The Ghost of Anniversaries Past

I said I wasn’t going to spend any extra time thinking about this day, but I can’t seem to ignore it. I’m doing so well. I’m happy, and, while I’m not exactly eating healthily, I am mostly healthy. I’ve written five and almost finished with a sixth novel in the intervening year. I have a real, full-time job now that has promised me they’re not going to lay me off in the midst of the pandemic. I’m financially doing extremely well, and I’m making plans to take at least one vacation once the crisis has passed. The last year has been good to me.

It’s been fifteen years since April 30 has simply been the last day of the month. And what I’m feeling now is not nostalgia for the marriage. I do feel that sometimes, and it comes and goes like a song that gets stuck in your head. What I’m feeling is nostalgia for this day meaning something. It was a day when my wife and I would have a nice dinner together (usually steak because she’s a Nebraska girl), and I would compose a Facebook post that summed up where I was in the relationship. Sometimes she’d take the day off, but mostly she didn’t (she took all of the pagan holidays off, and I think she didn’t want to push it). I’d tease her about all the times she told people that our anniversary was April 31 (i.e. the last day of April). It was a low-key holiday, and I’m programmed to recognize it when it comes up.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it. My predictions last year that I would by now haven’t proven true. Maybe I’ll just defy what I’m supposed to do and recognize the day as a kind of trophy to the fact that I was married once, for a really long time, and I’m the man I am today because of it. That I can remember that part of my life without bitterness or longing, but as a part of me, as much a part of me as my six years in New York or my four years in college or my two years in Qatar or my ten years with an on-again-off-again drinking problem.

It’s who I was. It’s who I am.

Tea and Crumpets

From what I understand, I have a reputation for being intelligent. Some even consider me to be intellectual. I can’t think of anything about me that’s further from the truth.

I was a B student in high school, which is reasonably smart, but once I made it to college, I became a C student who barely graduated. I hardly did any of the reading and basically bullshat my way through all of my papers and exams.

I don’t read much, and when I do, it tends to be trashy urban fantasy. I don’t watch informative documentaries or complex movies on Netflix, but rather action and comic book movies—I’ve already shared my love of the Resident Evil franchise, and that’s a series where every movie is exponentially dumber than the last one. I don’t like intellectually challenging music like Tom Waits or Amanda Palmer, but rather the Wu-Tang Clan or catchy grunge. And while I am enamored with Sandman, most of my comic book collection leans toward the wham bam pow! (Also, I kind of hate Maus.) So, yeah, as far as pop culture is concerned, I lean heavily on the pop.

I’m always worried people get the wrong idea about my pursuits. When I did that kind of thing, I hated it when people called me an artist. An artist creates visual works that enrich the minds of people who gaze upon them. I just doodled pictures of cats and squirrels and characters in my short stories. And I’m a writer, but I’m not exploring the human condition through a mastery of the English language. My current novel is about a teenage girl in high school trying to outwit an invisible murder spirit.

I’m not writing this to fish for compliments or to feel sorry for myself. I’m just being honest. I’m not an extraordinary person, and I don’t need to be. I don’t have a responsibility to be more than I am. “What about bettering yourself?” you might ask. I answer, “What’s wrong with our society that we’re not allowed to accept ourselves for where we’re at?” Because I worked hard for years to get to the point where I’m this level of unexceptional, and I would like to enjoy it, thank you very much.

I’m only an okay writer. I’m a marginally decent cartoonist. I’m a poor example of an intellectual. And I’m not missing anything. I’m Jeremiah Murphy, and I like who I am.

The Cat Came Back

What many of you may not know about Henry the Cat, my roommate’s companion who shredded my arm yesterday, took full control of the couch last week, and rearranges the art on my wall when he thinks it’s time for breakfast, and basically rules this apartment with an iron paw, is that he used to be my cat.

One morning in the spring of 2014, I was living in Doha, Qatar, and, while making coffee, I heard someone crying. I ran to my front door, and there was a little black kitten, scared to death. I took him inside, gave him some food and a safe place to sleep, and he was a mellow kitty, and Kate and I decided we would quarantine him for a little bit and let him join the family. He was mellow because he was malnourished and underslept. Fed and rested, he turned out to be made of springs and destruction. Also, he was a really smart cat, and smart cats are the worst.

He was introduced to the house, and he got along pretty well with Newcastle, and Magik ignored him successfully, but Andrew was not okay with this. He started to lose weight and pee all over the house, and since Andrew had lived with Kate for fourteen years by that point, the new guy, who we had named Henry, had to go.

