Today I Will Die

Today I will die.

Right now, I can feel the pressure of the ventilator shoving air down my throat and into my lungs in a rhythmic whoosh. It startles me every time, used as I am to breathing that happens spontaneously. I can’t say that it’s a bad thing, but I am weary of it. I will be glad to see it go.

The last few days have been a parade of family in and out of the room, entering the doorway as if onto a stage. Their voices are louder when they talk to me. “You get out of here and we’ll hang out like we did when we were little kids!” my sister shouts in a weird, cheerful singsong. Where once I would have jumped her shit for being phony — Bitch, you haven’t seen me for eighteen months and now you want to get together for old time’s sake? — now, I get it. It’s what we do. Death is a hard thing to look at. We ignore it as long as we’re allowed to. It’s not like any of us were so great at confronting the hard stuff head on.

Without opening my eyes, I will know when the kids come into the room. My only daughter will be first — she’s been here for days. Daughters are the women we can love unreservedly, without expectation and without counting the cost. Daughters love us back the same way. She’s tender hearted — I have felt her hot tears drops onto my face, and then she apologizes as she hurriedly wipes them away. But she’s strong too. Like her mother. She will be with me today as I die, grieving but unafraid.

And ah, her mother. “Ladies love outlaws,” she said to me once, coyly. I laughed and buried my face into her luxuriant hair. “And outlaws looooove ladies,” I assured her. Ours was the love story that never should have happened, forbidden and taboo. And yet, it did, and we gloried in it for ten years before it crumbled at our feet. Addiction and fear smothered it. But in its ashes, the love remained, in a bright ember lying at our feet.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Today I will die.

It’s been a long, strange journey of treatments and medications. I actually thought I had beaten death — they said the treatments were helping. I should have known better. When did a man like me ever have that kind of luck? When they went in to make sure the tumor had shrunk, they nicked a damn artery in my lungs and I have been bleeding ever since. How about the irony in that, right?

My feet are black and as cold as ice — me, the guy who always had to leave his feet out from under the covers. My sister rubs them whenever she comes into the room and tucks them, like a baby, under the bed linens. I heard my daughter whisper yesterday that my fingers are turning purple now too.

My one natural son will sit at the foot of my bed. I’ve raised so many kids in my life — my brothers and sisters and their kids, and the kids shared with me by my women. But this one is mine, and it’s like I spit him out. We’ve never known quite what to say to each other, him and me. If you want to know the truth, we still don’t. But he’s here. He will be with me.

I’m not afraid to die. You’d think I would be with the fire and brimstone I was fed all of my childhood. We had the streets on one hand, and Brother Don on the other. To me, God is no God who could abandon the children He has made. That’s something humans do, and if God is like humans, then what have we all been so worried about all these years?

Source: pixabay.com

It’s time. The kids file in, they huddle together. The nurse looks at them and, seeing no one lose their nerve, she reaches over and turns off the machine that forces me to breathe. I immediately give one big sigh. It feels so good to do so without being forced.

And then it is as if the molecules holding me together — holding everything together — start to dissolve, slowly at first but then more quickly, like sand falling in on itself. I don’t resist it — I’m part of it all, as the fetters fall off and the light gets brighter.

I lived — oh how I lived — and I loved with every breath in my body. And today is my day to die.

I miss being pretty – I miss being young.

Yesterday I was trying to write how women, as they age, start to feel invisible in the world around them — to potential employers and potential lovers. Several of the pieces I read gave defiant advice to “Embrace your age”“Stop coloring your gray!” and, best of all, “Fix your mindset and you won’t feel invisible.”

Look, I’m only 58. I’m not playing out on the last holes of the back nine yet. But I have noticed that I don’t get flirted with as often as I used to. A patient, praising my compassion when he was nervous, likened me to Mrs. Claus. Mrs. Claus!!! “You know, all jolly and warm.” And those handsome movers and shakers, those young power players? They don’t give me a second glance anymore.

The truth is that I was raised in an era where beauty was praised, sought after and — if we’re honest — used to our advantage when necessary. Any woman in sales has learned how to use the coy smile, and feminism be damned. Even science tells us that physically attractive people are more likely to be perceived as healthy, trustworthy and happy by onlookers.

