Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Not even death is sacred

5th hour in front of my computer, earphones blasting Dave Matthews, my eyes mesmerized by the excel sheet’s grids, entering data from the year’s invoices. The only time I’ve looked up from the sheet is when my sister and I took a 20 minute walk around the neighborhood, since she works across the street from me.

My phone rings, I haphazardly glance at it, thinking its her, telling me she forgot to tell me a piece of gossip from work. Like I want to hear about Jeanine from accounting sleeping with the mail clerk and cheating on her husband, when I have to get these invoices out…

It’s my home phone number.

My heart skips a beat, my mother only calls me at work with bad news, or to tell me about sales at Loehmann’s. But it isn’t Wednesday, the day last season’s Jimmy Choos get further discounted.

I pick up the phone, before my mouth reaches the receiver:

“What happened?” immediately cutting to the point of the conversation. No time for pleasantries, not caring how her day is going, just wanting her to confirm what I already know.

“It’s Bubby”

Silence. Tears form. Voice becomes choppy.

“What happened?” hands shaking, as I choke through the semi-sentence.

She talks, I hear but not listen. She sounds strong, her voice unwavering. We were expecting this. I cut my vacation short, knowing her time was near, when I found out she went into the hospital. I saw her in the industrial bed, said my good-bye, and told her I loved her. We all knew this was coming. Even after her release from the hospital, because she wasn’t the same. Especially when she started sleeping a lot more and stopped watching Wheel of Fortune.

It shouldn’t catch me off guard. I was expecting this.

But, death, even of a 104 year old woman, still blindsides us. That split second when your intellect connects with emotion, processing the end of Chinese food Sunday afternoons and the lectures on why to never marry, to stay young and keep traveling, that you will never see the person again—you can’t prepare for death’s arrival nor the feeling that comes immediately after.

I get up and walk over to the bathroom, still on the phone with my mom. Luckily nobody is inside. I step into a stall, not noticing that I didn’t close the door behind me, and cry.

“I don’t know why you’re hiding, they’ve seen you cry, this isn’t anything new,” my mom kids around. Alluding to my weekly tears of frustration that I shed because I misplaced another few thousand dollars onto the wrong excel sheet.

I sniffle. “I know.”

“I decided to call you now so you could tell your co-workers that you will be out for the funeral. I know you have a lot of work.”

The only part of our conversation that does register in my head, the mention of work. A panic strikes in my heart, I don’t want my colleagues to see my vulnerability. I don’t want their false empathy, I just wish to leave my office and run along the Hudson, hoping that the beauty of NYC reflection off of the river will distract my head.

I put my phone into my pocket.

I throw cold water onto my face.

Fuck, my eyes are still puffy.

I throw cold water onto my face again. And then a third time.

I stare into my eyes, trying to convince myself that they look like I sneezed very hard. It’s one thing to cry in your cubicle because you misplaced $30K, it is another for them to witness your grief.

I saunter over to my bosses’ cubicle area, unsure how I should phrase it. How do you tell the people who you work with 50 hours a week, who only see you emote sarcasm, frustration, and contrition, that one of your single-girl heroes died?

I falsely believe the composure that befalls me as I make my way to their desk.

“Hey Rebecca!”

I my boss look up, “I..” suddenly choking back tears, “I just got a bad phone call, there was a death in my family.” Tears stream down my face

This isn’t good, the last thing I want is sympathy. Especially because I don’t deserve it since I have caused this woman to do double work—hers and correcting my learning disabled mistakes.

She looks concerned, and offers to hug me, assuming it’s the worst.

Trying to deflect, “No, it’s ok! I mean, she was 104. It’s not like this as completely unexpected.” Laughing through the tears, making a joke. Trying to distract from the levity at hand.

But it was unexpected. She wasn’t supposed to die today, she had 5 more months until her 105th.

I delegate my responsibilities to her, and return to my desk. At first trying to organize my day’s work, but then finding solace in the monotony of entering figures off of the invoice into the excel sheet. I continue, until my other boss walks over to me and asks me why I was still at work. I begrudgingly leave, walking my usual route home.

Confrontation with physical death makes us hyper-aware of the living.

I walk into the apartment and see John laying on the couch, blasting French rap,

“I broke down today and cried on seventh avenue. I can’t talk to another recruiter, telling me to take a pay cut. They make their commission off of me regardless of they nickel and dime me. I am going to revive the tradition of Seppuku! Last time it happened, back in the 1970’s after the big JAL crash, the CEO disemboweled himself in a town square. I am going to do it in Washington Square Park next to the Falun Gong devotees. Let’s see how meditative they really can be!”

He continues to talk as I am in the middle of putting my purse and coat down.

Unzipping my jacket, interrupting him mid-joke “John, my great aunt died today.”

He gives a requisite amount of silent reverence before he says, “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“I don’t want to talk about it. Talking about it will only make me cry, and I did enough of it at work.”

“At least its not because you think you are getting fired because you misplaced $30K.”

“My mom already used that joke.”

He then goes back to work, trying to resurrect life into his stopped career, looking for a job. Increasing the volume to the French Rap he is listening to while watching the Golden Girls. He curls into the fetal position, muttering aloud a sentence of his resume, listening for correct syntax.

I take my seat next to him, check my email and begin to type in my blog finding my frustration with his noisiness comforting.


At 8:24 AM, Blogger Chin Balls said...

Sorry about your great aunt. Hang in there (whatever that means: "Hang in there"); stay sane.

At 6:15 PM, Blogger Del-V said...

Sorry to hear about your loss.

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