Monday, June 7, 2010


So, addicted as you all are to my monthly short stories, I'm sure you've been wondering what happened to my end of May story. Here it is at last, a week into June. It's taken me a little while to get back into writing as much as I've wanted to, having spent nearly a full month dealing with illness. In the least, I can now report that I'm mostly better and starting to eat somewhat normally now. Progress is progress.

I've got a lot to do this month between needing to find a bunch of agents to get another 5-6 queries out, another short story here later this month (ON TIME), and ideally a decent short story submitted to a publication, since if I'm going to find representation, I probably need to focus on building my portfolio of published work beyond the one story and growing body of self-published little experimental stories here on this very amateur-looking blog. My usual E3 video game babbling is coming up next week, too, so I'll try to put together some non-gaming material to make that up to those of you reading who aren't interested in that topic. At any rate, following a month of illness, get ready to enjoy my warm, fuzzy first written work in nearly a month! (You always write about cheery things after long term illness.)

Condensation clung to the windowpane, my view of the world outside a kaleidoscope of green. Mostly green. When rain fell as heavily as it did this May, a nearby tree branch reclined in such a way as to say "Nothing to see here, folks." Not to say that it was wrong. Even on days when I had a view to speak of, there was nothing out there but forest. Nature lovers may protest my next thought, but let's be honest - between you and me, once you've seen one tall pine tree, you've seen them all. Some poplars would've been welcome. Maples, firs, conifers, sequoias, spruces. Even an ever-despondent willow would've been welcome. To make things worse, I've gotta die looking at this one-note pine forest.

The hospice was located out in the countryside, the idea being that you wouldn't want to die in an urban environment in the midst of the usual hustle and bustle that made living such a pain in the ass to begin with. The comparatively lower costs next to urban palliative care also made it an ideal place for families to discard their respective geezers when it was time to ship grandpa off to live on a nice farm with all those puppies, kittens, and goldfish.

The ideal is to die with a quiet dignity - to close your eyes as the setting sun casts its rays upon your final moment and release that final resigned breath and be done with it. Cut to the montage where you save some orphans from a burning building, bring the axolotl back from the brink of extinction, and then cross the pacific in twenty minutes in your personal rocket car with your special lady in tow. Zoom in on your face, squinting into the sunset and giving off the illusion that you're thinking something wise and gentle when you're probably wondering out of morbid curiosity what the impact would feel like if you crashed that crazy thing into the ocean going full speed.

If we absolutely have to face death, we want to romanticize it just as much as we fictionalize it - if all else fails, tell yourself that there's always something better ahead and that an invisible sociopathic stalker with bipolar disorder's just waiting in the sky to give you amazing things! Or possibly not, in which case piss off. Common human duplicity - hypocrisy? Never heard of it. Just say what you have to in order to embellish that insignificant moment of departure, even if the comfort is disingenuous - if we pretend to sincerely care for the suffering, maybe we'll score some points with Mr. Invisible! - and hope they shove off already so the problem's taken care of. When our time comes, we'll just cross our fingers and hope our families can dump us directly in a pine box with a first class ticket to the Enchanted Kingdom in hand. Good thing we're young and healthy. Eat it, pale man!

I can't entirely begrudge people for thinking this way. There was a time when I shared a few of their thoughts, back before the surprise cancer ambush. When you actively avoid going to the doctor, those can be pretty lethal, as in my case.

The beds here are comfortable enough, I suppose. But comfort's a hard thing to gauge if you take into account the preoccupation that comes with the check-in gift package. If you die three times, you get a nifty embroidered pillow with your name on it. Four times and you get your own religion. An old guy down the hall keeps telling me he wants to call his "Calvinism." I don't have the heart to break it to him that that one's taken.

You never expect to die looking at floral wallpaper and stucco ceilings. I won't be the first or the last. And the few shelves in my room are covered in disorganized piles of books I've already read before, and bags of candies I can't eat anymore. Family members brought me these things with the intent that they'd be a comforting sight. In recent weeks, they've transformed into symbols of futility. It seems there's no calming my restless mind anymore - with days to weeks at most remaining, every insignificant little detail of my existence warrants relentless examination.

