Birthday!

What if they gave a war and no one came?

Today is my birthday! I am 25,934 days old. For those of you who struggle with higher math, that makes me 71.

I woke up this morning and rushed to open my email, anxious to see what birthday greetings I might have received. There was an e-card from my dentist, and BMW had even sent me a gift! It was a new ringtone, “made entirely from the iconic sounds of a BMW”! Right away, I knew this would be a great day, as I imagined all the congratulatory phone calls coming in, each one making my phone sound like the time I dropped a muffler on the freeway.

But I was disappointed to receive nothing from my insurance broker, whose e-cards usually feature a nice portrait of several people I have never met. It was still early, though: maybe I’d get something later in the day.

Since I quit Facebook earlier this year, I knew that people wouldn’t be able to overlook my birthday the way they had in the past. Now, they would have to ignore me by email or text. I had been concerned that this might confuse some of my acquaintances and was relieved to see that most of them seemed to have managed the transition quite seamlessly.

But, how to spend this very special day? Checking the weather,  I found that the air quality had improved all the way to “unhealthy”, with smoke from the fires still burning up north, the whole forest a giant birthday candle, just for me. I put on my jogging shoes and went for a walk around the living room.

I decided to smoke some birthday weed. After all, if you can’t stay stoned all day on your birthday, when can you? Just this week, I had bought the ideal cannabis strain for the occasion, something called Smarties. According to one online reviewer, “Smarties’s buzz is perfect for daytime use and presents as a calm and mellow euphoria backlit by hints of full-scale relaxation.” It was already mid-morning and it felt like euphoria was overdue, so I lit up. Or backlit up, I’m not sure.

After that, it was time for party games! I played Sudoku for an hour and won every game! Birthday luck, I’m sure, ’cause I’m not really all that good at Sudoku. Then, I moved on to Solitaire, but I got bogged down during the third game and had to give up. Still, I had won more games than anyone, so I considered myself to be the winner of the party.

Maxine Hong Kingston says the winners of the party are the ones who stay ’til the end and who get to talk about everyone else. I was the last one at my birthday party, but I found I had nothing to say.

Lips Stuck Together

Adjusting to solitude

At first I had no idea how much it would affect me. I hadn’t thought ahead or even considered this possibility at all, although I should have. We could all see how sick she was. But at the time I simply couldn’t make my mind confront that scenario. And then I was numb. For a long time, I only thought I felt the pain, but I was in shock. So it wasn’t until weeks after she died that I began to realize what it meant to lose not just my wife, but the only person I’d ever really wanted to spend time with.

My life changed completely in those few weeks, as events faded into routine. It’s not just her death, there is this, too: I’m almost always alone, now. There is no one else. There’s no one to bring news to, to make laugh, to ask for an opinion. It’s  as though I was transported to another planet, and I must learn to live the life of an expat. This daily solitude was easier for me long ago, when it was voluntary, a circumstance somehow leading toward the life that lay before me. I actually enjoyed being alone back then. But now, all that lays before me is a few more years of the same. It has become more difficult.

There are many things that I can’t do on this new planet. Restaurants are impossible, there is nothing to do there except think. I see old couples sitting at other tables and jealousy wells up inside of me. How come she gets to live? Why are they allowed to be happy? I try to go early when places are empty, sit at the counter, have a quick burger, and leave. Fine restaurants, long meals, those things are out of my life. I can’t do them any more. Concerts, ballgames, any entertainment you would normally go to with a spouse or significant other — where I would have taken her — are off limits, as well. I can’t do them alone, and I don’t want to go with another couple, to be a third wheel. Charity is embarrassing, however well meant.

Even travel, once one of our great joys, would be a constant reminder of her absence. We were thrown together all the time overseas. But that kind of adventure — that once brought us so close — would now make this solitude even starker.

So I sit in the house alone, eating takeout and trying to work on my projects. Some art, a photograph, a piece of writing. It’s all completely pointless. No one is going to look at them, appreciate them, or even care that I’ve done them. Why do I bother? Just to pass the time? Waiting around to die.

Every once in a while the phone rings. One of the boys checking up on me, or some friend who has promised to “be there” for me. I have to lick my lips before I speak. They are stuck together from disuse. I’m glad to hear from people, of course, to break up the long day. But I can’t help feeling that I’m a burden. The guy who’s alone, with whom we should spend some time. Practically all of the friends I have were made through her. I was part of the bargain: you had a put up with the husband. Now that she’s gone and I’m the whole ball of wax, it has to be far less appealing. And the smell of death is on me. I am more than ever a pariah.

My life has become a sort of minimum security prison. I can come and go, but some places, some activities are off limits. And I’m definitely trapped, no way to get out. Life sentence with no parole. There are times when the realization that I can never speak with her again fills me with panic. Like claustrophobia, it makes me jump out of my chair. Pacing empty halls in the house where we once lived, I wish there were some way I could join her. But, how? I’m far too much of a coward for suicide. So for now I’m stuck here, like a refugee longing for distant shores that can only be imagined. Will I find her there?

There are times when anger overflows and I break down, swearing out loud in these empty rooms at the god that did this to us. This senseless thing. I call it a coward as it crouches in hiding, wanting to anger it, to make it strike me down, too. But it is too cruel to do that to me now. It’s going to make me wait.

The Metaphysics of Facebook

Informational Satori is upon us. We can all leave, now.

Dried flowers on the beach

Some people post stuff eighty times a day on Facebook, you get buried under their pictures of babies and food, their petitions and political outrage. Some people hardly ever post: once a year, someone tags them at a barbecue. I suppose I fall somewhere in between. Mostly I keep stuff to myself, because I figure no one gives a shit anyway. But every once in a while, I am motivated to share something or other that resonates within my particular universe.

These posts occasionally provoke a few comments, but sometimes they do not. My universe resonates differently from every one else’s. Perhaps someone is lurking, reading with indifference or even disdain, insufficiently moved even to Like. Or maybe there’s no one there at all.

The internet encourages us to surround ourselves with spheres of interest which become more narrow and exclusive with time. And as we age, as our friends dwindle and die, those that remain go their own ways into their own spheres. Perhaps there is no longer any overlap. At first, I despaired at this thought.

I asked myself, if I post something on Facebook and no one reads it, did it really happen? Or is it, like the tree falling in the forest, some sort of Schroedinger conundrum into which my life has fallen. I can look and verify that the post is there, of course, but maybe that’s part of the same hallucination. And if you were to look, you would play the role of the cat, reducing possibilities.

But then I realized that this open-ended flow is, in fact, a sort of informational satori: information for its own sake. The info-verse swirls around me, and I seek silent illumination, no longer burdened by the need to actually interact with others. As more and more of my posts elicit no response, I approach digital Nirvana.

People — Friends — are no longer necessary. We live in a world where I can post a message that no one will read while, at the same time, a marketer’s robot caller is leaving a message on my answering machine that no one will listen to. The informational loops exist without us, and will continue to exist long after we are gone.