An Accident: for Ryan

I was lucky.

Of all the things that could have happened, an accidental shooting that was transported to the hospital and then pronounced dead in the ER made for a relatively easy night. Not too bad for my first shift back.  I wasn’t terribly on my game but, thankfully, I didn’t have to be.

It was an accident.

Of course, I was unlucky in that this accident took place right around midnight and I was, of course, dead asleep when the call came in.  And unfortunately the last month and a half has completely de-conditioned me for waking up in the the middle of the night to do anything complicated and/or important.

In case you didn’t pick up on that, I just came back from a month and a half off work, but more about that later.  And anyway, considering all the unluckiness going around that night, I really couldn’t complain.

I answered the phone with a blurry, half  mumbled greeting, haphazardly scrawled some notes down from dispatch and then immediately started processing how I could technically do my job and still put in as little effort as possible. Specifically, could I deal with this call without actually having to get out of bed?

It wasn’t until I was on the phone with the investigating detective that I came to grips with the fact that this was actually a pretty serious situation and I was going to have to suck it up and work.

“Hey Grace! It’s been a while since I’ve seen you! Where have you been? How are things?”

“Hey Bishop,” I responded wearily… already instantly back in the habit of calling everyone by their last name.  (Of course that doesn’t apply to me because no one can pronounce my last name) I really like Detective Bishop.  He’s an honest-to-goodness nice guy who has never put on any big-fat airs about being a detective.  The guy has absolutely NO swagger at all.  He started with the Oswald County Sheriff’s Department at the same time I got picked up as a medical examiner.  We shared our first call on the job here, so we’ve always had something of a kinship for each other.  Appropriately, we’re at roughly the same level of disenchantment and we’ve watched one another become less and less enthused with the whole medicolegal-DEATH process.  We’re buds. Still, that doesn’t mean that I was about to tell him where I’ve been or how things are…

Because I’ve been out on leave for PTSD and depression, and quite frankly… things are bad. I’m not sure I should be back at work but for the fact that I’m out of money.

I’d offer details, but I’m not sure how much time you have.

indigo

The last 6 years has been a devastating, twisted carnival of loss, heartbreak and trauma. And while I have been dealing with it the best I could, that should not suggest I’ve been dealing with it well.  As each new blow was landed; from the miscarriage to the divorce, from the cancer to the break-up and the subsequent suicidal ideation… I lost footing, I flailed. I fell…. and got back up, always telling myself I could go on. I was fine. I was managing. But I wasn’t… Just because I awoke every day and managed some semblance of consciousness and function does not mean I was in any way surviving…

Yes, it got that bad…

…or rather, I got that bad… because I think the abandoning of myself, the slow degeneration of my own spirit that has been what we, in medicine, refer to as a chronic condition… a “smouldering infection”. It hasn’t been any one, single ruinous event that suddenly crashed my planet, it’s the accumulation of sorrow along with my desperate and increasingly disorganized coping.  The state I was in really wasn’t evident until I was sitting in the front seat of my car… thinking about how I could just veer into oncoming traffic and be done with it all.

I’m not proud of how completely I departed from my own center… How thoroughly I was flung off my axis…

I’m not blaming anyone.  I was a perpetrator in these events as much as I was a victim. I still am.  I wish I’d been better, wiser, kinder with it all. I wish I knew what to do now…

…besides my job.

Speaking of…

Yeah… I wasn’t about to share any of this with Bishop, I couldn’t.  Despite what our human resource departments like to claim, no one ever ‘fesses up to being on the ragged edge of a nervous break-down. We’re not “welcome to express our feelings”. The fact is, pretty much all of us (police, paramedics, etc.) are a mess all the time and we all smooth over the cracks in our psyches.  It’s a shameful thing… not being able to “cut it”.  Especially as a woman, there’s always that added layer of misogyny… the weight of having to prove you can hang with the guys, not only for your own sake, but also for the sake of all women who have ever applied for and held a job in a male-dominated field.  The eyes of history are on you. Generations of women before you fought and suffered so you could collect that paycheck… so are you going to cry and reach for your smelling salts while someone loosens your corset for you?  Or are you gonna fucking galvanize and show these assholes what a pair of x chromosomes can do?

Answer:

“I’ve been around, Bishop.  You know me… I’m always around.  What’s the story?”

“Well, we’ve got an accidental shooting.  This kid’s from China.  He’s here for college or something.  He and his buddies were playing with some guns and one of them accidentally discharged.  There’s liquor all over the place.  At first we thought it might be gang related… but it’s not. The shooter shit himself… like actually shit himself when it happened.”

Bishop kept talking while I wrestled out of my pajamas and re-built myself into my business casual professional-wear.

