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She Was My Sunshine

Sunshine

“I’m sorry, I should have warned you.”

My mother and I walked into my father’s hospice room; the third day of his agonizingly slow descent into eternal rest. I could not reconcile the image of my once stalwart father, who used to carry me around on his shoulders just for the fun of it, withering away slowly on his death bed. He looked so frail, so vulnerable, so . . . not my dad. I staggered to the window seat, dropped down, and cried.

My mom busied herself with opening the draperies to let in the sunlight. The window view was quite idyllic. A mere pane of glass divided two worlds—one full of happiness and life, the other sorrow and death. The beauty of the scene was painful. How can I enjoy it juxtaposed to my reality? I am losing my dad, my hero.

“Why can’t I cry?” my mom asked after I regained composure and stood up.

Huh. Good question. She cried non-stop when our family dog died, and she even cried when I confessed as a young adult that I hated myself. You know I think you’re wonderful, right? Why is it that the prospect of losing her life-partner, her high school sweetheart, doesn’t instill in her the same response?

“Maybe you are in self-preservation mode. You don’t cry because you feel you don’t have time to cry. There’s too much to do, and you have all these responsibilities squarely on your shoulders.” I really wanted to answer her question, and that explanation seemed as plausible as they come. She is a mother, she’s used to being strong.

She silently pondered that. “When this is all over, then, you’ll let yourself cry. I’m sure of it.” She nodded, mollified.

“Come on, ma!” I turned in surprise at the bed. The utterance of exasperation had a familiar note. How many times was I the cause of his annoyance?

“He’s been talking. I don’t know if he’s dreaming, reliving memories, or. . . .” A nurse walked in. “Good morning, Nola! How are you?”

“Oh fine. And yourself?” My mom, always so friendly.

“Good! Rudy’s been active today. I was singing to him earlier, and he sang along with me. Watch this.” She straightened his sheets as she demonstrated.

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy, when skies are gray.
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you.
Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

“. . . sunshine away.” His mouth moved, accompanying her with a childlike lilt on the last line. It was a far cry from his steady baritone he used for singing along with The Blues Brothers soundtrack, as well as hymns at Sunday church services.

“Aww, that is so cute! Okay, I’ll be back in a bit.” The nurse rushed out. How is she able to be so upbeat and bright while working day in and day out in a place people go to die? There are no happy endings in her job.

And why did that song come up, and how did he remember it when the months that led up to his last days in hospice, he was losing his memories, along with his reasons to live? I wasn’t sure he knew I was his daughter towards the end, much less have the ability to remember a country tune from a bygone era.

I don’t know what compelled me, but I wanted that moment with him, too. I leaned over him, and softly sang the chorus in his ear.

“. . . sunshine away.” He didn’t know his daughter, and maybe not even himself, anymore. Yet, I felt closer to him, my stoic, Germanic father, than I ever had.

Mom turned away, and started crying. She grabbed a tissue to wipe her eyes and blow her nose.

“I am so sorry, mom,” I hurried over to her and hugged her as the tears streamed down my face. I inherited my sympathetic crying reflex from her.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you.” I felt selfish for creating that moment with no regard for how it might make her feel, but then found a silver lining. “See, you can cry.”

“I guess I’m normal,” she said as she sniffled and dried her face.

“You always were, mom.”

    *          *          *

My mom died a year after my father; 378 days later, to be exact. I called her to follow up on plans we made for that Saturday. She was in bed, and blamed her shortness of breath and difficulty with talking on pulling a muscle from vomiting. Probably just the flu. Okay, mom. Go to the doctor tomorrow, and I’ll come out this weekend. Oh, that would be great, goodbye.

I didn’t tell her I love her. Four hours later, I got the call from the hospital. It took me over an hour to get there, and I made mental plans during the cab ride to stay at her house and take care of her. They wouldn’t tell me on the phone that she had already died. I guess they don’t do that.

The doctor did not recommend an autopsy. Her age and probable pneumonia led to heart failure, most likely. I want the definitive, not speculation, especially when it involves those I love. I had the feelings of her other children—my sister and brother—to consider besides my own, so, I didn’t push it. To this day, I can’t help but wonder if losing her first and only love, the one she spent nearly 60 years of her life with, had something to do with it. How can a broken heart be detected, much less treated?

She lost her husband long before he was turned into ash. His body deteriorated along with his mind; his death wasn’t a surprise. His suffering was over, as hers should be. This was her time to build a new life, and for the first time, really focus on herself. I thought she was coping well. Her social calendar was full, and she was always ready to talk when I called. She was so hard to get off the phone!

