Lines and Dots

I was in London when Grandpa died. A sunny day for once and I was sitting in this windowless office, typing rows of letters onto a window scattered screen. My sister called. The ringtone, a couple of notes from a Romanian folk song, made people lift their heads and frown.

I knew something had happened. You move across the world and never think how bridges may be broken and connections lost, but this weird umbilical chord you didn’t even know you had, will effortlessly stretch over rocks and waters, tying you down. Not an ounce more freedom than you can handle.

In my mind, I went over everybody I loved, beads on string, each with their possible illnesses and arrays of domestic accidents. Fast growing tumors. Crushed limbs. Chests shattered on impact. Preparing myself for the worst.

It was Grandpa.

It comes with growing up, I think. We get wide open spaces, alcohol and speed dating, and the chance to ponder over the eventuality of everybody’s death. I think about it all the time. The death of my parents, my friends, my own. With grandparents it’s always been different. As a child, I knew they were old and could be gone at any time. I dreaded being left alone with them, thinking they’d die on me and I wouldn’t be strong or tall enough to unlock the front door, run out into the street and cry for help. But then nothing happened. I grew older and they did too, but at a such slower pace that at one point there I was, an almost fully formed human being, while they’d stayed pretty much the same. They were beyond dying by now, I was sure. Forgotten. They’d slowly be getting smaller and whiter for decades, then surely I’d catch up with them. We’d end up looking so much like one another that people would get us mixed up on the street.

They found Grandpa fallen on his kitchen floor. He hadn’t been picking up the phone. I picture Mom’s worries, hastily making their way along her umbilical phone cable, towards this destination that was slowly dissolving into nothing. She must have felt the cable snap.

So they broke down the door and found it, this thing no one thought would happen anymore.

It’s strange, the things we forget. I don’t remember what colour the kitchen walls were painted. Or what slippers he wore. But I remember that screen door. The mesh had rusted in places and it was so thin that I was sure if you pressed your body against it hard enough, you’d break through to the other side. A pile of bloody spaghetti strings they’d have to bury in a pot shaped coffin.

*

I dream about them, the people I’ve lost. I see their faces, every wrinkle, every pore, closer I think than I’ve ever looked at them in real life. I miss them more than I miss my young self, more than I miss my happiest of days. I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid of death in the way other people I know seem to be. But I am mad with hatred towards it, and death knows it. Doing its nasty business behind my back, what kind of thing is that? Waiting for me to drag my suitcases across half the planet, and then strike. When I’m not looking.

*

Grandpa and I had the same birthday, 60 years apart. We almost shared a first name too, if my parents hadn’t changed their mind at the last moment, picking a fancier, more modern name for me. Something I never really forgave them for. Perhaps it was a way of protecting me. Would I have remembered him every time someone called my name? Would it have hurt? Or would the pain, like all feelings these days, have faded out in time, a dubious spot on a table cloth washed over and over again in a million waters?

Tomorrow, Grandpa would have turned 90.

I was in London when he died. It’s been four years and still, I haven’t cried and haven’t said my goodbyes. In a way, it’s like it didn’t happen for me when it did for everybody else. Like he’s still there, close enough to reach if it weren’t for that mesh door keeping us apart, dissolving him into a million tiny squares. In fact, I know the door doesn’t exist anymore. They took it down along with the rest of the furniture, before they painted the walls clean and replaced the cupboards with more modern, plasticky replicas of their original selves. Nothing looks the way I remember it now. Like it never was, my childhood. This man and his loneliness.

Poem to Start the Week #2: Long Distance II

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

You couldn’t just drop in. You had to phone.
He’d put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

He couldn’t risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he’d hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she’d just popped out to get the tea.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven’t both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there’s your name
and the disconnected number I still call.

Tony Harrison

Life and Death of a Web Developer

Ok, it’s time to get physical personal.

I’m a hopelessly boring excuse of a human being.

