Someone at your memorial will speak the facts. They’ll say you were born then and died now, describe the work you spent your life doing, mention the people you loved who are still alive and the ones who died before you. Everyone in the room will already know those things, but they’ll expect someone to say it all anyway. It’s a declaration that yes, you did live and now it’s all right to say what they remember about you while the memories are as strong as they’ll ever be.

When my people memorialize our dead, first we tell the facts and then we tell the stories, which are far finer than mere truth. We don’t exactly lie. The events really did happen, but a little creative plumping is expected. If the deceased were allowed to attend, he might feel embarrassed, but he’d probably sew on a couple of his own embellishments. Bigger stories make better memories, and this is the time we want the best memories we can get.

After my uncle’s memorial yesterday, my sister lamented that she’d forgotten a story about him until after we had left. My people particularly like stories about what sort of child a person was. It’s as if we think childhood tales show our real selves before life lowers curtains of artifice around us. My sister and I have heard this particular story dozens of times from my mother.

When my uncle was seven years old and my mother was five he took her to the department store to see Santa Claus. It was a different world then, and no one worried about these children tracking down some holiday fun by themselves. At the store they joined the long, long line to see the jolly elf, whom they referred to as “Santy Claus.” The line moved slowly. My uncle, a vocal boy, expressed impatience, especially towards the heavy-set woman just in front of them.

After some length of time that my mother never detailed, my uncle lost patience with the inconvenient facts of his situation. He kicked the woman right in the middle of her backside and said, “Get the hell out of my way, fat lady, I’ve got to go see Santy Claus!”

My mother never described quite what happened next, but we were always laughing too hard for it to matter much.

Now my uncle is gone, my mother’s gone, and certainly the fat lady and Santy Claus are gone as well. But we still have this story that we can share to explain who my people were and how we got this way.

I’ve reached the age where I seem to be attending more funerals than weddings.

One of my uncles died this morning. Oddly enough, he expired in his doctor’s office. Right place, but evidently the wrong time. He was my mother’s older brother, but my dad called him “the closest thing to a brother I ever had.” My dad’s real brothers were a lot older, so I suppose to my dad they were more like uncles, or maybe Great Danes.

I’ve been thinking about a simple way to explain who my uncle was. This story may do it.

When my uncle was a young man, he and my dad framed houses. One time a third fellow was helping them–my mother’s fiance. This was before my dad became her fiance and the former fiance ended up crawling around in the front yard with a flashlight looking for the engagement ring she threw at him. That’s another story.

My uncle and my dad were nailing ceiling joists to the tops of walls. The fiance was standing around on top of the wall, talking, and paying no attention to the work. He wore cheap boots with soles that stuck out from underneath the uppers. As the fiance expounded on everything except work, my uncle tacked a nail through the exposed sole on both of his boots, nailing him to the wooden cap of the wall. He did it so casually that the fiance never even noticed. Until he tried to take a step and almost broke both legs.

That’s the kind of guy my uncle was.

My uncle at graduation with three of his many sisters. My mom is the one with attention disorder.
My uncle at graduation with three of his many sisters. My mom is the one with attention disorder.

Last night I looked up from writing my novel synopsis and eating peanut butter cookies, and I realized that this blog has achieved a phenomenal milestone. It has existed for 660 days. The significance may not punch you in the face right away, so I’ll explain. The numeral 660 is the area code for Sedalia, Missouri. That town is only a two hour drive from Branson, Missouri. I visited Branson once. I think it’s pretty much how Las Vegas would look if it were built by the cast of Hee Haw, and yet the place entertained me in spite of myself. Ergo, milestone. Don’t you feel silly that you didn’t see it for yourself?

In celebration, I devoted a few minutes to thinking about the posts in this blog, and the number of posts (176) made it hard to keep them straight in my brain. If my tentacular mass of prior posts confuses me, then it probably confuses more recent regular readers, not to mention folks who stumble across the blog.

And I don’t know about you, but when I find an interesting blog with a long history, I’m puzzled about how to locate the parts of that history I might be most interested in. I know that’s what categories and tags are for, but what does it really mean when a post is tagged “camel”? How to ride one? How to raise them? How do they taste roasted? Do you prefer regular or menthol? It would be nice if the blogger would do some extra work for me. I have my own work that needs to be done and cookies waiting to be eaten.