So… it made sense… everything Bishop was telling me. Owning firearms is an incomparable novelty for these foreign kids who have never even seen a live weapon, let alone held or operated one. So naturally, when Chinese students come to America, one of the first things that they do is go out and buy guns.  The next thing that they do is invite all of their friends over to see their gun collection.  And after THAT, the next thing they do is drink a vast amount of alcohol and start passing around those pea-shooters… and guess what happens next?

According to Bishop, the AR-15 discharged while pointed at our decedent’s abdomen

ar-15

When I saw him at the hospital, the wound was maybe half a centimeter in diameter… barely big enough to see.  But as anyone who knows anything about ballistics can tell you, the kid’s liver had essentially been put through a paper-shredder.  He was unconscious before the ambulance arrived.  He was pulse-less by the time they got him into the ER.

A split second.  A tiny hole. And here he was, 19 years old… less than half my age. Done.

Of course, the existential crisis I was due to have regarding this kid’s death was somewhat delayed by my more immediate logistical crisis: He was 6’2″ tall and weighed just shy of 300 lbs. I had to get him into the state office and on to an autopsy table all  by my itty-bitty self at almost 2 a.m…. prompting a less than boast-worthy hissy fit during which I uttered the reprehensibly racist comment that I thought Chinese people were supposed to be little…

trainer

Yeah, not proud of that one.  but hell, what do I have to hide anymore?

It took some fancy finagling on my part, but I managed to get the kid on a prep-table and into the cooler without dropping him on the floor or throwing my back out… because that’s what I do, right?  In the face of overwhelming tribulation, I carry the fuck on.

Still, after I had him on the table, I stood there and looked at him for what was probably an inordinate amount of time.

I never see these people alive, so seeing them dead isn’t as disturbing as one might think.  While their friends and family are devastated to see the inert flesh vehicle that once housed the soul of their loved one… it’s different for me.  He’s been dead the whole time I’ve known him. I don’t know a thing about him other than how damn heavy he is and what he looks like naked. In general I like it that way…  There’s just enough separation. It’s like handling mannequins. Sure, it might get a little creepy when you’re by yourself, but it’s not like they’re going to get up and start talking to you.

Maybe it’s because it was my first death, back in the saddle and my brain-condom wasn’t thoroughly in place…  But I did something I can only call ill-advised. I stepped out from behind the protective lead curtain of indifference. I looked at this kid and tried to imagine what his voice sounded like.  I tried to imagine him joking around with his friends.  I wondered what he was studying in America and what he figured his life was going to look like.  Was he going to go home to China?  Was he going to stay here?  Did he think America was just fucking awesome?  Did he realize what happened to him in those brief moments after the bullet tore through his body and before he exsanguinated into his abdominal cavity?

19 years old.

I remember being 19 years old, and I probably wasn’t too different from this kid.

It may be hard to imagine, but I was raised to be a conservative Christian.  I went to church 3 times per week. I sang songs, I lifted my hands up in worship.  I tried really hard to speak in tongues but couldn’t ever get the hang of it. I probably would have handled snakes if we had been into that sort of thing.  I was REALLY good at figuring out what people expected me to do, and then doing it.  By all accounts, I was set to have a safely obedient life of meek piety in the kingdom of God.  Everything was in place.  I was sheltered.

I left home to go to college, too.  I didn’t traverse continents in the name of higher education or anything, but I moved out and all of the rules that held me in check suddenly evaporated.  I could do what I wanted… for the most part.  Sure, I went to a Christian college (at first) that had a curfew, a chapel, an “honor-code” and all manner of rules governing our comings and goings.  But let’s be honest.  It was a barely contained free-for-all. Sex, drugs, rock-and-roll… and chapel services in between.

No one handed me an AR-15 or anything, but we had a wide variety of other lethal implements at our disposal… and not one of us had been trained, or even cautioned regarding their use.  Specifically, we all had barely developed brains, unbroken hearts and just-out-of-the-box,  freshly-oiled, fully-functioning reproductive systems.

And being sheltered from the use, care and maintenance of these items in no way sheltered us from the repercussions when we decided to start using them… and I imagine we were a lot like that slew of Chinese college kids.  Drunk on freedom, waving around our shiny new toys, feeling like hot shit… ignorant to the fact that you’re not supposed to put your finger on the trigger… be careful where you point that thing… it’s loaded you know…

BANG

I’m not young anymore.  There’s no excuse anymore. But if life is a battlefield and these are my weapons, I still can’t shake the feeling that I never really learned how to use them.  I imagine myself, staggering through no-man’s land, the demilitarized zones of human experience, dashing from one trench to the next, firing blindly over my shoulder. Taking another bullet in my thigh, one to the shoulder, throw on a bandage, tie on a tourniquet… keep running…accidentally firing on my friends, my lovers, my family… lost and confused…staring at a map that I never learned to read, wondering if that hap-hazard kaleidoscope of scoldings and sermons I received was supposed to pass for training…

I have to slow down. I have to figure out how to shoot this thing… and how to NOT shoot this thing.  I need to figure out who my allies are.  How do I recognize an enemy? And for god’s sake… where is safe? How did I get here?  How do I get home?

