Added to the list of Names of our Future Cats (Sports, Action, Snakebite), let’s put “Peeves”.

Couple weekends ago we were sprawling throughout the parents-in-law’s living room, Arielle and I plus her sister and sister’s husband in various stages of recovery, raining out and the kids installed at the neighbors’ (“We want to play with Nedgie!” “We want to go to Nedgie’s!”) and Arielle asked everyone kindly to list their pet peeves.

I was surprised: for the first time in my life most of my pet peeves were aimed at myself. I didn’t say this, of course. I hinted at a mountain of grammatical issues that bug me. But really I was thinking: I swallow too loud, especially in the middle of the night, half sitting-up in bed to slug some water; and I’m prone to sloth; I pretty much suck at self control; I postpone the inevitable to the detriment of my health; and I do this horrible thing when asking someone a question. I’ll go, “What’s the capital of Virginia?” And they’ll say, “Richmond.” And I’ll say back to them what they just said: “Is it Richmond?” while nodding knowingly, as if it had been on the tip of  my tongue and all I needed was a hint. “What’s the atomic weight of a helium molecule?” “It’s blobbety blah.” “Is it blobbety blah? Of course. That’s what I thought.” I hate when I do that.

This pertains to aging, no doubt. Lucky for Narcissus he never grew old. That mirror gets nasty.

Of course I’d not trade the blemishes of my 30s for being younger.

This cool thing happened that weekend, during a break in the rain, when my nephew Sawyer selected me as his personal escort to a haunted VW bus parked on the neighbors’ lawn. Nedgie, the little scoundrel, was telling him he’d seen a “soul” in the bus, a ghostly reflection of a man that appeared and looked at him and then was gone in a breath. Nedgie’s one of these kids with a long grown-up face–it’s easy to forget he’s six or something. Anyway he was scaring the crap out of my nephew. So, striding across the wide rain-wet ground, flanked on either side by munchkins, I was a god-smiting titan. “You saw someone’s reflection in the bus’s window,” I said. “Ghosts aren’t real.”

“But a soul is real,” Nedgie protested. “You can’t kill a soul.”

“Yes you can,” I said. “When a person dies it all dies. The whole thing. Every bit turns into lunch and compost. There’s nothing left but the dead person’s name in the mouths of survivors.”

(Didn’t. Didn’t say that. Wanted to. Held up.)

Well, we came to the bus and I won’t lie: trepidation shivered through my hands upon swinging open the rear door. What was I worried about? I’m not stupid. I’ve seen Stand By Me. I was worried about finding a body–a dead one–or a living one that reeked of dereliction, a bum, a sleeper, a Scooby Doo episode, a problem. It was empty. I said, “See?”

I’d never been inside a VW bus before. It was a quaint set-up with a sink and a bench seat and an open space, all in faded orange and green. Gas, grass or ass, nobody rides for free. I said, “What you saw in here was the spirit of the 60s. It stood for civil rights and civic engagement and peace, and it’s dead now. 100-percent.”

(Didn’t.)

You can only temporarily assuage these frightened kids. They require so much convincing. You want to say to them: Listen, refusing fear is its own reward. Just decide not to be scared. It will make you cool.

I remember that the worst thing, as a child, was to walk out of a dark room. Because when you turned your back on them, that’s when they’d slither and rush out to get you. I remember saying to myself, I won’t hurry… I will take regular breaths and not run like a coward. Stubbornness defies fear. And I was cool–but opting not to run also gets you caught when you break the rules.

Which is how, later in life, gulping water in the middle of the night, your pet peeves catch up to you.

 

-D.W.

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