There’s this old list that gets forwarded around of New year’s Resolutions. It’s been attributed to Billy Connolly but I don’t actually think he wrote it – but there’s one that says
“Why do people say ‘Life is short’?! Life is one of the longest things anyone ever does!” Which has truth to it, and is funny BUT the sentiment behind ‘Life is short’ also holds true.
I have a friend who was born with HIV.
I know a friend of a friend who went to the snow and was found dead of hypothermia the next day. They reckon he went for a couple of drinks, nothing major, at the bar at the resort where they were staying, and got lost wandering back to his chalet.
A girl I went to high school died of a brain tumour.
My fourth and fifth grade teacher died of cancer recently.
None of these people are what’s considered ‘old’. When I say the phrase ‘Life is too short.’ or (probably more likely) ‘Life is too fucking short’ these are the people I’m thinking of. These are why I don’t do certain, like waste time finishing a book I’m really not enjoying (a movie maybe… less time commitment… but not a book) Or when I’m about to enact a plan that seems crazy and very little chance of succeeding. Life is just it too damn short to not have a good time trying, even if you fail.
It was one of two phrases that entered into my mind at the pub the other night when someone asked about my last blog post.
It was just a regular at the night at the pub with a few friends. I’d had a fairly lame day of work and was happily relaxing over a couple of beers.
Then Joe (not his real name) raised the topic of the blog post and asked the true identity of the aforementioned ‘Jenny’. Even though Joe knew the real Jenny, I stuck to my guns and claimed he didn’t. Either I didn’t do this very well or he just didn’t believe me. He asked if he guessed correctly would who Jenny was would I confirm her identity? Figuring I’d hid Jenny’s true identity relatively well I agreed – and was immediately surprised when the first words of his mouth were Jenny’s real name.
And then I lied.
“No way,” I said immediately, trying my best poker face and taking a big swig of my beer in an attempt to hide my facial expression.
“But it was that line,” he proclaimed. “That line where you said ‘she’d often stated she wasn’t good at reading between the lines’. I know who said that, after I guessed her everything else fell into place.”
Of course everything fell into place. It WAS the bloody girl he was talking about.
I sat there considering my options. If I wanted to it would’ve been easy to continue the lie, he’d bought it, and the conversation topic had moved on to other things.
I’d lied to hide her identity so she’d never find out.
There’s this scene in the graphic novel (and animated film) “The Dark Knight Returns” where an aged Bruce Wayne is about to do something that could kill him if he sat back and let it. He decides at the last minute not to, saying to himself ‘It would be a good death… but not good enough’ I’d often thought about this when potentially giving up on something. Both that and ‘Life is too short’ often floated through my continuous inner monologue.
I could’ve let Joe believe he guessed wrong. There’d be no chance Jenny would ever find out.
Then again, if by some freak occurrence, I died tomorrow, say by an unexpected avalanche (a common occurrence in Canberra), or a meteor (another common Canberra occurrence)… well, if I died tomorrow everyone would move on with their lives. As they should. And Jenny would go on being none the wiser.
It would be a good death… but not good enough.
Debbie could tell her. Debbie (also not her real name), was the one who I’d accidentally skyped about the dream, she knew.
I didn’t want Jenny to know because I was worried it would make her feel uncomfortable whenever I saw her. And I’d already stated I’d never say anything myself because that would be a dick move to her and her boyfriend.
But Joe *had* guessed correctly. I can only conclude he is a keen observer of the human condition, a mystery novel fan, or watches way too much CSI. And I downright lied, and if there was that modicum of doubt, he could express that to Jenny if she ever raised the blogpost had been about her.
Plus, if he ever told her, it wouldn’t be by my hand. There’d be no intention behind it. If she was going to find out about it, that would probably be the the most relatively drama free way to find out. And I rarely saw Jenny these days.
Life is too short.
So I turned to Joe, and before I could overthink it anymore (me? overthink something? never!) I said:
“You really got it from that line? That one single line!”
After all, he’d earned it.
Excitement and amazement burst from his mouth.
“I was right?!?! I knew it! I KNEW IT! It all made sense. You said you’d been trying to message Emma, and I’m guessing Debbie would be right next to her on your contacts.”
Joe promised he’d never tell. Buuuutttt after giving it a full five minutes thought the prospect of him telling her didn’t bother me so much.
If I died tomorrow? Say by a random ninja attack. (another common Canberra occurrence). Or, you know, a car accident. (This will never happen. My driving is awesome.) Well, that death… would now be good enough.
There’s a line in a book I read recently:
“Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. I’m not crazy. Yes, there was a time when that may have been debatable, but the insanity plea no longer washes. Everything I’ve done was with forethought and a healthy regard for the consequences.” -‘Sex and Sunsets‘ By Tim Sandlin
The above actions were not the first time this year that quote has been relevant.
In case you didn’t know (because I never mention it, like ever, certainly not on this blog) I once spent a year writing a book about tracking down and interviewing every girl I’d ever had a crush on, from age six to present.
One of those girls was a lovely lady I’d worked with years earlier. We’ll call her Abigail. I’d sent her a copy of what I’d written so far, which I thought was light hearted and funny. (It’s got a ‘tee-hee-hee’ tone I would tell people who said it sounded like a ‘stalker book’)
Her response was not positive. In fact, it was the worst I’d gotten to the book at the point.
“I don’t want to be involved in any part of this and that includes the use of any part of my name.”
(Clearly she didn’t think it had a ‘tee-hee-hee’ tone)
It would break me mentally for a few days. This is all covered in explicit detail in the book. What I didn’t cover was the humorous aftermath.