“I’m so sorry.”

…was all I said to the dead Chinese boy.  And I was.  I’m so sorry for all of the things he was counting on doing that won’t happen now.  I’m sorry for his mom who probably had nightmares about this very occurrence. I’m sorry for the friend who accidentally let off a round from his flashy new gun and whose future was now so terrifyingly uncertain.  And I’m sorry for all of us… the wizened old-timers who somehow survived our first rounds with the real world and have continued to get pummeled ever since.

Here’s to him.

Here’s to us.

We who are about to carry the fuck on… salute you.

50 Shades of Dysfunction

So, you may not believe me, but I actually saw this wretched movie…

Not the newly released sequel, mind you, but the first one: “50 Shades of Grey”

a.k.a.

“Dysfunctional Codependency 101”

50-shades

I’d hate to admit it, but I read the book, too.

I wasn’t so much interested in the whole bondage scene, so much as I was wondering what all the excitement was about.  Women everywhere were fawning over this smouldering anti-hero, Christian Grey.  The BDSM community was up-in-arms about the misrepresentation of their life-style and a bunch of my Christian friends and family members were clutching their blouses in horror and writing lengthy, self-righteous Facebook posts about how disgraceful it is to indulge in fantasies about men other than your husband.

I figured anything that garnered that kind of controversy and excitement deserved a look.

So I purchased the e-book on itunes and sat down for a little somethin’somethin’ with American literature’s most talked about sadist.

Long story short, it was drivel… I mean… high-school-creative-writing-class-bad. I honestly kept reading it out of sheer outrage that something so deplorably vapid could actually turn a profit.  That got me through the first chapter.  I spent the rest of the book fantasizing… not about kinky sex with a 27-year-old billionaire, but fantasizing about rewriting and editing the text to actually make it a halfway (in)decent read.

I remain flabbergasted by the notion that such inane garbage could actually get published while I’m struggling to get any agent to read my stories about the Mighty American Death Machine.

Anyway, after I read the book, I watched the movie… and you know what?

The movie wasn’t half bad.

It wasn’t “A Lion In Winter” or anything, but I actually enjoyed it to some degree, for a few reasons.  First off, Jamie Dornan is definitely not too hard on the eyes.  However he makes a much more convincing serial killer than romantic lead. ( If you don’t believe me, look up “The Fall” on Netflix) Secondly, Dakota Johnson actually has some talent for wandering through a scene looking bewildered and uncomfortable… which was exactly what her role called for. Nice work, casting director.

grey

Anyway, probably my favorite part of the movie was the ending.  And for those of you who haven’t seen this cinematic travesty, let me illuminate you:  After a weeks long campaign of stalking, intimidation and abuse that, really, should have resulted in a restraining order… Anastasia Steele decides that she simply cannot abide Christian Grey’s kink… and she walks out on him.

That’s it.

And while it may not seem terribly revolutionary to anyone else, I wanted to give our heroine a standing ovation… right there in my pajamas as I watched this literary swill play itself out on my ipad.

Of course, tragically, the series continues with the next installment in which the two of them get right back together before Anastasia even has the time to wash him out of her bed sheets… which is a damn shame but I can’t say I haven’t done the same… several times.  But that brings me to my point….

What the fuck are we doing?

I remember going to see “Phantom of the Opera” with my father when I was a tender 16 years old.  I was unbelievably enamored with the romance of it all; the phantom’s tragic genius, dancing inside his gloriously dark midnight-mind like the aurora borealis… the soul-ripping music that bled from his broken heart like a hemorrhage of magic falling from the stars… The love… The poetry… The allure of a magnificently tortured soul, as breathtaking as the crush of a fatal impact. I loved it. And when Christine decided to abandon the phantom to his dismal solitude beneath the Paris opera house, I cried my starry little teenaged eyes out.  How could she leave him?  He was soooo grotesquely beautiful.

I also remember when Beauty and the Beast came out in theaters… obviously not the live action one that was released just last week, but the animated one that, in it’s brilliance, received an Oscar nod as well as a subsequent stage adaptation that has been running for … well… I’m not sure, but probably decades.  I saw that damn movie nine times in the theater. NINE TIMES… IN THE THEATER.  That doesn’t even begin to touch the number of times I saw it after a friend bought it for  me on VHS. (Yes, VHS. I’m dating myself, I know.) I was obsessed with that story, too.  I strongly identified with the lead character who was a painfully misunderstood girl who read too much and couldn’t fit in.  And, of course, I LOOOOVED the LOVE story.  With her love Belle transformed the selfish, enraged, monstrous beast into a loving, tender prince and they lived happily ever after. Yay for love!

