Contains a bit of swearing and general misanthropy
A man unencumbered by dignity thrashes nonsensically at fatal news deliveredby a disinterested physician.
A change in lifestyle, routinely ignored for decades, was called for – but alas, it is late now. In disregarding advice from, amongst others, wife (nag), boss (prying), GP (ill-mannered) and children (wankers), a vast aggregation of chickens have come home to roost. Squatting on your life, like Larkin’s toads (should they then be ‘perching?’) they wait like feathered ghouls. Cataloguing your dying days with accountant-like precision, they dole out information with a disarming clarity.
Your previous defence to such traumas – banging a wooden spoon on a saucepan to quieten the cognitive dissonance that buzzes around your skull like a bee trapped in a jar – now no longer works. But reality denial persists stubbornly. Quack nostrums are therefore sought: crystal therapy, psychic healing, reiki, line dancing, homeopathy. Remember the joke – the one about a man who died of a homeopathic overdose?
Punch line: he forgot to take his medication.
You laughed before, but what once brought derision is now grasped at in desperation. ‘I want to believe… anything!’ When failure ensues, as it will, you rage petulantly at the existential angst that you experience, something you had not felt previously. ‘Where did this come from?’ you think. ‘I never felt it before. Was it always there, lying dormant like a… lying dormant like a… like a…’
Oh, shall I finish your simile for you? Let me see, what would fit:
Lying dormant like a volcano? Puh-lease, call the cliché police.
Lying dormant like a repressed memory? Hmmm, not bad.
Lying dormant like a growing and increasingly inoperable cancer? Bingo.
From now until the end it’s a steadily rising tide of futility.
Scared of the upcoming inevitable, you seek understandable solace in what you thought were unknowable mysteries. But as if by magic, the unknowable has now become the knowable. Agnosticism transformed into fideism. Eternity in the bosom of a loving deity seems probable, nay, a certainty, given the suddenly compelling evidence and the bucketfuls of wishful thinking one brings to the proceedings. It is an argument that, when all the extraneous details are boiled away, contains one tiny but monumentally hubristic premise. It is this:
I deserve to live forever.
And why might that be?
I just do, that’s why.
Here lies the epiphany: human beings and their spurious sense of entitlement.
So sickness and tumours lay your body to waste. Propped up on pillows like the Elephant Man (minus the quiet, restrained dignity), you honk indolent madrigals from your deathbed. Shockingly, people still come and visit. They swim into your purview through a hazy fog of medication:
An estranged ex-lover is tearful at your plight. She wonders if there’s anything she can do to help. You say a handjob would be most agreeable. She leaves immediately and you’re upset. You later realise it wasn’t an ex-lover you were talking to, but a confused old man who’d accidently wandered in from a nearby geriatric ward. Nevertheless, you’re still annoyed that he didn’t perform the service asked for.
A casual acquaintance makes no eye contact and wants to leave after only ten minutes. His excuse? He has another friend dying of a terminal disease on the same ward and needs to see him as well today. ‘I’ll be killing two birds with one stone’ he says, an unfortunate metaphor, given the circumstances. You can’t decide whether to believe him or not.
A friend who exhibits such a crushing lack of self awareness that you’ve often wondered whether he’s spent his whole life with an undiagnosed mental condition. You decide to say this to his face during the visit. He looks hurt that you did such a thing. (The reason you did such a thing: you’re slowly dying in pain and couldn’t see the point in humouring the fucker anymore).
Some other generic things occur:
A muezzin calls apothecaries to come 5 times a day with empty panaceas.
An avuncular rabbi makes a humorous remark at your mortality.
A priest brings with him copies of Top Gear Magazine for you to read (he was unwilling to conform to stereotypes, apparently).
So you scream in silence whilst inscribing delusionary screeds on A4 pads for future generations to discard without a moment’s thought. You will be remembered by a few, that’s for sure (you weren’t able to alienate everyone who knew you) but no epitaph will last much more than a generation. After that, (give it a century or two) there will be no sign of you ever having existed at all. You’ll be nothing. Time’s passage will work like Winston Smith, sitting in his Ministry of Truth cubicle, steadily falsifying records and eviscerating people from history. But in your case there’s a difference. With you there is no subterfuge, no party propaganda, no systematic rewriting of history. No, the process is entirely natural. And somehow that makes it much worse.
If only a totalitarian government felt you important enough to go to the trouble of bowdlerising you from the past. You could then say ‘there’s no shame in becoming an unperson, you know. It shows I was someone special.’ But no, you’re not even granted that morsel of respect. Time, remorseless and with no judgement, disinterestedly plucks you from the historical record. If evolution is the blind watchmaker, then time is the ceaseless devastator. Nothing can endure .
It’s all so rude, isn’t it?
Rude and impersonal.
Makes you wish you were dead.