She was such a sincere person that she could never make it as an actress. She put on a brave and happy face, but she fooled no one . . . except me.

I found out afterwards that she seemed profoundly sad, and could not find her place in the world without her husband; a hole which could never be filled again. How did I miss it?

After five years, it does me no good to ponder that question, nor blame myself for her death in any way. As Lucille Ball said, “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.” Sage words.

That said, I don’t regret what I did with my father. In my selfish pursuit for a personal moment with him, I created a deeper bond with my mom. That was a moment we shared that no one else may completely understand. Neither of us could listen to that song without crying. Every time I heard it, I couldn’t wait to tell her. There was sadness, but also joy in the memory that I could relive with her.

I heard it again, just recently. I could feel my throat tighten upon recognition of that familiar I IV V chord progression. I had to leave the room. I didn’t tell anyone about it, until right here.

She was my sunshine, but not my only sunshine. The skies became a bit grayer when her sunshine was taken away.

Even though I didn’t tell her I loved her one last time, I think she knew how much I did.

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Sturm und Drang: The Breakfast of Trumpions

 

Faust

I tend to keep a low profile when I walk around the city. I am not a recreational urban stroller. I just want to get to my destination as quickly as possible, unimpeded. But damned if those annoying “you got a minute for ABC . . . XYZ?” kids try to get my attention when I least want it. Every. Time. Nothing I do—or don’t do—dissuades them from their cutesy attempts to squeeze out a minute from me I don’t have (I gave them said minute once; it is more like five). I’ve tried a polite dissent, resting bitch face, or veering not so subtly out of their path. Nothing works.

It happened, yet again, today. As I let the grumbling, snotty response to my cold shoulder fade in my wake, I realized what has been eating at me since November 9, 2016: Liberals are really pissing me off.

What makes this realization noteworthy is that up until after Election Day, I identified as a Liberal. I still do in many ways. I have more than a minute for Gay Rights, Planned Parenthood, et cetera. The crises that make organizations like Human Rights Campaign dump these poor saps onto the streets to obnoxiously beg for support are the things that keep me up at night. I not only give a minute, I devote hours of my day thinking and writing about them. Admittedly, I am just a mere armchair activist, but still, these human rights issues are a large concern. I honestly don’t know what we can do about them outside of continuing to fight for them.

In deference to my Liberal brethren who might be reading and working themselves up into a lather, I assure you, I am with you. Overall, we are on the right side of history. It astounds me how polarized people can be on a simple concept like an individual’s basic humanity. Sadly, the world will remain divided and our efforts will be for naught, particularly if we continue on our current trajectory. What I am suggesting is that there are some things that could use some . . . tweaking, perhaps?

That was my attempt at political correctness—a tactic that makes the left particularly annoying (more on that later). I shall be blunt. Many (not all) Liberals need to get over their sanctimonious martyrdom and actually do something that is substantive. So says the aforementioned armchair activist.

I make this declaration with the acknowledgement that I’ve been guilty of sanctimony and victimhood, as well. I drew on my own “grab ‘em by the pussy” experiences like a baby to her bottle. When Donald Trump was elected, I cried inconsolably. I was prone to acting like what the right refers to as a “Libtard” or “Snowflake.” In turn, I swung my broad, ad hominem brush at “Clownservatives” and “Republicunts” who hate the world, thus making our country anything but great. Logical fallacies aside, there are plenty on both sides of the political aisle that have earned those pejoratives. For the purpose of this article, I focus on Liberals.

These past few months, I’ve taken a step back, or more like, been catapulted to the middle. This change was one of necessity. As I was sobbing while leaving the house the morning after the election, my dear husband with his lovingly brutal honesty, banged on the echo chamber until I crawled out to escape the cacophony. With one pin poke (more like an hour-long lecture) he popped the Liberal bubble that cocooned me for the past decade.

To be fair, I had already previously been laying the groundwork for the transformation into an Independent butterfly. I was just in serious denial. I suspected Trump—once a moderate—was pulling a long, elaborate con. I abandoned it without doing my homework. Quite frankly, the pack, us-versus-them mentality made it much easier to just hate the man and see Hillary Clinton as the better candidate, while secretly wishing something would happen to both of them so that Bernie Sanders could saunter in and save the day. I held my nose when I voted for Clinton; I just couldn’t join the fray and be #imwithher. Yet, I thought she was at least the lesser of evils. With that, I’ll start with Lesson 1.

