No One Here Gets Out Alive

Long before the butterfly’s wing caused a hurricane, the want of a nail led to the loss of a shoe, led by an improbable cascade of event to the loss of a war, the fall of a dynasty, a descent into chaos. Sound just like my life over the last week or two. Annoyance at slow internet speed brought be sad news and existential dread.

To get faster internet speeds without interminable waits and crazy-making buffering, I had to change my provider. But because I had linked my email address to my provider, I had to change my email address. Changing my email address forced me to contact lots of people in my address book with the news. Some of them I email with regularly, even live within a mile or two of. Some I chat with once every few months. Others only rarely.

Within a day of sending out the change notice, one old friend responded. He lives in California and I lost touch with him for many years, then through the magic of the internet discovered his whereabouts and even got to see him once several years ago. He was unchanged from 11th grade. We only write a couple times a year, but I love the guy.

We met in third grade and were friends all through high school and college. His father was a Hungarian tool and die maker. His mother a German hausfrau who doted on him and mad fantastic strudels and kuckens. When he brought these exotics to the school lunchroom in a brown bag he was mocked by people with all-American Twinkies. They didn’t know what they were missing.

In his teens he was deep into ham radio and audio reproduction at the dawn of the h-fi/stereo era. He wanted to be a recording engineer. He wound up at a movie studio in one of the technical departments. His reply to my email change notice contained the news of his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer.

Within hours a second friend from a newspaper job in the 1990s replied. He’s a former jazz drummer turned newspaper reporter, acerbically funny, suspicious of authority, a plainsman who wound up in Baltimore whose eccentricity suits him. A lover of dogs, dance, prose, dispute, running, and his large complicated family. A lovely guy who always cheers you up. His news was of his Parkinson’s diagnosis.

Anyone who grew up in the generation of the Doors, the Who, the Stones knows the truth of: “no one here gets out alive.“ But this is ridiculous. Of course, one bit of proverbial wisdom leads to another, such as: “When sorrows come, they come not single spies/But in battalions…” Shakespeare, who knew all of the shocks the human heart must endure.
After this I’m afraid to open any of the other replies to my email change notification. It’s true that I’ve been expecting death any minute since I was 13, didn’t expect to make it to 21, thirty, forty, you get the idea. My wife keeps telling me I’ve got years ahead. I keep saying, how many? The actuarial tables say the average age of deaths for males in my cohort is about eight years away. Not great, but not an imminent threat until you realize that number is an average. It means half will die sooner.

She should know better since she used to play bridge with the woman who got cancer, the woman who had a stroke, the man with COPD who brought an oxygen tank to the game, until he didn’t. And so on. In short, the guy with the scythe is closing in on us. And the seemingly innocent step of changing my email address has brought him the sound of him honing its blade rattling down the line.

It has brought me sorrow for these dear friends’ troubles. And I’m not feeling too well myself. I’d say more, but I have to go pull my covers over my head and hide until spring arrives when I’ll have something to live for. In the meantime, I may get someone else to read my mail first and only let me see the endurable ones – the spam, the scams, the Nigerian princes, the irresistible bargains on things I don’t need. By comparison, they look full of life — sleazy, busy, crazy, conniving, contriving life.

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