My phone rang this morning while I stood at my desk, dealing with the usual barrage of problems that weren’t mine- an unidentified number from Seattle, WA. I don’t answer calls while I’m working, but there it was: Seattle, WA. So I answered, hasty, tight with panic that didn’t belong to 8:53 AM on a Thursday.
An unearned déjà vu flooded my ears before sound; a familiarity I have neither written nor spoken, but indelible nonetheless from the countless times played in my head: endless visions of disaster. Visions of answering an unknown number and hearing you, calling from the other end of a gun to say goodbye. Calling from a payphone next to a ditch, at the nasty end of a bender. Calling from the top of a building, from the middle of a bridge, from the edge of a cliff, from the bottom of a well. Do they have many of those in Washington?
Worse, it’s not you at all. It’s an EMT, a nurse, a doctor, a lawyer, an aunt, an uncle: It was sudden, they say. Or, it took us by surprise. There was nothing we could do. We didn’t see it coming. Would they see it coming? Do they ever? Forgive my proclivity for assumption, my grossly human idiosyncrasy, thinking everyone else does what we ourselves would do. Or, in this case, not do.
And how would they- would anyone- know to call? This is the most unlikely imagining, the multitudinous hole in the many plots I’ve constructed in my presentimental and uneasy brain. What’s more realistic, then? Finding out on the internet. Being told the tale of calamity by a cold blue screen while drinking my morning coffee and aimlessly avoiding beginning another day. Just as likely, I won’t find out at all- I’ll miss it altogether until your body is buried, the flowers are dead, and you are… gone.
Maybe I’ll hear it from one of the ghosts we have in common, who might be remembered by someone in your day-to-day – as ghosts should be.
There are many more parts unlikely in this messy pit of anxious possibility, but in my vestigial heart all I can hear is you, and your grudge against life. Against living past youth to an older, dying age.
What’s the point? You asked me, a cigarette glowing in the dim autumn mist as you flicked a grey ash down to the roots of a dying tree. Why should I bother?
I didn’t have answer. I couldn’t bring myself to lie in the early November chill that crept between our ribs, where the widest space always was- skeletons making room for the bones of our fathers. They cut the tree down, after you’d gone, and tore out another piece of you with it.
Perhaps it’s the ultimate narcissism, thinking you wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye. A habit, acquired from my own less savory moments, because I couldn’t leave this earth without a warning. Incessant and useless, pathetic even- but true, nevertheless.
Out of the speaker came a pause, a click- and the automated voice of a personal lending company. I hung up, and closed my eyes; the last thread of fear draining out like sand in an hourglass. Another day down.