How Lives End

by Stephen Whitlock

If you’re reading this, Mom — and I’m sure that you are — I hope that you’re proud of your boy. I could have been a Middle Eastern extra on “24.” And way ahead. But when the I.T. guy came and wiped me out — everything: me, just gone — I remember trying not to think about how easily you can be erased. “Exactly what you need,” he said. Then we strapped the kayaks to the roof of the car, got in and sat for a long time, heater blasting, weighing our options. As I watched the improvised refugee camp shrink in the rearview mirror, I noticed one of the tents had the Pakistani flag hoisted on the tent pole.

I have no idea how, but I’ll just take it one day at a time. It’s the lifetime that counts. You really wish it would work. And yet it might turn out to be the best job I’ve ever had. Meanwhile, I watched for other sangak lovers who, unlike dinosaurs, were still roaming around looking for an opportunity. To our right, another herd moved up the hill toward us. Unwilling to waste a second, I raced up to the house and phoned the sanctuary.

We’d both been on the road through Oak Hill, W.Va., yet for some reason, I got to keep going. I like to think of it not so much as a lack of carefulness as a wish to move forward. All of which, it now seems to me, was inevitable, or at the very least, predictable and probably foretold. I didn’t mention my son’s remark to my parents because it seemed emotionally manipulative, but I have it in my back pocket just in case. But he was already gone, disappeared into the crowd. And that is how I felt.

I’ve been so afraid that being a mother is causing my brain to dissolve, but this morning it knew I needed to be put to sleep in order to wake up. Drunk or sober, I am absurd. And while all this is happening, you find yourself thinking more and more about something else that could have: you could have crashed and killed someone, including yourself.

“I thought your hair looked longer,” she said, and dove into her éclair au chocolat. Infinite points for this, I thought. “You’re O.K. to stop humming now.’’ With gratitude, we eat. My word, imagine to be that age, in love and alive. She said the chairs were in their bedroom. “Let’s go back inside.” I tipped her well. That she never forgot. And she was smiling.

“I swam a hundred miles to get home,” he said. “It’s my leg.” What a difference, I couldn’t help marveling, one letter can make. He went to bed still musing. Of how all this came about. But regarding the mystery of what he discovered in his study of the cosmos, the prison library was completely silent. The guy looked me up and down and in front of everyone said, “No thanks, I’ll take the bus.” And they did.

Before flying home, I went to a fancy drugstore and bought a basic makeup kit — a compact, mascara, lipstick, Issey Miyake perfume in a tall conical bottle — in anticipation of having to compete with a transsexual sibling. It’s a loving relationship, Dave’s and mine, but one in which one partner, without testicles, will always scream at the other, who has them, for no apparent reason. And so I went inside the hotel to take a nap.

I stared at the small high window, through which I could see nothing but clouds. I should probably jot it down somewhere.

Stephen Whitlock is a freelance writer who lives in Stockholm and New York. He has written for the New York Times, Financial Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure and Wallpaper, among others.

Photo by takomabibelot, from Flickr.