it’s a good life

Three things truly scare me:

1. High, still places like bridges, buildings, and towers. I am afraid I’ll give into the strong, primal, and completely irrational compulsion to fling myself off of them. The urge to jump and self-destruct makes zero sense, but there it is. I can’t explain it. I just don’t go up there, and if I do, I stay the hell away from the edge lest I go completely dark side and end it all without wanting to die in the slightest.

2. Metal. Well, not all metal. Just particular kinds of metal. The kind that’s thin and matte and tin-y like cheap cutlery or the cold metal dishes sundaes come in. The little ramekins single servings of dressing and butter come in at restaurants. Stainless steel almost anything. Aluminum foil. Especially aluminum foil. It was the cause of the whole metal thing about 20 years ago when I accidentally bit into a piece of it in some leftovers from Outback Steakhouse. It made contact with a sensitive filling in a large, cracked molar in my upper right jaw, and I thought my head was going to explode. My mouth watered and ached and tasted like electricity for a week. Now, just the sight of the wrong kind of metal has the same intense effect without even coming in direct contact with me, to say nothing of the reality, much less the prospect, of metal touching something else metal. Nails on a chalkboard in Biblical proportions. Bring something like that to my table and don’t remove it immediately and

I. Will. Totally. Lose. My Shit.

Seriously.

I haven’t eaten at Outback since, and any of my intimates who spend significant time with me know all too well what the “metal thing” looks like. I make sure that few have seen the complete breakdown, but those who have know exactly what measures to take to avoid ever seeing it again. You know who you are, and I thank you for throwing yourselves on repeated grenades without even a word exchanged between us. I appreciate that you don’t want to see me have a full-on panic attack and vomit in public while in your company. The good news is that having that tooth capped has helped the metal issue exponentially. I’m now only slightly imbalanced as opposed to clinically insane.

3. Clowns. I can’t deal. The sight of them is usually enough to make me completely freak out and put me off of whatever they’re in — tv show, movie, book, you name it. It recently took me three whole days to get through a single episode of a tv series I’m watching because it had clowns in it. They terrify me. You want to know the one thing walking this planet that turns my blood to ice and wakes me up in a cold sweat? Clowns. Fucking creepy, scary as hell, can’t trust ’em clowns. ‘Nuff said.

Given my love of clowns, it’s pretty safe to say that I’ve never seen the appeal of the jack-in-the-box. How is that a child’s toy? It plays a warped, off-tune little song, and then a horrifying clown on a dilapidated spring pops up and frightens the child. Yeah, that’s a barrel of laughs. I’ve come to think of anything waiting to spring on me, anything in life that has mass and takes up space and must be dealt with but is to be avoided as a jack-in-the-box. You know a monstrosity awaits you inside and you don’t want to see it, but sooner or later you have to turn the crank, hear that awful song, and steel your nerves against the rising tension as you wait for the clown to spring forth in that moment you’ve been dreading.

I’ve had a jack-in-the-box sitting in my living room by the front door for the past month now. See, I was out of town for three weeks over the holidays. During that time, I had the post office hold my mail. When I returned, they delivered a big plastic crate full of it to my door. A quick eyeballing was all it took to tell me that it was mostly catalogs I never asked for, direct mail I didn’t want, neighborhood newspapers I didn’t subscribe to, and those annoying flyers and coupons that clutter up my mailbox every Wednesday. So, I let the thing sit. And sit. And sit. For weeks. Which isn’t like me. I’m not one to avoid conflict, but this was different. Something told me there was something in there I didn’t want to see and deal with, too, and so I let sleeping dogs lie. Walked past it every day “ignoring” it in plain sight knowing full well it was there tugging and nagging at me to roll up my sleeves, dig in, turn the crank, and take care of business. Tonight, I finally did it.

