I listen to my german shepherd snore as I lay face up on the bed staring at the ceiling. Cold season (isn’t that every season in rural towns?) has hit me hard leaving my voice to nothing but a whisper. The tv is on but somehow the snore trumps the fast paced, endless conversation at my feet. I switch to watching my little, old poodle’s chest rise and fall with his sleepy breathes. I imagine what it would be like to see him die, the breath stopping as I watch, so I stare even more intently.
It’s a disease; not the sore throat and stuffy head that’s keeping me in bed all day, but the constant infatuation with death and the realization that it could happen at any second. When I hit my thirties and realized that the open book was slowly closing shut I started thinking about the end a little more every single day. This being the third day in a row with a hoarse to non exsistant voice I start to go through the list of all of the people I know (or heard of in this small rural town) that were fine one moment, fell ill the next with a common ailment, and then died.
It’s morbid I know (and I don’t mean the sore throat) but the silver lining is that realizing life is short makes me cherish every moment. I imagine this is what being on the verge of death feels like (and I imagine that moment a lot). Those last fleeting breaths are something I don’t want to feel for a very, very long time to come so focusing on the silver lining keeps me in check. Or maybe it makes me think of death more, but either way I am living life to the fullest. Even as I lay here voiceless, watching my elderly dogs take what could be their very last breaths.
Let’s start this story in the middle. That’s where the cats like it. Where it’s warm and inviting, where the sun casts a glow on the crease between weathered pages and new crisp ones. If this were a children’s story we would be starting somewhere around page three; the part of the story that is climatic for the child, the part of the story where the adult is getting tired of doing the characters’ voices, the part of the story where the adult loses interest and just wants to get it over with. It is that part in your own life where you think, “Six years ago I was going to do this. Six years ago.” You begin to feel old, and you wonder how many climatic experiences you can have before somebody wants to stop reading, before somebody wants to close the book, before the cats jump off of the kitchen table and go hide under the bed.
You still are a little uncomfortable with the sound of your own voice which means you’re not as old and as loopy as you had previously thought. Yet you still like to imagine that someday, after you have passed away, they will find 250 paintings of yours stashed away in a backyard shed. “Two hundred and fifty paintings, that’s all she did,” they will say as they stand gazing at your works of art hung on the large, boring, white wall of a museum. At least that is how you imagine it. This is how you know you are in the middle of the story. Roughly page three. It is somewhere between settled and content and imaginative and fearless. You are too mature to be naive, but to healthy to feel like you need a retirement fund. Your parents would like to see you have babies and buy a fancy washing machine and dryer. Your boss would like to see you striving. But instead, all they really get is a restless look in your eyes. A look that says, “I haven’t figured it out yet.”
In one week two family members died of cancer. One in their late seventies, and one in their mid forties. You are at that age where you hesitate to buy canned peaches to go with your cottage cheese. You hesitate because a recent news story reported that the BPA in the cans may cause cancer. Not only have you stopped smoking, but now nothing seems safe to eat. You haven’t made enough money yet to buy organic fruits and vegetables. But the thought of death is there. This is page three. If this were a children’s story everyone would learn their lesson. The characters would be sharing. The characters would be eating cookies. The characters would be happy; they wouldn’t be thinking about cancer, canned peaches, or what their boss expects of them. But this isn’t a children’s story. This is page three of your life. This is where death and life and money and health and the ups and downs all get a little jumbled. And yet it is all starting to finally make a little more sense. Or so you think, as the cats slowly crawl out from underneath the bed.