I could go on.  There are innumerable tales, loads of movies, countless books.  Hell, even the great classic “Pride and Prejudice” features a love affair between our spunky, whip-smart Elizabeth Bennett and the dashingly dour Mr. Darcy… a man who is, quite frankly, a judgemental, imperious prick who refuses to dance with Elizabeth in the first chapter, proclaiming derisively to his cronies that she, along with all the other women present, is “barely tolerable”.

I’m 40 now, and recently, I went to see “Phantom” again.  It was just as evocative and excruciating as ever.  But this time when Christine high-tailed it out of the opera house, leaving the Phantom to his dank isolation.  I wasn’t quite as heartbroken and maybe just a little exhilarated… a little vindicated… and a part of me wanted to get up and yell after her, “Run faster, girl! You can make it! That guy’s a complete psycho!”

Because he was.

phantom

Coming at it from the other side of 25 years later, I realize “Phantom of the Opera” wasn’t a love story.  It’s the story of a young woman who is being manipulated and slowly driven insane by a crazed (and brilliant) narcissistic sociopath who uses her childhood trauma to exploit and, ultimately, try to consume her. That’s not love.

“Beauty and the Beast” is a story of a young woman who, depending on the version you’re reading, is held captive by a vicious, maladjusted, shut-in who intends to steal her life away and make her fall in love with him so he can escape from his own twisted situation. That’s not love.

“50 Shades of Grey” is a story of a young woman who is completely inexperienced and naive.  She is seduced by a sadomasochistic nut-job (whose only real attribute is his fabulous wealth)  who is obsessed with the notion of owning and controlling her. One more time… louder for the folks in back… THAT’S NOT LOVE.

And we are doing ourselves and our children a massive disservice by telling them that it is.

My tirade isn’t only inspired by the recent release of many of these movies.  The other day I was working out at my gym and a song came on the sound system.  It’s a senselessly vapid little ditty, sung by some pouty-mouthed ding-bat in a leotard.  “When love huuurts… baby… yeah that’s how you know it’s REAL!” she croons through a synthetic swamp of over-produced auto-tune.

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“when love hurts… baby, yeah that’s how you know it’s time to reassess your values and maybe think about getting some counseling.”

And THAT ladies and gentlemen is the crux of the problem. We (both men and women) have been led to believe that intensity and emotional turmoil are love.  We enter and entertain relationships that are damaging and dangerous because we believe that the “high” we feel from a flooded limbic system is “ever after” calling us forward from our mauve, hum-drum lives to embrace a vibrant and passionately tumultuous existence.  It’s a crock of horse-shit and we need to stop… seriously, we need to stop.

Because my tirade is also inspired by something else…

Remember “Beauty and the Beast”? That movie I saw nine times in the theater? Well one of those times I saw that movie, I was with my best friend, Theresa. She loved it just as much as I did. We clung to each other in delighted sophomoric ecstasy. We laughed, we cried, we agreed it was the BEST MOVIE EVER!

Hers was the first dead body I ever saw.

A few months after we saw that movie together, Theresa took up with some guy whose name I don’t even remember. His name doesn’t matter. He was “that guy”. The one who shows up with the saucy smile and the cigarette between his teeth.  He also showed up with a blunt and a wandering eye. Theresa fell desperately in love with this little shit stain and when he cheated on her a few months later, she killed herself.

Sixteen years old… Just like that.

I remember her funeral… And all of us there, children. Stacked up in the church pews with our eyes as wide as a virgin moon. We were dazed, terrified, baffled. Had this really happened? Was this really happening? It was an open casket. Theresa had dyed her blonde hair jet black and her roots had been growing out. Her face was green. That’s what I remember.

And I wonder about it now. What if? What if she had called me before she took the pills? What if we had seen a different movie or listened to different music? What if someone, somewhere had definitively assured Theresa that this relationship was absolutely NOT the most important thing that would ever happen to her?

Maybe she’d be here with me… Laughing at long-lost what’s-his-name with his stupid smile and his even more stupid cigarette…

Intensity and chaos are not passion… they’re intensity and chaos.  Yet young women are being bombarded with this message from highly stylized pop-culture.  They’re being told to sacrifice their own well-being and sanity in the name of love… with the assurance and everything will turn out great… Furthermore, they’re being told that failing to sacrifice themselves means that they are some kind of a banal, inhibited coward.

