Epitaph

Head stone Color V2

“Here lies a salty bastard.”

“Here lies a saint.”

“Here lies a damn liar!”  Fitting!

How would you like to be remembered?  What would you like those who have a say in the matter to inscribe of your tombstone?  Not to say that you’re plans aren’t to be cremated and strewn about the globe, headstone free, but please, go with me on this slightly morbid journey if you will.

This world is rich with people who naturally behave in a thoughtful, loving way toward others. This same world is also replete with people who if called out might have a hard time justifying some or much of their behavior to a jury.  Sadly, I fall in with the latter category.  I’m no Joseph Stalin, but I have my bad days.

I’ve often thought about a scenario wherein our lives are constantly recorded on video and available for public review and judgment.  Oh, how our behavior might change if every action was up for scrutiny, evaluation, and infinite replay?  I started pondering this circumstance long before the advent of social media mind you.  The difference being that we wouldn’t have the option of posting only content featuring our “best selves.”

We’ve all seen the gal showing off what she’s got on Instagram.  Bless her by the way. We’ve seen the cat-poster post posters and have also had to endure the politics-troll assholes.  They all have their platform for self-expression and/or self-aggrandizement, which is fine I suppose.  However, not one of them, or more accurately, not one of us, have to expose any truth deemed unflattering because we, of course, are our own censors.  This arrangement is great for the “self-image,” but is it good for the “self?”  Accountability, thanks to the one-way mirror of social media, seems to be on the ropes in these modern times.  For most of us, the whole truth isn’t usually “runway ready” so we omit the bits that don’t flatter us.  Me too, guilty!  The first seven drafts of this post were a shit show.  I was not about to unveil that incomprehensible crap to the world!  Frankly, the jury is still out about this version but my self-imposed deadline wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

The words used for an epitaph, if true and heartfelt, bear witness to the whole, uncensored life-print left by the dearly departed.  What is our legacy?  How do we touch the world?  Now, answer that question again discounting any “touch” involving social media.  Interesting, no?

I’m not fond of the idea of being caught in the act of being me twenty-four-seven.  Do I want the world watching me while I lose my temper, ghost some woman I’ve met on tinder, or expel the results of a stomach bug in my not so recently cleaned bathroom?  Not at fucking all!  Do I think we should submit to the control of a “watcher regime” that exposes our every act to society for judgment?  In no way, shape or form.  Do I believe the world would be a better place if we all imagined ourselves being observed, and therefore felt compelled to take just a tiny moment to consider the outcome of our behavior before we let loose?  Hell yeah I do!

Our every earthly action leads logically to our last, after which we are but a memory.  Some believe in a judgment day.  Some believe it is their job to judge others.  Perhaps if we focus appropriate, (read: “a lot of”) attention on accessing and adjusting our own actions before they are unleashed, we could spare both the almighty and the armchair critics a load of work.

Though I wouldn’t complain about, “Here lies a salty bastard” as an epitaph, in fact, I would get a good posthumous kick out of it.  I would hope that those words might be followed by something to the effect of, “who did his best to love well, to make the world a tiny bit less hateful and who will be missed.”  How would you like your epitaph to read?

 

If I Had It To Do All Over Again

Hourglass

A salesman came to the door yesterday.  I was drinking black coffee in the living room when I heard the knock.   We don’t get many uninvited callers on our long dead-end street, which works out well for me.  I slowly set down my old white porcelain mug and rose from my writing perch on the dark brown leather sofa.  Click went the lock. We have no peephole so the next bit would have to be a surprise.  There he stood, in a smart black suit, attaché case in his left hand, right hand cupped to his mouth.  Think he was checking the state of his breath.  

“Hello,” I said.

“Good afternoon,” he replied, quickly lowering his hand.

“My name is Xavier Mulligan, may I please have a moment of your time to present a most irresistible opportunity?”

“How irresistible?” I asked, wreaking of doubt.

“Exceedingly irresistible sir, I assure you.  Give me but two minutes to introduce the offer and if by that time you are not interested I will vacate directly,”  he said with unwavering confidence.

“Ah, okay.” I reluctantly mumbled.

“May I come in?”  

“I suppose,” I said.  My hesitation painting my face into a near grimace.  Though truth be told, I was a tad intrigued.

“Thank you kindly,” he said accepting the opening door with a quick step forward and then there we were in my living room.  My cooling coffee cup reminding me of traditional hosting duties. 

“And how would you like to be called?”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Your name?” He nodded.

“Oh, Landon, Landon Cooper,” I said.  Then with the slightest of disarmed stutters, “Would you like a cup of coffee Mr…?”

“Please, call me Xavier,” he offered politely.

I almost laughed thinking that calling him “Xavier” seemed a thousand times more formal than using any surname I’d ever heard. 

“Alright, coffee then Xavier?”

“No thank you, but I would love a spot of tea if you happen to have the leaf in-house.”

“I do,” I said fighting the involuntary raise of my eyebrow.  “Will Earl Grey do?”

“Oh yes, that would be splendid,” he said, running his free hand through his silvering dark hair.

I realized that by asking for tea, he had cleverly extended the original terms of his ‘two-minute pitch cap.’  What had I gotten myself into?

As I microwaved the water for his “spot of Tea” I found myself thinking, “spot of tea?”  “Did this guy come to the neighborhood in a Tardis?”  My next thought was, “This fucker may be completely psycho and looking to eat my liver with those beans and a fine Chianti.”

