Some bloke had said once that life begins at 40.
This year, I turned 41.
So, I must technically be just 1 year old by now–more than ready for the next big adventure, and taking baby steps to that great, mysterious, fantastic unknown.
Now here is what happened a few days ago.
One of my best friends suddenly just collapsed, and died a few days later. She was 42 (just a year older than I am). We went to college together, shared birthday celebrations together, drank so much liquor together–and dangerously crept back to our homes after a few happy rounds together. Oh, did we have so much fun when we were in our twenties. We were so similar in so many ways–we were both Aquarians, and we loved our families so dearly. I was proudly part of the group that took charge of her wedding.
Incidentally, I was to be with that same group that would help arrange her funeral.
She was cremated soon after; and there I was, a few feet away, staring blankly at a marble urn that contained her greyish-white ashen remains. That was my friend who was alive just a few days ago. She’s gone now, and I barely heard the flick of her switch–she was just that. Gone. It was unbelievable.
I was thinking to myself: how could a person you’re so used to seeing, and talking to or texting or having dinners with, just vanish from sight, plucked off the face of this earth like a weed some unseen hand had uprooted so swiftly, without it at least e-mailing you or calling you, to let you know in advance?
So, am I dying too?
Let me ask that again. Am I dying?
Soon? Can anyone tell me?
Every day since I could remember, it has become quite a disturbing preoccupation: trying to select, from a horrific menu of possibilities, an interesting way to exit. Will there be a perversely careening bus headed for my car sometime this year? Is there a strange virus lurking deep within my body, replicating like crazy and quietly shutting down parts of my system, until I wither and die? Is there any relationship between my occasional headaches (few and far between) and a possible, previously unknown tumor in my brain–much like what had happened to my sister? Is my 5-pound weight loss during the past month an indication of something I should be worried about (or could it just be, after all, the successful effect of my diet regimen)? Does my feeling weak after a long work day have something to do with a sickness?
Or am I sounding a bit stupid now?
Sometimes, in the dead of night, I am suddenly shaken awake, from having snored too loudly, or from a bad dream.
I grab my phone and, while squinting at the bright display, start to Google things. I key in words like “non-stop cough.” Or “headache.” Or “migraine.” Or “sleepless nights.” And see if each is a symptom of something else. You’ll never know, right? I may just have cancer. Like my mother had. Or her own mother did.
Or maybe, I’m on my way to heart-disease-dom, like my father ended up in. Why am I thinking that? Hmmm. Maybe, because my heart happens to skip a beat sometimes? (Or, it could just be because a crush happened to pass by, Ian, damn it. Come on!)
Both mom and dad happened to die right in front of me, while I was holding their still-warm hands. It was altogether painful, surreal, and expected. We expect everyone, you and me, to depart from this world in different ways, but theirs happened a bit too soon.
So am I dying soon?
In a few weeks, I’m scheduled to board a plane. I will be up there, in the clouds, 30,000 feet up in the air, and staring into nothingness, as has always been the case during past flights. For about a day up there, I’ll be sitting still. Reading the plane’s travel magazine from cover to clammy hands-stained cover. Watching the in-flight movies, or at least trying to, while half-asleep, half-tired and half-anxious. (Wait, so that’s already one and a half of me). While I’m hearing the muffled sounds of the aircraft’s engine, I am also instantly reminded of these airplanes in the news: vanishing without a trace, or being shot down by a ground-to-air missile, or crashing into a populated city due to bad weather. All of those on board have, in seconds, turned from human beings, into statistics. Groan.
During each flight, I move my legs, stretch a bit, close my eyes, open them, shift positions, shift to another side, raise my ass up to make my blood circulate, or walk to the airplane’s restroom to make myself busy for a few minutes at least. As I enter the restroom, then lock the door and begin the deed, I wait. There it is again. The plane shakes and sways to and fro. I could not concentrate. I could not target my piss properly. I just couldn’t. I suddenly begin to feel so sickeningly afraid. What if I get trapped in here? What if the plane shakes so badly and I lock myself in this same cramped restroom, while everyone else is instructed by the captain to (ohmygoodnessIcouldntimaginethisreallyhappeningbutitcould) brace for impact?
Wait, I reckon while pretending to ignore the occasional shudder of the engine: Was that a creak I just heard from under my feet?
So am I dying soon? I wouldn’t know, until I realize it’s time.
Or is this just an unwarranted, morbid anxiety that’s just killing me very, very, very slowly?
Oh, dear God.