Something sticks when doctors wake you from surgery to tell you that in a few years your colon may need to be completely removed. That your plans of visiting the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China might be altered since you’ll be in a wheelchair with a bag of your own shit attached. It sticks when someone you grow up with is diagnosed with cancer, and you watch them whither away before you have the chance to scrounge up all the words to tell them how much they meant to you. When you visit the hospital and smell the decay and sickness and wonder what it means to have to fight for your life, and whether you would win if it came to it.
And something sticks in your throat when you try to swallow too fast and you cough and sputter and throw yourself against a dining room chair to dislodge a piece of pizza crust from your throat. You breathe in heavily, clutching your throat, thinking of how you’re home alone and how those could have been your last gasps of air.
There’s something about watching your parents grow older and slower that makes you realize just how much older and slower you’re becoming. There is poignancy in dying your mother’s gray hairs in the bathroom during your weekend visits home. There is poignancy in seeing your grandfather’s legs give out from under him during Thanksgiving dinner.
All the children on the playgrounds with their toothless grins and scuffed-up knees make you wish you could join them and dip your toes in the sandbox and forget about your career and car payments and unresolved fight with your sister. It makes you wonder if you’ll ever have a child of your own, if you even want one, and what that would mean for yourself if you died without having a genetic footprint.
Yet you can’t help but think about the children you see on the television with their amber alerts and innocent faces peeking out from photos given to police by desperate mothers. Something about their carefree grins sticks in your mind like tar, reminding you just how easily that could have been you, that could have been someone you know. You think about all the parents who have had to bury their children and try to carry on with their lives. You wonder if you could ever be strong enough to do the same. You go through your morning wondering where these children brought to your attention by amber alerts could be now. Whether they’ll be found alive, but by lunchtime you’ll be more concerned with which flavored martini you’re going to order at Happy Hour with your co-workers at five.
There’s something about looking at an old photograph of you that sticks the most. You look at the child racing around a swing set with lighter hair than yours is now. You touch the photograph, trying to get close to that child you’re looking at. You can’t help but notice how much sharper your features have become, how your eyes have lost some of the light they once held. So that is why you drink the extra glass of wine at night even though you have work tomorrow, and laugh at the jokes that are only half-funny, and love everyone you can get your beating pulse on; you’re just not sure the second that you’ll stop having the ability to do these things. Because being mortal is staring at all the old photos of yourself and realizing that you’re already just a ghost of the person you once were.