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The fact of the matter is, women die because of this message.  Not only do they end up beaten to death, shot, strangled… (I’ve seen all of these situations).  They die to their values when they abandon their own moral compass in order to keep the peace with a lover.  They die to their identities when they ignore their own life in order to fit into the twisted contortion that’s required to make an impossible relationship work.  They die to their hopes and dreams by becoming a satellite to another person’s ego.  They die to their friends and families when they slowly disappear from activities and events… either because they’re too tired, too stressed out, too pressured or too ashamed of what they’ve become

They die to themselves, when they capitulate to this madness and become a hollowed-out receptacle where a broken man stores all his self-loathing.

Leaving is brave.

Self-preservation is sexy.

Fighting for yourself is passion…

Relationships are difficult… relationships take work… and all that psycho-babble.  But if you’re with someone who regularly treats you like shit and you hate yourself as a result…

You’re not the heroine in a love-story for the ages…

You’ve been had.

It’s okay, we’ve all been had at one point or another.

So turn off the romantic tragedies. Ignore the wailing advice of insipid pop-stars on the radio. Don’t take advice from anyone you don’t want to emulate.  And anyone who calls you a fool or accuses you of giving up is an idiot.

Follow in the footsteps of Christine Daae. High-tail it out of that fucking swamp, and rest assured, you will have an audience of women like me… women who have been there, who’ve had to make that choice and fight that battle… women who have had to run for their lives.  We’ll all be standing up in our seats and cheering as you go…

“Run faster, girl! You can make it!”

run!

The Dating Zombie

hands

It’s happening again.

It’s time.

Its the creepy organ music.

It’s the rich, sugary burn of scorched pumpkin flesh.

Its the shelves of the grocery store adorned in cotton cobwebs and piled high with bags of “fun-size” candy (-something that never made sense to me… why is a ¼ sized candy bar considered fun?  What’s FUN about less candy?)

Anyway… caramel and apples are stacked in the same display case in the supermarket, Ouija boards are on sale and department stores are already setting out Christmas decorations.

No doubt about it… it’s October.

As Halloween closes in on us, we as a culture are once again drawn toward the macabre, the creepy and the downright gross. Not surprisingly, I love Halloween.  It feels almost like the medical examiner equivalent of Veterans’ Day or St. Patrick’s Day. Suddenly everyone is into the same things I’m into and I feel a little less like a morbid anomaly… but just a little…

I went to see a Halloween circus and acrobatics show this past weekend and it was utterly delightful.  From the spiders on the trapeze to the hand-balancing werewolf, every single performer was amazing to behold.

If I had to choose a favorite act I would be tempted to say it was the witch who pulled a rubber chicken out of her shirt, but in truth my favorite act was the contortion zombie. This girl was all done-up post-mortem-like…ragged and emaciated.  She staggered onto the stage, groaned at the audience and proceeded to pull off a wide array of freakish moves, including, but not limited to, sitting on her own head.

contortion

I howled in nauseated astonishment along with the rest of the audience, my stomach turning along with everyone else’s at the feats of flexibility this girl was performing… but that’s not to say I wasn’t still something of a freak myself… because while everyone else was being blithely traumatized by the performer’s exploits, I was trying to calculate exactly how decomposed your standard dead body would have to be in order for her tendons and ligaments to display that kind of mobility.  I mean, you’d have to wait for rigor-mortis to dissipate, and the rate at which THAT takes place is profoundly variable. Furthermore, most bodies would lose the epidermis, adipose and muscle long before the sturdier connective tissues gave out.  Even then, you’d have to account for ambient temperature, precipitation, insect activity, exposure, body mass index and on and on and…

(In case it wasn’t obvious, this morbid anomaly here was dateless for this function)

Anyway… zombies.

Zombies have really enjoyed quite the revival over the course of the last 10 years (get it?).  I like it.  It’s nice to see them getting some work again and broadening their horizons.

After George Romero’s whole, “Night of the Living Dead” heyday In the 70’s, there was something of a dead calm throughout the 80’s and on into the 90’s for the re-animated.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, popular culture was, as ever, enamored of the paranormal.  But for a good 20-years, all things trendy chose to bow at the feet of vampires (The Lost Boys, Interview With a Vampire) witches (The Craft, Practical Magic) and werewolves (The Howling, An American Werewolf in London)… probably because the old adage remains true… sex sells. And it’s hard to make a rotting corpse look sexy.  And how the hell can a putrefying cadaver ever hope to rival Brad Pitt done up as the romantically tortured Louis… ever suffering the foppish insults of an equally exquisite Tom Cruise a.k.a. Lestat.  So zombies took a back seat, and waited.  Why not? They had time.

