I am going to die, I said to myself in the kitchen not a few minutes ago. I wouldn’t say I had a perfectly clear idea about this, but it was the closest I’ve seen it so far. The thought started with teeth. Mine are poor but still serviceable. Stood there waiting for honey to melt in my tea, half a minute in the microwave, I saw myself older, perhaps 20 or 30 years from now, no longer so vain, but certainly empty mostly in the mouth. Less hair (and there isn’t so much). Restricted movement. Other things. And the knowledge that there wasn’t much time left.
None of this, the older and near to dying part, is of any general interest, but it did shock me to more clearly see and understand it. The shock being in the fact that I have lived so long, seen others die, been somewhat ill even myself, but not really made the personal connection. The intellectual one certainly. I understand the biology, the inevitability, but not the emotional certainty.
Even this moment of clarity wasn’t so very clear. It was not binding or brilliant, just a few less layers of muslin between subject and object. It began as I’d pushed the add thirty seconds button and was waiting without any particular distraction. I began thinking of what it is to have a sick child in the house. Our ten year old has Lyme disease, just yesterday diagnosed. He’ll be fine in a few days, but currently is somewhat under the weather. A little feverish. Slow.
I am sorry for the little chap, but not overly anxious. In his first years, when still a baby, a toddler, any fever or illness would fill up the house and my own nervous system with a skittering heaviness. Part flight, part weight. But now, halfway to his maturity, the worry and its overlay have receded.
He fell asleep in our bed and I picked him up to carry him next door, It was a little before eleven. He is of a good size, for a ten year old, and I realized that if I carried him through the doors between one room and the other I might bang his head, stuck out as it was across the transom of my arms. I eased him to his groggy feet instead. Let his mother guide him.
The carrying or lifting and holding, even for those few seconds, made me think how few times, if ever, I may do that again. How as new parents we had for many months and years crossed things off the first time they were done to or by him. Baby’s first ride in a convertible. Baby’s first taste of cold soup. Subtly, I have begun to collect things that may be the last of their type. You never know, of course.
All of this (still twenty seconds left) crossed my mind and led me to the days when he may not carry me, but will surely, maybe, observe me in my decayed state. I imagine myself still talking, perhaps not making sense.
And then I thought of Kilmarnock, and a football player who might have played there, any one I suppose, but in my mind’s eye a midfielder. The most random yet specific image or person imaginable (by me, then). Perhaps just after the war that people of my age call The War. Must have been a good number of them across, say, the nineteen fifties. Midfielders who played for Kilmarnock. West coast of Scotland. Twenty-five miles from Glasgow. Known for whisky (Johnny Walker) and the cholera pit memorial in the Howard Park (1832).
That’s how old I see myself at this end. A man who played for Kilmarnock in 1955 and was, perhaps, 24 or 25 then, would be 83 now, something like that. Some of them must be. Might have bad knees. Or not. Just another man, like myself. Born at a time and fitted into it more or less well. As we do.
And then he faded from me. And there was an insect of medium size, some kind of winged beetle, sat upside down (from my viewpoint) on the kitchen ceiling above me. Ten seconds left. I took some kitchen roll from the counter, tore off a piece and reached up. I am tall and the ceiling is low. Plucked the insect with the tips of my fingers and in the same moment tightened the soft paper into something like a ball. Threw it down beside me, into the garbage. Might have been crushed, dead. Might not. Might have had a night in front of it, rooting through or flying off. Might not.
And I thought of the figs in chocolate, sitting in a box on my desk back in the parlor that I use as an office. And I thought I might rather like one before bed. An indulgence certainly, but still. Free will. And I thought of all our lives, running out and in front of us, behind us and almost gone. All that’s been and will be. The species and the beds and footballers and the small towns, the wars, the anymores, and how much I love my child and how much I am busily in the process of forgetting, how much I have never known. And it was all somewhat cloudy, but absolutely fine, and I knew both those things were true.