I’m not pretty anymore.

I mean, my photo won’t serve as pest control, but the lines around my mouth, my Deputy Dog jowls, and that crepey stuff on my neck cannot be denied. And truly, I’m honestly not that worried about it (or I would at least have been wearing makeup when that picture was taken), but it is a little jarring — a little disorienting. After traveling through life as a young, vibrant and not-mud-fence woman, it’s weird to realize that I have to learn a whole new style of communication.

Especially with men, I’m sorry to confess, I have taken the easy way out in the past, letting them focus on my looks and holding my intelligence and my capabilities closer to the vest. I know that that’s crap, I know. It’s as wrong as it was for people to assume that, because I was cute and sassy, that I must be vapid and dumb as well. But if I’m honest, the truth is that I played that system, that game, with the only weapons I understood myself to have.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

On the flip side, my relationships have become more authentic.

Of course they have, because layers of the cosmetics of expectations have been scrubbed away . With women, I can form deep connections free of the internalized misogyny that made me consider other women to be rivals. We support each other, encourage each other and accept each other in the here and now, without embellishments.

Even with men, I am able now to lead with my confidence, my experience, and my knowledge. I am able to listen better, and to consider the other person’s thoughts, because I am seeing him as a person come to this place in this time by way of his own life story. He is not a caricature anymore — a foil against which to practice my skills. We can co-create solutions. And if we disagree, I have no aversion to telling him so, with bullet points about why.

Still, I miss feeling like the future is infinite in front of me.

When a blockage was found in one of my coronary arteries, and was replaced by a drug-eluding stent, my entire perspective shifted and I understood myself to possibly be closer, at 56, to the end of my life than I was to the beginning. What a burlap bag full of bulldogs that can be to deal with.

I’ve started to get far more picky with the way I spend my time. While I can get sucked into a good Facebook fight with the best of them, I get bored easily, and wonder how many of my precious grains of sand in the hourglass I have wasted on them. I have less patience for those people who tell me, “Have patience.” This is, after all, my life. Even if I believed in reincarnation (and I’m not sure yet about that), I know I won’t come back as me, picking up exactly where I left off. I’ll have to waste as much time as I did in this lifetime banging my head against walls trying to figure things out.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

If you want to know the truth, I’m pretty good with it all.

If there’s one thing I have become used to in almost sixty years, it’s the idea that everything changes. Wonderful days will give way to others that are not as wonderful, and even the most horrible days will soften and stretch out to be ever so slightly less painful, given enough time. So I don’t bemoan — much — my evolution from fresh faced teenager with the metabolism of a drag racer, to a ripe and fertile wife and mother, to the one left standing as those little birds took wing.

But I revisit those times in my mind sometimes, fondly, and remember what it was like when my skin was smoother, my hair shinier, and my ability to read things close at hand less arduous.

And then I slowly open my hand, and like petals in the wind, I let them drift away.

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You had One Job, Facebook – and you blew it.

Because I can at least remember how I processed thoughts when I was awash in idealism, I can imagine a young Mark Zuckerberg envisioning his Book Of Faces that would allow people to be connected from around the world. Even people living in podunk little towns, he would have said (in my imaginary prequel), can reach virtually across the globe to clasp hands with another dreamer from Katmandu, or a seeker from Sicily.

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The Jew and the Arab would get to know each other as people through the sharing of hummus recipes. Catholics and Protestants would discover a shared humanity seeing photos of each others’ kids and grandkids. Whole generations of children would grow up “color blind” because digital proximity had made them neighbors with others of different races and ethnicities.

PROTIP: No one really has 1,207 “friends”.

I know, because that’s the official count of my personal Facebook account as of this writing — and that’s after pruning and trimming and deleting as friends those I know who have died, but live on in the Facebook alternate reality.

In reality, I have one husband, three children to whom I gave birth, and two children I got as a wedding present. I have six grandchildren. I see roughly twenty patients a day in our clinic, and there are somewhere just over 100 employees where I work, of whom I see about thirty on a regular daily basis — and that’s only because I am social and chatty and wander around to see people.