A quick survey revealed that while this is my general humor blog, it does often follow certain themes. Creativity, marriage, work, family, fear and confidence are common themes. In addition, 33 posts mention movies, 35 posts mention death, 17 posts include strong profanity, 7 posts mention snot, and immersion blenders figure prominently in 2 posts. Cats appear in a full 100 of my posts.

Okay, this is a perplexing mess, and I’m cutting through it right now. I’ve extracted eight general groups of posts and a few posts from each group. You can find them below, along with a sentence or two describing each group to help you decide whether those posts might be interesting to you in any way at all.

My Wife

In order to understand a lot of my posts, it helps to understand my wife. This group of posts describes about 10 percent of her being, but that’s the portion she employs daily, not the 90% capable of sinking you like the Titanic. We’ve discussed getting t-shirts that say “Bill will make you cry. Kathleen will make you disappear.”


These posts chat about a couple of our recent vacations, both of which almost killed us. Jamaica was romantic. Disney World was nostalgic. Both were horrifying in their own way.


My mother died last year, so these posts may not make you pee with laughter the whole way through. Some are a bit somber, but I tried to avoid maudlin.

Baron Yörg Goes to the Movies

My acquaintance Baron Yörg, a 500 year-old vampire Lord of All Things Foul and Unholy, provides the occasional movie review. I’ve been begging him to review Bambi, but no luck so far.


Employment and unemployment seem to weigh on everyone these days. In these posts I touched on employment challenges, with a subtext of living in a ditch and eating dirt, rejected by everyone with more than four teeth, and forced to count my lice to keep from going insane.


These posts contain a below-average number of chuckles, but they do touch on some real ways that death forces itself upon us.

Weirdly Philosophical

All right, maybe this shouldn’t even be a category, but these posts look at some odd aspects of living in the world, such as fear, failure, and walking around with a metaphorical stick up one’s backside.

Top 3

These were the three most frequently viewed posts that didn’t fall into any of the other categories. Yeah, I didn’t do any work at all to list these, but they seem cute to me.

I hope this presentation was helpful to folks interested in checking out some of the older posts. Putting it together helped me. I had no idea I’d never written a post containing the word “spleen.” Until now.

If we’re going to go back in time, let’s go all the way back.

I have read that when men are dying they call for their mothers. I can’t swear that’s true, but I can say that some women call for their mothers. At least my mother called for hers when she was dying, not caring that her mother had been dead 50 years.

After my mother died I distributed a dozen copies of her death certificate to interested parties like bankers, and claims adjusters, and government bureaucrats. Each time I picked up a copy I saw her cause of death, which was “necrosis.” That means her body tissue died, which seems a little obvious, I suppose. It’s something a doctor can write on a death certificate that sounds better than, “I have no fucking idea.”

In the days before my mother died, her doctors talked about transferring her to another hospital, and they almost came right out and said it was because they weren’t as smart as the doctors over there. I’d have been impressed by their near-honesty if they’d suggested it a month earlier, when it might have done some good.

But they didn’t transfer her. Instead they brought in a carnival of specialists who each said the problem wasn’t in his specialty and then handed things over to the next specialist. That went on for several weeks while parts of her body proceeded to die. I probably don’t need to explain that it hurt. Her doctor dangled her deeper and deeper into the ocean of painkillers, until she was taking enough morphine to vaporize a spider monkey.

The day at last came when morphine was no more effective than Mountain Dew. The doctor decided to tie a heavier weight onto her, one that would drag her deeper into painlessness, and the nurse brought the pill to make it happen. It transformed pain from a shark that was biting her in half into a shark that was rolling her around in its jaws to savor her. That was about as good as it was going to get.

My mother fell unconscious that night. On the continuum of becoming unconscious, she didn’t slip into it, nor did she drop into it. She did the equivalent of falling on her face into unconsciousness. The new painkiller had been a poor choice. My mother lacked the full complement of working kidneys, and this drug considered dialysis nothing more than a veiled suggestion to leave her body in a timely way. As the nurses gave her more doses, the stuff packed her body like it was Labor Day at the beach. Instead of just reprimanding the shark it started draining the ocean.

The doctor employed some vigorous and red-faced medical gymnastics, which brought her back to consciousness a day or so later. That should have been a good thing. But since the doctor had almost killed the shit out of her with the better-than-morphine medication, he was afraid that any other painkillers would shove her right into unconsciousness, breathlessness, and lifelessness. So, he refused to give her any painkillers. Not even aspirin. It was the ultimate cold turkey.

