And Then We Die
by Marian Fontana
The word apocalypse immediately evokes in me Hollywoodesque images of the end of days or a sixteen year old at Comic-con. It seems to be the obsession of extremely religious people or extremely negative people, neither of whom I can relate In fact, I like to think of myself as a positive person, someone who sees the glass half full instead of so empty it explodes into millions of chards, setting off a cataclysmic domino effect that ends mankind. It’s just who I am.
That is not to say I can’t “go there”. I have never stood on a beach watching my son swim without imagining him being swept away by a tsunami wave. Being raised by a Jewish father and a Catholic Italian Irish mother, I have always had an acute awareness of mortality. It is part of my DNA. Like guilt and food. There was no hike in the woods without my dad recounting a story of a father forgetting his flashlight, taking a wrong turn and inadvertently stepping off a cliff. There was no dinner without my mom telling us about the friend of a friend who choked do death on a piece of flank steak in front of his children. In fact, most of the stories told in my home ended with the sentence….”and then he died.”
This is not to say my parents aren’t fun at a party. They are. But they are psychotherapists too, a career choice made in part by their inherent interest in other people’s tragedy. I remember sitting in the small yellow bedroom where I grew up listening to Sean Cassidy with my best friend Stacey Conarello when blood curdling screams would interrupt us singing along to DaDooRonRon .
“What is that?” Stacey asked looking frightened.
“Psychodrama therapy.” I answered as the client downstairs beat a pillow with a tennis racquet, pretending it was her mother.
Ironically, my parents were away being trained as trauma therapists on September 11th, 2001 when my worst fears unfolded before me on television. As I watched the towers fall with my firefighter husband inside, I was sure the apocalypse was upon us and the feeling of the end of days has rarely left me. Of course my parents convinced me to go into trauma therapy. Every week I head to Park Slope Brooklyn where my friendly lesbian therapist puts buzzers in my hands as I tell her about the worst day of my life. I recount in vivid detail how I waited for Dave in the coffee shop to celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary, how I had to tell our five year old son the next morning that his father was missing and how I waited and waited and waited. The therapy is as strange as hitting pillows, but it is actually working. I still have a powerful urge to cover my son in bubble wrap when he takes the subway to school, but it is better.
I take yoga, I meditate, I drink wine. I swim upstream from my own demons determined to be happy. It is not easy. One need only drive on the Long Island Expressway on a Friday evening in the summer to know that life can be hard. It helps that I have a Zen who observes my neurosis with the patience of Buddha as I curse at the squirrel who dodges out in front of my car forcing me to slam on my brakes. “He can’t hear you” Aidan reminds me. I am blessed to have a son who reminds me that slow moving squirrels and the end of days are really things beyond my control. He holds my hand on airplanes and reminds me each day as we cross the Verrazano bridge that it will probably not collapse plunging us to the watery depths below as I always imagine.
Defying my genetics, Aidan constantly demonstrates the power of positive thinking. There is no situation, no tragedy, no obstacle that Aidan does not see the good in. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 Aidan said without missing a beat. “This is going to make you stronger” That is not to say he wasn’t scared, that he didn’t act out in ways befitting a middle schooler worried he would be orphaned, but his first thought is always an encouraging one. This, in turn gives me strength to try to glean the good from everything that happens, even the apocalypse were it to happen in say, December 2012. Here are some reasons why an apocalypse could be be a good thing.
1) No more Christmas. Don’t pay for the overpriced tree, don’t battle the mobs at the mall. With even Santa Claus preparing for Armageddon, you can skip the Amazon boxes, the annoying relatives and Carpe Diem.
2) No more Funerals – At forty-six, I have attended more than my fair share of funerals. I know, as I age, this will only get worse. Parent’s friends, pets and then inevitably your own friends will begin to drop like flies, forcing you to don that black dress and collect another glossy wake card at the bottom of your desk drawer. No need to sit through endless eulogies extolling the virtues of that guy who was basically an asshole. Let’s end our days together. December 12th. Be there.
3) No more Costco. – While it’s a shame you won’t get through that twelve pack of printer ink ,with so little time left, its best to buy small. Unless of course you’re one of those survivor people in which case fill up those carts with Poland Springs and three packs of Duct tape. You never know.
4) No more Facebook – Just update your status to “Dead”.
5) No more school – Sleep in. Algebra was always a waste of time anyway. What is x after all? You might want to keep up with your Geoscience though. It’s good to know how hot the earth is going to get before it melts us all.
6) No more Social Decorum – That woman in front of you didn’t hold the door open? Call her an asshole. The guy on the subway with his legs spread so wide he looks like he might be delivering a baby or playing the cello? Tell him to close it up and let your fat ass sit down. With less than three months to live, who gives a shit? Don’t feel a need to be tolerant. Reach across that aisle and bitch slap any tea party member you want. Let your freak flag fry. Be free, dance naked in the rain, push to the front of the line, fart in pilates class. Who cares? In fact, don’t go to the pilates class. What’s the point of flat abs when the end is nigh?
Thankfully, none of this list applies to me because I will be locking myself in my house. Since I shop at Costco (See #3) and have been prepared for Armageddon since 1993, I have enough batteries, water, toilet paper and frozen chicken nuggets to last for years. I will not longer worry about the piles of bills, the mess, the stack of charities I guiltily have not donated to yet. We are all hair-lipped children now.
Starting December 1st, I will pass my son’s room without a second glance or a squirt of Febreeze secure in the knowledge that the foul stench of damp dowels, AXE deodorant and incense will soon be gone forever. I will not yell at Aidan when he leaves the lights on, a trail of dirty socks or his pants slung so low, you can see his underwear. I will simply note how sweet his face looks when he is sleeping. I will hug him hard, the way I used to when he was smaller. “Forget homework, eat that ice cream,” I will say each day as I make an inappropriate jokes about marijuana.
If I I let Aidan leave the house, I will make love to my boyfriend with a joint and a glass of wine in one hand and a Costco bag of chocolate almonds in the other. On December 11th, I will invite my family and friends to come over for filet mignon, roasted potatoes and polenta. No salad. No vegetables. I will cook with lots of butter and salt. There will be endless cases of earthy red wine and Sancerre and Pellegrino and creamy cheeses on cutting boards in every corner of the room. A sound system will play my favorite dance tunes as we push back the furniture and dance with abandon. I will say inappropriate things. I will hug and kiss everyone.
When the lights go out from the asteroid hitting the earth, I will light all the candles, even the scented ones knowing it annoys my mother. My friends and family and I will make a big circle. We will hold hands and stare at each other. We are so tired there is no fear, we simply sway back and forth, our bittersweet memories announcing themselves in our minds. Eventually, when the timing is right, I will make a toast. Everyone will wearily raise their glasses, stained on the edges with lipstick and sweat. I will tell my friends and family that I love them so much, that I have been blessed in spite of it all. I will recount moments of sadness and a loneliness, deep and dark as the ocean. But then, I will raise my glass higher and smile, looking into the eyes of everyone I’ve known and loved in my forty-six years. “But it was a good life anyway” I will say.
And then we die.