Dearest Rachel –
I’m sure you’re wondering about the title; all those apocalyptic movies and television shows (World War Z, the Walking Dead) all came out years ago, during your lifetime. These can’t still be popular to the point where I’d comment on them, are they? Especially since it was you who were into those kind of horror-type flicks, and not me; you had a fair share of VHS tapes of such stuff burnt off of rentals from back in the day that you would watch when I was at work and Daniel was at school as a guilty pleasure, alongside your Oprah and Doctor Phil. Why would I comment on a subject like this?
You’re right, of course; I’m not talking about the literal zombies of popular culture (although it wasn’t too long ago that Film Theory came out with something about the streaming release based on the video game The Last of Us – basically, it’s one more reason to stay away from eating bread aside from a low- or no-carb diet). Believe it or not, this has more to do with yesterday’s dental appointment than anything having to do with pop culture. And no, it’s not as if I had to go under anesthetic or anything – aside from them needing to be cleaned (Dr. B actually mentioned a client who referred to what he does as “power washing” one’s teeth, which seems so obvious, but when this person said it, even he hadn’t thought of the comparison before), everything was perfectly fine. No, it was the discussion afterwards with his wife/receptionist, Jill.
You remember Jill; you were actually friends with her, more than on just a professional client/provider relationship. You even attempted to get both of them to come to our church, although they would generally demur because of certain bad experiences (evidently, people would find out what he did for a living and try to wangle free advice or consultation from him, in particular). I should mention that they – or at least she, and one of their grown children, if I remember correctly – showed up last Easter, so I think you’d be pleased to know that some progress has been made. I do understand their concern, but it seems a shame that such behavior on others’ parts has so put them off for so long (and I’m pretty sure that you felt even more so about them than I).
Anyway, she and I were going over what I’d been doing with myself since my last appointment. The usual small talk, you know; I’d never been that good at it back in the day, to be sure, but nowadays, it’s all I’ve got. Sometimes, I have to actually talk to someone about this or that, lest I go a little stir-crazy. So when she asks, I went into detail. Of course, she loved the pictures I had of you, and while the technical details were a little much – she said I spoke with the language that her children used, rather than in words she really understood, to which I made it clear that I barely understood half of what I was talking about, but only that it all seemed to work – she was impressed by the output, and assured me that you would have loved to have seen what I was producing (although considering that you weren’t keen on being a voice on the proposed channel I’d dreamed of creating, I’m not so sure; at any rate, I don’t know if I would have gotten so deeply into this without your being gone like you are).
I want to take a moment here to mention that, as I talk to other people who knew you about you, they all seem to have a different perspective (albeit a universally positive one, let me make that clear) on who you were, your likes and dislikes, and all that. It’s not like I’m hearing about a different person exactly, but more an aspect of you that I don’t recall seeing. You didn’t quite put on a different persona when you were with this person or that, but the context of your interactions meant that who they saw was noticeably different than the girl I knew.
Then again, Jill had a few observations about me that she brought up as well… and here’s where the title begins to make sense. I get a lot of people telling me about the changes to my personality since your departure, and that seems reasonable – it was a traumatic event that all but aged me decades in a day. Suddenly, I go from the straight-man companion of a virtual kid to an old widower grieving his lost wife, and trying to find himself after having half of that self ripped away. But that wasn’t her perspective; she saw the changes in me start a year and a half earlier, with my retirement.
According to her, my situation – at least, what I was like before then – wasn’t really all that unusual. Dr. B has lots of clients that are what the Japanese refer to as salarymen (yes, they created that from two English words and gave it back to us, because for whatever reason, we refused to admit we were no different from them in terms of being white-collar drones); they would make appointments to come in after work, and just sat there in the chair while he worked on their teeth. A full day at the office had left them drained of any life, and while this made for a reasonably compliant patient (at least in the moment – whether they took proper care of their teeth between appointments or not was not discussed), she described these gentlemen in pitying tones as ‘zombies.’
And I was one of them for the longest time.
What changed me was the fact that, once your mom passed, and you agreed that we could live off the estate (especially since we discovered that, with a decent economy – ha ha – and prudent management, we could maintain our lifestyle as we knew it without having to rely on my job. “You supported me all these years,” you put it to me once, “now it’s my turn”), it was as if a weight was lifted, and I was this different, and better, person just from that.
It’s nice to hear that from her, but there’s definitely a bittersweet note to it as well. For all that it may have improved my disposition exponentially, you got me at my worst for so long – just shy of twenty-seven years, although admittedly, things didn’t really get nasty until after the merger in 2014 or so – you only had me at my best for those last eighteen months. I wish you could have been able to spend more time with this better version of me; again, not that I’d improved myself, but the circumstances around me had allowed me to be freer and happier because of them. I’m sorry that you had to deal with a zombie for so long, too.
At least, you never caught what it was I had, so that’s something, I suppose…