Over the next two days my mother rarely responded to anything we said. Maybe she wasn’t too aware of us. If so, I hope she wasn’t too aware of herself, either. She cried for help throughout the sleepless days and nights, which is worth remaining unaware of, if you ask me. She called for her mother a lot, who was dead and couldn’t help her. She often called for my father, who was there holding her hand, but he couldn’t help her either. A little hand holding isn’t much help when your body is dying and you have to participate in such an intimate way.

I guarantee that two days can seem like a long time. I feel silly now bitching about weekends being too short.

At the end of two days we could see that things were not going to get better. My father insisted that the doctor at least give her morphine, and he did. She went to sleep. She died the next day.

Looking back, I recall sitting there when the nurses first brought in the ill-behaved painkiller. I looked it up online before they gave it to her. I looked up every medication because I’d learned not to trust doctors any farther than I can fling a chimpanzee that’s flinging its own poop. I didn’t see anything that concerned me, other than the usual giant list of horrific side effects, so I didn’t object.

After my mother died, I looked that drug up again for some reason. At the very bottom of the page, under pharmacokinetics, an unambiguous statement warned never to give the stuff to renal patients or people on dialysis. I hadn’t checked that far. I’d allowed my vigilance to wander away.

It’s crazy that it falls to the vigilance of an untrained dope like me to catch unruly medications, but it does, and I knew it. Growing up with my mother encouraged vigilance. You didn’t want to get caught not paying attention at the wrong time. I find it ironic that the quality she unintentionally ground into me is the quality that failed at the end.

The biggest problem I have with death is that there aren’t enough laughs. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t find death itself particularly amusing. I have lost some people quite dear to me, which was painful—and which still delivers the occasional icicle to the heart, even after a lot of years.

The silly thing isn’t death, but rather how we think and talk about death. And especially how we behave because of death. For example, look at what I said a moment ago: “I have lost some people…” It’s as if we were at the mall and they wandered over to Taco Bell without telling me, or as if they unobtrusively slipped between the couch cushions. No—they died.

Now I’m perfectly aware that our euphemisms about death are really armor against the grief of loss. If your friend Charlie died yesterday and you’re a reasonably sensitive person, you might tell his other friends, “Charlie passed away suddenly last night,” rather than, “Charlie’s dead. Dibs on his plasma TV.”

Of course, if Charlie drank enough tequila to strike the entire populace of Juarez blind, swam naked in a public fountain, and choked to death on a quarter tossed in by a little girl wishing for her very own collagen lip injections, then no euphemisms are necessary. I defy anyone to hear that truth and not giggle.

When grief is new and armed with claws and spines and scorpion tails, it makes sense to look at death only from the corner of your eye. But after a time—maybe years—the grief loses its killer instinct. Yet even then we often maintain the soft sell when talking about death.

And is that the wisest thing? It diminishes the honesty with which we remember how our loved one’s life ended—and by extension their life in general. Whether or not we like it, a person’s death is an important part of their life, and shying away from their death makes it tough to fully appreciate them.

I recognize that looking frankly at the death of someone you love and accepting that loss is a cast iron bitch. And there are different kinds of loss associated with it, such as the loss of things we spent time doing together:

“We’ll never again hang out at Wal-Mart propositioning strangers and get thrown in jail with guys named Lug-nut and Iguana Bob.”

There’s the loss of the things you shared:

“We won’t ever sit around again arguing over whether Kirk or Picard is the best starship captain.” (I’m a Kirk fan because he doesn’t have meetings and sweet talk the bad guys. He SHOOTS the god damn aliens with his phaser and then screws their women.)

And there’s the loss of how you felt:

“He was my friend, and he never made me feel like a creepy old fart for wanting beautiful young women to want me.”

Obviously that was all a bit facetious. But hey, a little humor at the expense of the Grim Reaper isn’t amiss. Anybody who wears that much black in the day time has got to be a pretentious asshole.

When someone I love has died then a part of me indeed died too—the part of me that could only exist when I was with them, that was brought into being because of them, and that has now vanished forever because they will never come back. When I grieve for the loss of someone I love, I am also grieving for the part of me that they brought to life—and that they killed by dying themselves.

And when that happens, you sure as hell better laugh all you can.

IMG_0827 - For Blog
This photo doesn’t really have much to do with death, but I thought it was neat. Although it was sitting over a dead person in a cemetery, so I guess it has something to do with death. Heck, I’ll use it anyway. Some days death can just kiss our asses.