The Drumpfer has some clothes

My darling husband showed me what he’d been researching the past year. Aha! It makes sense now. Trump has been planning this most of his career. Even just ten years ago, he cozied up to the Democrats and made contributions to the DNC, Planned Parenthood, et cetera. He was chummy with the Clintons, in fact. When the Democrats didn’t take him seriously for his Presidential aspirations, he played the Republican and flimflammed the alt-right while galvanizing disenfranchised, rural Americans. He did whatever it took to get elected. He is determined to be the BEST President, so he throws the GOP parties to make them drunk with their majority power. He’ll punish the Democrats for a while until he needs them for his agenda. Then the Republicans may well be nursing their hangovers while he butchers some of their sacred cows. Yay! It is all just bread and circuses, faking us out until we are all forced to eat our spinach because our own divine bovines died off. Classic narcissistic businessman, him.

Try telling that to Liberals. “Oh, tsk tsk, Diane. You give him too much credit. He’s a moron, insane, and didn’t even want the job. He is going to destroy us. You’ll learn.” I’m not ready to abandon the Long Con theory, but I admit it is being thrown into question. Quite frankly, he’s doing some very scary things right out of the gate. We must keep a watchful eye on his administration, and always be vigilant. What I ask is that Liberals do not succumb to what Conservatives so maddeningly did with Obama: don’t hate everything Trump does because of his vexing skin color, no offense to orangutans. There is more to it than that, of course. We can disagree with his agenda, but not throw the baby (hands) out with the bathwater. Look back at old footage of him; he was quite fluent and astute. The way he speaks and carries on these days is a tactic to get attention, and demonstrates his low opinion of our country’s collective intelligence. We all seize voraciously on every little tweet, word, and action, so his disdain is not without merit.

Democrats have been screwed over twice because of the Electoral College. I understand the frustration, but am not inclined to move to abolish something just because I didn’t get what I want. Our Forefathers set us up as a Constitutional Republic, not a pure Democracy. Why? Because it elects representatives to protect our collective Constitutional rights and interests. Electing the candidate with the popular vote sounds simple and fair, but it isn’t. He won, based on the Republic vote. It is a mystery how he was viewed as being in the best interests of the majority of the population, but there you have it. Let’s look at our own party’s hubris for selling their souls in blind desire to elect the first woman President and getting the Clintons back in the White House, and our own over-confidence that there was no way she could lose to Trump. She did, so Liberals, including myself, are to blame for that. We sowed, therefore we must reap.

There are still many arguments supporting that he should not be in the White House, and he’s already wrought considerable havoc. Not to mention he set a dangerous precedent with his con job, one that surpasses the usual empty promises that abound in politics. Is it that easy to get elected? The validity of Hitler comparisons is debatable, but with our gullibility, we could actually elect a malevolent primary psychopath who is astute enough to follow the pathway that Trump paved, and take us down it to a much worse Hell than is histrionically being railed about now.

Regardless, Trump is our President; give it time. The Democrats will get their party. Between the short times either party is pleased, both Republicans and Democrats will share a discontent with their “esteemed” leader who dares to give us our democracy, good and hard. What brings rivals together for a mutual cause? The enemy of my enemy. We actually may cross party lines and work together. Won’t that be swell?

That is the last you’ll hear from me about this particular topic, except if/when I can deliver between mouthfuls of spinach, a richly deserved, “I told you so.” That is, if he doesn’t get impeached or kicked out of office first.

Shot through the bleeding heart

This is a topic that has stuck in my craw for several years. There are many Liberals, such as the wonderful Dan Savage, who believe that the Second Amendment should be abolished. I used to be anti-gun, and still am afraid of them. When mass shootings started getting more bandwidth (they were always there, but are covered more now because of the instant and powerful reach of the Internet), I realized I needed to educate myself on guns and actually decide what my view on them should be. I didn’t land where I expected.

Guns are bad and need to be controlled because they lead to gun violence. This mantra begs the question, as it is fundamentally flawed for several reasons. First off, it is like saying marijuana is a gateway drug. Demonizing guns speaks to a complete lack of understanding why our Forefather’s wrote the Second Amendment. The intent was to give the citizens of our Republic—again, not Democracy, Republic—the right to protect themselves. It isn’t to shoot each other willy-nilly, nor even to make machinegun bacon, but to protect the people from all threats that menace them, especially a tyrannical government.

Second, referring to the problem as “gun violence” muddies the water the same way as calling all pit bulls vicious. Criminals abuse guns to the point that they’ve lost that Constitutional right to keep and bear them, and that is a problem. The thing about rights is that they are there until they are abused, and because of that, do not extend beyond our noses. We have the right to our nose, but not if we chop it off. It will in turn spite our face. Criminals infringe on our rights, but reactionary obtuseness results in everyone losing out. How can we rightfully protect ourselves from harm when everyone is disarmed except for those who are out to hurt us? The answer is, we can’t.

