The girl who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with is dead. I sit zombied out in a Calgary hotel room before the funeral. The television is on. Nick Drake's Pink Moon is being used to sell efficient German automobiles. The car commercial is followed by another advert; some new drug will help people overcome social shyness. The side effects are shitting yourself and losing your hair. This does not make me happy.
I make use of the mini bar. Look at myself in the mirror. I'm dressed in black in the land of Leonard Cohen.
There are reasons for life and death; I just haven't figured them out yet. Every generation has to discover it for the first time, like sex. The thing is though, there is supposed to be a pattern. I can't find one. Answers elude me.
When I was ten I had two dogs. I grew up in an isolated antiquated farmhouse built in the 1800's, quite old for the new thinking United States. Most of the kids I went to school with all lived in recently built identical structures that practically touched each other. This was the dream house people wanted, everyone the same, sprawling suburbia and the great white flight was on.
Our house was big, made of stone, and drafty. All my peers had air conditioning. They were afraid to come over to play and my parents were too busy commuting into the city to drop me anywhere interesting. Not that the fields and river that surrounded the house were boring. There was a lot for a young boy to do. I just had to do it alone with my two German Shepards, Nokia and Aero.
Nokia was as black as our midnights in the country with just a hint of white around the paws. Aero was pure silver with crystal blue canine eyes. These dogs were like Gods. They were my world. My favorite show was not Lassie as you might think, but Fury, same concept but with a horse. I could understand the relationship between a boy and his animals.
Then one night the sauna caught fire. My dad had gone out and lit it up. He was back inside drinking some wine and waiting for the sauna to sweat. It was his normal routine. Only this time something sparked inside the sauna igniting the shed. I was looking out the window of our house trying to see where my dogs were when I saw the flames. I yelled to my dad.
"Dad! Hey, dad, I think something is wrong with the sauna."
"What?" He asked.
"It's heating up."
"It's supposed to be heating up."
"I mean it's on fire. It's all orange."
He jumped up and looked out the window where I was looking. He saw the flames right away, roaring into the night sky. The sauna was already lost. My dad ran to the phone and called the Fire Department anyway. I didn't know what the panic was about; the fire was contained. I was thinking it would just burn itself out.
But the Fire Department came with two big trucks, lots of hoses and gruff burly men who sprayed the sauna until it was nothing more than a smoldering pile of ashes. I was outside, at a distance, watching with curious entertainment when I heard Nokia whimpering by the side of one of the fire trucks. I ran over to him.
"What's wrong, boy," I asked. "What's the matter?"
I saw Aero lying in the snow underneath one of the big trucks. Even in the dark I could see the black blood. I put my arms around Aero and tried to help her. I didn't know what to do so anything seemed appropriate. But it wasn't. Aero was crushed. Maybe moving her made it even worse. Soon my dad was helping me. He knew before I did that it was too late and that even though Aero was still breathing she was dying. One of the firemen put her out of her misery. Mine was just starting.
Nokia wouldn't eat. He stopped playing in the field with me and refused to go down by the river. He died a few months later of natural causes. I asked my mom about his death. She explained Nokia died of a broken heart. I wondered why I wasn't dead also.
Time went on and I grew more alone becoming selfish and sufficient, connecting with only a few people. After High School and a year at college I moved to Paris. In my first week I found a job at a wine store in the 14th Arrondissement. It was a way to pay rent, learn French and discover simple pleasures in life.
I made deliveries to restaurants and participated in a wine tasting every Thursday night. Those nights were attended by plenty of pretty girls. A lot more swallowing than spitting was going on and soon the cheese was eaten and the wine drunk and the women loosened up. These affairs never went anywhere. I took long solitary walks along the Seine.
When it was time to complete my scholastic studies and stop learning about life I enrolled at a private university. Arab Princesses would sit in class with bodyguards and wannabe Supermodels studied French in between photo shoots.
I enjoy female beauty as much as wine but I never put the effort into meeting these girls. I learned after some talks they were just aesthetic outer casting with an inside void. Besides, I had Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, and of course, Miller and Hemingway were my gurus and their memoirs my bibles.
When my grandfather died I was celebrating a New Year with an architect friend. We were skiing Mont Blanc and munching on fondue every night until I got a phone call from my roommate in Paris.
I remember sitting on Grandpa's lap as a little boy. He was, like all loyal Wisconsinites, a very devoted Green Bay Packers fan. Since there were many lean years of disgusting losses we always focused on the first two Super Bowl wins and coach Vince Lombardi. These talks were not just sport but a philosophy on how to live life.
Then there was our special talk, the one that was even more exciting than the Super Bowl victories. The freezing Ice Bowl played on the frozen tundra of Lambeau field, when Bart Starr slid under the hated Dallas Cowboys defense. It wasn't the game itself that excited me. For some reason I liked what came after.
"So it was cold grandpa?"
"It was freezing!"
"And the cars in the parking lot?"
"The cars wouldn't start."
"Because it was so cold that all the batteries died."
"Then what happened?"
"Well, some guy came out with a tow truck and started jumping all the cars for twenty dollars a pop. That was quite a lot of money back then."