Today is my parents’ first wedding anniversary since my mom died a few months ago. It’s also her birthday. Yes, my mom got married on her birthday. She never saw the point in two or three small celebrations when you could have one big blow out. She liked everyone together having a good time, and she loved presents more than a junky loves crank. At a celebration she turned into an eight-year-old girl, instead of an elderly woman who needed to tell you how terrible everything was.

If she were alive, my parents would have reached their 54th anniversary today. I’m not sure what I would have given them. There’s no traditional symbol for the 54th anniversary, unlike the 1st (paper), the 50th (gold), and the 10th (tin). By the way, modern gift-giving experts have redefined the 10th anniversary as diamond jewelry, which is a far better deal for the happily married couple. The 50th is gold and the 55th anniversary gift should be emerald, but my folks wouldn’t have quite reached 55 today. I might have given them gold rings with crappy emeralds to balance things out. I bet she would have loved hers, regardless.

One of the websites I checked for gift ideas threw tradition out the window and recommended that movies are an appropriate theme for the 54th anniversary. They suggested that a framed poster from the movie Dial M for Murder would be a great anniversary gift. I am not fucking kidding you; check out the link. In case you don’t remember, this is a movie about a guy planning to kill his wife.

My dad lives in the house they shared for 52 years. He spends a lot of time in their dim front room, where they sat side by side in recliners from WalMart for the past 20 years or so. When I visit him I sit in my mom’s recliner, which feels weird as hell, but that’s where he wants me to sit. Sometimes he tells funny stories I’ve never heard—whenever my mom was in the room it was hard for us to get in on the conversation. He cries sometimes. Sometimes we talk about work, or politics, or broken air conditioners. I haven’t visited him as much as I should, so I need to rectify that.

Sometimes my dad tells his version of stories that my mom told. My dad’s version doesn’t even resemble my mom’s version. I mean, it’s clear that they’re supposed to be about the same event, but things happen in different ways, different people are there, they may happen in different places, they may even happen two or three years apart. These events seemed a lot more interesting and dramatic the way my mom described them, so I suspect my dad’s versions are more accurate. I’m starting to feel that my past is far different from what I thought it was, and much more boring as well.

My mom would be 76 years old today had she lived. It’s a respectable age, but still a good ways short of the average life span. Her cause of death is a bit mysterious. Her doctor wrote “necrosis” on the death certificate, which basically means that your body died. I’ve considered going to his office to say, “Well, we could see that, motherfucker!” but I doubt that would improve anything except the tight muscle in my shoulder where I’ve been holding myself back from punching him in the throat.

So, Happy Anniversary and Happy Birthday, mom. Everything ends, but I’m thinking about you today, so I suppose it hasn’t quite ended yet.

So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.
Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and
Demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life,
Beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and
Its purpose in the service of your people.

Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend,
Even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and
Bow to none. When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the food and
For the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks,
The fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and nothing,
For abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts
Are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes
They weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again
In a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.

– Tecumseh, 1768 – 1813

Once you watch a few people die, you realize that death doesn’t give a damn about your dignity. Dignity is a human invention, and if we want someone to have dignity in death we’d better manufacture some. I’m writing this with the assistance of my friend tequila, but we’ll try to produce some dignity without too many structural defects.

My mom died last night after a long illness, if you consider 20 years a long time. The illness itself was elusive. She had lots of symptoms, some debilitating, but together they didn’t seem to mean anything. Every year or so a new doctor assured her that he’d flush out her illness like he was some kind of highly educated English Pointer with a huge ego. They all soon slunk away, ears down.

After a decade-plus of this she was put on dialysis. I’d heard about dialysis—it was something you went to a couple times a week to get your blood cleaned. I soon found out it’s really an endless ass whipping that devours your life. People generally last about three years on dialysis before they die. My mom lasted almost six. No one who was with her when she started dialysis is still alive. She reacted to the grueling routine of dialysis by making friends with everyone at the clinic, both patients and employees. Whenever she arrived, three times a week, she wheeled all the way around the room visiting with each person. The employees soon fawned over her to an embarrassing extent.

A few months ago my mom broke her leg. Describing the subsequent cascade of physical failures would hardly preserve her dignity, apart from saying it was like a bridge collapsing girder by girder into the sea. My mom proved to me that someone really can crumble to sand while you watch them. She died in the hospital. She would have preferred to die at home among her stuff. She loved her stuff, even more than I love my stuff. But it didn’t work out that way.

