Elderly Woman Behind the Counter

I’m thinking of a guy I used to know in New York, for most of the time I was there, and he’s one of the few people from my past that I don’t know what he’s doing. I’m Facebook friends with most of my old friends and exes (and friends with the friends of the exes in the cases where they don’t want to have anything to do with me), and while most of the people on Facebook are hardly on Facebook, I know they’re there, and I have at least a tangential connection to them.

But not him. I’m not even friends with his friends so I can’t get in touch with him secondhand. The aol email address I had for him is defunct. He’s completely gone.

He stopped talking to me the day Kate and I decided to get married. When we made the decision, I called my parents, and then I started to call friends. He was second on my list. In the five minutes it took me to hang up the phone after I called the first person, do something quick, like go to the bathroom or get a glass of water, and then call him, the first person had told their friend who told him. When he picked up the phone, he was furious that he found out about through a rumor. I can understand why he got upset, even though I didn’t do anything wrong, and I wouldn’t do anything different, even though calling him second resulted in me losing my friendship with him forever.

He considered us best friends, though, when I think about the six years I spent there, he’s rarely in my thoughts. I remember clearly my girlfriends, I remember clearly the women I wanted to be girlfriends, I remember clearly my drinking buddies and the guy whose apartment I would hang out in every Friday, getting stoned for several months before we went our separate ways. But I barely remember him.

And that’s weird because we hung out nearly every single weekend since the day I met him at a party in August of 2000. I enjoyed his company, even if his verbal filter was faulty and he was a little problematic (he identified perhaps too strongly with Rob from High Fidelity—the book and the movie). He was a songwriter who didn’t write songs, but my persistence in writing inspired him to get out his guitar and invite me to his apartment so he could show off. I recall, as vividly as I remember anything, one day, as we were walking underneath the Brooklyn Bridge on the Brooklyn side, seeing a pair of really old men sitting together on a park bench like an old couple and thinking that was where he and I were going to be in fifty years. We didn’t last five.

Every other person in my life has become the bones behind a character I’ve written (that’ll encourage my friends to read my writing, to see if they recognize themselves). And then there’s him. All that time and experience together, and all that time and experience apart, and I don’t miss him. What does that say about him? What does that say about me?

But now that I’m thinking of him, I want him to be happy. In fact, the only thing standing in the way of his happiness at the time was him, and I hope he finally defeated himself. I hope he grew up to be as cool as he’s always wanted to be.

Three Hundred Sixty-Five

I’ve tried putting it out of my head. I’ve grown a lot since then. I’ve lived a pretty exciting life in the past year. I’ve reconnected with of people, I’ve had a lot of laughs, I’ve been really honest with myself and others. I’ve had a number of milestones on my journey to reflect, and I don’t need another one. But this date is there, it’s seared into my mind, it’s forever a part of me. 

It was a little after 4:00 in the afternoon a year ago today that Kate told me she was divorcing me, and that I had two days to move out, and then walked out of the room with no explanation, never to be seen again. About an hour and a half after that, I had to sit with my General Manager at the break room at work and try to explain what happened when I still wasn’t sure what happened. She was the first person I told. A year ago Monday, I pet two cats I’d snuggled with for fourteen years for the last time, ever. That morning, I left my home and my life, and no one would tell me why. 

I have a new home now. I have a new life. I’m happy. But this day …  

After everything, I didn’t expect it to still hurt. 

Memories Fade, Part 2

I hate this day. I hate it so much. In August, I usually start dreading it and wondering how I’m going to feel this year. It’s been eighteen years. 9/11 is old enough to vote. It doesn’t haunt me most of the time, it doesn’t drive me to drink. I hardly think of it anymore. But I’ll never forget. And still that date rolls around. 

It’s just a normal day anymore, with the exception of Twitter and Facebook remembrances (like this one), but I want the world to stop. I don’t want to go to work. I don’t want anybody to go to work. I don’t want people to have Meet-ups or dates or parties. I don’t even know what I want people to do instead, I just don’t want them pretending that nothing happened today. 