Third, anything we try to attack and control through restriction, like the War on Drugs, is bound to backfire and lead to more violent responses. Think of it as homeopathy: Like heals like. The more law-abiding citizens that are responsibly armed, i.e., with proper training, the bigger deterrent for criminals to, well, fuck with us. Make sense?

Fourth, the foundation of the anti-gun view was built with a double standard. If the Second Amendment is bad, then the other 26 should be thrown into question. Are you ready for that? As a recent example, the GOP voted to remove the requirement of the Social Security Administration to provide to the NICS database the list of people who require a caretaker of their finances, so that those recipients of aid for their fiduciary well being are prohibited from obtaining firearms. The left claims it will arm severely mentally ill people, which will lead to shootouts in “crazy town.” This is reactionary, as it assumes the worst intentions of the “evil party.” While there may be financial incentives from the NRA, the spirit of it is to allow the people, who’ve done nothing to lose their rights, due process like everyone else. The ACLU agrees, and thus is ironically on the same side. Isn’t that covered in the Fifth Amendment, due process and all? If not, then look at the all-encompassing Ninth that covers any rights not otherwise specified.

It is interesting—by interesting, I mean hypocritical—that those who rally against stigmatizing mental health stop short when it comes to owning a firearm. The same goes for military Veterans, who were identically affected by a similarly disarming mandate. The government readily armed them to fight for our country, but that would make it near impossible for them to protect themselves in their own homes, simply because they chose to seek out someone to help them pay their bills accurately. It is a smoking bullet hole stigmata right in the middle of the forehead.

Who claims to have a reasonable approach to “sensible gun laws” but has been rightfully accused of wanting to restrict Second Amendment rights? Hillary Clinton, and it is what makes her appealing to the left. However, she is a hated, targeted woman by many. How do you think the Secret Service protects her, with their fists? Of course not. Does anyone see her complaining about that? Of course not. More hypocrisy.

Unfortunately, these points hit a dense, peace-loving hemp wall. Anti-gun Liberals should direct their fear to where it belongs, which is to the drain they are going down along with their stubborn, circular arguments.

I will end it with this. Trump is pro-Second Amendment, but his abuse of every piece of the First Amendment is in a word, frightening. The defense of the First Amendment is predicated on our rights in the Second Amendment. We can’t defend ourselves with words and signs if we are silenced. Buck up, Liberals, and stop shooting yourself in the foot. If there is ever a time that we need to ensure the government fears its people, it is now.

Protest the protester

Our First Amendment rights allow for protest, and Dems and Libs are exercising that right, most definitely of late. Protests are a way to get our collective voice heard, and our Forefathers were right in including that as a respected way to get the attention of our government.

The obvious challenge is keeping it peaceful. The larger the crowd, the greater chance of it getting out of hand. Did you know the majority of violent protests come from Liberal/left-wing causes? Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, as well as numerous other rallies against unjustified shootings, collapsed in on itself. Threats, fights, shootings, and rape, all happened on the supposedly anti-violent left’s watch. Why is it acceptable for Liberals to rip off their tie-dye peace and love shirts and become Social Justice Warriors, but not Conservatives? Feeling justified doesn’t cut it. It is subjective, especially from the perspective of those who don’t agree with you. Last anyone checked in the Constitution, nothing but peaceful assembly is protected.

That said, props for keeping the Women’s March reasonably civilized. It didn’t cause substantive change—yet—but the overwhelming turnout and solidarity sent a powerful warning shot across the bow: We are here, and we aren’t going away.

That’s the spirit! Keep it up. Commitment and tenacity are needed during these uncertain times. Just don’t overdo it. Think before you pick up that protest sign, lest it amount to nothing but tuned out cries of wolf. In addition, be selective on the where and when. It can backfire and cause a lot of resentment.

Yes, it rather sucks that Trump is our President. Millions of people were heartbroken, as well as outraged. Citizens swarmed city streets post-Election Day, delivering a loud and clear message: Not Our President. That’s great; the Administration-elect and possibly, those who voted for him heard them, also loud and clear. That includes the people who were stuck in their cars while thwarted from their commute home. I wonder how many of them voted for Clinton. Does it matter? They were thrust in the middle of the protest, whether they wanted to be or not.