She raised me, of course, and our relationship was sometimes problematic. The fate of parents is that children ignore the lessons their parents try to teach, and embrace the things parents do without thinking. My mom taught me by example to be thoughtful. She taught me to be vigilant out of necessity.

My mom had the normal complement of faults and strengths, and I could describe them. I could make fun stories and sad stories from her life. But I don’t think any of that would particularly celebrate her dignity. I’ll just relate one event. A few months ago I visited the hospital to find her and her pulverized femur in bed. Morphine had hit her like a feather locomotive, and the room reeked with the question of whether she’d walk again. In the midst of this, she fuzzily berated my father about bringing a particular painted wooden box from home.

He brought the box the next day, conjuring squeals and smiles from my mom. My mom showed my curious self that the box was full of greeting cards, as organized as any filing cabinet. She explained that she always sent birthday cards with a few dollars to the children of her friends at the dialysis clinic, and the idea that she might miss some birthdays distressed her. Her morphine-assisted handwriting looked like someone had sneezed ink on a page, so I made out the cards and sealed in the money for my father to deliver. Accomplishing that seemed to give my mom more relief than morphine.

Towards the end, my mom’s doctors banned morphine and all other painkillers, for reasons too arcane to express. They did not at the same time ban the broken places in her body. When your body is dying and the pain sits fully upon you, with no chance for relief, your dignity faces a great challenge. During those days, she only asked for help from her husband and her mother. Since one of those people was in fact alive and present, that seems a pretty dignified act of will to me. In a similar place I might just call on beings who are dead, or even imaginary.

Part of our dignity grows from how we face the idea of our death. A lot of people describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. My mom was spiritual in a heartfelt, disorderly way, and she despised religion as something that leads to shouting about Hell and to spiteful old women gossiping in the pews. She believed that she’d go on after death in some form, although the details always seemed fuzzy to me. She certainly didn’t believe that her new form would be much like the one she just left, with sneaky diseases and lots of stuff to love. She asked to be cremated, so that my father’s ashes can sit beside hers, and she made us promise there wouldn’t be any funeral or memorial service.

Everything ends, even us.

Fifty years will carve a people-sized Grand Canyon into a person’s body and mind. Sure, the Colorado River took millions of years to gouge the real Grand Canyon out of the Arizona rock, but we’re softer and get hit with harsher stuff than water and wind.

My friend The Bean pointed this out to me, although she may not have meant to. She’s young and feisty and pregnant. The Bean has enthusiasm oozing from all her pores, even before she became a vessel for new life and the metaphorical hope for the future of all humanity. She also cooks a tasty Beef with Scallion and Mushroom Sauce.

This week The Bean said that there’s something strangely comforting in hearing your doctor say “That looks awful.” When her doctor says that, she knows she’s not complaining for no good reason. Plus, she loves her doctor, and that makes her observation more palatable. But I guarantee that I, being a generation older, would not find, “That looks awful,” comforting in any way at all. In fact, I might be inclined to do something rude with a tongue depressor, or at least make a cutting remark.

Annoying medical experiences have eroded me far longer than they have The Bean, and bad statements from doctors can find no welcome in the canyons of my psyche. I’m not criticizing my friend. When I was her age, I was the same damn way.

Another generation of living will dig the canyons deeper, and the patience for stupid medical remarks pretty much disappears. When a person of 75 years like my mom is lying in the hospital full of morphine with a condition no one has been able to diagnose for two months, and when the doctor unwraps the dressing, the words “Oh my God!” plunge to the bottom of the canyon to crash with a bitter thud. When every nurse and aide says roughly the same thing, then comfort, patience, and acceptance evaporate. Even a smile from the doctor and the words, “That sure is spreading,” only create the urge to rip the doctor’s heart out through his nose.

Of course, our reaction depends a lot on our proximity to Death, that snappy-dressing clump of fungus and slime. When you’re in the hospital you know you’re in Death’s stomping grounds, sort of like his favorite bar. At my age, when I go to the doctor, Death hangs out in the waiting room, feet on the couch and reading Guns and Ammo.  He wants to get the news right away. For The Bean, Death just runs his errands at the mall and maybe goes to see The Phantom Menace in 3D, trusting that she’ll call later if they need to have lunch.