Maybe it’s because I was there. I took the train to the World Trade Center stop only a half-hour earlier. I heard the plane crash into Tower 2 and carried on stuffing envelopes like nothing happened. I evacuated my building and looked up at the double-landmark I knew and trusted as my compass in New York City on fire. I was almost hit by a smoldering cell phone case that someone was likely wearing on their belt when they died. I thought the world was coming to an end. 

But it didn’t. And here we are. We got revenge on the people who caused it (as well as a whole lot of people who had nothing to do with it). Presidencies were won and lost. The Right went back to hating New York for being a bastion of moral depravity. The city rebuilt. And September 11 is just a normal day anymore.  

This anniversary makes me feel so lonely. It doesn’t seem like anyone else feels as intensely as I do about today, not after almost twenty years. And how would anyone know how I felt? I’m pretty good at hiding it. Most of the people I’ve met over the past ten years have no idea what I went through that day. I don’t have anybody to talk to about it, and even if I did, I don’t know what I’d say. I can’t even write a coherent blog post after counting down to today working on it.  

It’s been a long time. Never Forget. 

Memories Fade, Part 1

I don’t want to be the guy who dwells on bad news and trauma, but this is something I’ll never forget. Part of it is because I literally watched it happen, and eighteen years isn’t enough to erase those images and those smells from my memory. I don’t think of it often as time has gone on, but on this date, I always do, and I feel really lonely anymore.  

Nobody checks to see how I’m doing whenever this day comes around, a day I start feeling the dread for around late August. (Although, to be fair, hardly anybody I’ve met over the past ten years knows about my experiences with it.) (Also, I’m willing to bet that the people who are aware of it don’t know what to say or assume that I don’t want to talk about it.) I’d be happy to talk about it, but that’s not the kind of thing you can just bring up, especially given how complicated the emotions are attached to it.  

And suddenly it arrives, and it’s nothing. There’s not a lot about it on social media anymore, and on the news, it’s mentioned pretty casually, before moving onto the next dumb-ass tweet from our president. But this was the defining event of twenty-first-century America. This mess we’re in right now directly ties back to what was planned in that cave almost twenty years ago. (September 11 led to the Iraq War, which was responsible for the election of Barack Obama, which was responsible for the election of Donald Trump and everything that has come with him. That’s just simplifying it.) Three thousand people died that day. Three hundred police and firefighter ran into the buildings I was running from, and they paid the price for their bravery. How do you forget that? 

I’m sorry. I just hate this day with a passion, and it’s just weird to me that it’s no big deal anymore. 

Coda

I’ve written a lot about what happened with Kate over the past six months, and I’m sure you all are tired of it, but here is the final milestone: Today is the day when we go from separated to divorced. The marriage, while having ended in December, is over in the eyes of the law.  

After all this time, it feels like another day to me, so I’m going to continue to search for a full-time job while reporting into my part-time one and try to get back to writing. When the papers come in the mail, I will sign them, and my life will continue on the trajectory it’s been going for the past six months. 

This divorce isn’t 100 percent behind me, though, and considering what I had to go through to get to where I am, it really shouldn’t be. But it’s mostly behind me, and as long as I don’t wallow in it, I’m entitled to mourn, even after all this time. 

To mark the occasion, I changed my relationship status on Facebook. I had the option of “Divorced,” but I chose “Single,”* because I will not be defined by a marriage that was ended without my permission or even knowledge. I’m not the ex-Mr. Kate Schroeder, I’m Jeremiah Murphy, and I like being me. 

* Facebook is extraordinarily helpful when you change your status to single. It offers to block the other person or hide how they can see your current or past posts. It just wants you to feel comfortable. 

Uncle Larry

I’m terrible about keeping in touch with people. If you’re not on Facebook, and, hell, even if you are on Facebook, you’re not going to hear much from me. I say this because it’s been years and years since I’ve talked to my uncle Larry, and now he’s gone.  

