Wednesday, August 18, 2004

When your best friends are dead people, it's time to start worrying

Thursday, 8/12. 9:30am. Ross is on the warpath again. I look up and he is sitting across from me, in the chair in front of my desk.

"What is going on with all this overtime," Ross says. "Lila's doing 6, 8 hours a week!"

"It's the file room project, Ross. She's almost done. We're ahead of schedule!"

"You're AHEAD of SCHEDULE?" He says mockingly. "What about all that overtime she's doing on Saturdays?!"

"She's not doing it on Saturdays. It turned out to be more convenient to do it after work. Someone's always here late, so the building is still open. It's six of one, half a dozen of-"

"I don't want her interrupting our other employees with all that scanning and all those boxes everywhere during the week. This was supposed to be done on SATURDAYS!" He shouts.

"Ross, she's doing it after hours," I say. "There's almost no one here! She's got the whole office to hers-"

"Just DO IT. Just do as your told for once!" He shouts.

"Ross, listen! I mean, it's more convenient for Lila this way, so she doesn't have to work on weekends. And what are we really accomplishing by not letting her work during the week?"

"Just do what I tell you! Don't ask why! If I tell you to eat dog shit, you EAT FUCKING DOG SHIT!"

"Well, one of us does, Ross."

"What did you say?"

"Bye Ross. I'll come back when you sober up," I say calmly, and walk out the door.

This situation is quickly becoming unmanageable.

"Where are you going," Lila asks, meekly. I don't answer.

Four or five people are gathered near the reception area, listening. I knew they were standing there; I could see them from the corner of my eye. I made sure I said the "sober up" line loud enough for everyone to hear as I walked out. I'm not positive, but I am pretty sure he's drunk again today.

I get in my car and start driving toward home. I call Dan Johnson's office and speak to Claire. I explain the situation.

"Ohhhhhh, dear," she says. "I hope Dan doesn't have to get involved."

"That would probably make it worse," I say.

"Yes, then Ross will know you're speaking to him. It'll probably send him over the edge."


"Well, I'll have Mr. Johnson call you," Claire says, finally. "I'm sorry, Steve, I am so sorry."

Whenever I need to put life in perspective, I walk around the cemetery. There is one, St. Luke's, about a mile from my house.

I pull up to St. Luke's, park the car, and get out. The air is tight and clammy on my skin. Iron-gray clouds loom over my head like a giant tupperware lid.

The cemetery is old; the newest graves are from about 80 years ago. It's also completely full: With 200-300 people buried here, there is simply no room left. Even death has moved on from this place.

It has the feel of an old graveyard, with its stark-white headstones tilting this way and that with the rolling, shifting earth below.

I like to look at the dates on the stones, then do the subtraction to find out how old LAURA LYNN PIERCE or CHARLOTTE GAINES was when she died. People lived a lot shorter lives back then.

I stop in front of a headstone. MICHAEL O'MALLEY, July 9, 1872 - January 10, 1910.

My God, I think, he wasn't even 38 years old.

Next to Michael is a larger, shiny black stone:

ROBERT LORD, died January 20, 1820, aged 67 years.
LORETTA SIMON LORD, his wife, died August 29, 1831, aged 75 years.

Just to the right of this stone stands a slender gray slate grave marker, tilted backward at a 45 degree angle.

ELIZABETH BARTON LORD, daughter of Robert Lord and L.S. Lord, died February 15, 1785, aged 9 mos.

There is an inscription. I have to brush the dust away and squint to make it out:

Tho I'm a child, I yield to death;
A sovereign God has took my breath.

She was just a little baby.

Am I going to cry?

Sometimes I think I have problems, and I come here, and I realize that I am free to do whatever I want as long as I breathe and have a heartbeat and walk the earth and LIVE. Each day that passes is gone forever, and I'll never have it again. It's a crime to waste that. When I leave the cemetery, it's not with sadness, but with resolve, to find something in every single day to make me happy.

Now I am at the grave of John Jemison. He was 69 years old, died in 1910. I always stop here when I come to St. Luke's. There is a traffic light at a busy intersection up the road, and I usually end up stopped at it on my way to work in the morning. I'll look out my window, and there will be John's headstone, covered in snow, or slicked with rain, or brightly covered in autumn leaves. His is the last grave in the cemetery, in the far northeast corner, just 10 feet from the cars that whiz by.

I think about John a lot. I wonder what it was like in 1910, with no BlackBerry's buzzing away with urgent reminders, no police cars speeding to the next emergency, no frantic rush to sell one's ABC Company stock before it drops below 30. It may sound dumb, but it calms me down to think about how slow life used to be.

I look down at the tall grass and overgrown weeds that cover his grave. He died 94 years ago. Ninety-four years. On this very spot, back in 1910, there stood a group of family and friends, huddled and weeping over their loss. I can almost see his wife, Rachel, sobbing softly as loved ones pat her shoulder and say, "He's with the angels now".

As the years melted away after John's death, the hurt probably subsided, maybe not totally, but it surely became bearable. And, eventually, all those who mourned for John passed away themselves, returning silently to the earth one by one, until the entire story was swallowed up by time, like a book that was closed, thrown into a box and forgotten in a far corner of an attic.

I kneel down and pull up some of the crabgrass that obscures the bottom of John's headstone. I take a deep breath and I feel a little better.

Kelly saw my BlackBerry, I think suddenly.

The revelation crawls up my stomach like a black snake. I forgot to delete Lila's dirty messages from my BlackBerry. I left it in the car when I ran into the liquor store. The store was busy; I was in there for at least 5 minutes or so. And when I got back to the car, Kelly made a lame excuse about having forgotten a report. I KNEW it was a lie!

Kelly probably read my messages. She probably knows I am fucking someone else now, and that I lied about it. She could have even gotten Lila's cell phone number, if she were so inclined.

I suppose there could be an ugly confrontation at the Seaside, but I won't cancel, at least not yet. I'll try to gauge her attitude between now and then. I can always beg off at the last minute...

As far as Ross is concerned, I think I will give him time to cool off and sober up, and then go speak to him. Not confront, but speak to. We both have to work together, and I hope he will see that he is being unfair. I don't think he will fire me, since he knows that would be wrong. I think he is just venting.

I've got to call Jennifer, too. I've been putting it off for too long. The truth is, I like her very much and think of her often. At the party, it was like there was no one else even there. She and I talked for hours, effortlessly, finishing each other's sentences and saying, "I was JUST thinking that same thing!"

I think back to the way her eyes closed gracefully as we kissed, the way her lips brushed softly against mine, her breath hot against my face.

I am supposed to feel "weird" or "grossed out" by it. I'm not. Immediate family, brothers and sisters, yeah, that's just crazy. And illegal, for good reason. But Jenn is not immediate family, and I sure as HELL am not going to change my life around because of someone else's hangup.

It's up to Jenn what happens next. But yeah, I could see myself having sex with her.

I'll try to call her tomorrow.