Friday, April 23, 2010

The Bitter End

Emm Gryner--"Only The End" (mp3)

It's probably only because I work with high school seniors and am in the middle of watching (and participating in) their miserable, dragged-out last days before graduation that I am thinking about endings.

The departure of seniors is usually some combination of whimpers and bangs--kids flaming out in classes, doing even more irrational things than usual, boys who just want to sleep their way through their final days, the twin emotional roller coasters of college decisions and prom decisions. In short, usually, bad endings.

We have an administrator here who is fond of saying, concerning vacations, "There has to be a last day." And I supposed that's true. But that last day is usually pretty much shot in every sense of the word.

But do all things really end badly? And do they have to?

Here's what I'm wondering: could you pre-empt the awfulness of endings by, without warning, ending them earlier than they are supposed to?

As I savor this final season of 24, rewarding myself with meager 43 minutes episodes on whenever the moment seems right, savoring each twist and turn, what would it do to me if they just killed Jack off with two hours to go? What if the last season of 24 was really 22? I mean, everyday that we wake up, we think that we've got the whole twenty-four ahead of us, and then some, but, realistically, there will come that day when we don't get the full ticket.

This week, as I watched a person go through the ritual of retirement, the talks and celebrations, the farewell address, the gifts and the chair, I pondered the potential embarassment of winding up a career. The poor person retiring, trying to find a way to validate and remind an audience of her own intrinsic value during the last 20 years. All the talk of the the last this and the last that, the handing over of the reins, the wink-and-a-nod toward how the successor bit off a lot more than he realizes.

Me, I'd rather sneak out the back door, and tell them, "Send me the chair in the mail."

But maybe that's partly an unconscious reaction, an attempt at trying to avoid the end. Or maybe, like life, other endings are better if we don't know when that last day will be. Aren't most of us mortified by the thought of being so publicly feted (especially at an age when we're fetid)? What if our boss just walked in one day, handed us an envelope, and said, "Thanks for your service. You're done with work." No fake hugs and no false words--what's so bad about that?

You know, I have wished away so much of this month, trying to get to the end of it, because I have been pretty much broke since it started, the result of too good a time in New Orleans over Spring Break. Days and events, weekends and meals, none of them enjoyed because I had the Damocle's Sword of an empty checking account hanging over my head. C'mon, April! Get over with, for gosh sakes! It is no way to live, wishing things would end more quickly in order to get to things that I really want to happen. Get me to that payday, and I will look back and wonder, what did I do to April?

Of course it is the nature of mortality to obsess about how things will end, but why must we be so bad at it? Why is it so hard to make the break, to move on, to start a new beginning with its own implied end? I suppose it's because endings are so rarely clean. There's that moment when we realize "I'm done" and then there's some more formal moment when whatever it is is officially over.

And it's the time between, that limbo period, that purgatory, that scenario where even though the movie is over, the credits still have to roll before somebody can turn the projector off. Nobody wants to stay for the credits, except maybe those whose names are scrolling by, but even they must realize that the audience is already headed to the exits, except the unlucky few who, out of some sense of duty, stay until the bitter end.


jed said...

Coughlin's Law? Really? That is my wife's name.

troutking said...

Jim Morrison: This is the end. My only friend, the end.