For about a half-decade he was the most important man in my life. I was living alone in New York, and the holidays struck violently as they always struck, but Uncle Larry always threw a holiday party for his extended family the weekend before Christmas, and I was always invited. Even when it wasn’t Christmas, I visited him and his mother and father, living together in a tiny house in Linden, New Jersey, quite frequently, and, even though he had a plethora of kids of his own, he treated me like a son. This had been going on a while. When I was just learning language far too long ago, he and his wife, my late aunt Christine, would call me “Jeremiah James Murphy Dukes,” to which I’d reply, emphatically, “No Dukes! No Dukes!” This continued well into my adulthood. 

Larry Dukes was a kind, generous man who believed in the power of family, and he didn’t define family as rigorously as some might. He let people in constantly, even when those around him were skeptical. I’d tell you some of these amazing stories and how much brighter everybody’s life was because of his openness, but they’re not my stories to tell. 

I’m trying to think of more examples of what an incredible man my uncle was, but all I’m doing is choking up. Most of what I remember about him can be distilled into feelings—feelings of safety and joy and warmth, a feeling like I belonged (something especially precious when you’re living in a city that wants you to feel alone). I can’t describe how happy I was spending time in his house on Ainsworth Street. 

He’s had a lot of hardship in his life, which he endured alone because he never wanted to be a burden on others, like the idiot he was. But now I like to think that he’s finally resting. If Uncle Larry is reading Facebook in heaven (he never did on Earth, though, so why should that change?), I hope can see how much I love him. 

Post Script: A memory of Uncle Larry that sticks with me occurred at his father’s funeral. We were following the casket out of the church, and I found myself walking alongside him. I wanted to tell him how sorry I was—John Beck was also an incredible man—both for his loss and for all the loss he’d suffered in recent years. I wanted to tell him that I loved him, and I supported him, and I would do anything he needed. I wanted to tell him just how important he was to me. But there were no words that this writer could think of that would efficiently communicate that, and besides, this was a quiet time. So I put my hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eye. He nodded. We’d said everything that needed to be said. I’ve been touched by that head nod for almost two decades. 

In Memoriam

For the past four months, I’ve been wondering what I was going to do on April 30. It would have been my fourteenth wedding anniversary. I’m not being maudlin, I’m not obsessing, I don’t want Kate back—I’m very happy with the way things are going for me right now. But fourteen years is literally one-third of my life, and I can’t pretend it never happened.  

We made it work for about thirteen years, and then she quit. I understand why she wanted to split up, even if I may never forgive her for how she went about it. Being divorced at this juncture is one of the best things to happen to me, but there was a period of time where she was the best thing to happen to me.  

With her I’ve lived in all sorts of interesting places. I’ve seen the world, in South America, Europe, and the Middle East. I’ve become a career editor. I quit smoking and drinking. I got into and out of shape. When I was with her, I felt like I reached my potential, and that’s got to count for something. And now that I’ve reached my potential, I’m out on my own, in a dynamic city with a really amazing roommate, and that’s exciting. 

In a month and a half, I’ll be signing the papers that mark this phase of my life completely over. Am I over it? I’m not. I’ll think of something I want to share with her, and I can’t. Or I’ll think about one of the ways she’s treated me during the split or deceived me during our last months together, and I’ll get a cold pit in my stomach. Fourteen years is a long time, and as much as I want to forget it, I never will.  

I’m going to celebrate my fourteenth anniversary, but not the fifteenth. And in a few years, April 30 will be simply be the day before one of my dearest friends’ birthday. 

Pet Dad Dilemma

This past summer, Kate and I took Andrew to the vet, fully expecting to be coming home with an empty carrier. He wasn’t eating or grooming or doing anything other than curling up in the cave underneath the scratching post. He’s eighteen years old, and he has either pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer—this was inevitable. But rather than do something final, the vet prescribed a new painkiller and appetite stimulant sent us home to give him one more chance to pull through. Some time to say goodbye. It only took a day for him to return to his old self.  