The plea from the Hamilton cast to Mike Pence is another example. It was a great message, but delivered under poor, unfair circumstances. I hate Pence, too, but he was there on a night off to enjoy theatre. He handled it with aplomb (unlike his boss), but do you really think he changed his view? The people who should heed the cry, didn’t. When I tried to explain that to Liberals, I was attacked for it. Therein lies the rub: If you constantly eat your own, chewing them up and spitting them out because they don’t believe exactly as you do, you’re going to be on your own.

The problem is that, outside of the emotional catharsis, many protests do nothing to benefit the greater good. Those who need to listen to what is said under these circumstances, don’t. That is where the title of this treatise comes in. All this Storm and Stress, all the complaining, does little benefit outside of feed the people who really hate this peace, love, and acceptance thing and want to vilify it. We piss in their cornflakes, and they eat it up.

Behind the veil

The largest, long-term threat is Climate Change. The science is in on that. Why can’t the right see that? It is because they are willfully stupid and ignorant about it, be it for religious or financial reasons. They will be the death of us.

How do you think they feel when it comes to Islamic Terrorism? It must be maddening that Liberals refuse to even call it that, much less fully acknowledge that it is the largest, immediate threat. How can we even have a dialectic on something when we won’t agree what to call it? Blame the left and their insane drive to be politically correct. They will be the death of us. Sound familiar?

But no! Islam is a peaceful religion. How dare you?

That’s the thing. Crack open a Koran, it is none-too peaceful. That is where the Conservatives are correct. Where they are terribly mistaken, and hypocritical even, is claiming that Catholicism and Christianity are above reproach. There is rampant child molestation, not to mention historical corruption in the Papacy. As for Christianity, check out Revelations, and if you have the urge, read the Lost Books of the Bible. Jesus had quite the itchy trigger finger.

Incidentally, if the Jesus that Conservatives know and love were alive today, they’d hate his Liberal, possibly schizophrenic, tree-hugging, toga-wearing, (and probably pot-smoking) hippy ass. I digress.

As an atheist, I believe religion is a scourge on the world, and the salt of the earth are salting the earth as long as they hold onto these specious belief systems. It causes more problems than it platitudinously claims to solve. That said, our Forefathers’ aimed to protect the people from the government establishing or infringing upon religion. Having friends from many faiths, while I don’t agree with them, I will defend their right to do whatever makes them happy. If they don’t interfere with my right to not practice religion, I certainly will not interfere with their right to practice religion.

The extreme view looks to violate Muslims’ rights in order to protect their own interests. I am not talking about those from other countries. If they are not U.S. citizens, they do not have Constitutional rights, much less claim to the First Amendment. Our country is not obligated to let anyone in, even if under duress, we just do because it was established as “The American Way.” In many circumstances, aiding others is the right thing to do; there is great disagreement on how that should be accomplished. The prejudice against Islamic Americans who are on our side and our way of life, regardless if they immigrated legally or were born here, is detrimental. It is up to everyone, not just Liberals, to protect them. They are our allies against terrorism. Memo: Please see earlier section on ways to protect our rights, re: Second Amendment.

The cultures from which most Muslims arise put women beneath them and persecute homosexuals; violence against them is part of Sharia law. Who leaps over eggshells to defend them, despite their culture’s tendency towards shaming women, destroying them with honor killings, and throwing homosexuals off rooftops? The same Liberals who protest for women’s and LGBTQ equal rights. Oh moral and cultural relativism, they are such sticky wickets.

The other side of the Liberty coin is that there are many people who are part of larger groups that want to destroy us. They aren’t just in other countries; they are hiding in plain sight on our homeland. We must look out for ourselves. That does not mean that we should fear offending anyone. Just like domestic terrorists can refer to themselves as Christians doing God’s work, groups like ISIL can claim the same for Allah. It really doesn’t discredit the respective religions; religion does a bang-up job of that just by merely existing.

Again, for the most part, Liberals are on the right side of history. We should love and accept everyone who is just trying to be themselves. Therein lies another rub: Not everyone will return the gesture. It is naïve to think otherwise.

It could be argued that the travel ban protests might have been more than cathartic. The courts overruled the ban. I suspect they were going in that direction anyway; the people just got there first. I’ll give the spirit of those protests kudos, with exceptions.

“We are all Muslims now!” read some protest signs. Really? No, we aren’t. Once again, Liberals overstate by co-opting victimhood along with those who really can lay claim to the abuse. There are many ways to get the point across without striking a Jesus Christ pose (apologies to Soundgarden). No need for melodrama.