Of my high school class of 400+ students from forty years ago, I keep in touch regularly with probably ten, even though I rarely see them in person. I have cousins and in-laws that I rarely see, but like to keep up on the milestones in their lives. I have college classmates and former co-workers and colleagues from throughout my career — let’s estimate fifty of those, even if I may see them on an average of once a year.

There are neighbors that I wave to more frequently, and friends from running groups with whom I have shared races and weekends and injuries and highlights — I would guess twenty of those with whom I am still close, since I don’t run anymore. I remain friends with the people in the town where I raised my kids — and friends of those kids, now adults and raising children of their own.

Realistically speaking, that’s about all I can truly tell you I feel a connection with. The other 900 names show up on my friends list because I hate to be exclusionary, or hurt anyone’s feelings. Even if they wouldn’t have been caught dead talking to me in high school and their political views are abhorrent to me today, I can “unfollow them” so I don’t have to see the things they post, but I cringe at cutting them off as “friends”.

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We’ve forgotten what friendship really means.

Friends have relationships, and relationships are, with few exceptions, best nurtured face to face, with precious time devoted to each other. Connections are built when we can hear the inflections in each other’s voices, and notice each other’s body language.

In substituting real friendships with sterile, digital approximations, we have also given away talking to each other on the phone in favor of texting each other. For heaven’s sake, “sexting” is even a word — and no one can tell me that anything meaningful related to sex can be accomplished with your thumbs on the screen of a smart phone.

In fact, we shy away from actual physical encounters with friends. We tell ourselves we are introverts when really, it’s just downright inconvenient sometimes to go hang out in real time with another human being, when we can sit on the couch with no pants on and text each other.

We’re becoming socially isolated instead of connected, Facebook.

We have whole passels of “incels” meeting in dimly lit chat rooms and nodding avatars at each other, whining about how women won’t have sex with them and therefore should be killed. We have virtual assemblages of conspiracy theorists who huddle behind blue screens and encourage each other in ideas that would be shot down in eight seconds in the light of day.

We have record numbers of people reporting depression, anxiety, and disillusionment with life. And for that, we have therapy by text. You don’t even have to put pants on to go talk to a counselor, where they can notice subtle differences in your appearance, your voice, your speech cadence. You can receive mental healthcare via text messages now.

Kid don’t go out and play, wandering like a pack of puppies from one friend’s house to another’s and finding each other by the telltale pile of bikes thrown down in someone’s front yard. They stay inside, behind their bedroom doors, and fall prey to monsters posing as other kids online, who promise them a sense of belonging and love.

Photo by Wendy Wei from Pexels

Our strength is that we are relational creatures.

Since the dawn of time, we have gathered around each other’s fires and passed along each others stories, trading goods and pieces of our culture with those nearby but not of our tribes. We are made for a sense of belonging to a group, and so we slide into groups online, like the pasty faced nitwits who never realized their actual faces would be seen and photographed as they Heil Hitler’d themselves through the streets in Charlottesville or in Washington, D.C.

And I end up with people on my back stoop — virtually speaking — calling me a “libtard”, a “snowflake”, a “cuck” and a “feminazi”. I assure you, no one would say that to my face without backing up several steps immediately afterward. I can bring the crazy.

And that right there is what causes me the most pain. I have friends — people who are IRL friends — who disagree with me politically or over which Iowa sports team I elevate — who get downright nasty. OK, honestly, I’ve done it myself. The firewall of my computer screen allows us relative safety in acting like jerks without getting our blocks knocked off. But our feeling and our souls don’t know the difference between virtual name calling and schoolyard taunts hurled at mega decibels in our faces.

We need, more than ever, to rethink what “connection” means.

Our democracies are at stake, our families, and our communities. We need to think critically about the affects on our psyches and those of our kids, and our expectations for each other going forward. Technology is a fabulous thing that has propelled us forward by leaps and bounds, but I opine that it is our connection and collaboration with each other, in real life relationships, that have wrought the most amazing marvels in our history.

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