With Grandpa dead I started to question about heaven. Like most kids, I went to Sunday school with much disinterest. I had heard better stories before. Now I was starting to wonder.
Heaven is a place people go when they die. Was grandpa up there seeing every thing I did? Was he watching over me with a smile of approval if I was bedding a beautiful woman or scowling down if I was jacking off? There would be more occasions for grandpa to frown. I wasn't actually living up to the myth of Vince. This led to guilt and a self-deprecating consciousness a young man going through imposed angst could do without.
I will always remember the day I heard Sam was coming out of remission and getting sick again. It wasn't fair. I don't mean that it wasn't fair to Sam, this twenty-five year old kid, who played collage football, loved to fish and still read every book I ever loaned him, was cut down to half his size and was dying of Leukemia. Of course it wasn't fair. But Sam went through all the agonizing side effects of chemotherapy already and fought the disease and won.
The doctors said if the cancer didn't come back within a year they rid Sam's body of the killer. It had been a year and a half when it came back. Sam lived a few more years after that, even getting married and carrying on with his life. But it still destroyed him.
Where was the order in that? Sam was big and strong and intelligent and thoughtful, articulate like a modern day Kerouac. In the end his voice box collapsed and he couldn't talk.
My grandfather I could accept, had to accept because that was the cycle of life and death. This wasn't. And it pissed me off. I could go down the pub and click my Guinness in Sam's memory. Tell myself he was dreaming with the fishes and smoking pot with Buddha and at peace with the situation. It didn't stop how mad I was though.
Now I am waiting for her funeral.
I met Sarah at the French Open. Right from the start we were all wrong for each other. She was a jock. I was a reader. She got high on a smashing backhand. I got high on red wine. She was twenty. I was thirty. It was thrilling how perfectly well we fit together. We both made each other feel love. And that is the reason to live.
I went to Roland Garros with a friend who had an extra ticket. Never much of a tennis fan, I thought I would go to see what the fuss was about. Sarah was playing on a small side court. She was losing and she was loud. Once a prodigious sixteen-year old star rated third best in the world she had been struggling of late and her ranking dropped into double figures.
The first thing I noticed was the swearing. "Fuck! Fuck it! Fuck!" I thought it funny at first. Then I noticed Sarah's athletic lithe body sweating through her skimpy top and short skirt. I took a seat in the first row, right behind where Sarah sat between sets.
"Not going so well?"
Sarah turned around and spat out her water at me.
I don't know why I didn't just leave. During the next game when Sarah served an ace she blew me a kiss. She rallied from behind and won the match. That night I went back to her hotel. By Wimbledon we were in love.
Caught in the whirlwind bliss where the lust turns to true love we discovered we were perfect for each other. And even though it was ideal, life isn't. Our favorite movie to watch together was Princess Bride. We wanted to be that fairy tale couple. Unfortunately, we lived in reality.
Sarah continued to struggle on the circuit. After a year things got tough, with us always being apart. Tennis players are an incestuous group with the promiscuity of people on holiday. I put it down to all the travel, flying on planes and sleeping in hotel rooms. Sex helps with the tedium and isolation. Sarah started seeing a tennis coach.
Sarah still called and e-mailed everyday and we saw each other when it was convenient. She sent postcards stating I was her one true love. I told her she was young and in a difficult situation. She had to go her own way. We fought over whether I should wait for her. There were many tears.
I just had to wait for her with faith and frustration. Time would soon be on our side. We would end up together because love finds a way she explained. There was that bond. Real soul mates no matter how trite that may seem.
A month ago, she called me crying and told me I was the only one who ever heard her. She still needed me to hear. I was so mad about the other guy who had advantage of geography that I didn't send her a Valentine's Day card. She was killed in a car accident two weeks later.
I look at my reflection and open another tiny bottle of vodka. Sarah and I had talked about death before. She joked that if a tragedy ever happened to one of us it would have to happen to me, because I was too sensitive to lose her. We also agreed that life was like tennis. After the last point that's it. Set and Match. Game over. So it is important to play well.
Now I have to question my beliefs. And come to peace with the way it ends when a life is cut short, and all the messy ties that remain for the ones left behind. I saw the tennis coach last night at her parents' house. I didn't stay long. I can't worry about that. It would drive me insane. I have to hold on to what I know we had. Hopefully after time the sharp pain will turn to a controllable dull ache.
I need to focus on the afterlife. Sarah said everything happens for a reason. I can't see any logic behind this. Certainly it isn't to test me. These last few weeks I have been searching without an answer.
I'll never receive another e-mail from Sarah, laugh out loud or sleep with her again. The person I was most passionate about has been taken from me. I'm in love with a dead girl. I can't comprehend her passing. It's like counting to infinity.
Sentient beings must have a soul. Sarah can't just become extinct. It's not a matter of changing convictions to ease my suffering. I have to believe I will see her soon.
I would give anything for one last conversation, even if only to yell and ask why. But really I need a kiss. Sarah was right. I'm too sensitive to live without her.
- written by McCutcheon