I'm ill. I'm afraid it might be something I ate. I had washed my hands the day of the PSI-Asia Christmas party, though I'm afraid I may not have washed them enough. I recognize the flu-like symptoms, the weakness, the labored breathing. I hope to God it's not encephalitis of any shape or form. I'd know what it would mean if that were the case.
I'm fond of the trappings of death-- the stories of walking corpses, the jokes about their smell, the absurdity of funerals, funeral parlors and the sometimes cadaverous aspects of the people who run the same parlors. I love the grand irony, the ultimate punchline: people making a living off of the dead.
Yet for all that... I may have prayed for Death's cold embrace at one time or another, but I am not fond of dying. Not in the way such deaths occur in these parts. One is felled by a preventable disease made inevitable because he has little in the way of money and much in the way of relatives who pooh-pooh his infirmity. One is shot or stabbed to death because he stayed too long in his favorite watering hole-- perhaps because he ogled the wrong strumpet, or because he was too ardent in his videoke rendition of My Way. One dies because he bothers to tie himself to a tree in the middle of a flashflood, trying to reach out and save neighbors who would not have saved him had their situations been reversed.
All those years that could have been spent eating, breathing, discovering, sleeping, learning, copulating, flushed down the toilet: such a heinous waste, punchline to the ultimate bad joke. A wasted life because it was cut short.
* * *
Every time I fall ill this way, I wonder if my time is up. Often because I cannot bring myself to trust the Universe completely.
My childhood is rife with stories of people who got exactly what they wished for. After receiving their hearts' desire, they often found something just as precious taken away from them: neglected, unappreciated, until it was too late to take back the granted wish. Often it was freedom. Or innocence. The love of a woman, friends and family. Sometimes, it was life. This was the original devil's bargain, and one made it with the Universe every day.
A child of seventeen runs away with her lover from her constricting parents into what she presumes to be a life of bliss. The rush of young love wears off, reality sets in, and soon enough, she is poor, pregnant and bereft of family and lover. The former, she had repudiated; the latter, she lost to another woman younger than her.
A father wishes to raise his child above the muck of poverty. He exposes her to every luxury his meager wealth can purchase. And then he is surprised when the daughter disdains him, does no work in the house and cannot get by without donning the trappings of the rich.
Two friends search for God and find him on their separate journeys. They return to where their quests began eager to share with the other the face and words of the One True God. Soon, there is blood on the temple steps.
There were times I would be blessed by a Subway sandwich; a sunlit sky; a lover's kiss; the delicate hands, welcoming smile, arresting eyes, fair shouldres and creamy skin of a woman. Then I would wonder if-- having seen, heard, touched, tasted and smelled a piece of heaven on earth-- I would pay for it tomorrow with my life.
Three nights ago, I got to sing with a band and a beautiful lady. I got good reviews for my work. I won an electric water-heater built into a coffeepot. Two nights ago, I dined with my girlfriend. I am thankful for these gifts, though now that I am ill, I find myself wondering what will be taken by the Universe as payment.
Damned stupid of me to think this way.
At this point, I am supposed to make an accounting of my life and lay it at the feet of the Lord.