As I suspected, the big, rubber-banded bundle in the crate was mostly ads and catalogs. I was able to dispatch with them quickly. A tax statement from my mortgage company was in there, too. Ok. I can deal with that. Well, I need to sit down and deal with that…later. Some misdirected bills, cards, and other sundry envelopes for the woman who lives at my address one block over. Must’ve had a new guy training at the post office while I was gone. A couple of Christmas cards from friends, which were a nice surprise. My membership renewal from Planned Parenthood. A statement documenting a payment I made before my trip. And, then I saw it. I didn’t even hear the latch click or feel the tension in the spring before the clown jumped up from the bottom of the box and into my face. It was suddenly just there.

I looked down and found the last envelope in my hand had my name on it…and my father’s. Fuck. I fucking hate this. I hate that this is still happening. For a solid year my mailbox was full of handfuls and handfuls of mail with my father’s name on it. First, my ailing father’s name, and then, in an even crueler twist of fate, my dead father’s name. To make matters worse, everything with my father’s name on it was actually addressed to me, because, as his conservator and later the administrator of his estate, I legally was him. That was the year when I wasn’t myself. That was the year when I was a dead man. Eventually, the mail slowed to a trickle. Then stopped. I thought it was over, but it never really is. Now, when it happens, it’s always a shock. A clown flinging itself up into my face to remind me that it wasn’t all a just a bad dream. It was real. All of it. Every minute. It all happened. And it keeps on happening when I least expect it.

And to make matters worse, it was a statement of benefits from Medicare. I opened the envelope, slipped the stack of papers out from inside, unfolded them and began to scan the words that had become second nature to me during the crisis. It was a language that I had worked hard to forget and scrub from my mind to make room for happier things, but it turns out that once you’re fluent, you’re fluent for good.

Radiologists. They’d finally started paying the  radiologists for some of the procedures they performed on my father exactly a year ago…

X-ray of the abdomen. Another x-ray of the abdomen. Yet another x-ray of the abdomen: His spleen had ruptured and his liver had been lacerated in the accident.

Thorocentesis with tube insert. Echo guide for biopsy: The exploratory work I consented to to tell us just how quickly his cirrhotic liver was bottoming out. Then, more echos and x-rays over the following weeks as his liver got worse and completely failed.

The CT scan of his head to determine if he was brain dead from the nearly ten minutes he was without oxygen or a heart rhythm as they worked on him after the massive coronary arrest he had because I didn’t put the DNR on him fast enough. He was dead. It was over, and they pounded on his chest and rebroke all of his ribs and his sternum and further pulverized his collapsed left lung and yanked him back from the beyond while I was mid-flight trying to get back to the East Coast and him. I landed to a voicemail telling me he was gone. Sitting slumped and defeated in a chair next to a coffee cart in the United terminal starting at my phone in a state of shock and disbelief, I received another call telling me he was alive. The nurse hung up and left me there there alone amid morning rush at O’Hare to wonder what exactly had returned to us and begin the weeks of waiting and the increasing horror that whatever had come back just would not wake up. Sometimes what’s dead should just stay dead.

It didn’t, though. He lived. And I just kept saying yes to the doctors. Yes to the endless calls from the hospital every night. All night. Yes, do that test. Yes, do that procedure. Yes, keep up the efforts to get him off of the ventilator. Yes, I understand why you have him tied to the bed. Yes, I know he keeps ripping out his feeding tube. Yes, I understand that he’s dying. Yes, pull everything. Yes, keep turning up the morphine and turning up the morphine and turning up the…

And now I get bills for it all. Reminders of every decision I made there in black and white — a little keepsake diary in the mail when I least expect it. A chronicle of every step in the road. Every time I said yes. Everything I put him through. Almost two years later, “Pop Goes The Weasel” still plays slowly and deliberately in my head and my gut clenches as I tear open the envelopes, waiting for the inevitable clown to jump out at me. And something inside me snaps just a little every time it does.

I fucking hate you, you fucking clown.

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