I’m not sure which movie did it… Maybe “28 Days Later” or “Shawn of the Dead”.  But as we staggered our way into the 2000’s, sultry, pouting succubi failed to titillate and the ennui of another struggling half-human, anti-hero began to wane even as our Nine Inch Nails albums wore down and even Marilyn Manson began looking a bit too… pedestrian for our tastes.  We wanted entertainment, mindless, heartless, pulseless entertainment… and the zombies provided.

But unlike the previous zombie fevers, this time we no longer feared the zombie apocalypse… we hoped for it.  Hell, we invited it.  I counted myself amongst those who regarded a zombie apocalypse with giddy anticipation. I just knew I would own the unbridled anarchy that would certainly ensue when the dead rose again and we could finally put to use all the driving and shooting skills we had honed while playing “Grand Theft Auto.”

Such an event felt like my own natural habitat. I would be like a duck in water… a kid in a candy store… an arsonist at Burning Man… a cop in a race riot. Nothing would stop me.

My friends and I would frequently discuss where we would meet at the advent of this “disaster”, where we would go once we had assembled, which stores we would loot first, which vehicle we would steal, which weapons to employ…  It’s kind of shameful how much effort we put into zombie apocalypse preparation as compared to how little preparation and planning we put into disasters that could actually happen.

I was set to hole up in the local art museum with an arsenal of blunt objects and canned goods at the first sign of zombie-trouble, but I couldn’t tell you how to use a fire extinguisher or what to do in the event of a tornado… I mean the city would shut down a lane of traffic on my usual route to work and I would erupt like a shaken soda bottle.

Anyway… zombies.  During this zombie revival, I was dating a guy named Cahuncey (yes, Chauncey… whatever assumptions you’re making about him based on his name are probably right.)  Good Ol’ Chauncey was even more enthusiastic about the immanent zombie apocalypse than I was.  And he used to play off this character we called “The Dating Zombie”… it was one of those nauseating little inside jokes that couples share… kind of like when another  boyfriend and I used to pretend we were dinosaurs and chased each other around his apartment making weird noises that we fancied were dinosaur-ish… He was Veloci-Ian and I was Dilotho-Kate… anyway, Zombies.

Chauncey would lurch over to me with a vacant, twisted expression on his face (even more so than ususal) tongue out and silvery thread of drool oozing from a corner of his mouth. He would heave forward with his arms bent askew, randomly clawing at the air like he was conducting an orchestra of seizure activity… with hands curled up like dead spiders.  One leg would be dragging numbly behind him as he convulsed and grunted and groaned like a dying asthmatic buffalo.   Once within a hand’s reach of me, The Dating Zombie would start in with the sweet talk… “Yooouuu haaave reallyyyyyy nicssse HAIIIIRRRRRRR” as he pawed at me in a clumsy, flailing attempt at a caress.  “Dooo you wannnna come back to myyyyy plaaaaaaaaaaaace AAARGH?” And he would stumble forward, catching my hand in his then he would pretend to be overcome with bloodlust and start nibbling on my fingers… “Brrraaaaainnssss! I love a woommaaaan with BRAAAAAIINS!”  It was cute… in a quirky, hipster way.  The Dating Zombie… poor, awkward undead romantic.

lovezombies

I’m divorced… which is really weird to say.  It sounds so much older and serious than I feel.  “Divorced” is for older ladies who wear too much perfume and have lip-stick on their teeth.  They roll their eyes during lunch dates with their friends and talk about alimony and child support and their ex-husbands’ mid-life crises.

It’s not really how I imagine myself.  But then again, I’m not just divorced.  I’m a divorced medical examiner… with cancer… which means I’m a divorced morbid anomaly… with cancer.

Honestly, as I’ve struggled to re-enter the “dating scene” (if that’s what we’re calling it) my attempted interactions with the opposite sex haven’t been too different from the strangled gestures of the dating zombie… I’m almost alive again, after the heart-stopping trauma of separation and divorce.  I brushed off the dirt in which my past life was buried and pitched myself ever onward, fumbling and ungainly, half-syllables and drool falling from my lips in equal measure as I attempted to get my hands on something satisfying.  Brains are good… as any zombie will tell you, but so is a sense of humor, a nice face, a job and maybe a retirement plan. At the moment, however, I’ll settle for a pulse and a penis.  And I insist on both at once.  A girl’s gotta have standards.

The problem is, everyone else has standards as well… standards that I suppose aren’t too stringent for most people. But if these standards are the equivalent of a metal detector, I don’t even make it past the front door. As I’m continually exposed to ever more death, I’ve sunk further and further into the quicksand of weird behaviors and habits that inevitably come with near-constant emotional crisis.  Some might call it post-traumatic-stress-syndrome… I just call it socially awkward. Either way…

I’ve retreated into the recesses of human interaction and lurk in the unmentionable shadows… a troll under humanity’s bridge… I see the underside of everything and it’s hard to find any common ground upon which to strike up a conversation.  I’m a classic bait and switch… I look like a normal woman, perhaps even an attractive one. I go normal places and appear to do normal things, but then I’m approached by a member of the opposite sex and I burst forth with some bizarre comment or question that’s so fucking disturbing that men turn tail and run as though I just sprayed them like a skunk.  I should just start farting the second I’m approached.  It might actually be less embarrassing.