Six months later, he’s doing great, but he is definitely old. During his last appointment, the vet told us that we didn’t need to bring him in ever again, that the next time he sees a doctor will be the last time. Which begs the question, how will I know it’s time? I’ve asked this question of a lot of people, and the consistent answer is, he’ll tell me. But will I listen? 

Here’s the problem: he’s pretty achy. You can tell by how slow he moves and the position of his tail. My attempts to increase his painkiller dose any farther than it already is have turned him into a sleep zombie, so I’ve scaled it back. But, even though he seems to be feeling some pain, he’s pretty active. He helps me cook, and he follows me from room to room. He’s cuddly, he’s playful, he’s grooming himself nicely, and he’s so hungry. When I look at him, I don’t see a cat who’s ready to retire. Am I just seeing what I want to see? Has he been signaling that it’s time to go, and I’ve been missing it because I desperately don’t want him to go? I mean, he’s literally been with me a third of my life, and I can’t imagine living in this little condo without him.  

I do understand that Andrew has lived a long life full of love, comfort, and adventure. It’s not him who will be missing out when he retires. I know that. 

So which is it? Is he hanging around because he wants to? Because he wants to sniff a few more things, sleep on a few more laps before it’s time? Or am I being selfish and not letting him go? I don’t know, and I don’t know how I’ll ever know. What I do know is that he’s my friend, and I want what’s best for him, and I hope to figure out what that is soon. 

A Frightening Thing Happened

I’ve talked about my mental health before. 

But it’s been a while. 

I haven’t really used my journal lately, so it hasn’t come up that the age of thirty-eight has been Mental Health Awareness year for me. I’ve been reading and studying the topic and all of its treatments, mostly because late summer of 2014 was one of the darkest periods of my life.  

I’m going to go more into this later, but the short version is that I went into a deep depression that took months to shake. It left me suicidal for the first time in about five years. This was different, though. Back in 2009, I was ambivalent about living and dying—an emotional state sometimes called “passively suicidal.” Last summer, though, I was ready to actually do the work. I didn’t, because reasons. 

But it passed, and I haven’t thought about killing myself since … until three days ago. It came out of nowhere, and it’s really rattled my shit. 

I’m not depressed. To be honest, I’m feeling a little ennui, which is really not that bad. But one afternoon, while cleaning the dishes, I considered my future, and at the time, it looked pretty bleak. I thought about my miniscule contributions to society. I thought about all the crap I’ve accumulated through my life, whether they be toys or notebooks full of drawings and writings I can’t get published—or even acknowledged by my family or Facebook friends. I thought about retirement and all the work that was going to take. The logical solution, my brain said for a split second, would be to die, and to do it soon. Just get it over with. Let someone else sort it out.  

And then it was gone. I was startled and upset, but I noted my overall okay mood, and I put it behind me as a weird little fluke. 

Until it happened again yesterday. Again, only for a moment. So now I’m worried. I should probably talk to my doctor about this … 

I Have No Cutsey Puns for This One

I have two sisters, one good, one Evil. Like, stupid Evil. Good Sister is the youngest in our family, and the one I was always closest to. She loves animals, and Terry Pratchett books, and gory movies; she’s a lot like me. On Sunday, she sent me the following message: 

I have decided that if [Cat #2] is bad sick I will get [Cat #1] a home and be done. I have had a week of non responses to show its cool. You and [Evil Sister] can comfort mom and dad. 

