Friday night, I learned via text that a niece of my ex-wife's — and therefore, by the rules of extended families, a niece of mine — had lost her husband of twenty years. Actually, I learned that the next day on Facebook; I'd misunderstood the text and thought it had been sent to me by mistake. (Not everyone is proficient at cramming many ideas into a small space. Then again, I am probably better known for using much space for very few ideas, so it would be unseemly for me to complain.) There's no good time to lose a spouse, but one's late forties strikes me as a particularly terrible time, if only because that's when my dad lost his.

While I was reading the pertinent Facebook status and wondering what, if anything, to say — pressing the Like button seemed inappropriate at best — a status came in from a friend from my early computing days. A couple years ago, he found out that one of his old high-school buddies had taken his own life; this past week, a friend from college killed herself. Again, we're talking late forties.

The mood of the moment, first "pensive," began sliding into "somber," and I could see "despondent" on the horizon. I don't do despondency well, especially on weekends, so I tried to find a hook on which to hang my thoughts.

Perhaps unexpectedly, I was rescued from the Slough of Despair by Eddard Stark, head of House Stark, the Lord of Winterfell, Lord Paramount and Warden of the North, and Hand of the King to Robert Baratheon. "Winter is coming," he said, and all understood. Sooner or later winter comes upon the weak, the aged, the unprepared, the unfortunate, and everyone else; the survivors live to see another spring, but winter always returns, and more are swept away.

The days of our years, says the psalm [90:10], are threescore and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. This is more than just theory to someone about to reach threescore and two: even if you have no reason to trust the psalmist, the statistics themselves tell no lies. I noticed with amusement — at least, I think it was amusement — that the Social Security Administration has resumed sending out annual updates to us taxpaying types, and they advise that should I survive to the appropriate retirement age, I will receive something slightly in excess of next to nothing, assuming of course that Social Security doesn't go broke between now and whenever. (There are a lot of numbers, based on a lot of assumptions.)

But even if the rest of the taxpaying public can keep me living in the manner to which I am accustomed, they can't keep me living forever, or even close to it. Which brings me to a Sunday-afternoon dream, in which, after seemingly dozing off at a couple of traffic lights, I find myself driving into a tree.

In the nearest building, I meet up with a girl of about nine: short hair, medium height, given to occasional swears. She bids me follow her. I do, and we set off in a southerly direction, in a typical path for one of my dreams, following highways, minor roads, paths through the woods, and traipses through people's homes, none of them in any particular order. I begin to wonder if we're headed for the Promised Land, and if so, why do we seem to be going toward Texas?

In surprisingly little time, we're somewhere in north Austin, or what north Austin would look like with 95 percent fewer cars clogging up the place. I've been here before, I think, but nothing strikes me as particularly familiar. We cross 43rd Street, which used to be a short and boring residential street; it is no longer. And in front of 4280, she stops, and I awake.

I have no idea what, if anything, this is supposed to mean. Four thousand, two hundred eighty days would be a tad over eleven and a half years, which strikes me as a reasonable remaining lifespan; I'd be seventy-three. If nothing else, it explains the direction: the numbers would be dropping each and every block. And who was this child, anyway? It couldn't have been a contemporary kid, who's taught from birth never to stray from the fold, because danger; she must stand somewhere out of the timeline. I have often contended, however, that my Inner Child is in fact a nine-year-old girl, and what other nine-year-old girl would know me well enough to take me on a trip to nowhere? Or, for that matter, to Texas?

So I know nothing, except that winter is coming, and at some point I can expect to go on a long trip. This is about the same amount of information as is provided to most folks of my age, which is to say not a whole hell of a lot. Still, I'm intrigued by the idea that the Inner Child survives, even if — when — I don't. Endings tend not to be perfectly neat; just ask anyone in Westeros.

The Vent

#931
  1 September 2015

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