For example:

I was working out at my gym and I’d seen this guy around.  He was something of a gorilla, big, hulking shoulders… thick, slab-like arms and hands like anvils.  He kind of had that dangling swagger to his upper torso where his biceps, triceps and lats were so overgrown that he couldn’t really put his arms down.  Head shaved and a wide, guileless grin… he had introduced himself at some point. I think his name was Joe and he was really impressed with my calves… and as I recall, I looked at him blankly, wondering why the hell this meathead was interrupting my interval.  But he seemed nice enough… and it didn’t occur to me until after I was already showered and at home in my own bed that he might have been flirting with me.

The next time I saw him, he approached as I was on the stair-machine and I was too sweaty and out of breath to really say anything… and my attempt at an inviting smile may have seemed more like a pained grimace. But I gave it my best shot and he stuck around long enough to tell me that he was a school bus driver for the local school district… a little fact that made him infinitely more attractive in my eyes. On first sight, I would have pegged him as a car mechanic or construction worker.  But hey… this dude worked with kids… which meant he had to be okay with a certain amount of gross talk… boogers and lugies and such. He was probably super patient and, on a more practical level, he had to have passed a pretty vigorous background check.  I had managed to gasp out that I was a medical examiner and he hadn’t run away screaming. He hadn’t even done the quiet moment of contemplation as he registered the depth of what that meant.  Maybe this could go somewhere… and by somewhere I meant… like to coffee… or to a movie… or somewhere other than to the rack for another set of curls.

The last time I saw him, I won’t say I was ready, but I wasn’t mid-exercise, so my lungs were full of air and I wasn’t sporting a big-soggy sweat-mark on my chest. He waved hello and I meandered over to try my hand at conversation.  We exchanged the requisite greetings and such and I asked him how the bus-driving gig was going. He shrugged and grinned then went into an extensive tale about a recent trip to the zoo in which 6th grade pandemonium ensued.

“Have you ever tried to wrangle a bus-load of 6th graders?”  He chuckled.

“Heh,” I said in an attempt to jovially identify a similarly complicated situation at my job. “Have you ever tried to wrangle the family of a dead infant?”

Even as the words charged past my lips I felt the choking horror set in… had I really just said that… like out loud and everything?

flaming

The question hung there for a moment, and Joe’s facial expression never changed… but there was a sudden shift of the light behind his eyes, like someone had just closed the venetian blinds.  Not so much the lights are on but nobody’s home… rather somebody’s home but they have no fucking desire to talk to you anymore.  I think a few parting words may have passed between us after that, but I sure don’t remember what they were. It’s hard to imagine which of us was more eager to pull the rip-cord and vacate that conversation.  Anyway, you’ll notice I said that was the last time I saw him…

A bit later on, I had managed to get past first base with this one guy who actually seemed pretty into me.  Which is to say he kept calling and seemed to have a decently strong stomach.  Right up until one day when I was working and he was feeling saucy, judging by the text message I received:

“-Hey pretty lady, thinking about you.  Tell me something dirty.”

Now I’m 40 years old, and I am one generation too far gone from this whole “sexting” phenomenon.  Which is not to say that I’m not game for it… I’m just no good at it.  Because, glancing at my surroundings, I shrugged and sent him the dirtiest thing I could think of…

“-Okay, right now I’m standing over the decomposed corpse of a woman who hasn’t been seen or heard from in a month and a half.  She’s covered in maggots and melting into the carpet.”

I’d give you his response, but  I’m not sure how to quote dead silence.   After an uncomfortable amount of empty air passed between us, I figured maybe I should … say something?

“-Ummmm, that’s probably not what you meant, was it? Damn… I suck at this.”

“-Yes… you do…”

Clearly we didn’t have enough in common and it’s hard to say who ghosted whom on that one.  But I wish him all the best in his ongoing quest for a girl who’s good at the “me-so-horny-talk” and a little bit more forthcoming with boob-shots.

selfie

I hope you two are very happy together

But joke’s on him because I can be sexy … I can totally be sexy… I just have to concentrate and watch my mouth.  I was sexy enough to get one rollicking stallion horizontal with me and I don’t mind telling you that I was a goddamnned singing siren sweeping him into my stormy shores… peeling his clothing off with deliberate, lingering sensuality… eyes locked in… caught breath gasping in every gesture… I was a necklace of golden, gleaming girl wrapped, fingers clenched around his neck like no one I was identity lost in the moment… right up until I began sliding his jeans down his hips and the purely analytical part of my brain… the one I had hog-tied in the corner … well she managed to wrestle her gag loose and piped up at the worst moment possible.

