If you had told me even this afternoon, that I would be having drinks with my wife and her new boyfriend, just two weeks after our physical separation began, I would probably have laughed and vomited at you. Only through a series of incredible coincidences could such an ill-timed meeting take place. Those coincidences were as follows:
1) My Visa card was canceled sometime in the middle of last night when Sarah, using a third card that I'd never known about, bought herself some boots from iAmazon.com.
2) This morning at 7am I was quietly removed from my hotel room, and told that the hotel would store my things in the basement for up to four days.
3) I explained my situation to Carter over lunch and he said I could come stay in his son's old room for the week while his son was in Rome.
4) Carter's wife Carol spent the day shopping with Sarah and, delighted to hear that Sarah had met someone "interesting," despite the fact that we are still fucking married, insisted on the both of them coming over for drinks tonight at 7pm.
5) Carter neither received the warning nor was able to send warning to his wife because his wristVid was down in IT getting its firmware forever upgraded. So when Carter and I are flipping channels in the living room and Carol walks in, arm-in-arm with Sarah (and four large shopping bags), the four of us look simultaneously guilty.
Sarah and I start with the unpleasantries while Carol rushes out to the sleek CattleBox that has just pulled up to delay the boy's entrance. I can see him momentarily through the doorway: he is on wristVid with a patient, and he has a pony tail. In the foreground, Sarah is downplaying their relationship, as if I haven't already been informed by every one of our mutual friends. "We're just enjoying each other's company. We're not... I'm not ready for anything serious."
"How serious is serious, Sarah? You mean serious like I'm-taking-a-Strip-Tease-Workout-class serious... or serious like I-need-a-new-drawer-full-of-Victoria's-Secret-lingerie serious?"
Her face cycles through the color wheel. It never ceases to amaze me that she spends my money and doesn't think I can possibly figure out where it goes.
"We're leaving," she announces tersely, turning towards the door.
"GAVIN----" corrects Carter, but I'm already humbling, "I'm kidding, I kid. It's fine. I'm fine. We're fine!"
I hold her shoulders, doing my best impression of 35-year-old Gavin. She looks at me like 4-year-old Gavin,"You're not capable of---"
"Hey. HEY. I'm fine. I was kidding. I'm OK with it. Might as well start getting acquainted with reality now, you know?" I sound frightfully reasonable, even to myself. She softens the slightest bit as I post a smile where my lips used to be.
When I have verbally agreed to be civil, Carter and Carol assume the roles of prospective handlers, cautiously introducing us to each other in the neutral backyard, like dogs. They supplement the encounter with food and wine to keep things unfocused. I somehow shake his hand, imagining I can smell the sex on it. I have long since lost the ability to accurately gauge a person's age, but I can safely say that he is still breast-feeding. I wouldn't have ever guessed that he is a neurologist if he hadn't worked it into every damned sentence. He asks what I do. "I save retarded babies from burning third world countries. No big wiggle," I slight slightly, sitting down opposite everybody.
Even though they are mostly out of the nest, our children still dominate our discussions. Everyone laughs about how Carter and Carol's son Jai, who faints at the site of blood, had tried and failed to be a stuntman. That leads to Carter's story about a friend from college who'd jumped out of a moving vehicle, spread his head on the pavement, and been legally dead for seventeen minutes. When Sarah asks why he jumped out of the car, Carter expounds, "It was college." He tells us about how the friend said that death was the most calming thing he'd ever experienced.
"I can't even imagine," says Sarah to nobody for no reason, delicately sipping her red wine.
"Of course you can't," quips BrainMan, "It's impossible." He explains how one can't really know what death is like because one can't possibly comprehend the idea of not using one's brains, since even in the act of comprehending the brain is in use. He says it just like that, too, flooding his assertion with the obnoxiously correct pronoun "one." He mentions a "colleague" that has studied near-death experience ("We call it 'NDE' in the field") and its effects on brain activity. Everybody nods.
At this point I have not spoken for maybe 45 minutes, having quietly wedged my chair between two shrubberies seven feet from the table, out of the loud flood lights. All four of them collectively shiver and freeze when I announce, "I know what death feels like."
Heads are bowed, as if praying for me. Without looking up Sarah breaks the silence: "Ok, ok, Gavin," she laughs stiffly, speaking for everyone, "Take it easy." Crickets try to fill the space but it's just too wide. Nobody moves except for me, sauntering a few feet over to the diving board, and perching myself on the end of it. The ice in my gin and tonic clinks as I set it down, and still no one looks up.
"I'll bite," says BrainMan at last, "What does death feel like?"
I rest my elbows on my knees, drag my fingers down my forehead a few times, as if to pull the thoughts forward, and instruct the three hostages:
"First you gather all the rejection an ego can take:
the circle of friends pairing off or otherwise dropping out of your life,
the ex-coworkers who have stopped responding to your emails,
the boss insisting that you train someone who will suddenly replace you,
the band you spent your youth on, re-uniting for their first show in thirty years and replacing you with a Tune-A-Ton,
the volunteer coordinator at the soup kitchen insinuating that you're not qualified to hand out plastic spoons,
the property manager disqualifying you for the closet-sized apartment you wish to downgrade into,
the parent and siblings praying for you because you won't come back to their church,
the son changing his last name so that his new baby boy, whom you've never met, can "start fresh,"
the three least repulsive women on HarmonyMatch.com instantly blocking you after you finally muster the courage to write them your oh-so-witty introduction,
the wife leaving you for a child who may or may not be a neurologist...
Then you take it all and you condense it into one week,
focus it through a lens of credit card debt and Sempertonin addiction,
soundtrack it with the distorted christian station that has commandeered your sixty-thousand dollar ear implants,
sift it with a fine mesh of mid-life disillusionment,
and sprinkle in a persistent case of jock itch.
Death is the opposite of that."