Imagine a Life without Notions

Close-up of van Gogh’s “Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette.”

Imagine if we weren’t predisposed to notions of fate or destiny, or if we didn’t inherit beliefs about divinity from our elders. Imagine if our earthly end was truly a matter of chance or likelihood, and we accepted it as such: an accident or freak illness claims us, or we achieve an age correspondent to our life choices and genetics. None of this idea of unfinished business or unmet purpose in life would influence our feelings about death, that is, if we left no room in our brains for fate or destiny or divine intervention.

It’s difficult–unnatural, even–to trust a phrase like “it was just her time” when faced with an early death. Traffic accidents are the worst, because almost everybody drives, and almost everybody’s loved ones drive, so there’s a pervasive feeling it could happen to anyone at any time (like a terrorist attack or a mass shooting). But if we go a few weeks without news of a fatal car accident, we permit ourselves to slip into a false sense that those things definitely do happen but not to people we know. And just as we’ve settled into our comfortable driving routine, it happens. It may not be someone we know, but it could’ve been, and that’s often enough to unnerve us for a week or two.

Lately a new feeling’s crept in: guilt. When I hear of an early death, I eventually reach a vague sort of spiritual non-geography wherein I wonder, fearfully, if I’ve earned the life I continue to live, while so many who seemed so worthy–young victims of accidents; soldiers; cancer patients–have had theirs cut short. Am I worthy of the years my genetics are likely to grant me? Have I stored enough credits to cover the near-misses I’ve racked up on the interstate? Perhaps the answers to these questions are always both yes and no. None of us is qualified to judge whether a person merits his very life; we can’t know the value of that, not in any quantifiable terms. It lies outside our collective jurisdiction; it resides in a nether region, in the place where the forces both compelling and extinguishing life are found–a region off-limits to our conscious yearning, a land outside our control. I suspect life itself to be the biggest mystery I’ll ever contemplate. Imagine having all the answers–would we want them?

Alan D. Tucker, MA
Content Writer, Essayist, & Novelist

The Breeders in a Beater

I used to find scary faces in the glovebox pattern.

In every memory of the front view of my childhood home, my dad’s 1978 Ford F-150 two-tone brown and tan pickup is parked in the street. It’s not because my dad stayed home all the time–he maintained a long workweek for most of my youth–but because I can’t separate the truck from my memories of growing up. My brother and I both learned to drive in that truck, and we both left our marks on it, some of which remained indefinitely. Yet even as a self-conscious late-stage teenager, long after appearance had begun to matter, I was never too proud to be seen in the beat-up truck. In fact, I excelled at finding excuses to drive it, one of which involved 90s alternative band, The Breeders.

Different wheels, but the same kind of truck.

Imagine a lonely northwest Tennessee town in winter. It’s night and the brown grass and busted-up concrete of vacant lots lends a desolation to the sideroads off the main drag. Behind and around the big-block headquarters of the local paper, the shadows are deep, as they are around the Bakery Thriftshop across the street, its facade like the whitewashed walls of an abandoned warehouse. This is all seen from the road, where the 1978 Ford cruises along. It may or may not be 1993, but the teenage boy driving the truck is most certainly me. I had my own car by now, so I’m not sure why I was in my dad’s truck–perhaps mine was in the shop, I don’t know. Memory’s not yielding this detail. What memory does yield, however, is the music I was listening to: the album Pod, by The Breeders. The old Ford had a cassette deck, but I was all 1993-modern with my compact discs. My solution was to set a boom box on the seat next to me, but for this to work, I had to have enough D batteries. Did I buy the batteries that night, or did I find them at home? I don’t remember this detail, either, but it’s likely I bought them, because nobody keeps enough D batteries lying around to power anything. Or maybe they were C batteries. Whatever they were, I went through a lot of trouble to listen to The Breeders. No one was with me, and I had nowhere to be, but when you’re young and restless and have a driver’s license, sometimes you just have to get out, and if you’re going to get out, you’ve got to have music you love. So I traveled the sideroads, alone and looking for signs of life, while Kim Deal sang “When I Was a Painter.”

Alan D. Tucker, MA
Content Writer, Essayist, & Novelist

Prednisone Problems

The “tell your doctor right away if” list . . .

“It’s 11:25 pm, my cheeks are hot, my heart is racing, and I’m as surly as a caged bear.” That’s the one sentence I wrote last night. I’d forced myself into bed out of a rare sense of nighttime responsibility, because my usual habit is to sit in my chair until I can no longer stay awake. I wanted to think that if I lied down and closed my eyes for a few minutes, the sleep would come easily, as it almost always does. But Prednisone was still working its hateful spell. The steroid was prescribed by a very personable doctor at a walk-in clinic near my house for the previous day’s diagnosis of bronchitis, and if I had been asked my opinion of its effects on Sunday morning, I’d have been mostly satisfied: my sinuses were clear, and I even had a bit of my energy back. I suppose the Prednisone was accomplishing its primary function of alleviating inflammation. But the day would unfold with unpleasant complications.

One of my favorite things to do with my eldest son is play LEGOs. Lately, few opportunities have presented themselves. Yesterday, however, it seemed the time had come. It’s true I was sick, but I was following my Prednisone regimen and feeling pretty okay, so Arthur chose a set, we spread everything out on the kitchen table, and after he built for a little while, he got distracted and I ended up finishing it (which is exactly how I like for it to play out, because I think I’ve actually become a bigger LEGO  fan than he). But something went gradually wrong during this LEGO build. Two-thirds of the way through, as I was searching for pieces in the big pile–a tedious but satisfactory chore, followed by the same pedestrian pleasure that accompanies jigsaw puzzle-piece finding–I realized I wasn’t having any fun, and hadn’t been, nearly the entire time. I knew this wasn’t right, and at first I attributed it to the general anxiety that derails my equanimity from time to time. It wasn’t that, though–it felt different, somehow. It was more hopeless than insecure. In fact, it didn’t seem like anxiety at all but depression. The more I thought about it, the more I felt trapped by it. I could only despair: anything I found frustrating naturally, was now, in my current mental state, always going to be that way. Dreams would never be realized; the work wasn’t worth doing. Sounds were jarring, lights too bright, and life demanded of me nothing but drudgery. My kids didn’t really need me. The only thing I could see was futility.

On WebMD’s Prednisone page, under the “tell your doctor right away if” section, one of the potential side effects listed is “mental/mood changes (such as depression, mood swings, agitation).” I’ve always considered this section of side effects to be things that applied to people who were either already in poor health or were such a small percentage of the population that I need not ever really worry about it. Maybe one person out of a million had a certain awful thing happen, so now it had to be included in the list. Besides, lots of people take Prednisone with little consequence, I assumed. But here I was, experiencing one of those specific things on the bad list. Someone close reminded me of the importance of primary care physicians. Had I made an appointment with my doctor that actually knows me, rather than opting for the convenience of a walk-in clinic, I doubt I would’ve been prescribed this medication. I’m not slamming walk-in clinics–I think they provide a necessary and noble service. But in certain situations, one might do well to remember the benefits of having a PCP. In any case, I’ve sworn off Prednisone.

Alan D. Tucker, MA
Content Writer, Essayist, & Novelist