I. STATE OF THE ART
Attracted to the heat of inflammation, cats are said to intuitively sense disease. Mine keep sleeping on my appendix, or maybe it’s my ascending colon, or my right ovary. First Jackie, for several nights in a row, then Cali, as if offering a feline second opinion, blanketing my dull to sharp, poky pain between my navel and my hip bone, diagnosis combined with palliative care.
This year I outlived the lifespan of my mother. Everyone says my mother “died young,” but she never seemed young to me, her being 33 years older, as long as she was alive, and she having referred to herself as old, from my teens on. Her own mother died at 34, and her father, at 37 also died earlier that same year. “My family are short livers,” she used to say. “Your dad’s family is long livers.” I imagined chicken livers, hers compact, Dad’s stringier. Her mother’s mother also died that year at the same age my mother was when she died.
Between my last two birthdays came “significant disruption,” a global pandemic, because it’s all about me, yo? As if the problems of the whole planet were a fractal of my own, and what I thought was all about me has turned out to apply to everyone and what I thought was outside applies most personally to me.
Death is the ultimate “significant disruption.” Trumps everything else.
I make lists of things my mom missed for good or ill, in her life on earth and wonder what will be on my lists, if there’s anyone left to make them.
My partner B knows a guy whose dying wife made him promise not to remarry after her death. He promised, and promptly broke his promise. The pictures of his grieving teenage daughters at the wedding could be confused for those at the funeral.
I told B he could do whatever he wanted after I died.
Good life is like good love. It’s necessary to hoard and husband it, but only up to a point. It’s necessary to take it for granted, but only up to a point.
My friend’s twice-widowed mom worried about which husband with whom she would reside post-death. Laugh, but if you believe we are all reunited it’s quite the problem, like the herd of jealous rival pets that would greet some us, or the beloved grandma turned incorrigible afterlife groupie in that B.J Novak story.
B read a book that convinced him that immortality on earth would be achievable in about 25 years. He started exercising every day, watching his diet and monitoring his sleep, training to make it. I grilled him between spoonsful of Hudsonville Super Scoop Ice Cream. “Just because we can defer death indefinitely does not mean that we won’t die. There will still be catastrophic illness, accidents, murder, and, most likely, a lot of suicides. Are you saying you’ll live out the rest of your eternal-(ish) life as an 85 year old? Or will you,--God help you--continue to age? What about overpopulation? We’ll all be murdering each other over scarce resources. How will we fund forever lives? Isn’t quality more important than quantity? Good thing we’ll live a long time, because this will take a long time to get sorted. Have you thought through all the moral implications?” (He’s philosophy professional so, literally, a professional philosopher!)
He says he “just wants the opportunity to try it.”
At a party twenty-some years ago the oldest man there said he no longer bought green bananas, prompting nervous chuckles. He lived another decade and a half, so here’s hoping the carpe diem worked out well for him. Saying good-night, his wife, much younger than he, but still much older than me, at the time, mistook my then-fashionable chunky sneaker for a medical device and said “Sorry about your foot! Hope it heals soon.”
I used to work at a hospital. We had a patient focus group where the participants gushed about not having stuff stolen out of lockers during their colonoscopies or biopsies or radiation therapy. Obviously they were just ecstatic to have whatever they had over and done. One guy just outside of the range of the video camera kept saying, “They kept me on the right side of the grass!”
But what if life on earth is a reality TV network for the entertainment of the dead?
Which grass is greener?
Julie Benesh's writing has been published in Tin House Magazine, Bestial Noise: A Tin House Fiction Reader, Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Gulf Stream, Berkeley Fiction Review, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Bridge, and other places. She earned an MFA in fiction from Warren Wilson College, lives in Chicago and is a professor and program director at a school of professional psychology.