Monday, March 27, 2006

Words, words, words

The morning of my cancer surgery I woke an hour before my son and gathered up the few things I would take to the hospital. My wife had made me a photo album to keep by my bed and this went into a small bag along with my ipod, a portable dvd player, and some toiletries that would never see the light of day. I had to be at the hospital two hours before surgery and my biggest worry was leaving before my son woke up. My second biggest worry was not leaving before my son woke up.

As it turned out, he woke up a few minutes before I had to leave. I hugged him, told him I loved him and that I would see him later. Toddlers have no sense of time and as far as he was concerned, the word "later" meant either "when you walk around the corner" or "oatmeal."

I knew that "later" meant one of two things: either "five days from now when they let me out" or "never."

There are rare times in your life when everything crystallizes and you can for good reason wander around your house saying things like: "this could be the last time I look out this window" or "this could be the last time I take a hot shower." Or, as was the case with me, "this could be the last time I stand out on my fucking lawn waiting for this neurotic dog to poop."

Because we all know that there'll be a last time we do everything and that time and that day may be closer than we think. There's already things we've done for the last time, maybe because we don't do those things anymore, or maybe they don't do us. I won't anchor the 400m relay again, despite the fact that leaning into the curve of a black asphalt track with the baton in my hand, the finish line in front of me and the field behind me is the closest I'll probably come to heaven.

Of course, I've had an asthma attack while losing my virginity for the last time, so maybe things even out.

These are lasts long lost, but they're buried in the shallows and you don't need cancer's sharp edge to dig them up. We all straddle the past and future, and the present's jammed up our ass like Tom Sawyer's fence picket.

When I was young my parents took me to the funeral of a family friend. I'm sure at the time I thought she was old. I now realize she was probably younger than I am. She died of cancer, I don't remember what kind, and who really cares. Dead is dead and no one ever asks the families of shooting victims what kind of bullet it was. What I remember was she had written her own eulogy. I don't remember a single word of it, but I remember hearing her voice in the words. It felt like she had traveled some way to find us, and I was happy she had taken the time to visit. I missed her less, and wasn't nearly as scared of where she had gone. She was real, she was present, and while she was less than alive she was much more than dead.

Back then I knew that words were fun toys and that I was a clever little boy who pleased the grown-ups who watched him play with pen and paper. I could rub two sentences together but did not understand that doing so might create fire. This was the first time I had witnessed a spell being cast.

I wonder sometimes if all these years later her children ever read the eulogy and if it still has the transportational powers it had that day. Just thinking about it works for me, but I admit I draw different lessons from it than they would. I'm a writer first and foremost so I've always loved the magic I discovered that day even though I can't remember the spell.

But I'll let you in on a little secret that only my wife and my therapist know:

I've spent the last twenty-five years composing my own eulogy. I've never written it down, never even started it. But I've written it a thousand times in my head. Ever since I was young I've been obsessed with all aspects of my funeral. Who would speak, Who would be there...What they would say...Where it would be held, what kind of music would I choose...What kind of food would be served at the afterparty...I'm an incredibly arrogant sonuvabitch, and it probably won't surprise you to know my funeral's a pretty tough ticket it's so fucking crowded with mourners.

I've brought myself to tears dozens of times with this masturbatory/fetishistic reimagining of my final words washing out over the assembled masses. Sometimes funny, chiding yet touching, my eulogy at all times insightful and peaceful and reassuring to the thousands who have gathered to mark the passing of one of the great unheard voices of a generation.


My ultimate words.

At the end of the day, why do we write? We write to remember, we write to be remembered, we write to discover who we are, or determine it for others. Our words will always outlive us, immortalizing us if not always powerful enough to make us immortal. Although if we choose our words well, there will always be a way back to life, a way to and fro through time. Someone will always feel us like it was yesterday, someone will smell our skin again, if we choose our words well.

If we choose our words well there need not always be a last. If we choose our words well there will always be a way to find us.

I have chosen my words. They are:

There are motherfucking snakes on the motherfucking plane.