In the Third Round, Your Ass Goes Down…
“See, this business is filled to the brim with unrealistic motherfuckers. Motherfuckers who thought their ass would age like wine. If you mean it turns to vinegar, it does. If you mean it gets better with age, it don't. Besides, Butch, how many fights you think you got left in you anyway? Two? Boxers don't have an "old timer's league". You came close, but you never made it, and if you were gonna make it, you would have made it before now.”
-Marsellus Wallace, Pulp Fiction
That line, delivered by Ving Rhames, still rings and stings in my ears every time I hear it.
On a sunny afternoon two years ago, I walked out of work. In the great chess game of employment, I ended up in an unwinnable position and ceded the match. No blood, no foul…Simple enough, I go home and start sending out resumes like so many times before. This time, I heard Mr. Wallace’s words loud and clear.
How it came to this, well, that is a long story.
My mom was something special. She worked in hospital laboratories for more than forty years, save for a break of five years, when she birthed and raised three children in a row. Always on third shift and without the help of a deadbeat husband who ran out on her and the kids, she kept it all together. She converted her basement into a framing studio/sewing room/workshop. Ceramics, watercolors, stained glass, oils, calligraphy, you name it; she did it. I often joked that I took up fencing because it was something she hadn’t got to first.
On my trips home, I sit in her living room and watch movies with her. I listened to her plans to go on a cruise, take a few more art classes at the local college and open her framing studio full bore after she retired.
Things never play out the way you plan them.
First came the mortgage meltdown in 2008, when everybody’s 401K’s got cut in half. Mom with the help of a good financial professional worked three more years and recovered her losses. Second, my Grandma, who kept us out of the street when the worthless dirt bag who is my father cut and run, began to show the early stages of senile dementia. Living around the corner, Mom took it upon herself to keep Grandma out of the nursing home. Aside from working nights at the hospital, she covered Grandma’s needs. She slept on a recliner in her living room with whatever movie was playing on the television. Like a fireman, she slipped on her crocs and traipsed up to Grandma’s, as the calls came in hourly. For her, it was a point of conscience and honor.
In February 2011, Mom decided to hang up her Birkenstocks and retire from the hospital. I still got calls from Mom that went, “Mike, Grandma, was trying to chop down that pear tree in the front yard, but don’t worry, I hid the double-headed ax…” At least her war was confined to one front.
Traditionally, our family holidays were laid-back affairs. Mom would cook up a storm and we dined at our leisure. On Christmas Eve, we went to see the Lord of the Rings movies and, later, the Harry Potter movies. This was the woman, who had introduced me to Star Trek many years before. She got a kick out of the stories I wrote and encouraged me to write more. This year things changed. In September, Mom took a spill down her basement stairs.
I was in the middle of a project at work out of town. I spent the Thanksgiving holiday running errands for Mom, who was laid up in the hospital with a fractured pelvis and Grandma, who was now in an assisted-living community and vaguely remembered who I was. I got into town, late Wednesday night and immediately called to see if she needed anything. Of course, Mom passed of a long shopping list and only my mom would include duct tape on her list of necessities while in a hospital. At the hospital, mystery solved. Mom figured out how to fire up her laptop and tap the hospital’s wi-fi, but she needed the duct tape to secure the cables. I bought her the last Harry Potter movie to cheer her up. I sat with her through the holiday and even watched The Sound of Music. Okay, I watched it, but not without many snide comments. After all, a man must have his limits… Sunday afternoon, I gave her one last long hug and I would see her at Christmas, when she would be home. I had to catch a 5 AM flight the next morning.
My brother, Dan, called me during the team dinner Monday night, angry and abrupt. He couldn’t visit Mom during Thanksgiving and made time to make the long trek home. Why hadn’t I told him? Told him what?
Mom slipped into a coma…
I spent a long sleepless night in that lonely hotel room. I had no idea it was this bad. The final call came less than eighteen hours later. I caught an early plane out, grabbed some fresh clothes and continued up north to the town I grew up. Dan and his wife, Melissa, met me at Mom’s house and together, we ran the gauntlet of relatives, pastors, funeral directors and lawyers. Too wired to sleep; too exhausted to grieve.
Dan, Melissa, and I spent four days sifting through Mom’s house. As Dan took a circular saw to Mom’s craft table, it occurred to me how much things you love was just someone else’s junk. All those plans she made meant nothing. All the sacrifices she made for us, too. At least in my case, no family and a history of working long hours. Life felt like a zero-sum game.
I did what any man would do. I threw myself into my work for three years, working sixty to seventy hours. That brings us to that sunny afternoon in November. Three days earlier, I got a call from my sister, Bridget. My brother-in-law had just passed away. I tore down to Florida to aid in the crisis management. Twenty-four hours on the road and two long nights of talking with my sister, I came back to a write-up on my desk. I could have signed it and tried to make amends, but all I heard was Marcellus telling me, “In the third round, your ass goes down…”
They taught us back in school that the difference between an accountant and a financial analyst was one looks backward and one looks forward. Looking back, I saw what happened to all of Mom’s dreams. Looking forward, I saw a stack of schedules no one would care about after seven years.
I typed up my one line resignation and walked out.
After a dazed drive home, I fired up the computer to update the resume. Underneath, the “Professional” icon, there was another labeled “Writing.” I promised myself, I would finish something, someday; just like Mom planned to go on a cruise.
I clicked open the “Writing” file.
Fuck you, Marsellus, I don’t take dives for anyone, not anymore.