The day I died started out bad and got worse in a hurry.
I hit my snooze alarm a few too many times and was late for
work. Who wouldn’t hit the snooze to get another nine
minutes of sleep? No one, that’s who. Subsequently, I almost
always oversleep. Stupid snooze button.
I didn’t have time for breakfast. Instead, I gobbled a pair
of chocolate Pop Tarts while waiting for the bus.
Mmmm…chocolate. My mom would have approved (who do you think
got me hooked on the darned things?), but a nutritionist
would have smacked me upside the head with her calorie counter.
The bus was, of course, late. You gotta love the Minnesota
Transit system. Six buses for a population area of a quarter
million. When they weren’t late, they were early—I’d lost
count of the number of times I’d stepped outside only to see
my bus disappearing down the street. Schedule? What schedule?
When the bus, late again, finally did lumber into sight, I
climbed on and sat down…in gum.
At a nine A.M. meeting (to which I arrived at 9:20), I found
out the recession (the one the economists have been denying
for years) had hit me right between the eyes: I had been
laid off. Not unexpected—the last time good old Hamilton
& Sons had been profitable I’d been in high school—but
it hurt, just the same. Losing a job is the worst. You know,
beyond a shadow of a doubt, that somebody doesn’t want you.
Doesn’t matter if the reasons are personal, financial, or
practical. They just don’t want you.
Hamilton & Son, realizing about a year too late that
they had to slash costs, decided administrative layoffs were
the way to go as opposed to, say, cutting the six figure
salaries of senior management. The clerks and secretaries
had been deemed expendable. But vengeance would be ours.
Without us, those twits couldn’t even send a fax, much less
run the company.
With this cheerful thought, I cleaned out my desk, ignored
the way my coworkers were avoiding looking at me, and
scuttled home. I consoled myself by stopping at the Dairy
Queen for a blueberry milkshake. Signs of spring: robins,
new grass, and Dairy Queen opening for the season.
As I walked through my front door, still slurping, I saw my
answering machine light winking at me like a small black
dragon. The message was from my stepmonster, and from the
racket in the background, she was calling from her salon:
“Your father and I won’t be able to make it to your party
tonight…I’m on new medication and I—we—just can’t. Sorry.”
Sure you are, jerk. “Have fun without us.” No problem.
“Maybe you’ll meet someone tonight.” Translation: Maybe some
poor slob will marry you.
My stepmonster had, from day one, related to me in only one
way: as a rival for her new husband’s affections. Worse, she
never hesitated to play the depression card to get out of
something that was important to me. This ceased bothering me
about a week after I met her, so I suppose it was just as well.
I went into the kitchen to feed my cat, and that’s when I
noticed she’d run away again. Always looking for adventure,
my Giselle (although it’s more like I’m her Betsy).
I looked at the clock. My, my. Not even noon. Time to do the
laundry and gouge out my eyes, and the day would be complete.
Happy birthday to me.
As it turned out, we had a freak April snowstorm, and my
party was postponed. Just as well…I didn’t feel like going
out, putting on a happy face, and drinking too many
daiquiris. The Mall of America is a terrific place, but I’ve
got to be in the mood for overpriced retail, rowdy weekend
crowds, and six-dollar drinks.
Nick called around eight P.M., and that was my day’s sole
bright spot. Nick Berry was a superfine detective who work
ed out of St. Paul. I’d been attacked a couple of months
Okay, well, “attacked” is putting it mildly. Like using the
word “unfortunate” to describe World War II. I don’t like to
talk about it—to think about it—but what happened was, a
bunch of creeps jumped me as I was leaving Khan’s Mongolian
Barbecue (all you can eat for $11.95, including salad,
dessert, and free refills—quite the bargain if you don’t
mind your clothes reeking of garlic for hours).
I have no idea what my attackers wanted—they didn’t take my
purse or try to rape me or even babble about government
They came out of nowhere—literally. One minute I was yawning
and fumbling for my keys, the next I was surrounded. They
clawed and bit at me like a bunch of rabid squirrels while I
fended them off with the toes of my Manolo Blahniks and
screamed for help as loud as I could…so loud I couldn’t
speak above a whisper for three days. They stank—worse than
my kitchen that time I went to the Cape for two weeks and
forgot to empty my garbage before I left. They all had long
hair and funny-colored eyes and they never talked to me.
