Sunday, December 28, 2008

Borrowed Time

He wasn't the smartest guy you've ever met, or the most charismatic. If anything, he was a lot like Rocky in the first and last movie of the series- he meant well, but was goofy as hell. He wasn't particularly well liked, or admired, except in the way that you slightly admire a guy who shows up to work every day and does what he's told.

He was probably 5'8" and in terrible shape. He had a brown beard, as I remember, and a gut to match. He was one of those guys that wears beat up Hanes t-shirts all the time and keeps his cigarettes and lighter in the breast pocket, ironically situated over his heart.

He worked with my father for decades, so I'd known him since I was a kid. We never had more than a passing relationship; innocuous hello's when I stopped by the old man's shop, brief conversations when he called my house for something relating to work. He was a loner though, in every sense of the word. It certainly wasn't for lack of trying- he'd talk to you about anything for long enough to drive you nuts. However, he had no living family, no wife, no kids. He had no one in this world but a caged bird that he lived with in a small apartment in Garfield.

After years of heavy smoking and drinking, he'd been forced to have bypass surgery five years ago while he was in his late 40's. For most, this would have given them a new lease on life, a new reason to live. Not for him. He felt like he was living on borrowed time and had already lived longer than he was supposed to, so he kept at it. Every day, two packs of smokes; every weekend, two bottles of Scotch. It drove my father crazy to see him waste the time he had left on this earth doing the same thing he'd done for so many years, but my old man understands that there's only so much you can do for somebody- we all make our own choices, and it's those that we must stick by.

So when old Walt died three days before Christmas at two years past 50, there was no one there to care. There was no weeping wife, no shocked children. There was no brother or sister to steel themselves to the sight, no mother or father to receive a dreaded call. No... it was just that caged bird that looked on and chirped as Walt drank himself down for the last time. It watched as his heart finally called it quits, and decided that this was too much a burden for an empty vessel to carry on any longer.

He will probably be cremated, and I don't know that there will be a wake of any sort. He will then be gone from this earth, and little more will remain than a taken social security number and a few income tax records.

What Walt failed to realize is the one great tenet of life: there is no borrowed time. Every waking day is a chance to change, to become a force of nature, to bend the world to your will. It's a chance to love and work and own things, to become more than just the collection of numbers that is the only thing that's proven that Walt ever existed. It's a chance to show that you used your time here wisely, and influenced everyone that came into contact with you for better or worse. It's the chance to have people feel that they must pay their respects to you at your funeral, because you a man worth doing that for. And sometimes, it's the last chance to have people remember you, to look down at the ground when you're name is mentioned and nod their heads and say, "Yea, he was a good man."

It's the chance for that bird to somehow break its bars, and take a shot at making it out the window before the last crack closes.