Then, there is the photograph of Muslims praying on makeshift mats from signs picketers placed on the floor for them. That is laying it on a wee bit thick, don’t you think? Would Christians protect atheists’ rights by offering their Bibles so that they can intellectually eviscerate them, in support of their lack of faith? I think not. Don’t try so hard to appear to be all-accepting; there is always going to be something that you won’t find acceptable.

We can be together, but still apart. That goes for race, gender, or sexual orientation. Religion. Politics! We all have noses with which to measure the extent of our rights. Don’t block, unfriend, or demand to be unfriended on social media. That is silly at best, and definitely divisive. Don’t claim the moral or ethical high ground. Look for news that upsets confirmation bias. Bust out of that echo chamber. Listen, learn, just as you expect the same in return. As Bruce Lee said in the Tao of Jeet Kune Do, “Take everything in, extract what is useful, discard what is not.” Success in that hinges on discarding the assumption that everything you believe in is useful.

We Can Be Zeroes

Now it’s time to close our eyes
Now it’s time to say goodbye
Now it’s time to face the lie
That we’d never cry
David Bowie, “What’s Really Happening?”

The unexpected death of the iconic David Bowie on January 10, 2016 was a shocking blow to much of the world. More than a week has passed, yet news and social media sites are still flooded with eulogies, tributes, and other commemorative pieces about the legendary artist.

Amidst all the tragedy and death in the world, this one seems more difficult to accept. Many of us were born when Bowie already released his classic, Space Oddity. It is hard to comprehend he is gone when he was always there. Truth be told, imagining a world without him in it is a challenge, because a small part of us assumed he was immortal.

His death reminds us that even appearing bigger than life, he is just like us—a mere speck of dust in endless void of space. It is a sobering thought. We get solace from having heroes, ones we can revere and rely upon. We could look up to the heavens, and the Starman would be there. How can such a dynamic force that had such a positive impact on the world just one day cease to be? Simply, we are all mortal. In an Orwellian way, some of us are “more mortal” than others.

Bowie

Bowie, Colored Pencil on toned paper, by Diane Bushemi 1/17/16

I am comforted by the collective sorrow. Misery loves company, after all. More to the point, I am less embarrassed that I cried for the passing of someone I never met, because I am not alone in my feelings. Still, my response is surprising to me. Even though I am a fan and as an artist and musician myself, greatly appreciate his unique genius. However, he was never my favorite. I always assumed I would reserve this type of emotional investment for my songwriting heroes—Neil Young, Sting, Joni Mitchell, Shawn Phillips, and Tori Amos. My connection is strong with them for various reasons, and, they have helped shape me into the artist I am and still am striving to be.

Then why did his death cause me so much distress? Like with all celebrity deaths, we make it about ourselves. From water cooler conversations to social media postings, it is about our own responses. It is a way to connect to someone we don’t know and to something we have yet to experience for ourselves. The mere concept of death is terrifying to us. There is a mystery in the unknown, of course. Even more so, there is that fear we would be gone and promptly forgotten. It is troubling enough to acknowledge that we are mortal in body, but we cannot accept that we could be mortal in influence, as well. Celebrities are immortalized in a way most of us can’t be through memories, photographs, film, et cetera. Canonizing the dead is a natural impulse, even more so when someone in the public eye dies. We want immortality to be true, any way we can get it. We can’t help ourselves.

That said, it isn’t the main reason Bowie’s death causes me so much dissonance. I had to take a long, brutal look at myself and figure out why this death affected me and was distinctly about me.

Bowie died of liver cancer. I am a cancer survivor. Pluck! There’s a succulent piece of low-hanging fruit from that Tree of Knowledge. I could accept that obvious connection, nosh on the apple, and leave it at that. Of course it upsets me, I know what he went through because I experienced it myself. I empathize.

If only it were that easy. It is one component, yes, but not the core reason. Get it? Apple—core. Anyway, here goes.

The past two years, starting with my entry into the mid-forties demographic, I’ve looked back on my life a lot, even more so than looking around in the present or to the future. Like the various Dickensian ghosts, it is all scary. For the sake of brevity, I will just say that I am filled with regret. Regret that I didn’t travel more, make more friends, and basically lived too safely. I avoided the path I was drawn to because it was intimidating. Why should I risk trying and failing at being a professional musician when the four-year college with a degree in accounting is right there? Since Bowie released his first album in his early twenties, he eschewed conservative ideals and did what he wanted to do during his formative years—ones that have long passed me by.

