06 August 2012


Diarrhea (and related inconveniences) prevented me from attending to this blog as diligently as I'd like. It's at times like these—when I'm hunched over a toilet, expelling god-knows-what-matter of brothlike excretions, while a gastrointestinal fire scorches a quick path from my throat to my anus—that I realize how vulnerable I am to the least of infirmities. Lying in bed, shivering and watching television on mute, I extrapolated the caprice of mortality from this relatively insignificant illness—as I'm wont to do on such occasions. 

Twenty or so years ago, the whites of my grandmother's eyes took on a yellowish cast. So naturally, fearing the worst, they took her to the doctor right away. And if it wasn't in fact the worst of all things, it was near enough not to matter: She had pancreatic cancer, past all reasonable hope. Not that there is a great deal of hope to found with pancreatic cancer. But hers was too far gone, and she was worn out from too many other ailments to put up any kind of fight—or to even want to. It was less than half a year, I think, from her diagnosis until she slipped away one night in her own bed. That she died in her own bed still strikes me as odd—but odd in a good way, certainly. She left me a fifty dollar bill in an envelope, so that I'd never be broke. I still have it somewhere. And our family dog, an angry Australian shepherd named Ginger, walked up to where her bed used to be and looked up to where she might sit. It was remarked upon and interpreted as a sign. Of course I don't believe in gods or spirits really, but that dog—she knew what to do. She was as struck by the sudden absence as we all were.

Existential reverie isn't a new invention. I imagine that ever since the first time a human being noticed that anybody who lives must inevitably die, there've been a lot of questions to nag at us. Why me? Why this? Why now? The questions are all so big that they'll make you sick to your stomach if you let them, so you put them off until tomorrow.

Well, last weekend was tomorrow. I was thinking about how old I was. Forty. An impossible age. I remember sitting in Sister Innocencia's fifth grade class, thinking about growing up—but I never in my wildest dreams thought as far as forty. That's an age too far out to be relevant to a kid. It's like imagining what being dead is like—a total nothingness except for the consciousness that perceives it. There's nothing much in an adult's life to really grab onto—or else the things we dwell on—their jobs, their responsibilities—are their own kind of death: the death of the playground.

It's such an old and tired thing to say: that it all goes so fast. But it isn't any less true because of that. You hear it again and again, but it never really registers until you feel your childish innocence and hope stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the reality you've created over these short forty years. What an ugly juxtaposition. You wish the adult you've become would never meet the child. (He'll only spoil it.)

The worst thing of all is to imagine that—when you are near to death—you will hold hands with that stupid kid and take him with you forever. There'll not be a trace left behind. Photographs, sure, but a child isn't really in how he looks—he's made out of his immortality—which is a lie, of course. But lies are true as anything when you really, really believe in them.

And this is what happens to me when I have diarrhea. Can you imagine anything worse?


  1. Here I thought this would be a funny story about poop that would bring me out of my funk, but nope. Ah well. Mortality. Tomorrow is today and yesterday and too many days lately.

  2. I can imagine something worse—dying from diarrhea whilst on the toilet. Besides, forty isn't so bad. You're a puppy.

    1. I once read an article that claimed that many, many people died of complications of diarrhea in the 19th century. What a way to go.

  3. There's some Pink Floyd song that includes a lyric about being "one day closer to death", and even though I kind of intellectually knew on some level that death is always getting closer, there was something about that lyric that encapsulated it so perfectly that it freaked me out. For days after it first registered, every morning when I woke up (this is in like 6 or 7th grade), I used to think "I really am one day closer to death"... it was like being in some cartoon, tied to a log on a conveyor belt, inexorably approaching the giant buzzsaw... always going forward, never stopping or going backward. It really is horrible to think of.

    In other fun death-related topics: after my year-long pathology class in med school, the class succeeded in reading the textbook cover-to-cover. At the end of class, the professor concluded the course by telling us that in all likelihood, each one of us has encountered somewhere in the book's pages, the exact pathophysiologic mechanism of our own demise. And good luck on the final exam, by the way.