This Didn’t Have To Happen

Someone I know just died from COVID. We weren’t close friends—she was someone I knew from when I was wrangling editors at Author Solutions twelve-to-fifteen years ago. But she was one of my top editors. She was efficient, accurate, as well as friendly, funny, kind, and a little flirty. We’ve been Facebook friends since I left, and when I tried, unsuccessfully, to reignite my freelance editing career a year and a half ago, she was there to walk me through it to the best of her ability, even though we really hadn’t talked in an incredibly long time.

I don’t know the details, like, at all, but I know she came to the United States to visit someone, a friend or family, and she got sick and died. She was at risk, so it didn’t take long.

I’ve been taking this outbreak pretty seriously for the past six months (the first month, no so much), and I’ve been horrified watching the infection rate and the death toll rise while our populace walks around like nothing is happening. I haven’t been personally affected by it while some of my Facebook friends have been infected and recovered—as much as it’s possible to recover from this disease. But I’ve not seen anyone I know die, especially not someone I really liked.

I’m not trying to make this about me. It’s about her family—both genetic and adopted, who will most certainly miss her because she was one of the most sparkling editors I’d ever met (and editors aren’t people you’d really describe as “sparkling”).

But I feel this bubbling inside, and I apologize because I try my hardest to avoid using language like this in my feed, but fuck you, coronavirus for everything you’ve done to us this year. Fuck you Donald Trump, along with everyone else who doesn’t take this seriously/thinks it’s a conspiracy. If you’re one of those people, please unfriend me. Don’t say goodbye, don’t drop in and tell me why I’m wrong about COVID-19, just go. My country is a plague state that killed this incredible woman, and it’s all your fault.

And good bye, Karen. I know we weren’t close, and we weren’t really a part of each other’s lives, but now that you’re gone, I really miss you.

Sweet Smell of Success

As you know, I’ve had my self-publication of my baker’s dozen of books on my mind. I’ve contacted three artists about covers, received two amazing ones back, and am looking into getting a real webpage. I’m not expecting to make any money on my books, and everything I’m sinking into covers is a luxury, not an investment. I don’t want to do what I’d have to do to to really sell myself, i.e. become an active presence on Twitter (Ugh) and shaking hands. I want to write. That’s all I want to do.

I’m a member of this FB group that makes me feel awful about myself. The focus of the group is how to make a living being a writer, and they insist on putting way more work that I’m ready into marketing and such, and if your book doesn’t sell a lot, then you’re a failure. Today someone made a post where he listed his mistakes when he started out writing, and the #1 and the most important was that he wrote for himself, not to market.

That really got to me. Because, in my mind, what’s the point in writing if you’re not writing for yourself? Nicole suggested I write to market, and the amount of not-being-able-to-motivate-myself-into-doing-that cannot be overstated. How do I measure my success, by having a webpage of thirteen (and counting) books with sweet covers that nobody will go to? Or by canvassing Twitter so I can retweet a bunch of authors whose books I may not have read and writing books so they’re exactly like every book out there? I’ve obviously found the FB group for the latter, but is there one for the former?

He Who Hesitates

I’m ordering a book cover, with more to come next month (Newcastle is going to the cardiologist this month, so my funds are limited in October). I’ve looked into some easy ways to do some marketing that won’t break my bank or my sanity. I am at peace with the fact that I won’t sell that many copies (I’m doing this for myself, not because I want to get rich). I will probably be good to go in January.

So the question left is, will I actually start in January? Will I be able to stare into the yawning chasm of Amazon and just throw myself in there? Or will I simply hold my breath and promise myself I’ll do it when I’m ready? Will imposing failure hobble me (I said I was at peace with not selling many copies, but I’m not going to like it)?

I’m running out of excuses.

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.