No, no. Nothing like that, I tell her.
She wants to know if she can catch it. Like her proximity has earned her danger points.
Think of it like this, I say. There’s a part in your car’s engine that it can’t function without. Right now, your car runs just fine. No issues. The whole thing works, from your perspective, like it’s brand new. The part is doing its job.
All the other parts in the car are good for 100,000 or so miles. But that one part is good for 20,000 miles. At some point it’s going to stop working, and the whole car is going to stop working.
Now, a mechanic will know this. He’ll know it’s a part prone to deterioration, and he’ll get you to bring it in right around 18,000 miles, and he’ll replace it, and off you’ll go with a working car.
Except in your case, she says, getting it, there is no replacement part?
– So one day that part’s going to give out.
– And your heart is going to explode?
– That sounds a little dramatic, but pretty much.
– Do you know when?
– It’s good for another month.
She sighs. Like this piece of information is hard for her to hear. Depressing.
– That must suck.
I just came in for one drink. And here I am, four deep, sitting at a small corner table with a gorgeous young coed hanging on my every word. And it doesn’t matter much to me. I don’t care, much. But it’s like that: you get everything you want in life, everything you ever dreamed of. You just get it when you no longer care. When it’s passed its moment of maximal utility.
Come to think of it, half of life is learning to care less. Because it’s useful. Most of us had our first heartbreak in our teens, and it hurt like hell, and every one since hurts less and less. Most of us dealt with bullies as kids, and we encounter them well into adulthood, but every one scares us less and less.
You look back at the problems you had as a kid and laugh that you were ever so bothered. You assume this is because your child self dealt with less significant problems than your adult self, but you’re wrong. You’re just better equipped as an adult, because you care less. Desensitized.
Desensitization has its drawbacks, of course. We don’t bruise as easy, but it’s easier to hurt others. Adults are a race of invincibles who spend all day running through others because we know they’re invincible, too. And a bully is just someone who behaves like an adult among children.
To say to a kid, “Don’t worry—it’ll get better,” is true, just not for the reason we think. More accurate: “Don’t worry—you’ll get worse.”
One day, you’ll be just as much of an asshole as your very first bully. Sweet dreams.
And so what? Kids are assholes. You spend the first few years of your life trying to break every rule you’re given: to stay up later, to eat more crap, to make messes. Then you’re a teenager trying to sneak in drinks and parties and sex, eager to get behind the wheel. You spend your entire childhood trying to be an adult, and then you finally make it and you realize it fucking sucks and you wish you were a kid because there’s something vital about being a kid that you’re missing, but that’s gone forever. Too late. And you’re an asshole because you were an asshole kid.
We’re so good at shrugging shit off that it’s our instinctive reaction. How many times have you heard the word “whatever” this year? To find out a crucial valve under the hood is going to explode in a month should make your thoughts crystallize, should make your mind expand, should make those around you appreciate everything in their own lives. But it doesn’t. It turns us all into nihilists. Hedonists. Heretics. Arsonists.
Fuck exercise. And reading. And work. Know what it’s like to avoid fat your entire adult life, and then indulge yourself in a gigantic and obscene burger because you know, fuck it, it’s all over. What does that taste like? Sand and ash and bitterness.
Fuck everything everyone says is good for you because fuck it and fuck them, too. Wheatgrass and quinoa and whole grains and vegetables my ass.
Fuck all those spiritual projects you’ve been punting for a decade. There’s no getting right with God now, not with you two on such frosty terms. Because it’s His fault, right? He did this. And let’s face it. If you were God, how much would you value a convert who turns to you when he’s out of options? Gee, thanks for your call. Way to prioritize.
All that’s left is indulgence. As empty and meaningless as it is, it’s all there is. And now that God’s out of the picture, morality isn’t an issue.
Sounds titillating, doesn’t it? We all carry around a portion of darkness. We all have fantasies that morality prevents us from exercising. So pull the stops out, do everything you ever desired. Except it’s hollow, and even the memory of indulgence will be gone, soon. You may as well write a decadent masterpiece in sand.
Indulgence, because. Indulgence for the sake of distraction. Just to fill in time.
The reason booze and drugs work so well is because they take your mind off all this heavy shit. You can float off, or amp up, or stew in your own melancholy, and nothing hurts as much as it does every other minute. You’re distracted, for little while, from the ticking of the clock. And the idle thought occurs to me that drug addicts and alcoholics may be the enlightened ones: they see what’s coming, and they know relaxation dulls the inevitable impact. Go out foggy, because we’re all going out.
Because once you know where you’re headed, all you think about is going.
The veil is lifted and there you are, in a waiting room, and every wild indulgence you ever imagined is an ancient, irrelevant magazine you use to keep your thoughts from the clock.
I guess I could always leave the waiting room and arrange a conclusion myself now, no waiting. Always struck me as stupid. Why make an effort to produce an outcome that’s inevitable? The grandest, most futile gesture. Summon all your available agency to make a momentous statement about your own impotence. And if what’s next is nothing, why hurry? This, here, may be meaningless, but at least it’s something. And something is preferable to nothing ten times out of ten.
At least, I’ve never heard anyone claim otherwise.
I’m waiting for this coed to go full circle as she gives voice to glum, depressing thoughts one by one, until she gets there:
I guess you just have to live in the moment. I guess we all do.
What I figure, I say. Squeeze out whatever meaning I can, before there’s nothing left.
Well, let’s not waste any time, she says.
And she puts her hand on mine, and she orders shots.
Which seems like a waste of time, but I’ll allow it.
A few rounds and a couple drunken phone calls to her friends later and we’re at her place. There’s her, and three of her friends. There’s booze, there’s blow, and there’s a lot of naked tumbling around. Distraction. Sweet, sweet distraction.
Every one of them is doing a good deed, like volunteering in a soup kitchen. Every one of them has had casual sex where they ended up feeling used, empty, hollow. But not today. Today they are heroes. Today they are concubines burning on the pyre of a departed king. Today they are goddesses, transformed, sharing their flesh with the half-transcended, one with a foothold in two worlds.
It’s more than sex. It’s ritual. Ceremony. An orgy on Charon’s ferry, halfway across the Styx. Our bodies scorched to ash, and we have eclipsed flesh. And like darkness intense enough to produce light, time stops.
It’s only with acute consciousness of the relentless march of seconds and minutes and hours one can be aware of its cessation.
The ferry carries us for days. Three, maybe four.
And time resumes. Runs fast, for a little while. Lurching into motion, the ceremony concludes and they all rush back to logistics and minutiae.
We meet the next week, and the week after. There are additions and subtractions in personnel, but the ceremony persists, with intensified zeal.
There is no meeting the following week. I go home, and shut the door. Shut the door, and put on some music. Put on some music, and lie on the floor.
The thirty days that were ahead are now behind.
I feel it happening. Slow, like water seeping up around me. Covering me. Submerging me.
My eyelids droop and I drift, carried by strange currents.
Flashing lights, loud conversation, laughter. Upscale cocktail bar, after-work crowd. The girl at my elbow is beautiful, with a deep, warm laugh. Eyes to get lost in.
Do you know how long, she says.
– Yeah, give or take.
– So how long?
I catch a whiff of her perfume. Light, summery, like ice cream on the beach.
– Three months.