We took him to the vet to be fostered out, and they put him in a cage, and he screamed in the cage, nonstop, until they had to give him back to us. We tried fostering him at other houses in the neighborhood, but he was too much to handle. One place they locked him in the bathroom, and he just let himself out. We couldn’t take him back, but every other day someone would return him to us. He couldn’t live with us, not if Andrew was going to be okay. We had three options. We could let him back out on the streets of Doha, where life would be nasty, brutish, and short. We could put him to sleep, which hardly seemed fair. Or we could pay over two thousand dollars to ship him to the United States to live with some friends who fostered animals. It wasn’t even a choice.

When he arrived at our friends’ home, he proceeded to be the cataclysm he was for everybody else, but they were made of stronger stuff than the others in Doha. They really couldn’t wait to get rid of him, though. Enter Nicole, the cat whisper, who instantly bonded with him on a visit. She got a new apartment, specifically for him, and brought him home.

There has never been a better animal/human match in history. They are obsessed with each other. When Nicole has to spend the night elsewhere because she’s dogsitting, she FaceTimes with him. And when she was seeing a guy and brought him home overnight, he went into a fit of jealous rage. (Said the guy, “I think he likes me!” Said Henry, “I’m going to stab you in the face.”) We braced for the worst when Newcastle and I moved in, but the two little guys really love each other (they get jealous of Nicole’s affections, though), and Henry tolerates me.

And once again, he’s my problem. I say, “Remember me, Henry? I rescued you from the streets!” He replies, “Give me treats, or I’m going to smash your favorite coffee mug.” So I give him treats.

Soothing the Savage Beast

Music was once one of the things that mattered to me most in the world. I listened to it full blast, I interpreted it with the pretention of an English professor, I waited breathlessly for album releases that were going to change my life, man, I judged people based on what they listened to, I shared it with anybody who would listen, and, as I got older, I went to innumerable shows in crowded, stinky bars. I, without exaggeration, credit music with saving my life on more than one occasion when I was a teenager.

But now, I really couldn’t care all that much about it. The last new music I bought was two years ago, and it was an album that was fifteen years old at the time. What I predominantly listen to now is the same stuff I listened to when I was in my teens and twenties. I appreciate it, I adore it, but I don’t build as much around it as much as I used to. 

I was thinking of this as I was watching that Hulu show, High Fidelity. Some of the conversations they had made as much sense as me listening to someone talk about computer components or Magic the Gathering cards. It’s the way I’d talk about Doctor Who if people would let me. And I think it’s great. Not the judgment that characters were passing on other characters for what they listened to, but the intensity, the fire. 

I think I lost mine after countless hours in the car with Kate, who was always driving and got to pick the music, most of which I didn’t like. (She did have one song that started an avalanche that greatly expanded my collection, though, and a couple of one-hit wonders I stole from her.) I had to put my hostility away to survive the trips. She was never particularly interested in what I listened to, so I had no one to share my own discoveries with. 

And then there was the spirit-breaking I have gotten working retail. Holy crap, is that some bad music. 

Somewhere along the line, I lost the passion for it. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you have been nodding along, saying, “Yup, that’s what getting older does.” I never lost my passion for comic books or action movies (I have lost it for cartoons, though), so I wonder, why music? Why did that have to shrivel up? It’s not because I’m an adult because I am a terrible adult. 

I’ll never understand it, so I guess I’ll just listen to some more nineties-era grunge, go to work, and tend to my teenager (who has four legs and is covered in fur). 

Coronavirus Homesick Blues

I wasn’t taking this COVID-19 thing seriously for a long time. Conflicting reports kind of gathered together to make for an unconvincing disaster. Americans have a tendency to buy out all the toilet paper at the drop of a hat, and I had no reason to think that this was any different. I’m a (kind of) healthy person, and I have a really solid immune system. I don’t often get sick, and if I do, it’s for maybe a day.

And then something changed, and I’m not sure what. Maybe it was my day job going all telework. Maybe it was hearing about how much damage this disease was causing to the survivors. This isn’t just the flu (for which I vaccinate every fall).

But even then, what got me to start diligently washing my hands and stop going to coffee shops and stores (when I don’t have to go) was Nicole’s fear of it. We’re both gallows humor people, and we make constant jokes about dying from coronavirus, but in the jokes there is serious concern. So basically, I’m not worried about getting COVID-19, but I’m terrified of giving it to Nicole.

