The Burnt Offering

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  • The Burnt Offering is where Stu Horvath thinks too much in public so he can live a quieter life in private. 


    I’ve been thinking a lot about extra lives lately.

    In videogames, the idea of an extra life is a positive one, a feedback loop for learning the necessary skills to succeed in the game. Play, die, come back, try a different strategy. Rinse and repeat as necessary.

    There’s a similar, less final mechanic at play in real life. Wander off the sidewalk while looking at your phone and nearly get hit by a car? The lesson of fear and adrenaline will likely impress upon you to never do that again. Everything after that point is a kind of extra life.

    In some deeply existential sense, you can probably argue that waking up every morning is an extra life. Perhaps even a new, if extremely similar life as the one you went to sleep in.

    So much of our day to day lives are rooted in the subtle affirmations of survival. The way you stretch in morning sun. The way you rejoice in the company of friends. You did it. We made it. One more day.

    What happens when one more day becomes a burden? What happens when more time is the last thing you want?

    * * *

    My gran, my mother’s mother, is dying.

    You wouldn’t know it from looking at her. She may be 95 years old, but she barely misses a beat in her daily routines. She bakes cookies and pies daily. She weeds. She keeps busy, seemingly with more energy than I can muster on a daily basis.

    Her industrious days mask a certainty that there is only a short amount of time she’ll still be with us. A routine check up this summer revealed spots in her lungs and fluid on her heart. Her response? “I have to die from something.”

    During a follow up, a doctor discovered that she has breast cancer and that it was fairly far along. The doctor asked how long it had been bothering her. She replied “Oh, about four years.” If I close my eyes, I can see the oh-well shrug she probably gave along with it.

    This weekend, she fell and hit her head. She’s not entirely sure how it happened, but she hit the metal bed frame with enough force to tear the bed spread and leave a clump of hair behind.

    My friend Jen, a nurse, came down to check her out when the cut wouldn’t stop bleeding. It was her recommendation that Gran go to the ER. She seemed fine, but head injuries are tricky things, with their concussions and their hidden bleeding.

    “If you go to sleep with a subdural hematoma, you might not wake up,” explained Jen.

    “What’s so bad about that?” asked Granny.

    * * *

    I can’t comprehend her attitude. For me, there is always going to be one more book to read, one more movie to watch, one more game to play, one more meal to eat and one more conversation (about all of the above) to have. I look at the world and think, “There isn’t nearly enough time.”

    Give me all the extra lives. When the singularity comes, download my consciousness. I never want to leave.

    * * *

    Gran is 95. She will be 96 two days after my wedding, which everyone – me, mom, my fiancee Daisy, Jen, everyone – keeps telling her she has to stick around for. It is only 26 days away. Surely that isn’t so long?

    She is tired, though. She has been for a long while.

    A few Christmases ago, she said to me, “They all left me.”

    Her husband, Jack, died about ten years ago. All her brothers and sisters, six in all, and the couples that she had cocktail parties with and saw every weekend at church, are all gone.

    She’s still here, though. Waiting.

    * * *

    We invited something like 140 people to the wedding. Among them are my immediate, if very small, family and dozens of my dearest friends. If time and money were no object, I reckon I’d have double that number there.

    My best man is Shawn Dillon (my cohost on the Eye of the Beerholder podcast). I’ve known Shawn since the fourth grade. He’s the closest thing I have to a brother. He’s not the only person whose friendship I measure in decades. I met George and Ed in seventh grade, Brian in high school. Relationships like that, that weather so many tumultuous years of change, are a rare thing.

    I’ve only known Daisy, my fiancee, for a year and a half, but God, what do I say about her without sounding like a schmaltzy greeting card? Nothing, really. That’s for me and her.

    * * *

    Life wears you down, I guess. I am 36 and I have a whole host of minor little pains, in my knees, in my back, in my hands. Most of the time, they’re just background static, but they are there. How much more is life going to hurt, just physically hurt, in another decade or two?

    I am already tired of worrying about money.

    I am quickly getting tired of hearing other people’s opinions about stuff. Like what you like. Live and let live. Get off my lawn.

    When does the desire to experience new things give out? I’ll go over the house for dinner and my mom, who is an excellent cook, will have made something new. Good or bad, that’s immaterial – it is the experiment that is fun. Figuring out what could make it better, or make it worse. We’ll talk about it, mom and me. Granny will eat in silence, resigned to the chore. Occasionally, she will pronounce, “Well. That was different.”

    I wonder at what age you grow remote from the people who are still here. I know the relationships with children and grandchildren are vastly different than the ones you share with your contemporaries, the ones you have so much history with. But Mom and I are still here. Not everyone has left.

    Gran forgets a lot these days, I guess.

    She agreed though, when Jen told her she had to stick around for the wedding. She relented wistfully, saying, “I wish Stuart had gotten married just a few months earlier.” But she did relent.

    If I were 95.

    If Daisy and Shawn and all the rest were gone.

    How does love change?

    Would I really care about that one more book, that one more meal?

    What’s the point if there is no one left to have that one more conversation with?

    Would I want the extra life?

    Burnt Offering, Games, Unwinnable Monthly