I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. I rarely drink, and never enough to fall face first in the gutter and have friends dutifully documenting it on Facebook. I eat when I’m hungry. I sleep when I’m tired. I don’t particularly like chocolate, deep fried anything, soap operas or swimming with sharks. I don’t drive too fast, I don’t text when I walk.

But wait, it gets worse.

I occasionally go to my neighbourhood gym, where I do my boring little half hour run, then rush back to my boring little flat for a boring night in. I sometimes take the stairs. I sometimes take vitamins. I pretty much always wear sunscreen.

I’m so boring you’d think I’ll live a long, uneventfully pitiful little life in my corner, until one day, when everybody’s already long forgotten about me, I’ll suddenly dissolve into nothing.

I wish.

In fact, it seems I’ll die a painful untimely death.

Why, you ask?

Because I’m a web developer.

I know, I know, it’s come as quite a shock to me too, but according to this book I’m reading, my job will end up killing me. And soon. It figures, you know, everything was so perfect and all, I had absolutely nothing, nothing to complain about, it was time I found out I’d invested so many years, money and once alive brain cells in becoming my very own Grim Reaper.

Long story short, although my job will very likely kill me before my time, there are measures I can take to, I suppose, prolong the suffering.

For those of you who have grown to almost like me and would not utterly hate it if I stuck around for a little while longer, I have bad news. These measures are impossible, therefore I’m positively doomed.

But don’t take my word for it, judge for yourselves:

Things I should do to survive my killer job

(but which I won’t in a million years do because they are crazy)

1. Get a desk which allows for at least 3 working positions

Let me explain. What this means is that I should use a desk I could easily transform from a sitting desk to a standing one. I know it says three working positions, and sitting and standing only add up to two, but I guess they touch on the third possible position only in the second half of the book, which I haven’t read yet. That doesn’t stop me from trying to guess what that third position might be. Levitating? Swimming? Hands up in the air like you just don’t care?

Now, I don’t know about you, but most places I’ve worked didn’t provide me with an infinite array of high tech, programmable height and temperature, star sign compatible, Swarovski crystal coated desks I could pick from. If I’m lucky, I get a wobbly, sticky little table everybody bumps into on their way to the loo, and the only position it accommodates is an unfortunate compromise between trying to shrink out of everybody’s way and crouching away from the freezing air conditioning coming from exactly above my head. Turning my desk into a standing one at this point would pretty much involve bricks, nails, a chainsaw, and a fair amount of DIY work that would probably leave me missing at least a couple of fingers, if not an arm.

I’d say chainsaws are somewhat frowned upon in my office.

2. Change your working position every 20 minutes

Okay… Let’s pretend for a moment that I’ve got this super duper transformers style desk I can use both sitting, standing and levitating.  At the rate my brain cells are dying these days, I’d have to set up an alarm on my phone to remind me, every 20 minutes, to turn my sitting/standing/levitating mode on. Ignoring the fact that I’d get interrupted three times an hour, within half a day I’m sure someone in the office would throw a computer screen at my head, annoyed by my phone buzzing every 20 minutes and my crazy dancing moves as I change positions.

3. Eat 1,200 healthy calories, drink 2 litres of water and walk 10,000 steps a day

I am doomed.

*

Health-wise, my approach has, throughout the years, evolved as follows:

Early childhood: No idea death even exists so I shouldn’t worry about it.

Teenage years: I’m way to cool/drunk to die so I shouldn’t worry about it.

Early twenties: I’m way too young to die so I shouldn’t worry about it.

Present time: I worry about it. I’ll try anything if it means I won’t die before everybody else I know.

So I find myself, 20 something years into this living thing, looking up standing desks online. For my home office, that is. I can’t help it if my office office and everybody in it secretly plot to kill me, but the least I can do is strive for safety at home. I haven’t picked one yet, mainly because I think I find comfort in knowing that right now, the most dangerous thing in my life is this stupid desk. As soon as I’ve replaced it, I’m sure I’ll discover a million other things to be afraid of, and some might not be as easily fixed as clicking an Amazon purchase button.

Yay for awesome adult life and all its perks!