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. 

The State I’m In

I’m going to be completely honest with you right now: I’m fucking miserable. I don’t want to be. I think Qatar is awesome, and my cats are the best ever, and I love my wife. 

But I’m beyond lonely, and she’s not helping. 

In general, I’m in an awkward time zone, so most people are in bed when I wake up, all the way until my early evening, when my wife comes home. This has meant that I have quietly dropped out of the routine of most of my friends. Every Wednesday evening, I went to a writer’s group and hung out with some great people who hardly seem to miss me anymore. My roomie, who was my best friend, is too busy with her new career and, you know, sleeping to be around for me. 

The compound where I live is populated mostly by entitled parents and international yuppies, and so it’s been difficult to make friends here. And it’s five kilometers to the nearest store, through roundabouts full of traffic that’s not afraid to drive onto sidewalks (not an exaggeration), and another ten kilometers to anyplace that might be fun to explore. 

And then there’s the madness of My Evil Sister’s Wedding from Hell and her little dog too, which have utterly consumed my thoughts. My father took a big step to include me in everything, but once that fell through, there’s been nothing—not a picture, not a Facebook message, nothing. Same thing with the dog—once I stopped asking, nobody told me anything. My Evil Sister lives in the same town as my parents, and it seems like, in regard to this feud, they’ve decided that life is more convenient without me. 

When it comes down to it, the only person other than myself I see most days my wife. 

She is not doing well either. Her job is twice as difficult as it should be, because her predecessor made a huge mess out of it, and there’s a lot of mess and mistrust left to clean up. She comes home from work in the foulest of moods—impatient and indecisive and exhausted, and sometimes just plain fuming. Her response to the stress of it all (and I can’t blame her for it) is to withdraw into herself and her iPad games. I don’t even know if she likes being around me anymore. When I’ve tried to discuss how her bad moods affect me, she either defensively tells me how tired she is, or she tells me about all the times she hasnt been rude or short with me. 

Lately, I’ve been aggressively writing query letters to literary agents. On Thursday afternoon (shortly before opening of business on the East Coast), I sent out the first batch. Early Thursday evening, I received the first rejection. I shouldn’t feel embarrassed, but I do. I mean, I spent at least an hour on each one, researching their books and their likes to tailor-make a pitch for them, but they don’t want to waste their time on it. It’s not their thing. Is it anybodys thing? It makes me wonder if it’s any good; I mean, after all, I can hardly get people online to read what I post, and these are my friends (there are many legitimate reasons for this; I’m just describing what the mean voice in the back of my head is telling me). 

I need my wife right now, so, so badly. And she’s not there. In fact, she’s the opposite of that. 

So I keep it to myself. Because my loneliness and rejection feel petty compared to her job. Her criticisms of the way I went about dealing with the dog situation (or the way my family or Gallup Animal Control handled it—all her anger directed at them by proxy through me, of course) make me want never to discuss the issue again, even if it still has me worried. In fact, she’s just too flat-out exhausted to deal with my depressive episodes, which have been exacerbated by the isolation and culture shock. And worst of all, she’s incapable if just listening without offering advice. Because that’s all I need right now. 

I’m really suffering, and I don’t know what to do … 

It’s Funny How We Never Look Up

I first met him that August. He sat in a park at One Liberty Plaza, New York, New York, tucked in a corner, glancing into his briefcase. He lived in harmony with the workers and tourists meandering through the area; he paid them no mind, nor they him. 

At that time, autumn was creeping up on me like it always did, promising cooler air and brighter colors. Autumn was always good to me. I met my girlfriend at the time in the autumn. And years before, I’d met the woman I would eventually marry, also in the autumn. 

This fall was especially welcome, especially after a summer of unemployment and unhappiness. I’d finally been granted temporary work throughout the file vaults of various banks in the financial district. I spent my lunch breaks in the park at One Liberty Plaza, smoking cigarettes and trying to draw; the latter was particularly galling, inasmuch as I seemed to have forgotten how.  

One day I glanced around the park, looking for inspiration that wasn’t in this anatomy book that seemed to be the source of my frustration, and there he was, sitting on a marble step in the shade. I wondered who he was. I wondered what he was thinking. Was he relaxing, or was he about to stand up? And what was in his briefcase? Was it his lunch? 

As the days of tedious filing stretched into weeks, I crept ever-so-closer and peeked over his shoulder—subtly, so as not to offend him. I remember seeing an adding machine, and a few other items. But for the life of me, I don’t recall what these other items were, only that they were archaic. 

The last time I saw him, I stood up from the bench, tossed my sketchbook (weakened from the stress of erasers and my dissatisfaction) into my satchel, and dropped a quarter into a payphone. My girlfriend’s thirtieth birthday was that Thursday, and I was trying to arrange something fun; she hadn’t been my biggest fan over the past several months, and I needed to do something to fix that. 

The last time I saw him was on a Monday, because on Tuesday, this happened: 

I’d originally wanted to write an essay about how much this country has changed in the past ten years—about how we’ve lost our way; about the silly phrases I used to love (i.e. “Bring ’em on” and “Dodged a bullet”) but no longer feel comfortable employing, as they have been soiled by those who have no concept of the value of a human life; about the collective, parasitic rage from that day that has turned us against cultures we don’t understand, against our own freedom, against our government, and against ourselves; about lost hope; about fear … 

And then I began running across never-before-seen photos from that day, begging the question: has somebody been sitting on them for ten years so they could release them for a big anniversary? And TV specials and stories and interviews on NPR and essays about what we’ve been up to over the past ten years … and stories from celebrities about what they were doing that morning. And I know that by noon on Sunday, we will have moved on to whatever it is we’re going to be saturating the media with this next cycle. It’s like the anti-Christmas. 