Before I’d even got copies of the book printed up whenever I ran into someone from the law firm where we’d both worked, one of two things happened:
1. Within a few sentences of greeting they’d say “So I read an early draft of your book, I thought it was pretty funny”. It had apparently become somewhat underground email forward. Getting a copy normally involved a conversation between co-workers that went along the lines ‘You’ll never guess what Liam’s up to these days. Screw it I’ll just email it to you so you can see for yourself.”
2. If they didn’t mention the book I would cautiously raise it in conversation (making no reference to the girl in question, simply stating what the book was about) the mere mention of the book seemed to end the conversation prematurely and I would often never hear from them again.
Oddly the same reaction you got with 2. was identical to the reaction I got when I ran into a co-worker and casually mentioned the rumour I’d heard, that happened after I left, about one of the senior partners getting caught having a threesome with a secretary and unnamed third party in the boardroom after hours.
In regards to that rumour eventually I learnt this reaction was because all employees had been ordered not to comment on it.
I did wonder whether a similar mandate had been made in regards to my book. Or whether the ones that broke off all contact after it’s mere mention had simply deemed the concept a ‘stalker book’ without knowing of its comedic content.
After receiving that email from Abigail I didn’t have any contact with her. For fear of getting sued, her reaction had been so harsh and so dismissive I genuinely questioned whether I’d fallen for her, or had fallen for an idealized version of her I’d had in my head. Being aware of this, I did my very best in all future interactions with females to not put them up on a pedestal in my head.
This would fail spectacularly with one particular girl. (Yes Alyce, if you’re reading this I know whose name you’re saying right now) But that’s a story for another time.
Many years later I was preparing for my 30th birthday when my friend Trev made what he thought was a hilarious suggestion.
“You should invite that girl you used to work with. The one from your book. The one with the quote on the back.”
I looked skeptically at the webcam I was talking to him through.
“Abigail? Well, looking at it from all angles, the odds my actually be more in my favour now. She IS nine years older than me, and if the prospect of turning 40 next year is bothering her as much at the of turning 30 did back when we worked together, then she might actually consider it. Of course, the chance she may slap on restraining order on me could be a slight hindrance on our budding romance.” I mused.
He laughed. But the seed had been planted. And if there’s one thing my friends should be aware of by now, is that if a crazy idea forms in my head, then it only takes the slightest bit of encouragement for me to throw myself head first into it.
That encouragement came from Kirsty, who, two days later when I told her about the entire idea, happily pushed me towards it.
“She hated the book,” I pointed out. “She said, and I quote, ‘I don’t want to be involved in any part of this and that includes the use of any of part of my name.'”
“Maybe she doesn’t like books!” Kirsty declared. “A fear of papercuts maybe?”
That afternoon I toyed with the idea of sending Abigail an invite. It had seven years since we had any sort of contact, and ten years since we’d seen each other in person. Surely things would’ve cooled enough bynow that simply sending her an invite wouldn’t land me with any sort of restraining order. I mean, a single email in 2007 then an invite sent in the post seven years later? No way the consequences would be that bad. Worst case scenario she tossed the invite in the bin the moment she got it. Maybe I would get a nasty phone call.
And what if I died the next day? What if a random piano fell out of the sky and landed on me? (A common Canberra occurrence) Or a lightning bolt randomly struck me killing me instantly? (Another common Canberra occurrence.)
If I died then the book itself would be a nice humourous coda to the whole Abigail situation.
It would be a good death. But not good enough.
So I sent her an invite to my 30th. I knew she still worked at the law firm, and was fully aware of how well the office mail system worked. If the letter had ‘Personal’ written on it the mail staff weren’t allowed to open it.
It’s why I long suspected that time a mysterious package a lawyer had received that contained human feces – Yes, someone shat in a bag and posted it to him – was an inside job. They’d written ‘Personal’ on the envelope so it hadn’t been let loose on unsuspecting mailroom worker.
(The mailbag stank that day, it wasn’t hard to guess what it might be)
I made sure “Personal” was clearly put on the envelope, even wrote my return address on the back and sent it.
I wasn’t crazy. I had a healthy regard for the consequences. When I told the rest of my friends, and my housemate at the time, about this in the following days, this would be an argument I would have to use continuously.
The general consensus seemed to be that she wouldn’t show up. But I’d thrown myself head first into this now, and my blind optimism was unstoppable.
“I’ve seen ‘The Right Kind of Wrong’ okay,” A film in which the lead character pursues a woman he meets on her wedding day. “Beautiful things that seem impossible happen everyday.” I would stubbornly quote.
My friend Sare even bet that she would cover the entire bar tab if in fact she was wrong and Abigail did indeed show up.
I knew, of course, the odds of her appearing weren’t great. Hell I’d even decided, if she did show up, the first thing I would say to someone would be ‘the universe just turned on its head.’
At around 11pm on the night of my 30th someone made a smart arse comment about Abigail not showing up. Not bothered in the slightest I adamantly declared
“She could still show!” Before adding “Kind of beating a dead horse now, aren’t I?”
But I was okay with the fact she didn’t. If she had, don’t get me wrong, that would’ve been awesome. But hey – if the next day I was randomly trampled to death by a herd of Wildebeest (A common Canberra occurrence.) Then I know I would’ve given the Abigail situation my best shot, and I was done now. That death would be good enough.
Because it’s in situations like this, like with Joe & the Jenny situation, and Abigail and my 30th that life is just too damn short to act otherwise.