The young would-be mother had died by the time the paramedics arrived. The presence of grey matter seeping from her fractured skull seemed to indicate assault with a blunt object. (This was confirmed by a bloody bat.) The victim was still connected to her child by the umbilical cord. Next to the deceased, a woman, later found to be the dead woman's twin sister, oblivious to the entrance of the respondents to a neighbor's 911 call, continued to try and force the newborn into her own body whilst screaming, "Mine!"
Life on Earth has about 1.5 billion years left.
At that point, the sun will have grown in size to the point its heat output will basically make life uninhabitable for the planet. In another 3.5 billion or so years after that the sun will go supernova, expanding and swallowing our planet and most of the solar system before exploding brilliantly.
We won't be here for that, so no worries.
Humanity - at least in our somewhat modern way of defining it - has only been around for about 315,000 years (near as we can tell). Relative baby steps, really. And during that time we've succeeded in killing off 85% of all other mammals and over 50% of all plant species on the planet, many of whom had been around for millennia before us. Obviously we're making the most of our time; not even a half a million years and we're doing the sun's job much quicker than it ever could. Moreover with human-made climate change in the works we're killing off the remaining species at record rates, and guesses are that maybe a whole third of what's left will die in the next few decades. There are some who worry the mass extinction we've caused - the first caused by a species, go us! - will cause our overall ecosystems to collapse and spell our doom, but they're probably alarmists. "Humans are resilient" - not like all those other species we destroyed.
Guesstimates think we could hit "peak human" at around 10 billion people; we've hit 8 billion recently, so another couple 'bill doesn't sound so difficult. In just the space of 40 years, between 1959 and 1999, we doubled our total population from 3 billion to 6 billion - like the blink of an eye, look at us horny little buggers go! Past 10 billion however and scientists get a bit concerned we'll run out of things like freshwater and food, assuming we all do the unthinkable and go vegetarian to maximize the planet's resource production. But we'll probably hit that mark they say in another thirty to fifty years so we'll get to see how that theory pans out. Lucky!
Still, most mammals before we slaughtered them lasted about 1 million years before they went extinct from natural causes; assuming that's our lot then we've got a little under 700,000 years left. Again, waaaaay before the sun heats things up worse than we have, phew.
And if you're worried about climate change or pollution don't be; these things may reduce the overall human population but obviously we're on track to grow anyway. We're not looking at the quality of life on Earth, just the possibility of it. Sure whole sections of Earth may become uninhabitable - heck, we'll pack it in! - and we may be reduced to relying on a much more limited catalog of species to support us - that's what gene cloning is for! - and our ability to survive may become reliant upon technology more than most of us are comfortable with - nanobots and gene splicing for the win! - BUT the important thing to remember here is life goes on. Regardless of whether you're horrified or not, whether you'll be part of the tiny majority that can afford to survive when it becomes much more expensive to do so, or whether you believe in any of that nonsense and think things will carry on the way they always have (you're totally right! they will!) - the bottom line, again, is that humanity will make it. Maybe not forever, maybe not happily, but after all is said and done at least it'll have its day in the sun.
Oh, sorry - under the sun. Sun doesn't swallow us whole for another 4.5 billion years, remember? Gosh, semantics. I hope we kill that shit next.
The Kitchen Table
My mother was a master at being a homemaker. The house was spotless and she was always cooking and caring for someone. She spent her free time obsessively decorating herself and the house. I have visions of my mom wearing all white with frosted hair, heels and enough gold adorning her body to make Ft. Knox jealous. She was an 80’s mom that took her fashion cues from watching Erica Cane on All My Children and Krystle Carrington on Dynasty. I came home many times after school to see her talking on the home phone with a cord long enough to reach outside so she could sit by the pool and smoke while drinking a coke or an occasional rum and coke while gossiping. These were the Camelot years for my family. Well…mostly…
I pulled into the driveway in my canary yellow jeep. Roof off, a cassette tape of Depeche Mode blaring as I took the turn a little too quickly and crunched a few of my mom’s precious Lilly of the Valley flowers. I hoped out and fluffed them up before opening the garage door. There was a new BMW in the garage. “Sweet”, I thought. I’ll be driving that baby tonight. But wait, a new car, that must mean my dad is home. As I approached the door, I could hear him inside. “You cock sucker no good mother fucking dick breath prick!” my dad bellowed. “I will fuck you all the way to god damn Mexico if you don’t wire that money to me today.” He’s pacing and his face is red. He’s wearing a MC Hammer style jogging suit. White with Neon green and blue designs. He looks ridiculous. A thick gold chain lays brightly against his reddened skin. His glasses are tinted dark. A gold Rolex flashes from his wrist. He looks like fat Elvis I think. A mad fat Elvis in the basement of a house in Omaha, Nebraska. It doesn’t fit but it’s what it is. We live in an affluent part of town and everyone is pretty much living the same life except our family. We are odd but we don’t know. Fat Elvis is so irate that he doesn’t notice my six year old little sister walking around in a suit jacket carrying a briefcase with a pretend phone pacing around the next room screaming “You mother fucker, I told you to send me money!”. My dad doesn’t acknowledge me either. I take my sister, Jeni upstairs and find my mom doing laundry. A poster of Tom Selleck hangs above the washer. She’s looking at it. “Hey mom.”, I say. “Hi Lori honey”, she says as she gives me a hug and scoops up Jeni. (I don’t tell her about what I heard her say downstairs) She’s pregnant and the weight of my sister who everyone calls affectionately, “Beasty”, is a strain on her tiny body. I didn’t want her to pick up Jeni, I was worried about her being pregnant at 36. Jeni’s birth almost killed her. I would have done anything to protect my mother.