Help didn’t come, but the bad guys ran away. Maybe they were
rattled by my voice—when I scream, dogs howl. Or maybe they
didn’t like the way I stank of garlic. Whatever the reason,
they ran away—skittered away, actually. While I leaned
against my car, concentrating on not passing out, I glanced
back and it looked like a few of them were on all fours. I
struggled mightily not to yark up my buffet, ginger tea, and
sesame bread—no way was I pissing away that $11.95—and then
called 911 on my cell phone.
Detective Nick was assigned to the case, and he interviewed
me in the hospital while they were disinfecting the bite
marks. All fifteen of them. The intern who took care of me
smelled like cilantro and kept humming the theme from Harry
Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Off-key. This was
actually more annoying than the sting of antiseptic.
Anyway, Detective Nick called and we chatted and, long story
shot, I promised to come in to look through the Big Book o’
Bad Guys one more time. And I would. For myself, to feel
empowered, but mostly to see Nick, who was exactly my height
(six feet), with dark blond hair cut regulation-short, light
blue eyes, a swimmer’s build, and dimples! He looked like an
escapee from a Mr. Hardbody calendar. I’ve broken the law,
Officer, take me in.
Making Nick my eye candy would be the closest I’d gotten to
getting laid in…what year was it? Not that I’m a prude. I’m
just picky. I treat myself to the nicest, most expensive
shoes I can get my hands on, which isn’t easy on a
secretary’s budget, and never mind all the money my dad
keeps trying to throw at me. If I used his money, they
wouldn’t be my shoes. They’d be his. Anyway, I save up for
months to buy the dumb things, and they only have to go on
Yep, that’s me in a nutshell: Elizabeth Taylor (don’t start!
I’ve heard ‘em all), single, dead-end job (well, not
anymore), lives with her cat. And I’m so dull, the fucking
cat runs away about three times a month just to get a little
And speaking of the cat…was that her telltale
Riaaaaoooowwww! from the street? Well, super. Gisele hated
the snow. She had probably been looking for a little spring
lovin’ and got caught in the storm. Now she was outside
waiting for rescue. And when I did rescue her, she’d be
horribly affronted and wouldn’t make eye contact for the
rest of the week.
I slipped into my boots and headed into the yard. It was
still snowing, but I could see Gisele crouched in the middle
of the street like a small blob of shadow, one with
amber-colored eyes. I wasted ten seconds calling her—why do
I call cats?—then clomped through my yard into the street,
Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, as I live at the end of
the block and it’s a quite street. However, in the snow on
the icy roads, the driver didn’t see me in time. When he
did, he did the absolute worst thing: slammed on his brakes.
That pretty much sealed my doom.
Dying doesn’t hurt. I know that sounds like a crock, some
touchy-feely nonsense meant to make people feel better about
biting the big one. But the fact is, your body is so
traumatized by what’s happening, it shuts down your nerve
endings. Not only did dying not hurt, I didn’t feel the
cold. And it was only ten degrees that night.
I handled it badly, I admit. When I saw he was going to plow
into me, I froze like a deer in headlights. A big, dumb,
blond deer who had just paid for touch-up highlights. I
couldn’t move, not even to save my life.
Gisele certainly could; the ungrateful little wretch
scampered right the hell out of there. Me, I went flying.
The car hit me at forty miles an hour, which was survivable,
and knocked me into a tree, which was not.
It didn’t hurt, as I said, but there was tremendous
pressure, all over my body. I heard things break. I heard my
own skull shatter—it sounded like someone was chewing ice in
my ear. I felt myself bleed, felt liquid pouring from
everywhere. I felt my bladder let go involuntarily for the
first time in twenty-six years. In the dark, my blood on the
snow looked black.
The last thing I saw was Gisele sitting on my porch, waiting
for me to let her in. The last thing I heard was the driver,
screaming for help.
Well, not the last. But you know what I mean.