I spent the night I was diagnosed staring at the veins in the back of my hands. Death comes for people all sorts of ways. For some, it's an unexpected knife or bullet, others, a falling grand piano. Death had chosen to approach me in a particularly furtive, gentle manner. Sure, it could have been kinder - it could have come for me suddenly in my sleep, but that wouldn't have made much sense at my age. Early attempts to treat the cancer amounted to pissing in the ocean. Chemicals and radiation made dying feel attractive, and if anything, they made me less hostile to the whole concept of being done with it all. The worst parts were the early days when medication provided some relief and false hope had yet to be properly uprooted. I'd always feel much worse the next day. The woozier I felt, the more I pruned that hopeful little bonsai in my heart.

My parents protested when I asked them to visit less often. Twice a week was more than enough. I told them that I needed to come to terms with what was happening to me. That was a half-truth at best. Truth be told, coming to terms with things has been the last rung on the priority ladder. I've seen four people die since I checked into the hospice. All of them panicked in their final moments and looked for people who weren't there for them - who may have no longer been alive. I'm determined to ensure my final moments won't be like that - that's why I'm getting all the panicking out of the way now.

Before you end up in a place like this, you're supposed to have lived a full life. My life's a collection of "supposed tos" and "should haves." At this point, normal people fill those in with an all purpose mash made of religion and terrified self-deception. Really strong prescription narcotics help, too. The stuff they've got me on isn't enough to make me lose my mind. Waves of guilt take over whenever my parents visit. I've failed them on numerous levels as a son - I didn't get married, I didn't have kids, and I didn't accomplish anything of real value in my life. Some would say that just having been born was enough, but anybody can do that - as a culture, we give babies far too much credit for every little thing, and this is something that's always gotten on my nerves. On top of everything else, asking my parents not to visit as often probably made them feel like they did something wrong, and it's going to haunt them when I'm gone. I'd honestly rather I had some way of blanking myself out of their memories entirely - to remove myself from the whole of human existence in time and have never existed to begin with. Nothing of value would be lost, and no one would be hurt.

I could have been a poet, but I'm terrible with words.

I could have been a biochemist, but I would have ended up poisoning myself.

I could have been a guitarist, but I didn't have the patience to build up calluses.

I could have been a sculptor, but even my ashtrays were misshapen.

I could have been a marketer, but I don't have that much hate in me.

I could have been a botanist, but I don't have that much love.

I could have been a lover, but I don't know how to make anybody happy.

On the upside, my last relationship was over three years ago, so that's one less potential mourner to worry about.

Death is an ugly thing. Every time I make that remark, a nurse tells me I'm being brave in the face of something petrifying. I disagree. What's brave about accepting something that's presented you no other choice? If anything, it's rational. Inhuman.

Lately, I've been thinking that life's even uglier than death. Death itself is merely cessation, after all. I watch the news and read the paper. Every day's a new outpouring of ugliness. Human beings are pretty rotten creatures, and I can't exclude myself from that statement. I made it through twenty-seven years on Earth and accomplished all of nothing. The summation of all my thoughts, feelings, loves, hates, fears, and passions will be ash in mere days. There's not even anything poetic about that. I spent my years trying to find something that I was right for, but I ran out the clock. Maybe I spent too much time getting distracted by watching the spread of misery across the country, across the globe. It's hard not to feel like we're all doing something wrong, and like existence in general was a big fat waste of time, but even now, I'm not quite ready to let go. That's probably befittingly normal. A one-note human being's one-note death in a one-note hospice in the middle of nowhere.

I should've been a greeting card writer.


*T-Abby* said...

I'm glad to see you're feeling better. It was an uphill battle for me lol but I'm feeling myself now. Your short, it made me laugh a little it also made me tear up and I curse you for that, stop making me feel feelings! It was so full. I posted my new york blog, its a short and sweet one, I'd love to know what you think. I would also love to talk to you about your writing more.

Benjamin Fennell said...

Yeah, I'm mostly there at this point. Eating's still a bit odd, but hopefully I'll be completely back to normal any day now. Persistent illnesses aren't too fun. Glad to hear you're doing better.

And I'm glad the story evoked a wide range of reactions. I'm never completely confident in my short works since I feel like I'm more in my element writing long-form novels but I aim to evoke as much as I can with everything I write, but as the writer it's pretty much impossible for me to gauge whether something I've written makes any impact at all or not without outside feedback, haha. :) Anyway, I'll check your New York blog post out. And I'm always up for writing talk. Hoping to go significant places with it in my life, as it's my great calling.