When Jeni was born her mother told her she needed another child like she needed a hole in her head. Now she’s pregnant again with child number 4. I wonder what she said to her when she told her about this baby. It doesn’t matter, my mom always wanted to be a mom and she is great at it. She’s the kind of mom that sees the best in everyone, even my dad.
Beasty doesn't like to be held long. She’s soon scrambling out of my mother’s hug and wrapping a tea towel around her neck. She goes to the kitchen drawer and takes out a knife and fork. The cat is hiding at the edge of the kitchen cabinets. Jeni is walking with determined confidence but as she rounds the corner, the cat leaps and attacks her. Not like a paw swipe but a full body pounce….claws out…teeth digging into the neck assault. My mom doesn’t seem to notice. I look from my mom to the Beast and back to my mom. Normal daily activity around here I guess. Beasty rips the attached cat from her corduroy blazer and starts chasing the cat, knife and fork in hand, screaming “Come back here chicken, I’m going to cook you!”. Mom is gazing at Tom Sellack above the washer and folding my dad’s big fat tighty-whitey underwear. “Do you want to go look at lamps with me?, she asks. “Sure” I say even though I’ve gone with her several times already to look at lamps and she just buys whichever ones she wants. My opinion means nothing. We have a lot of lamps. We have a lot of everything. One year she had 14 Christmas trees decorated in our house….14!
We leave the Beast with my dad, which is always a risky move, but we are lamp shopping…one store and then back home. I should have known better that it wouldn’t be one store and done. By the time we got home my mother had purchased lamps, a new kitchen table, Christmas ornaments (it was June) but they were on sale and they were angels and she loved angels and knew it was a sign she should buy them.
We made it home with our haul of goodies but when we pulled into the driveway the garage door was open with no car inside. My mom went into mom mode face. She stared into space going through whatever it is a mom goes through and just said “Emergency Room”, like she saw a vision. We head to the hospital closest to our house and sure enough they are there. The Beast is getting stitches and has a broken arm. My dad was talking to the Dr. and when we approach we can hear him say “Well, we generally need to do a potential child abuse report every time a child comes in but your story is so over the top that we know it was an accident.”. “Next time don’t use duct tape to attach anything to your child. Thank you Mr. Bourke?”
“Duct tape?” my mom whispers to herself
“She wanted to be a god damn helicopter Anita. I’m on the phone with Senor Aguesse about a helicopter deal and she’s hears me talking about it and she’s monkeying around me saying she wants a helicopter and I find her one to play with and she doesn’t want it…she wants to BE a helicopter…not play with a toy one…be one. After 4 hours of that bullshit, I tell her to go out and get me a stick and I’ll turn her into a helicopter. So I duct tapped the stick to her head.” He says this like it’s a normal option for turning a kid into a helicopter. My mom puts her hand over her mouth. “It just pulled out some of her hair Anita. The kids’s fine.”
“So how did she break her arm Jim?”
“Oh that, well after that Todd came home and they were playing outside. They asked if they could roll down the driveway in garbage cans and I said yes. Apparently Todd rolled over Jeni and broke her arm.” My mother started tearing up. “And the stiches?” “Come on Anita, don’t cry, the kids fine, they didn’t even numb the eye for the stitches, she’s tough.” My mom looks like she’s going to vomit. She sits down in a chair and I sit next to her both of us giving my dad a “look”.
The Beast emerges from the ER room in a wheelchair. She’s all smiles but looks horrific with bandages all over her face and a blue cast on her right arm. My mom leaps us and kneels down next to her stroking her patchy blond hair. More than a few strands were pulled out by the duct tape. She looks like a plucked chicken. My father is carrying around a big suitcase phone. It’s ringing. He leaves talking to someone in broken Spanish. My mom and I take Jeni and Todd to get ice cream. By the time we get home, it’s dinner time.
“What in the hell is that?”, my dad says. “It’s a new kitchen table. Lori and I got it today. Do you like it?”, my mom asks. “For you yes, but for me and anyone else in the world, NO! Someone is going to get hurt on that thing. It looks rickety as hell, my mom will break through that chair at Thanksgiving.” “Oh Jim, it’s rattan, it’s sturdy. No one will get hurt.”, said my mom to which my dad chirps...“And that glass top? That’s stiches waiting to happen with our kids. What were you thinking Anita?”