Some context: 1) In February of 2012, she had to put her cat of many years to sleep. She found a new cat, and had to put her to sleep a earlier this year. She got another cat who ran away, followed by a fourth, [Cat #2], has an infection in her uterus. [Cat #1] is her favorite thing in the world right now; 2) This past Thanksgiving, she drank a six pack of beer, swallowed a half bottle of sleeping pills, and called her Best Friend to travel from Pennsylvania to California to find a home for her pets. My sister chose Best Friend because she was far enough away that she couldn’t go over there in person to rescue her. Best Friend made a bunch of calls, which got my sister to a hospital, in which she told the doctors it was an accident, and she was sent home. 

I found out later, from Best Friend, that these kinds of phone calls were not uncommon—this is just the first one that got to that point. Over the past six months, her situation has been precarious. She refuses to speak to our parents, who have been using me as a proxy (mostly because I am also bipolar). She won’t actually speak to me, either, limiting our conversations to Facebook IMing (with one exception, and I’ll get back to that later). Having been in her situation—i.e. not wanting to live anymore, but continuing on because someone else does— I got it, and so I never tried to give her “The sun will come out tomorrow” platitudes that had driven her from her other friends. I was someone with whom she could share her ugly thoughts, such as her resentment of myself and the rest of our family for making her alive. In fact, this, from a recent Hyperbole and a Half essay, has become one of her favorite quotations: 

… I noticed myself wishing that nothing loved me so I wouldnt feel obligated to keep existing. 

And so, on Sunday, just as my spouse and I were trying to recover from a dreadfully boring vampire movie, I received that message. Over the course of an hour or so, I prodded her with questions to find out whether she was seriously going to make another attempt, or if she was just frustrated. And then she said this: 

Could you make sure [Cat #1] gets a good home? 

And her messages stopped for a little while. I reached out to Best Friend, who didn’t get back to me; I called the crisis hotline, who were not very helpful (when it comes to loved ones, they aren’t prepared to handle “experts” in the field like myself). 

And then, suddenly, it was over. My sister seemed to snap out of it. As can happen. She called the suicide hotline herself and spoke to one of the few local friends she had left. Best Friend got back to me and explained that a) she had been incommunicado for a few days, leading my sister to assume their relationship had ended; b) but she finally answered her texts and talked her down; c) my sister went through this kind of thing at least a couple of times a month. 

And so it turns out that nothing I did matters. On her end, the hour and a half I panicked, and mourned, and cried helplessly on the phone to a stranger on a hotline, and hated myself for wanting her to go through with it so she wouldn’t have to be in pain anymore, and suffered survivor’s guilt for having good insurance and a stubborn spouse … all of that meant nothing, because all it took was one (kind of enabling) friend to take care of it. 

I’m fucking sick of this. 

I’m sick of spending the days after these with an emotional hangover, gently poking her on Facebook to see how she’s doing. I’m sick of hiding this from my parents, who are moving to Florida next week and don’t need this shit. I’m sick of being the last person on the list when she needs help. I’m sick of being jealous of the trust she’s passed onto others. 

I’ve made every effort to reach out and be her friend, and she leaves me out—I don’t care the reason. When I flew from DC to LA to hang out and see how she was doing, she spent most of the time drunk and uninterested in doing anything fun. She’s even formed an extremely tight, very public bond with Evil Sister, who has recently offered her a home if she wants to leave California and move in with family. I find this particularly insulting, perhaps childishly so. 

This detail brings me back to the one phone call I received, post-Thanksgiving, in the wee, not-quite-awake hours in the morning. My sister was on the phone with Evil Sister (because it’s okay to talk to her apparently), and Evil Sister stated unequivocally that my sister wasn’t serious about her suicide attempt, because if she was serious, she’d have been successful. Given that Evil Sister made two half-assed, attention-getting attempts on college (afterward, my parents had made me their proxy), she’s kind of an expert on that. She doesn’t believe that capital D depression, or even Bipolar 2, is real. Good Sister took this almost as a dare, and called me to talk her down. Despite this, and despite how horrible of a person she is, Evil Sister will get billed as a rescuer. 

I can’t detach myself from this, because she is a good person, and I love her. But don’t know how long I can keep doing this.