My sister’s husband had a stroke yesterday. He is five months older than I am. Ever get the feeling that mortality is crashing down on you like a ton of…clay?

Of course, it is the height of selfishness and insensitivity for me to make his tragedy about me. Isn’t it? Let’s face it, for those of us hovering around the half-century mark, that’s just something you do. You hear about the death or illness of a peer, and the first thing you do is mentally subtract your age from theirs. When the answers start coming up in negative numbers, you try to ignore that prickle of sweat rising up on the back of your neck. You go to the funeral, you send the flowers or the get-well card, you make the hospital visits, all the while trying to sublimate your fear that, next time, you will be the visitee rather than the visitor.

For me, my brother-in-law’s misfortune is a double moral challenge. Because the fact is, his is a shit, plain and simple. He and my sister have spent most of their nearly fifteen years of married life seeing how miserable they can make each other. I have never understood their relationship, I have never understood why they are so dog-assed determined to continue it. I think it boils down to neither of them wanting to be the first one to give up the fight. The only way to ever win this interminable epic battle, would be for one of them to finally walk away and hand victory to the other. And, of course, they would rather sentence each other to eternal conflict, than give the other guy the satisfaction of being the last man (woman) standing. Thank god there are no children hostage in this war of wills.

All signs indicate that J’s was a mild stroke; though they haven’t completely summed up the damage yet, and haven’t, as far as I know, ventured a prognosis. I can’t seem to muster up much concern for the situation either way. I feel bad for my sister; I feel sorry that they are going through this frightening experience. But my disquiet just…doesn’t seem to go very deep. In fact, it’s more like it’s happening to some passing acquaintance than to my own immediate family. So I feel guilty, on top of everything else. You know how you try to stir up empathy for someone by imagining how you would feel if their problems were happening to you? I can’t even do that, here, because I really don’t want to put myself, even hypothetically, in my brother-in-law’s shoes. It gives me too much of a feeling like…like there, but for the grace of god, go I. And that’s way too disturbing.

Sometimes, growing old is just a pain in the ass.

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