I’ve been up since 1:30 thinking about the rest of my life. Today is going to be a slog.
Yesterday marked the anniversary of one man’s death. You don’t know him but he worked with and for me. He was a remarkable human being in the sense that he was dedicated and disciplined in his work, thoughtful and deliberate in his analysis. He had a sardonic sense of humor and I am glad to say I was able to learn a lot from him before he left us. He is remarkable in my estimation because he was all those things consistently as well as that rarefied “good man” we keep hearing about living among the unicorns and Bigfoot.
It is the circumstance of his departure that troubled me when he died and again this morning as I consider who I am and what I want to do with whatever time I have left here.
See, a year ago a man died at work conducting a routine bit of business. The details of that business I cannot recall. His cause of death was natural. He suddenly was no longer part of the machine. The machine rolled on churning out report after report, fattening up the files draws with documentation of things no one will ever ask about again.
He did not die among friends or family. He left for work, said his goodbyes and that was it.
Since that day, within the short span of twelve months, several more people I’ve known left the machine. Three (that I can recall without thinking too hard about it) took their own lives. One left a suicide note in the form of a meme on Facebook. They all lost their fight with something as bad or worse than cancer: their own minds.
We continue to yell “fuck you” to cancer and it just grins and replies, “You might be next” as it flatlines another too-good/too-young victim.
The idea that I might leave this planet while reviewing the ninth draft of a report that means nothing beyond the egos and ambitions of those driving it chills me. The idea that I might feel a punch in the chest and the seizure of my heart while sitting in a pointless meeting rather than at home or in hospice surrounded by people I love terrifies me.
“Remember Jay, the writer?”
“Oh, he just popped a vessel in his head while writing a report.”
“Wait. He didn’t die of an accident as a result of stupidity?”
“Nope. Death by bureaucratic ennui.”
“Fuck me, I backed the wrong horse on that bet.”
As an adult, one of the ways I try to suppress my anger and other negative urges is to visualize the dollar amount of my next paycheck. I didn’t have to do that much because I enjoyed my job and what I did. As I reach the sad but objective realization that I will never support myself or even make part-time wages off of my writing, I’ve realized that I am really not that great at anything and will leave no lasting legacy.
Yes, I have wonderful kids, but they are that way in large part despite of me.
When I go, there is a three-year retention limit on all the work I’ve put into those filing cabinets after which the paper will be recycled for the next analyst to ponder how to best define the distinguishing characteristics between someone at one pay grade or another. And there will be no urgency to suddenly publish my short stories from my hard drive.
I’d say that my 20-something self would be ashamed and embarrassed by me but, just between you and me, that guy was an asshole. (Don’t tell him I said that. He has a fragile ego.)
If you’ve reached this far and feel as I do, you’ve no doubt classified all this as first world whining by a privileged and entitled white, heterosexual, CIS-gendered male. You would be right except I am paralyzed by what to do about it.
Change is more terrifying than depression is demoralizing. I don’t know if that makes outside my own head, but that’s my experience.
It’s my job to get over that, to fix it, and move on. Work the problem. Meanwhile the words of a relative INFANT (at the time) cycles through my head.
You run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking.
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older.
Shorter of breath, one day closer to death.
Every year is getting shorter,
Never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught,
Or half a page of scribbled lines.
Remember the little bastard Roger Waters wrote that in his TWENTIES.
Twice along that lifespan, here I am with naught plans and scribbled line.
I have no message here. I have no advice. The vessel is empty and these are the only words I can spare before I have to invest the rest toward someone else’s ambitions. If I have a purpose in the moment it is for me to come back in a day or a week, at some point when the cloud isn’t so thick and the voices of self-doubt so clear, and read this again.
What has changed? What are you doing so you never come back to this ugly place again, Jay? When, at long last, you find the stirring anthem to pull you from your cowardice, HOW will you sustain it? This is a public charge because I know too many of my friends are in the same brain state. Three punched out because they couldn’t get out of this place. Find the key, a rock, a crowbar…and GTFO of here, man. And in case you forget, that’s a metaphor. Find your bliss again. Race after it like the idiot in the third act of a dopey rom-com. DO IT, because you know what this place gets like after a while ripening down here.