“Wow,” I heard myself say. “Taking a guy’s pants off is so much easier when they’re ALIVE!”

In my defense it’s totally true. You have no idea how difficult it is to pull the trousers off a 400lb dead guy in full rigor mortis until you’re all by yourself in the autopsy suite and it’s your job to prep the dude for his post mortem exam.  And fortunately, my paramour laughed it off even while I was choking on my own tragic timing.

I really liked him… Hell, in pretty short order I loved him… loved him like my body loved breathing… wanted him like a song wants to be sung.  And over the course of the following year many of my professional glitches faded, shriveled and crumbled away like a lost leaf in late autumn… but they shouldn’t have. I shouldn’t have drowned out the ominous underscore of unease that set in like the subsonic hum of electricity right before you’re hit by lightning.

lightening

The first time he yelled at me, the lights of my heart went out like an overloaded circuit breaker, everything stopped right down to my cells as each nucleus stared in disbelief as the monster of his rage crawled out from the dark corners and roared… for coming home late because a movie was longer than I thought it would be.  Saying that he was complicated was like watching the nightly news sanitize a natural disaster that just blasted through your front door. I found myself rearranging my life to accommodate his “bipolar episodes” the way you rearrange your living room to fit your new roll-top desk in there- before you’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s just too damn unwieldy and it just doesn’t belong.

The manic, unparalleled joy coupled with the spirit crushing devastation of inexplicable, spinning conflict… left my instincts strangled with barbed wire… struggling to get free and run for help. Something was wrong… something was terribly wrong but defining it was like trying to put a leash on a forest fire.  His wrath was like a flash flood from the downpour in his head and though I never saw a drop, I was still in its path and utterly naked except for my breath, my blood and all my best intentions hanging off of me like the jewelry I’d be buried in.

I remember the first time I saw him do a line of cocaine like helping himself to the dish of mints on the coffee table, it’s no big deal… it was no… big … deal.  Then he told me about how our conflict drove him to try crack for the first time. I never saw him do heroin, but that didn’t stop him from saying it was because I was just so goddamnned difficult to be in love with…

I’m not saying I was blameless.  No one is. And my inadequacies, insecurities, selfishness and character flaws are always before me… but under his scrutiny, I became infected with blame and everything I touched turned to rot… because he said it did…

I began seeing myself at work… everyday… in the face of the woman who’d come home to find her husband had drank himself to death.  In the story I was told about how the dead woman laying in front of me had broken up with her boyfriend and was in the process of moving out when he walked up behind her and opened fire with his glock.

In the overdoses, the suicides.  I saw my almost undeniable destination played out before my eyes every day…devastated parents, destroyed spouses, anguished children…. All left to clean up the mess of a man who sounded eerily similar to the one sleeping next to me.  And I knew better… if anyone knew better, I did. I was my own Cassandra… so irrefutably certain of the outcome and still I didn’t believe the truth of my own experience. I investigate death every day, you’d think I could see it coming.

It happens slowly… it happened to me… slowly,  as slowly as a summer sunset and the next thing you know you’re completely in the dark… alone… except for him… there with you… with a gun in his hand and he’s holding it to his head saying, “Tell me again that you’re breaking up with me…”

He claims he pulled the trigger but the gun jammed.

Just like I pulled the trigger… several times, desperately trying to execute the shuffling corpse of a relationship that just wouldn’t die… like a zombie… I should have aimed for the head instead of the heart…

The last time I walked away from him I lay down in that grave, pulled the earth over me and wished for oblivion. I stared at the ragged remains of myself, bewildered and empty, waiting for the almighty nothing to overtake me…I lived years through each hour… eons through each day. I aged lifetimes with every fucking second of loss and sorrow…  But inexplicably I stirred, I squirmed, I writhed, I rose again.  My hands groped for the surface as I climbed the ladder of my own spine out of the quagmire.

zombie2

And I stagger ever onward, the dating zombie… now two deaths deep into the afterlife. Slower, quieter  dragging one foot after the other as my post-apocalyptic hereafter once again falls into place around me.  There’s no one to hear, and I don’t know if it’s practice or it’s habit… but every now and then, I’ll find myself veering off toward one distraction or another , I’ll catch a glimpse of myself in a broken window… I’ll drift a fleshless hand through my matted tendrils of hair…and grunt:

“I’ve always wanted to learn to play Mortal Kombat…”

“Your mother’s a much better cook than I am”

“Would you like to come upstairs for a night-cap?”