the only friend, if you could call him that. Carl was just at work to do his job.
At the end of that day, just past 5 pm, the facilities manager, the superior to Carl’s boss, invited Carl down to her office for a chat. When he got there his boss was already seated and staring at the floor. The facilities manager began.
“Carl, you know we think you have been doing excellent work for us for many years but…” Then there was a long pause while the manager looked for the words. “Well, business has fallen off some. The stronger dollar means weaker business. We are well behind budget for the year and we must eliminate a position. I am sorry, but we have to let you go.”
Carl was dumbfounded. He planned to work another two or three years and retire. He was not ready for this. His boss continued to look at the floor when the manager spoke up again. She explained about the last pay check, vacation pay, Cobra insurance, unemployment. She said she would write a nice letter of recommendation. She closed by saying she was sorry, it was not personal, it was just economics. She thanked him for his years of service. His boss continued to stare at the floor.
He returned to his desk, took a few personal items while his bossed hovered nearby and he was then prepared to leave. That’s when she came over and asked for his badge and ID and walked away. “What was that?” a longtime female coworker asked. “I was fired,” he replied. The coworker started to cry. Carl quietly said goodbye, looked around for his young friend, who was already gone, and he left.
After a few days of reviewing jobs on-line and making a few calls, Carl saw it would be difficult at his age and salary range to find a new position. That night, he lined up all of his prescriptions on the kitchen table, including the container of powerful pain killers for his hand pain. Next, he got a bottle of one of his favorite wines, appropriately chilled. He opened the wine, poured himself a glass and sat down at the kitchen table. There he looked over the table and contemplated his future.
It really depends on the season and my mood. Most of the year, crystallized ginger is the bees knees, but right now, it’s fresh cherries. They are in season for just a couple of weeks and I eat pounds of them until I’m actually sick. I have NO self-control when confronted by cherries.
If you had to spend one weekend alone in a single store but could remove nothing, which store would you pick? (except food or beverage)
Honestly? No idea. Not a clue. I have so little interest in stores and shopping. I can think of lots of things I’d like to do, but this draws a blank. Sorry.
What was the largest city you have been to? What is the one thing you remember most?
I’ve been to London, which is huge. Gigantic. What I most remember is that you couldn’t get there from here. Those one way systems made moving between different parts of the city a real challenge to a visitor.
I grew up in New York, which is also pretty big. I loved New York. Museums are the thing I remember best, but there was the ballet and the theater and the guys selling hot chestnuts in front of the library lions. New York was a fabulous place to grow up, offering everything in the way of history, culture, entertainment … and back then, it was affordable. It has changed, as have I, but I’m so glad I had that opportunity. New York contributed a lot to me becoming me.
Finish this sentence: It has recently come to my attention that the world is … full of idiots. And all of them have a Facebook account.
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