Seven years ago today, Mr. Brilliant had started a regimen of chemoradiation for his bladder cancer. He was three weeks out of the first of two planned surgeries for moyamoya disease, and though he was starting to have some side effects from the radiation, he was doing pretty well. Three days later, about mid-day, his speech would start to slur, his hands would be shaking, and he would outright refuse to go to the hospital or even call his neurosurgeon. By the next morning, he would have had a full-blown stroke. By the morning after that he would be no longer conscious, and two weeks later he would be gone.
Seven years. Seven years has gone so fast, wake me up when September ends.
Mr. B. never understood why I loved Green Day. It was just 3-chord punk, too poppy to be real punk. I couldn't have known then that hearing Billie Joe Armstrong's ode to his father's death would resonate so much with me in the years to come.
I am 65 now, and Mr. B. is forever 58. I'm too old for him now. I've let my hair go gray, it's starting to thin out now, and I can no longer pass for 45 in the dark with the light behind me.
This time of year is always difficult for me ever since then. In good years it's a vague sense of unease, and it lets up after October 5. This year it's been far worse than usual. Maybe it's because it's the seven years in that song. Or maybe it's the hellscape that we've been living in. Every day it seems like I wake up, look at the news to see what fresh horror has happened overnight, and every morning 2020 says "Hold my beer."
People think grief is something that happens and then you're done. But grief is an insidious little bastard. It's like that tough little cancer cell that stays behind, untouched by whatever you've bombarded it with, only to roar back later. And with it, when you're the one who had to make The Decision, comes the guilt, the recriminations, the late night second guessing that never really stops. And the sense that you'll never be whole again.
I went into a tailspin when Chadwick Boseman died, and I still don't understand why. But tonight, when the news came through that Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died, that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that I remembered from seven years ago hit me.
I'm not a drinker and I don't take drugs. But there I was, rummaging around the bottom of the pantry closet, looking for that little bottle of Wray and Nephew Overproof Rum Cream that I'd bought in Jamaica two years ago when I took Mr. B's ashes to be buried amidst the Mid-Shoals Reef off of the beach in Negril, Jamaica. I opened it up and just started swigging the sweet, fiery yet creamy room-temperature stuff right out of the bottle. And yeah, it did help my stomach relax.
I'm alone right now. The cats are asleep. It's cool enough that I don't have any fans running and the air conditioning isn't on. The only sound is the refrigerator running and the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard. I feel very alone, and very frightened. Because if the death of Chadwick Boseman felt like the death of hope because of a fictional character he portrayed, the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg feels like the final nail in the coffin of any chance that the country we were living in can ever be made even into what it used to be, never mind something better. During the Bush years, Mr. B. and I would talk endlessly about it. But he's not here now and the cats don't care.
I think back to those terrible days in September 2013. Yes, they were terrible for me; I had a husband in the ICU and didn't know if he was even still in there. I had a manager who, once I'd declined taking family leave because I had no idea what was in store for me in Mr. B's illness, refused to cut me any slack at all, and I was dealing with a fuckup of a religious fanatic data manager who was bitching about me to my manager all the time. But outside of my hellish little corner, things were pretty good. It was the first year of Obama's second term. The economy was in good recovery. The weather was nice that fall. The worst thing I would talk to Mr. B. about as he lay there unconscious with four anti-seizure drugs being pumped into him, was about how awful the finale of Dexter was.
I've been saying for the last four years that he was the smart one. He saw his opportunity to exit painlessly and he took it.
After he died, when people wanted to go to something and I wasn't planning anything because he hated funerals more than anything else to the point that during our last dinner together, he talked with still-raw anger about having to sit for five days at his mother's wake when he was twelve, I threw a memorial party at the local dive bar. He'd always said that the Irish do it right because they throw a party, and the Jews do it right because they get it all done quickly. So I decided that was what he would have wanted. I don't even know why that's relevant.
Most of the time in the intervening years, I've been pretty satisfied with my life. It's not the one I had wanted, but it's very good in its own way, with a good circle of women friends, two cats that keep me entertained, and no real financial worries. I'm fortunate, and I know it. But I've been thoughtful lately; taking stock of my life -- what I've learned and the person I've become. But sometimes the sheer breadth of the years hits home in a way that it can't on an ongoing basis because I don't have children to be that barometer of the passage of time. And I'd give anything to have them back. So many years I took for granted, both before I met Mr. B. and during the 30 years we were together. Despite our ups and downs, we had a marriage, and if it was at times like an old, reliable toaster -- dependable and functional -- there was a lot of comfort in that, and in having a like-minded soul RIGHT THERE.
I no longer have that comfort, or any other kind either. There's a scene in I, Claudius where Claudius' mother Antonia is saying goodbye to him before opening her veins:
Antonia: My mind is made up. I don't want to stay here anymore. I was born into a world of people. It's become a kennel of mad dogs. I've seen my splendid son Germanicus murdered, and my grandsons, Drusus, Nero, Gemellus. My granddaughters are degenerate beyond redemption, and your sister Livilla died by my own hand. That was the worst. I should have died then myself.
Claudius: Wait a while! Caligula's sick in his mind. Sooner or later...
Antonia: No, Rome is sick, sick to its heart. He's just the rash it's come out in.
That's kind of how I feel. I look at what my country has become, and I look at the continued pile-up of atrocities right out of Hitler's playbook, and I envy Mr. B. sometimes that he was able to exit what he called this "God-forsaken level of reality" before the shit really hit the fan.
I had little hope even before Ginsburg's death that we had any chance of stopping this relentless authoritarian goose-step, but with Mitch McConnell already stating that the Merrick Garland rule no longer applies when the president is of Mitch McConnell's party, it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that whatever Federalist Society nutjob Trump puts on the Court (and it looks like it's going to be the Make Gilead Great Again theocratic lunatic Amy Coney Barrett) will be the one who will definitively turn this country into a permanent Trump Family Dictatorship, with carte blanche for that grifter family to plunder as much money out of the federal coffers as they can before climate change mercifully for our planet wipes our miserable species off the map.
In case anyone is concerned that I might be suicidal (and I can't for the life of me imagine why anyone would give a shit; my existence is pretty insignificant in the larger picture, and I'm OK with that), don't worry, I'm not. But I guess I'm thankful that I don't fear death the way I did when I was a kid, when I'd sit bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night with my heart pounding and think I AM GOING TO DIE AND THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT IT. I've had a good run; better than I ever thought I would. I'd like to have more of it, even if it's just to cook and eat some good food, pet my cats, listen to some good music.
But oh, how I wish I could have some of those years back, hold them in my hand, and treasure them for the miracle they were; those years that I thought would just go on forever.
As it is, I just hope that when the Trumpazoid brownshirts come to round people like me up, they have the decency to just do a good clean shot in the head that I don't see coming.