My mom looks dejected and my dad just looks angry. He goes into the living room to watch football and I help my mom cook dinner. “I love the new table mom”, I say. “It reminds me of something you would see in a beach house.” “Thanks Lori.”, is all she says as she peels potatoes. I want to ask her right then why do you stay with him, but I don’t.
We are at the new table and dinner is ready. Todd is late and walks in reading a comic book. He’s always reading comic books. My dad hates them. “Todd, put that thing down and eat. Your mother went to a lot of work to prepare this meal.” Says my dad in a gruff voice. We say grace. We pass potatoes. Todd asks for catsup. I get up to get it. I open the refrigerator door and the cat jumps out. “My chicken!”, Jeni squeals and she leaps out of her chair to chase the terrified thing. My dad screams at her to get back to the dinner table and that’s when it happens. The chair he’s sitting on starts to crack. His glass eye looks straight ahead but his good eye is piercing anger and fear as he lands on his fat Elvis butt on the kitchen floor. “I told you this was a piece of shit!”, He takes his chair and drags it into the living room. My mom follows him in. All of us kids just freeze. Cussing and cracking sounds come from the next room. My dad approaches the kitchen and I sit petrified. “Get up”, he says. We scatter together by the sink. My mom is in the doorway and is mouthing “stay out of his way”. He drags every chair in to the living room. Three sets of eyes peek around the corner. He breaking them apart and burning them in the fireplace. “You stupidiot”, said Jeni. (This was how she combined stupid and idiot.) We all laughed and had our dinner as a picnic on the floor.
All The Things We Want to Do
Pardon me while I laugh.
Yes, quite nice. Check that off.
But those stories, those ideas, all the ingenuous, disharmonious dreams.
Looking at it objectively, you are not special. You are no exception.
The truth is, you will likely never live long enough to do all the things you want.
"What? Why are you-- why are you so surprised. It's the truth, I'm just stating facts."
See Anxiety. Eliciting fear is easy as a proper balance of eyeliner.
The doctor with the needle remained collected, well in thought, and most of all, deadpan in delivery. No signs of enthusiasm on this man were register-able to the eye, and no position of joy seemed to fill his being. You hear of men and women who are passionate about their accomplishments, who are proud of their professions. This was not this man. This doctor, a man by the name of Dr. Mann, was as get-to-the-point as possibly conceived onto a human being, and kept a sense of steadiness and undying boredom. His dialect and tone made me anxious as he went to give my boy a shot.
“That hurts,” my boy, Tony, said. “Doc, that hurts real bad.” Dr. Mann simply shrugged at this, and sighed in a quick moment.
“Yes, you’re being shot,” he said, rather matter-of-factly. What made him get on my nerves was the fact that his voice never came to the point of ignorance or an attempt to make my boy feel stupid. He was being himself, and I could tell that, and it pained me that his actions fell just short of the type of actions that would typically cause me to go ballistic on these know-all college shmucks.
“Do I have to take the second shot?”
“No,” said Dr. Mann, producing a sniffle. “You do not have to continue with this procedure. However, you do run the risk of contamination to what it is that this shot is what will protect you from.”
What an inconspicuous statement. I had to call him out on that one.
“Doctor,” I said, for a moment losing my wording, “you do know what these shots are for, correct?”
“Yes. Shots prevent disease and other things from continuing to spread.”
“You’re completely right,” I said to him, speaking to him as if he were a child. “However, what is this specific shot helping my son with?”
Doctor Mann looked me in the eye this time.
“This shot,” he said, “will help prevent the spread of diseases like all the others.”
“Christ, Mann,” I said, losing my patience. “My son’s hurting and you aren’t giving me a straight answer. I need to know that you know what you’re doing.”
“I know well what it is I’m doing.”
“You aren’t convincing me. And look at my son, he’s terrified.”
“I’m sorry to tell you this, ma’am,” he told me, looking right back into my eyes again so I knew he was about to say something beyond my expertise, “your son is eleven, not terrifying. And he is also my patient.” I balled my fists in rage. Mortal rage that left my skin turning colors and my mind burning red.
“Goddamn it, Mann. You’re bullshitting me, you know that? You’re hurting my son, goddamnit, and now you’re disrespecting his mama while his mama’s baby needs protected by the piece of shit you are, Mann. Now I want a solid answer, alright? Plain and simple. What are these shots for? No, no, no. Listen. Listen! Okay?” Doctor Mann nodded. “Okay. What are these shots for?”
Doctor Mann blew some air out of his mouth, set down the syringe, took off his glasses, and looked back at me. And then, without warning, he said something I’d never forget. Something I’ll never forget.
“These shots help prevent further mutations so that less generations end up like you, ma’am. Sensitive and annoying. Your son must be sad. Oh, by jove.”
I remember those words well. I think I made sure enough that his days ended well sweet and to the point.