I can say with utmost certainty that regret, like jealousy, is a useless waste of energy. Just learn from past mistakes, live in the present, and keep your eye on the future. Right? It is easier said than done. The challenge with me is that my resolve is in short supply. I am a sprinter. I get an idea and take off with it, but run out of gas very shortly before I can achieve much. I don’t have the endurance for a marathon, literally and figuratively. My successes are small and far between, because I use up the majority of my reserves trying to keep myself motivated. Do you know who probably had plenty of resolve and motivation, considering how prolific and successful he was? Bowie.

I started the New Year recovering from an injury. A bulging disc in my neck caused incapacitating pain for several weeks. I was miserable. I couldn’t work out, draw, paint, play guitar, or write. I could do none of the things that I enjoyed. The two weeks for holiday that I reserved to accomplish so much were a complete bust. At least, I was willing to accept that I was physically unable to do anything productive. I wonder if Bowie ever experienced something similar to that.

I was equally unproductive during my battle with cancer. I did two quick drawings, and that was it. I didn’t write, and barely played any music. What did I do with those four months off from work while at home, day in and day out? There is no point in listing specifics. I was fighting for my life; I had no energy to focus on building a body of work for some legacy that no one would see anyway.

Do you know who co-wrote a musical, wrote, and recorded an album, all while battling cancer and accepting that he would ultimately lose that fight?

Damn it, Ziggy. Damn you to space! You make me look and feel bad for myself. I am the Zero to your Hero. How dare you?

Is it possible to be so in command of your life that despite the odds, you still write your own ending? I didn’t think it was possible, yet, Bowie showed that it is. He took something that was out of his control—terminal cancer—and like the maestro he was, orchestrated his dwindling time on Earth brilliantly. From the release of his album on his birthday to his peaceful death two days later, Major Tom was not only the pilot of his rocket ship; he was “Ground Control.”

This isn’t a life-changing revelation. I almost died, damn it. If that didn’t galvanize me, what would? I could carry a lightning bolt as my talisman and focus the rest of my life on becoming immortal in whatever way possible. Or . . . not.

This is not a closed-ended treatise. I have a long road ahead of me still. Not as long as I want it to be, given I am ostensibly halfway through my life already. I trust I will continue to stumble along the way, just like I always do. I hope I will leave more indelible footprints in my path. Until I shuffle off this mortal coil, I still might compose my own symphony that will resonate and continue to be heard when my voice is forever silenced.

I’ll end this with another lyric from his song, What’s Really Happening? I’ve had it on a loop the past week. It seems fitting.

All the clouds are made of glass
And they’re slowly sinking
Falling like the shattered past
Were we built to last?

Defending the death of Dexter

That was an alliteration I couldn’t resist. I could call it homage to the originator of the book series, Jeff Lindsay. But I won’t. He alliterates ad nauseam in his book titles, as well as in Dexter’s voiceovers in a misguided attempt at making the character likeable, e.g. “dear darling Dexter.” Good gracious God. All he succeeds in doing is annoying the reader—at least, this reader. Jeff Lindsay is a hack who happened upon a promising idea, and then crapped on it after the first book. Yeah, I get it. Angel-no relation-Batista is not a winged being from the heavens. Say it once, and then move on!

Needless to say, the television series surpassed the books from the very first episode. Even the worst season was by far better than Linday’s best book. I have it on good authority considering I read the first five. I have heard they go even further downhill from there. Usually, derivative works are lower in quality, such as the recent Great Gatsby, if not on par with, as was the case in Jaws.

Every episode was entertaining and riveting. The acting was all first-rate, and the evolution of the two main characters in Dexter and Deb were brilliantly portrayed by Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter, respectively. All the supporting and guest actors did an excellent job, as well. Who can forget John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer from Season 4, arguably their best season? Anyone who didn’t come away from witnessing that performance and recognize his acting genius needs a time-out on Dexter’s table. I kid. The only season I was disappointed with was the following, season 5. I felt Julia Stiles was miscast and out of her element. I could not suspend disbelief that she would be driven to murder, and could even help Dexter dump body parts and act like they were making conversation while cooking dinner together. If you ask me, and you probably won’t, Claire Danes would have made a more convincing Lumen. She has the required frailty masked by steely resolve to make that character believable.

Do not read any further if you have not watched the series finale of Dexter, by the way. The “death” in my title is symbolic, i.e., the ending of the series.

Or is it. . . ?

My husband and I are both writers, and we can usually sniff out plot turns before they happen—him more so than I. Neither of us had any idea how this series would end. We both knew that it wouldn’t end well for at least one of the characters. It turned out that it ended badly for all of them. I won’t discuss the whole season. It is only the final episode that left me an emotional mess.

The show’s writers took Vonnegut’s advice to be mean to their characters and ran with it. All the key players were victimized by Dexter, in some shape or form. And for that, Dexter had to die . . . in some shape or form.