I mentally checked in with the baseball bat in the hall closet, then the shotgun in the laundry room; took a breath, set the Earl Grey tea bag in the steaming mug and returned to the living room in the full bloom of questioning my sanity for letting this tea drinking stranger into my home.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, taking the mug and bouncing the bag to encourage the darkening of its brew.

“Again I don’t want to waste your time, so I’ll get right to it.” He said, adopting a serious tone and looking me straight in the eye.

“I’m in the business of unique opportunity.”  He began, “extremely rare opportunity actually.”  He paused, sipping his tea, eyeing me with a calm, confident smile.

“I see,” I said.  “And what sort of opportunity are we talking about?” I asked with a hint of polite aggression.

“I’m in the business of second chances,” he offered, taking another sip of tea.

I stared at him.  No words formed.

“Yes, it is an unusual product, to be certain.”  He offered,  “In short supply and little known on the open market.”

My blank stare slowly transformed into an open-mouthed “huh?”

“Mr. Cooper, if you had it to do all over again would you?”  He asked.

“Do what all over again?”  I’m sure my tone of voice unveiled the blend of curiosity, incredulity, and consternation coursing through my mind.  A mind that had minutes before been at relative peace.  Which for me is saying something.

“It, all of it, your life!” He stated matter of factly.

“Okay, what the hell,” Was all I could come up with.

He stared into my eyes, took a long sip from his mug then spoke.  “I’m am authorized to offer you a do-over; a second go at this very life you are living right now.  

“How…what the…how the hell would that work?” I sputtered.

“Very simply actually.  You sign a few documents acknowledging your desire to indeed “Do it all over again” then poof, off you go to take a second run at this one life.”

I gaped at him in total disbelief, absent-mindedly spilling a bit of black coffee into my lap.

“Poof!” I stammered.  “What exactly do you mean by poof?”

“I mean you would be born again into this world to have another go.  Don’t you think it would be amazing to have a second chance at a lifetime here on earth?  Think of all the things you could do, create, accomplish with a second chance!”  He settled back on the sofa opposite me and waited, unblinking.

“What about this life?” I thought to myself.  “I love this life.”  I took a gulp of lukewarm coffee which suddenly seem not nearly strong enough.

“Forgive the language Xavier, but what the fuck are you talking about?  How the hell would that work and why should it?  More importantly, why have I of all people been selected for this, and I quote ‘unique opportunity’?” My voice rising to a crescendo of insolence by the end of the sentence.

“You’ve earned it,” he offered politely.  “I understand that this is, well, odd at the very least but I assure you this opportunity is most legitimate.  Please take a moment to sit with it.  May I refill my tea?  The kitchen is just through there yes?”

I nodded.  Xavier rose and headed toward the kitchen; the clip-clop of his dress shoes on the hardwoods gradually fading.  I fidgeted on the couch, uneasy, certain that I was either dreaming, crazy, or had accidentally made myself an unbelievably strong midday Irish coffee.  Not my habit.  

“As a rule, there are knives in a kitchen,” I thought.  But if he came here for that purpose, he’d most likely have everything he needed for the job in that attaché case of his.  I accepted the likelihood that he was not going to the kitchen for a knife and turned my thoughts the far more ridiculous reason for his visit, offering me a do-over!  

Was he offering me a second chance at life because I’d fumbled this one?  Was the offer a reward, an act of charity, or on a more sinister note, was it a punishment?  Was it a test?  I took quick synaptic inventory of my many years and saw ample flashes of regret.  Yes, I found things I would have done differently if I had them to do over again.  I also found moments, hours, years that I would not trade for all the Earl Grey in China or anywhere else.  I sipped the now cold coffee.  

There are a million ways to do life; to lose and to win, to surrender and just let it happen. There are moments of triumph and moments of regret.  There are memories to wish away, others to celebrate.  Perhaps, most importantly all those instances are available to make peace with.  Though I’m sure these thoughts have lived in my subconscious every day, I realized in that instant that I’m not proud of everything I’ve done, neither am I ashamed of the life I’ve chosen.  Are we here to be perfect, or to learn, and grow?  And there was the answer.  Crashing out of my flashback trance, I released a deep sigh.  Mr. Xavier Mulligan returned with his tea, smiling.

“So,” he said, “What’s the verdict?”

“Hmm, Mr. Mulligan?”

“Please, call me Xavier.” He corrected

“Oh right, Xavier, I’m, ah, I’m going to have to say no to your kind offer,”  I said with a new found smile.

“Really,” he said taking a sip of what seemed from the copious amount of steam to be scalding hot tea, without wincing.

“Yes,” I said.  “I’m grateful for the gesture, and I do believe this is a most rare opportunity indeed.  That said, I also realize that the very trip I’m engaged in at this moment is also a rare opportunity.  An opportunity to experience my ‘one’ life, complete with all its gifts, and its share of misfortune; experiences which I’m not likely to recapture should I abandon it now.”  I said raising my mug to swill the last bit of room temperature clarity.

“I see,” he said.  “Understood, understood.  Well then, I suppose it is time for me to take my leave as we have no further business here.  Before I go, are you absolutely sure of your choice?”  He asked.

“Yes, I am,” I said.  Then in what appeared to be a choreographed moment we rose simultaneously, his steaming cup still holding court on its coaster.  He lifted his attaché, gave a slight bow, and strode toward the front door.  I followed and reached to open it as he buttoned his coat.  

“Thank you for your time Mr. Cooper, I’m sorry to have wasted it,” He said.

“Not at all Mr. Mulligan, if fact it seems you’ve given me a gift.”  I offered.

“Have I?” He smiled.  “Excellent!”  He said crossing the threshold and making his way down the front steps into the brilliant sunlight of the late spring day.

#fiction