So I wasn’t going to participate. Regardless of everything I went through that day, I wasn’t going to participate. And then I remembered him. 

He’s since been moved around to museums and other parks. Now he’s been returned to where he once was, but in a prominent spot. I could go see him again, but it wouldn’t be the same. Nothing has been the same.  

I prefer to remember him from that late summer, when he and I were both alone, and we liked it that way. 

Somebody I Know Died on Thursday

I wasn’t close enough to call him a friend. I wasn’t distant enough to call him an acquaintance. I don’t know what I should call him. I have always wanted to know him better, but our lives didn’t sync up enough, as sometimes happens. He has existed almost exclusively through Facebook posts and my friends. I can tell you this for sure: I liked him a lot. 

Back in the nineties, we served time together as copy kids at The New York Post. A copy kid is, if you don’t know, is an intern. Actually it’s a step below an intern. And, like it says on the label, you make and deliver copies. Sometimes you went out for coffee. Sometimes you delivered fresh copies of the paper to editors and departments around the office. On very rare occasions, you are sent out to cover a story—usually ones that there are no reporters available to do, or the boring hot potatoes that reporters would like to avoid. There’s not a lot of dignity to being a copy kid, but it was kind of an honor. 

The men and women I worked with at the desk were an interesting bunch. Some were changing careers—not for the money, but to be journalists. For all its bluster and front-page comedy and right-wing agenda, The New York Post was and still is to an extent a very old-fashioned paper, and there was something to be said about running out in the night with a Bic pen and one of those small notebooks with logo stamped on it. 

I think he’d intended to start out as a reporter, but it wasn’t really his thing. Instead he became a copy editor. Just like me. Also like me, he was making things up as he went along, and that meant a lot of mistakes and frustration. We were both simultaneously kind and weary and devastatingly clever. We sometimes had a beard and sometimes didn’t. 

Once I asked him why he was there, and he told me that he’d worked for years as a doorman at a fancy apartment building. The job was incredibly easy, and the money was good. “I went and spent it all on drinks and cab rides. I don’t have anything to show for it.” Well over a decade later he is married with children. 

At the age of forty-three, while his family was out of town on vacation, he suffered a sudden, unexpected stroke, possibly a seizure. It’s not entirely clear what happened, but it appears that he fell while walking, sustaining physical injuries. Police were called, and he was taken to the hospital. For weeks, things were hopeful. He recoiled slightly from physical discomfort. He opened his eyes. He responded to humor. He began to squeeze his wife’s hand. He moved his foot. Soon after that, he raised his hand. And then he took a turn for the worse. On Thursday, his breathing tube was disconnected, and he died. His touching obituary ran in The Post—even in The Wall Street Journal

I don’t know if he had a DNR. All I know is that, at some point, his wife had to be told that somebody was going to be responsible for performing an action that was going to be responsible for his death. Never mind the seizure or stroke—his heart and a lot of his organs were still working. By now they’ve cut him open and removed parts of him and put them into the bodies of others. 

How do you cope with that? How would my wife cope with that? How would I cope with that? 

I’m reminded of the days and nights I sat in an uncomfortable chair after my wife broke her ankle, only to have it reconstructed. Her pain was something I couldn’t comprehend, and throughout the hours of the morning, she held my hand, crushing it. She asked me to tell her a story. She asked me to read for her the comics I had with me for when she slept. She asked me for more meds. I’ve had a loaded gun held to my head; I survived the attacks on the World Trade Center by virtue of showing up to work a little early; last month I almost drowned; I’ve ridden the Cyclone at Coney Island; I can’t remembering being as scared as I was then. And she was fine. It was only her ankle. But she was so helpless. 

I’m reminded of the night my aunt died of lung cancer, only a few hours after I had seen her last. I’d been asked by my uncle or one of my cousins—I don’t remember who—to sit with her alone for a few minutes while they took a break. I didn’t want to. My lively, hilarious, child-like aunt was in so much pain I don’t think she knew who she was. I wish I could say that this pale, shriveled-up person in bed didn’t look a thing like her, but I’d be lying. I don’t know what she saw when she stared into the distances. Sometimes, when I’m not careful, I remember the breaths she took in—about two or three times a second, for days. The effort it took was loud and gasping. They told me I needed to hold her hand and talk to her. Her fingers were cold, and I couldn’t think of a thing to say, and so I sang the first song that came to my head: “Yellow Submarine,” by the Beatles.  

What did he look like on the hospital bed, bandaged from surgery, IVs in his arms, a tube in his throat, his eyes sometimes closed, sometimes open and glassy? I can’t get the question out of my head. I’m drowning in work—both editing and art; I’m going to New York to see one of the people dearest to me and to re-explore the city I consider a lover; immediately after that, I have a visitor I’ve never met in person, but I am really dying to. I can’t close my eyes without seeing him, or my aunt, or my wife. 

I wasn’t close enough to call him a friend. I wasn’t distant enough to call him an acquaintance. I don’t know what I should call him. I have always wanted to know him better, but our lives didn’t sync up enough, as sometimes happens. He has existed almost exclusively through Facebook posts and my friends. I can tell you this for sure: I liked him a lot. 

Oh, Bleh …

I had one of those mornings when I wake up and feel like I don’t have anything to show for my life. None of the stuff in the apartment feels like mine, my job feels fake, and writing takes me nowhere. 

Usually when I feel this way, I remind myself how much flat-out fun I’ve had (ignoring, of course, the crippling depression) and how awesome it is to be married, but that doesn’t seem to be doing the trick today. What makes it really weird is that now, since I am properly medicated, I should be able to shake this easily—more easily, in fact, than before. But not today … 

What I need is to do something useful, and then I’ll feel better.  But first … my day awaits. 

Bleh.