Tag Archives: death

At least it’s warm in here

I’m looking at the life support stats and I can still hear the computer’s voice in my head, even though I disabled it hours ago, it’s right there in red text and my mind automatically fills in the blanks, that gender-neutral voice, the matter-of-fact way in which it would be reading aloud to me, “Oxygen levels, twelve percent. Situation critical. Return to base immediately.” As if I needed a reminder.


It’s one of these situations I’ve only read about in cheap sci-fi, but I can’t even panic anymore. That’s it. I’m like two days from the nearest base, no other craft nearby. I don’t know what to do. I got out the spacesuit, I hooked up the suit’s oxygen to the ship’s air supply. And what did that give me, twenty extra minutes?

I mean, I guess I could hold out hope that the monitor is malfunctioning, that maybe there’s more air in here than the ship’s capable of reading. But I don’t think so, and yeah, I went through emergency protocol, right, I did every step, right? Is there something I’m missing? Because I don’t think so. I think … I turned the oxygen down, OK. That bought me an hour and a half, but I’m definitely feeling it, a little light-headed.

What else? I did the spacesuit, right? Maybe it’s better if I just crank it back up again, I mean, what’s the ideal situation? Would I rather have three and a half hours of regular oxygen levels or six and three quarters hours of what it’s currently set to right now? Either way, I’m dead. And six and three quarters hours, it’s like, I don’t have a headache right now, but I’ll definitely have a headache in an hour or two. I don’t think I want to go out with a headache.

Maybe if I could get it to five hours. I won’t have to start really freaking out for another three. Shit, this is bad. I’m still trying to piece together what happened, autopilot was on, right, it must have been a really, perfectly timed piece of debris or asteroid or whatever. And why didn’t the computer seal the leak right away? I don’t know. I have no idea if there’s any justifying this.

And I sent out the distress, right, but that doesn’t matter, they’re not going to get it until it’s too late. OK, I’ve got to stop freaking out here, I’ll have plenty of time to freak out when there’s no time left. What can I do for five hours? I’m not going to watch a movie. I guess I could watch a movie. Do I really want to zone out though? My last moments of existence? What should I be doing?

Do I want to like reflect on life? I don’t know. I don’t want to get myself bummed out here. You know it’s like whenever this stuff happens in a movie, there’s always one obvious solution that’s never obvious until right when it looks like there’s nothing that’s left to do but give up and die. But this is worse, man, it’s like I almost wish that I could give up here, but I’m still stuck on that idea, like if I just keep looking through this emergency manual, something’s going to pop out at me.

I don’t think it’s going to happen. I wish once in my life I had made an effort to pay attention to one of those artsy movies where nothing winds up working out in the end. But no, just blockbusters for me, and now I can’t turn it off, that never say die voice in my head, always banking on that happy ending. It’s crazy, man, it’s like when I found my old lock from high school, I was positive if I stared at it long enough, the combination would come back to me, and I’d start in with some random numbers, but nothing. Whatever was in there, that’s gone.

I’m fucking dead. I wish I could override the computer and just get it over with, because I don’t know, I’m trying to stay calm here but I can’t do it, I wish it were at least cold in here or something, but it’s just the oxygen that got hit, not the heat, not whatever it is that powers this stupid monitor in front of me. I don’t want to keep staring ahead at the oxygen levels, it’s going down in real time before my eyes, but it’s so slow, I’m conscious of every second and … did I mention how I can’t get the computer’s voice out of my head? And it won’t let me just cut the air, I’ll black out, I can’t believe there’s nothing stronger in this med-kit than ibuprofen and, fuck, am I getting a headache? Or is this just a freak-out headache? Maybe I’ll just pump it up, all the oxygen, whatever, an hour and a half, I’ll put on a movie, I won’t ever have to worry about how it ends, just get me nice and oxygened up here, endings are the worst part anyway, at least I’ll be comfortable, at least it’s warm in here.

I got a pretty deep cut on my ankle and I’m worried that I’m about to die

A couple of weeks ago I was riding my bike and my leg slipped off of the right pedal. At first I didn’t think anything happened at all, my ankle had only made very brief contact with the chain. But I stopped and took a look and, yeah, it was actually a pretty deep cut. Not big, like maybe half an inch across, but deep. The blood started pouring out, soaking my sock red.