When this is all over, we’re going to take stock of what we did right and wrong, and I want to go to sleep knowing I did everything right. And when this is all over, it’s going to be tough to get used to wearing pants again.

The Best Days of our Lives

My current novel is a Young Adult novel. That means I have to get into the head of a social outcast in high school, and that’s fun, I guess.

Here’s the problem: thirty years later, the stakes aren’t as high. If I woke up in high school tomorrow with forty-four years behind me, and some pretty girls in the hallway started whispering to each other while keeping their eyes on me, I’d just say whatever and keep walking. I wouldn’t even be able to work up the energy to make a jerk-off motion with my hand.

But back when I only had fourteen years behind me, the ground would tremble, fissures would open in the floor, and skeletal hands would grab me and drag me into eternal suffering. My life would be OVER.

And let’s not underestimate the amount of influence the contamination of going through puberty affects the point of view.

So, yeah, I’ve got a great story to tell, but I don’t know if I’m going to be able to properly communicate the URGENCY of the experience.

Workin’ for the Man Every Night and Day

This morning, I accepted the position of Editorial Associate for Blood Journal at the American Society of Hematology, starting Monday, March 16. I’ve been looking in earnest for work since the end of January 2019, so this comes as a bit of a relief.

I’ve been temping at ASH for four months, but this wasn’t just a simple transition. I had to apply for this job and go through several rounds of interviews until I convinced them to bring me on. It probably didn’t hurt, though, that I am familiar with the publishing platform and have developed a good relationship with the Director of Editorial.

This changes everything. It means I can start thinking about things I haven’t thought of since 2018, like going to the dentist and eye doctor and taking vacations. It means that I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to do when my contract wears off. It means I no longer have to stockpile money to last between gigs. It means that, after all this time, I finally feel independent. It means I can finally exhale.

A Reunion but Sideways

And now, here’s a Hollywood comedy moment that actually happened to me. 

From about 1999 to 2000 Katie was my best friend. I don’t know if I was hers. She had come to New York to be an actor, which didn’t work out, much like my having moved to New York to be a writer. At the time, though, we dreamed big. I liked her because she was funny and weird and larger-than-life, and together we could enjoy the full effect of New York City while not having a penny between us. Life, for me, was simple back then.

We grew apart for various reasons, the least of which was the new romance I got wrapped up in. And because life, for her, was not simple, she left New York to return home. But she was, and still is, one of my favorite people in the world, and when she was going to return to the city for a visit during the Christmas season, I couldn’t have been more excited.

Katie wasn’t a punctual person, but I was, and I arrived at the Union Square Market and waited as the minutes clicked by. There she was, in a shop selling something quaint, and she hadn’t noticed me. I missed her so much, I was going to sneak up and give her the World’s Biggest Hug. And I did.

But it wasn’t Katie.

My victim would have been well within her rights to mace me, but she was quite gracious and good-humored about the whole thing. I turned to escape, only to run into Katie, who thought it was hilarious that I was a sputtering, blushing mess, even if she didn’t know why.

That wasn’t the last time I ever saw Katie, but it is kind of funny that my most vivid memory of her post-move was of someone else entirely.

Taking a Bow

I had a chilling thought that came unbidden in my head, and I can’t shake it. It’s telling me I should kill myself. I’m having a hard time shaking it because I don’t think it’s wrong. I’m not saying this because I’m depressed, but because of the logic of it. It breaks down to two reasons.

First, I won’t be missed much. The fact is, I’m not a priority in anyone’s life. I’m not feeling sorry for myself when I point this out. My relationships suffered under my marriage, and died when I moved to Qatar, and by the time I felt good enough get them back, everyone has moved on. They’ve got partners and children and friendships that didn’t disappear for five years, and no one has time for me. And that’s okay. It is what it is. I’m not upset about it. I’m doing fine.

And that brings me to my second reason. I’m fine. Everything is fine. I haven’t been this good in ten years. If I’m going to pull the plug, now’s the time to do it, before the other side of middle age and the depths our government and society are going to fall. I don’t have a lot to look forward to, but this moment is perfect. Logically, it makes sense.

I’m not going to commit suicide. It would kill my parents, and it would royally screw over my roommate, even if I slipped her all of the money in my bank account before I did it. Plus, she’d be the one who found me, and I don’t want to do that to anyone.

But there’s that voice in my head, telling me it’s a brilliant idea. Its logic, though, can’t get past the fact that I’m never going to do that.

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.