The End of Things

I hate when things end.

My father never cooked particularly well on the grill, but my most delicious childhood memories involve the process of grilling with my old man. I was allowed to help prepare the hallowed BBQ vessel (I now recognize this as child slavery), which meant I stacked the Kingsford briquets pyramid-like in the middle of our rusty spheroid Weber grill and doused them liberally with lighter fluid. Once I’d achieved a certain age, I was allowed to drop the match that set the entire carcinogenic mess ablaze, filling our tiny dilapidated garage with blue-grey plumes of despicably beautiful smoke. The dancing feathers of smoke faded congruously against the backdrop of our periwinkle home. When I rest upon my deathbed, engulfed in my many cancers, I will fondly reflect on those days of manly bonding in that modest garage, and I will be happy.

Birthday 15
The author, pre-midlife crisis in the era of unreliable cameras, when birthdays were birthdays and Mountain Dew was still considered a health food. Trivial note: The mutt in the foreground was named after the actress who played the Bionic Woman (“Lindsay”).

Roasted marshmallows over the glowing coals would be the capstone to our mediocre supper of something charred and cheese-soaked, reason enough to trudge dutifully through a tedious school week in Coldwater, Ohio. Back in my day, these minor treats had to be earned with perfect attendance and lofty test scores, said the strange old man in his readerless blog.

Once the first squishy sugar cube burst into yellow-green flames, a sweeping parachute of grief would envelope me. The end was nigh. After I inhaled a few of these delightful chemical nuggets, this ritual would abruptly cease, and we as a family would be left to mutter awkwardly with each other about inconsequential things. The poignancy of the good times made the regular times seem all the more intolerable. My intense dissatisfaction with basically everything was thus amplified, and it morphed into an overwhelming sense of soul-crushing sadness. I always metastasized into a most unpleasant lad following the opening of Christmas presents, and I still do. New Year’s is the worst, its maudlin displays all accentuating the end of a whole damn year.

I’m exaggerating, sort of. I always got over it. Basketball, or a teenage love, or a new heavy metal record lurked mercifully around the corner to mitigate the ebbing of my episodic joy. While I’m generally outwardly cheery and optimistic, my innards are lined with a syrupy veneer of despair, an existential WTF-is-this-all-about-anyway kind of gloom. It’s an inner conflict that drives me and my intimates bananas, but potentially makes me interesting and authentic to those lucky enough to know me only socially or professionally. I suspect this is a dichotomy prevalent in the human condition, which doesn’t make it any less interesting.

I turned 42 today. Last night I relished every second of my favorite holiday, passing out candy and spooking the neighborhood kids with my Walking Dead mask. When the littlest kids got too scared, I rushed around the corner or reassured them it’s just a mask. (I’m not a monster; I just play one on Halloween.)

Most of the day today was spent doing not much, by design. I entertained a few entreaties from my wife, like “What’s wrong?” and “Is everything OK?” My presents this year were awesome, but I got them early. My fantasy football team lost despite the herculean efforts of Eli Manning. I felt the leftover-Reese’s-induced highs, followed by the sugar-crash lows. I guess I had myself a little pity party.

“Nothing,” I responded. I just hate when things end.

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