When Deb was shot in the penultimate episode, it was the gun on the wall (pun intended) that a happy ending was not to be expected. Deb was injured picking up where Dexter felt he should leave off. He did not kill the Brain Surgeon—the season’s nemesis—because he realized he didn’t need to anymore and decided to go by the book and have him arrested and prosecuted. Is that character redemption I see? Not so fast! Dexter left Hannah and Harrison (another alliteration!) in their efforts to flee the country to be by Deb’s side when he got the call that she had been shot. Are you sure that isn’t character redemption? Scoff! That would be too easy.

I suspected even more so that something tragic would happen when the doctor told Dexter that everything went well in surgery. Context is important, because nothing goes well in that show, so it should not be assumed that it was just a plot device to add a little drama. A massive stroke from a blood clot left Deb brain-dead. It heralded the return of Dexter’s Dark Passenger, so the Brain Surgeon had to die. While doing a GSR test on Daniel Vogel in jail, he set it up so that Vogel, a.k.a. Oliver Saxon, would attack him, thus justifying Dexter killing him. Batista and Quinn, distraught by the loss of a detective and lover, respectively, viewed the video playback. It was apparent that they saw it for what it was—a premeditated murder in the guise of self-defense. After a few obvious questions from Batista, they declared the incident justifiable homicide. On the surface, it appeared to be sloppy writing to do away with some loose ends in the plot. But in actuality, it was showing another side to the detectives—more Batista in this case—demonstrating that sometimes ethics are situational. And some people have to die. So says “the code.”

Like he did to Camilla Figg in season 3, he felt it his duty to euthanize Deb. And that he did. I was shaking, trying to keep it together, when he held her hand and emotionally whispered “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” He turned off the machine, disconnected the tube and wires, and listened for her breath to cease. “I love you,” were his last words. That is when I did a face-plant into my husband’s lap. My eyes are welling up just recalling that scene. I was devastated.

There was only one convincing path for Dexter to take at the loss of his moral compass in Deb, for which he felt responsible. He could have met up with Hannah and Harrison and lived his life the way Deb would have wanted him to. That would have been trite, out of character, and despite our desire for some semblance of a happy ending, unrealistic. He spoke one last time to Hannah and Harrison, leaving the possibility he would see them again. Then he threw the phone into the ocean to cast away any temptation to meet up with and eventually destroy them the way he did everyone he was close to. After that, he buried Deb in the same place he did his victims, as if she died at his hand, as well. But with her, he demonstrated his love and respect by keeping her whole and uncovered. Her face dissolved as it sank into the ocean’s depths in a symbolic disposal of the mask he wore for so many years.

He drove into the eye of the hurricane, and the wreckage of his boat was found the next day. The assumption was that he died, and in a way, he did. The façade, the emotional growth, as well as any possibility for more connections with humanity, died. Whether he intended to kill himself or fake his death is left for the viewer to decide. Regardless, he made a supreme sacrifice. The last scene showed him as what appeared to be a lumberjack, possibly in the upper Northwest. The cold, dark atmosphere was a stark contrast to Miami’s sunny warmth. He had a full beard, either as a disguise or perhaps to indicate that he no longer cared to maintain a carefully cultivated clean-cut and unthreatening appearance. His father’s image and voice were conspicuously absent. He sat down at a desk, and stared at nothing. His face with that mask fully removed, revealed the monster he always knew himself to be. This was the real Dexter, laid bare for the viewers to see. It was disturbing.

No one was redeemed, no one was happy. Joey Quinn became an honorable cop again during the season, and got the girl in the end. Then, she was cruelly taken away. What will happen to him? Hannah is left with Harrison. Will she be a good mother to him? Will she raise him to be a good, law-abiding person, or will he follow in her or his father’s footsteps?

What will become of Dexter? Did he mean it that he would see Harrison again? If so, would it be from afar? Dexter will continue killing, there is no doubt. But, did “the code” get buried along with the mask and moral compass, at the bottom of the ocean? There are so many questions that have a plethora of possible answers. Six Feet Under ended perfectly by giving closure to the key characters. It fit the theme and spirit of the show. The characters were surrounded by death, so too they must die eventually. The same goes for Dexter. Many fans are angry about the finale. Either they let their emotions cloud their judgment or they just didn’t get it.

On a final note, Jennifer Carpenter must at least get nominated for an Emmy. She has been overlooked for too long. Michael C. Hall should be nominated again, and actually win this time. It would be the appropriate closure to honor a terrific artistic work.