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WE ETERNAL BEINGS by Jody Sperling

Mary died earlier this week: went into the hospital for routine foot ulcer debridement—common with diabetics—developed a staph infection, went under for a lung treatment and never woke from the anesthesia. We knew Mary from back in the day. I’d moved to Omaha to live with my grandparents, found Jesus (it’s not what you think) so I sent my buddy to live with them (proselytizers got to be proselytizing). My grandparents prayed before every meal.

Mary was a banker who worked with my buddy in Omaha. Obesity led to her diabetes, which triggered her demise.

Demise. What a word. It sounds too clinical for its purpose. Demise is the word doctors use to justify premature deaths: stillborns, sudden heart attacks, “complications with x,” drug overdoses. Arise rhymes with demise, as in “Arise, Lazarus come out of the grave,” which is what Jesus said to his buddy, dead in the grave four days.

By the time my buddy moved to Omaha to live with my grandparents I was a recovered alcoholic, well on my way to conservative Christianity. Recovered is a loose term, given my troubles in years following, but this isn’t that story.

I’d taken work on a rat and mouse rig in the Uintah Mountains. When my buddy called I requested vacation, because he told me he’d gotten his second DUI. I came down hard on him. “You’re on an arrow’s path to hell,” I said. “You need to repent” (a fancy word for “move to Omaha”). My harsh tone surprised him. The old me had been soft: understanding and compassionate. We talked for a while and I said, “Pack your shit. You’re moving to Omaha.”

*

The demise of my water pump occurred just outside Big Springs, halfway between Denver and nowhere*. A local repair shop charged me eight hundred: five for towing and three for service. That set me back a ways, but I still can’t remember where all the rest of the money went, because I worked for years in the oil fields. Hemorrhaging cash is almost as common a disease in America as diabetes.

*Rabbit trail? Nowhere might have a secret meaning: “no-where” or “now-here.” Odd insights seem profound when you’re writing alone in a hotel room far from home.

The mechanic had my Blazer hoisted six five feet in the air. There were several five-gallon buckets nearby, all full of Unleaded 85. The smell of gas most closely resembles the flavor of MSG. The mechanic said, “It always happens this way, right after you’ve filled up.”

My grandparents agreed to house my buddy because (a) I talked about him often: what a dear, dear friend, what a good, good guy, what a rough, rough hand he’d been dealt, and probably (b) I angled the whole he’s-close-to-accepting-Jesus-as-his-personal-Lord-and-Savior card, but mostly because (c) I told them how he’d saved my life once (good story for another day).

My buddy got a job at US Bank, he called it “Us Bank,” as in “we,” and that is where he met Mary. Mary in the Bible was the sister of Lazarus. This is not significant outside of the active whirring of my brain to see the connection: a false corollary like so many others.

I had complex feelings toward Mary. On the one hand, I found her funny. She was one of those women whose egos had no bounds. She really believed the world owed her. If there was ever anything wrong at work it was someone else’s fault. If anything good happened, she had made it happen. I am drawn to people with outsized egos. But also, too, Mary had a slight odor, mildewed, washed but not dried, perhaps lusty: Does lust have an odor? If I remember correctly, she brushed her teeth with hydrogen peroxide because she’d heard on some TV doctor show that toothpaste caused brain damage.

My wife’s father recently stopped drinking sodapop because it causes brain damage. Apparently a megastudy found that those who drink twelve ounces of carbonated, sweet beverages a day experience a shrinking of the hippocampus. Don’t bother me to look this up, but I seem to recall that the hippocampus is where emotion lives.

 

Mary and my buddy and I met one day sometime after midnight at VI off L Street. We drank coffee heavy with cream and ate French Silk Pie. I think highly of France, love silk and adore pie. The three together are, today, the only trinity I care about. Between every bite of pie we drank a cup of coffee, and since we couldn’t eat another bite until our coffee was full, we’d leave our jackets on our chairs to signal we’d return and go outside into the windy cold of Nebraskan November to smoke cigarettes and shiver.

My buddy only ever smoked socially. He could go weeks, even months, without a cigarette and not suffer. Then, in one night he’d smoke a pack—a whole pack—with no consequences. Mary and I were both card-carrying Mentholites.

I briefly worked myself into a two-pack-a-day habit during my stint in the oil fields. I worked with Chris the driller on a two-man, rat and mouse crew. Chris was big in the naturally-born-to-kill kind of way. He was thick everywhere. Thick legs, thick arms, thick neck, thick nose, thick tongue, he was thick, thick. Chris smoked three packs of cigarettes daily. When he wasn’t smoking he hung suspended from a tree by tenterhooks pierced through his shoulder meat. Suspensions create a religious high, they say. Look it up. People do it.

Because Chris smoked so much, I smoked a whole lot more. Odd as it may sound, if I smoked, I couldn’t smell Chris’s smoke, and I’d just get so damn tired of smelling Marb Reds all day long. Smoking was a break from smelling smoke so I smoked and smoked and smoked. That’s how it goes.

 

I didn’t actually answer when my buddy called me about Mary dying. I was checking into a hotel: I’m on the road this week in Albuquerque for work. When I dropped my bags on the hotel bed and as I was taking a dump, which is a sacred routine that helps cleanse me from the day’s troubles and reorients me to the important matters that lie ahead between end-of-work and time-for-bed, I saw he’d called. I called back and we talked work. Where I go, he goes, so we’re coworkers again which is how we met over a decade ago at a restaurant where he served and I hosted.

I’m the big cheese now, and he’s the little cheese—title-wise—but it’s not that way between us. I rely on his good reputation since he was a referral of mine. The more he succeeds the better I look: if I’ve learned one thing about Christianity, it’s all about appearances.

 

My buddy just got back from Spain, where he spent a week with his wife. They got free lodging over there through a friend of his. I’ve never traveled abroad. Not really. I spent a day in Juarez many years ago on a church mission trip. My grandparents wanted me to experience Christian Charity and since they footed the rent, what could I say? (That’s not charitable. I wanted to go but for all the wrong reasons. Remind me to tell you that one some other day.)

The kicker is, my buddy’s wife didn’t have a good time in Spain, he tells me, because she didn’t get to call the shots. He says she doesn’t do well when other people are leading and planning. Apparently his wife has a strong personality, he said. “Like you,” he said.

I don’t want to be compared to his wife. She is not on my list of favorite people. I wonder if she’ll need surgery someday. We all need surgery from time to time.

I’ve risen twice from Propofol (since they say the third time’s a charm, I won’t be going under again). The first time I was a baby in need of some kind of urethral correction. I guess I was born with six or eight holes perforating the length of my shaft. The other surgery was to repair my left ear, which heard so well it bled constantly. As a four-year-old I could hear the whispers of the dead, and it kept me awake at night. They said, “Call us out of the grave. We eternal beings. Arise, arise.”

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