Whenever I get a big enough cut, I always think, well, that’s definitely going to get infected, I’m probably going to lose my leg, the doctor’s will try to keep the infection from spreading to the rest of my body, but they’re going to be fighting a losing battle, I’ll be patient zero for a new class of superbug, they’re going to quarantine me in some government hospital, and I’m going to die behind three layers of sterilized glass in some faraway laboratory, they’ll let my wife in the building to say goodbye, but she’ll be wearing some ridiculous biohazard suit and I won’t even know it’s her, she’ll be trying to hold my hand, give me one final hug, but again, the infection is going to spread to my brain, I’ll go into some blind rage, rip the suit apart, only to discover too late that it’s her underneath, that I’ve condemned her to the same contagion, that …

And then like any really long daydream about my horrible, impending doom, it kind of just faded away into the background of my mind, and I must have zoned out for the rest of the day, because my next conscious thought was of me standing at the kitchen counter making dinner. My wife came home and started asking me about my day when she stopped, “What did you do to your leg?”

Because I had totally forgotten. I don’t know how, it wasn’t even hurting. I can’t believe that I didn’t come straight home to clean it out. I didn’t feel it, but now that my attention was brought back to this deep red cut on my ankle, now that I noticed that the edges were still black with bike chain grease, that I hadn’t come home and even tried to wipe away the dirt, now it started to hurt, now it started to sting, to throb, I immediately thought about this article I read about Calvin Coolidge in the New Yorker, how his son developed a blister playing tennis, and it got infected and he died, dropped dead, and now I’m going to die too, and maybe I could have avoided it if I had just come home and taken care of it right away.

But I was in the middle of dinner, like I had stuff on the stove, so I tried to willfully ignore it again, maybe the pain would disappear once more. But it wasn’t happening. It was getting worse. I abandoned dinner and jumped in the shower. Wow, now it really stung. It was the kind of searing pain that was almost fake, it was so intense. Part of me was like, this is crazy how much this hurts, is this real? Is this a real feeling that I’m having?

And then the next day at work, I didn’t want to cover it up, because I didn’t want to give it a warm, wet environment to really develop an infection, but I didn’t want to think about it either, so I just kind of rolled my sock right on top of it. But my whole leg hurt, the more I stood up all day, the more time I spent walking around from table to table, the more I was convinced that I’d have to be hospitalized immediately.

Out of nowhere, I started freaking out. I showed the closest coworker my leg, “Does this look infected?” and she immediately responded, “Yes. Oh my God, gross.” Not exactly the assurance I was going for. So I sought a second opinion. Another coworker said, “No, just keep it clean.” Whew. I was going to make it.

The next day I was on the train and some random guy told me to buy a bottle of liquid skin. I’d heard of it, but never tried it. Usually I hate it when people tell me what to do, but I figured that if this thing was attracting unsolicited medical advice from strangers on the subway, maybe I should at least try something else, maybe an ointment, a Band-Aid, something.

I bought the liquid skin. The subway guy told me it might sting a little. A little. Ha. It was double that searing pain I was describing when I took that first shower. That stranger was lucky I didn’t take down his contact info and sue him for malpractice. Jesus Christ it stung. But then it went away and it was like, OK, this isn’t so bad, and I think it’s getting better. Yeah, definitely better.

But I didn’t read the liquid skin instructions. I just kept adding a new layer twice a day until there was this buildup, a liquid skin wall protruding from my ankle. I couldn’t even see through to the cut anymore. Worse, this stuff was impenetrable. I tried taking it off, but it was like trying to take off my own skin. I finally looked at the bottle.

“To remove, apply a new layer of Liquid Skin and quickly wipe away.” Huh. I guess I hadn’t been doing the remove part. And so I went to apply another layer, but the bottle was empty. And then I thought, what if society collapses? What if this stuff ceases to be produced? Is this the only way of removing it? Will I have any other options? Or am I going to be this guy, this impervious layer of liquid skin permanently stuck to my leg? How am I going to explain what it is? What if there’s an itch underneath? What if …

But I forgot about that also after a while. My leg’s doing OK now. It’s there, the cut, like I said, it was really deep. And the liquid skin is still there too, but I don’t really care, because I hardly look down there anyway, it’s at such an awkward angle, and it doesn’t hurt at all anymore, so I just pull up my socks and hopefully by the next time I give that part of my body some consideration, everything will be OK. Or I’ll be dead.

Life, death, Super Mario Bros.

I started thinking about life and death way too early in life, and it’s all because of Super Mario Bros. I remember being really little and having my mom try to explain life and death to me in a way that was mostly harmless. When you die you go to heaven. It seemed like a satisfying enough explanation at the time.