But I think that Death’s distance is less important than how time has changed our understanding of the word “awful.” I’ve seen how people a generation ahead of me understand difficulty and suffering in a way that I can’t. I feel sorry for them, and to be honest I feel sorrier for myself knowing that I’m coming up behind them. On the other hand, The Bean is still young enough to feel comfort and even laugh at bad news. And in the end I feel happy that her canyon is shallow, and she hasn’t yet been kicked in a tender place quite as much as us old folks.

I don’t have many enemies, but I look upon the ones I have with venomous wrath. If I were allowed to select their eternal torments, my first choice would be drowning in a lake of boiling excrement while insane hornets hatch from their ear canals. If that’s unavailable, my second choice would be sitting in a hospital room, staring at a sick person in the bed, feeling stupid and helpless.

People don’t go to hospital rooms for amusement. They are neither fun nor funny. I don’t know of any jokes that begin, “A nurse, a man with no kidneys, and a bag of plasma walk into a bar…” Patients don’t go to these rooms voluntarily—they’re carted in on vans like veal delivered to an Italian restaurant. Their family and friends are dragged along by affection, obligation, sympathy, and terror.

When you’re sitting in a hospital room, you know almost nothing about what’s happening around you. The nurse could be injecting a pain killer, or she could be sucking the blood out of your mother’s heart for a satanic ritual. You’d never know the difference. Your ignorance is matched only by your inability to accomplish anything more useful than shifting pillows and moving flowers closer to the window. It’s not exactly busy work, but you know it has nothing to do with whether the patient will be breathing when she leaves the room.

When a person lies in a hospital bed, the room tightens with the pressure of uncertainty. I imagine it feels like the inside of a shaken soda can. That pressure erodes you, and you start begging nurses and doctors for slivers of information that might say what direction things are headed, and how long this whole experience has to last. You unobtrusively consider death, even if the patient is only suffering from a hernia. Death has been in this room, and it marked its territory like a bear. It can snatch anyone it wants in here.

You focus on the patient, which is the one thing you think you understand. If she doesn’t want to talk about her pain, you talk about what a bitch Aunt Lilly is when she calls for a half-hour chat. If she does want to talk about her pain, you nod and tell her that things will be better soon. If she doesn’t want to talk, you hold her hand. Fussy patients are the best, since they give you a lot to do. You bring blankets, adjust the bed, help them cheat on their hospital diet, and comb their hair. It relieves you more than it relieves them. If the patient wants socks and ice chips, then maybe she wants life, too.

After a ponderous length of time, you find out how this will end. If the patient is going home, you first want to know when, because you’ve got to get out of here before you’re reduced to paste. You tell the patient how great she looks, and you talk about having dinner next week, and you pack up vases of flowers that she’ll throw away tomorrow. And everyone talks, with sterling reverence, about how glad they will be to get out of this hospital room. The tension bleeds off a bit, but not much, because pain still hangs in the air, and if it attacks again you couldn’t do anything about it. At last you exit this room with its fake air and crappy TV and wall paint that’s trying a little too hard to be cheerful.

If the patient will never ride a wheelchair out of this room alive, the pressure intensifies—sort of as if the hospital room was now on the ocean floor beside the Titanic’s engine room. You knew earlier that you couldn’t do anything useful, but at least you hoped that someone else could. Now you know they can’t. You realize that there are not many good things to say to someone about to die. Maybe there aren’t any. So you let the patient say what she wants to say, and you hope your answers aren’t stupid and don’t upset her—as if anything you could say would upset her more. As the patient slides away, the air gets as tight as harp strings. Each time she closes her eyes, you feel a nick of panic that you’ve forgotten something important and now time’s run out. When she’s finally unconscious, nothing else can be said. Maybe you try anyway and tell her things you think you’d like to hear. Maybe you stare at her, trapped like a bird in the ugly hospital sheets that have carried dozens into death before her. Maybe you lean back in a plastic chair and pretend you won’t be relieved when it’s all over and you can get out of here. Maybe you sing to her, and she cries in her sleep. That has nothing to do with your singing, but no one around is a big enough jerk to tell you that.

When the patient leaves the room, it collapses on itself. Occupied, it had character. All of its character was lousy, but it had some. Now it droops like an empty balloon, as purposeless and generic as you could imagine. The patient carried every splinter of life away with her when she left. Then you leave too, perhaps with a happy rush, or perhaps wandering out like the victim of a train crash. But in any case, you leave with relief.

That relief is what helps you go through this and not smash clocks and chew on tires. And that relief is what I wish to deny my enemies. Or at least I thought I did. After a little reflection, maybe I’ll just poke my enemies in the eye and put a rat in their beer.