It is a mystery how something as commonplace as death can prove to be ever so surprising. We know of its temperamental and cruel nature yet we allow ourselves to be encased in shells that never seem to house a logical and justifiable fear of ceasing. I suppose allowing ourselves to be crippled by that fear would be the exact opposite of living, to re-word my favorite American phrase “you’d be letting the fear win” and no one wants that.
“Big words hide true meaning, be simple and straightforward”. I’m quoting myself there, I have always tried to use big words to comfort myself in life. In that fashion I could say today I merely glanced at the shadow of death and even that left me a flinching mess or in a simpler more human fashion I could say there was a death in the family today. The odd thing is that I do not feel grief stricken in any manner. A statement which some people would say is an admission of truth best kept to oneself. But it did trigger a moment in me.
A call came in at 5.00pm today, it hadn’t been a day of note, nothing fantastical had happened but it was 5 and I still had a smile on my face so you could say it was one of my better days. The phone rang and I picked it up, which in retrospect seemed to have been done so nonchalantly. Nobody expects bad news, unless you’re a cynical asshole, so no one picks up the phone with a sense a dread, it wasn’t like in the movies where you could just tell something terrible was about to happen because of the bellowing soundtrack, my day if put in a musical sense had been quite monotonous. I was getting ready to head home so it might have been altered slightly, the tunes begin jolly and fun to signal the end of the day but it would taper off as my joy is replaced with an acknowledgment of the repetition that awaits me tomorrow and the day after that. These feelings could sometimes be misconstrued as unhappiness but I have always had this magical ability to find happiness in my complacency.
It was my girlfriend on the phone,
“Have you heard?”
The way in which my ears felt those words created a sort of vacuum around me. An emptiness filled the room but I work in cubicle in adjacency to many other cubicles, there was little room for emptiness and I was well aware of that. In what I can only describe as fractions of fractions of a second it was me and then it was us.
She paused for my response and I reluctantly answered back
“No, what’s happened?”
As a pessimist at heart my head had already taken initiative to run through a series of horrible scenarios, she couldn’t be breaking up with me because that would be a spiteful way of going about it, albeit hilarious if seen happening to someone else.
“Dan, have you heard”,
“No, heard what”?
“I’m breaking up with you ha-ha”.
That was my mind going off on a tangent to try and curb itself from going to places I was all too familiar with, it didn’t work unfortunately and I returned to the grimness of the situation with the thought,
“Someone must have died”
To this day I do not know why my mind went to such a place immediately but for some reason I knew I wasn’t wrong. I quickly tried to compose myself for her next words but I couldn’t. she attempted to say more and I immediately stopped her, I realized that I really did not want to hear what she had to say,
The day had been so good,
Why ruin it? Why was she doing this to me?
I kept asking her to wait and hold on while I fiddled with things that didn’t need to be fiddled with and then I became very aware of where I was again, what if something had happened to Jake or Millie, I couldn’t hear that in this cubicle surrounded by all these judgmental faces. Somehow I managed to keep her from saying what I had now resolved in my mind would be world shattering news until I found somewhere quiet to hide my face, I even smiled walking past a co-worker on the way there. I finally composed myself enough to hear the news and she told me that her mother had just passed. A wave of noise hit me like I was in the middle of a busy road intersection, the vacuum had gone, I could breathe again. I could feel the pain in her voice and I knew she needed me to be with her but then another feeling began to creep up on me, it was relief. I would only describe it as slightly twisted, something only mentionable if I ever met my maker and a list of all my horrible and unspeakable thoughts had been compiled. The brain, as self-correcting as always, tried to justify it as best it could. I thought the worst and I was wrong, anyone would be relieved, Right?
On the drive home I wondered how she must have gotten the news, she might have gone through the same thought process that I did. When I finally got home and I saw Betty; the tears in her eyes the devastation in her form, it shook me to my core. Like with any death it seemed unfair, like she had been cheated. I held her in my arms and she clung on to me tightly. At that point I had accepted that I would take that shameful moment of relief every time over the pain she was experiencing. The acceptance of the shame brought more shame which I then accepted again and again.
Our shells had been cracked, they weren’t the first, certainly wouldn’t be the last and Betty’s was considerable larger than mine but I believed that the whole point was to carry on, experience the world as splintered shells. The wear and tear would increase exponentially with age but the shells would never be fully broken. We would always hold each other together.