But then when I started playing video games I remember the bigger picture coming sharply into focus. Before my family had a Nintendo we just had a Gameboy. Everybody knows Nintendo’s title character Mario, and how in his first game, Super Mario Land, you run from one end of the screen to the other, jumping on bad guys, landing on platforms, eventually making it all the way across to the other side.

And playing that game really made me start thinking about death. It wasn’t when Mario got killed by an enemy or fell down a hole. That wasn’t really death. There were always one-ups to find, extra lives to spend. Even if you totally ran out, you could always just reset and start over. No, what really got to me was the timer on the top right of the screen. If you didn’t get to the end of the level by the time the clock ran out, you just dropped dead right where you stood.

Even worse, as the clock got closer to zero hour, the game kind of paused for a second, and this nervous high-anxiety music clip would play, telling you, “Shit dude, you’re almost out of time. Let’s get going, now!” And then for the rest of that level, as if to heighten the stress, everything would play in fast-motion. Like not only are you almost out of time, but the little time that you have left is going to seem like much, much less.

It sucked because, especially if you were a little kid, and you hadn’t yet mastered the hand-eye coordination necessary to make it to the end of the game, every once in a while you’d finally get past that Ancient Egypt level, to that world where there are little pixies that hop across the screen. And you just wanted to look about and enjoy it for a minute, to try and discover hidden passageways, secret coins. But you couldn’t, because if you spent too much time f’ing around, you’d run out of seconds and it would be all downhill from there.

Or even worse, those levels where you’re in a submarine or an airplane and the board kind of scrolls by itself. You just move up and down and shoot bad guys, and the map moves forward whether you like it or not. At least you can’t run out of time here, but every minute or so a wall made out of blocks comes at you from the right. And so you have to shoot a perfect path across, so when the wall finally gets to where you’re at, you can hopefully slip through the hole that you made or you get crushed. These are all pretty literally representations of time and space and life and death, and I really did understand them at some level, even though I wasn’t even ten years old. The feelings of dread that I got back then, although I’m only able to correctly label them now, they’re the same exact feelings that I get as an adult when I wake up at four in the morning short of breath, dry in the mouth, realizing that my life is this huge illusion, a blip on the cosmic map of what is and what isn’t.

I assume through stuff that I’ve read or conversations that I’ve had that some people go through their whole lives without worrying about stuff like this. Maybe these people didn’t play Super Mario Land as a little kid. Maybe it was holding this little world in my hands, in grayscale, with a very finite amount of time to complete a very simple set of objectives. And even if I did somehow manage to beat the clock, and the wall, and Tatanga, there wasn’t even a guarantee that the batteries would last to the end. We even had this expansion battery pack for our Gameboy that held like eight D batteries. Where was all of the energy getting sucked out to? Why was this thing perpetually running out of juice?

But nothing in Super Mario Land made me feel as helpless as when I’d play Super Mario 2 for the NES. Anybody who grew up in my generation remembers how, after getting through the easy, intro levels, Mario 2 got really hard. There were all of these doors and rooms and you needed specific keys to open everything up. Anyway, there were these certain keys guarded by these circular statues. They weren’t threatening at all, until you touched the key they were there to protect. Once you picked it up, these statues came to life and started flying through the air. They’d fly by once, do a little circle move, try to kill you, and then fly off screen. And they’d keep coming back, following you, terrorizing you for the rest of that level. You couldn’t kill them, you couldn’t shake them, you just had to hope and try and jump out of the way.

And I’d get these same feelings, a huge hole emerging in the depths of my stomach, a physical sensation that I was getting sucked through this hole from the inside out. And again, hindsight is key here, but it’s the same fear of death, fear of time. The knowledge that as much as I’d like to stop time or make it go away or try to get out of its line of sight, I can’t. It’s just going to keep coming. And I can’t jump on it or make it go away and one day that’s going to be it.

And as a little kid these statues would follow me after I had unplugged the Nintendo. I’d imagine them in the periphery of my vision, always far enough behind me that I couldn’t quite get a fix on their exact location, but gaining on me, picking up speed. As much as I wanted to hide away or outrun them or whatever, they were just coming at me, this slow steady pace.

Whenever I’m walking or riding my bike and I’m on a path or a long road where I can see far ahead of me and far behind me, I always get that same sensation, like I’m Super Mario and I’m on the one of those linear levels, and I can see in front of me, all the way toward the end of the path, and I see where I’m at, somewhere, and I’ll look behind to where the road meets at the horizon and I always feel like I can see those same statues moving towards me, far away for now but moving in, closer and closer, steady as she goes and coming at you fast.