Exhausted. Tired and sore in the bones. The time had come to kick Xanax, and the insomnia was back. While I was no stranger to exhaustion itself, when coupled with grief it was exponentially more debilitating. Sitting up in bed when the alarm went off felt impossible. One muscle at a time, I could feel them all clench and anticipate the ugly movement.
I had now heard all the talk about the various components of grief so many times I could spell the words backwards. Denial, anger, depression, blah blah blah. In my opinion though, “exhaustion” should be added to that list. When exhaustion and terrible sadness are intertwined, a shroud is woven from beneath which sometimes you literally cannot see or hear. The world around you becomes a hum of violence and decay. Your head pounds. Everything is too bright. Like the first and second lines in an ancient Roman army, they attack in quick succession. Exhaustion, with spears, weakens you and then Grief comes galloping in on horseback and cuts your fucking head off.
I had decided to play basketball with my regular group of middle-aged IT and IU Business School employees. If I had to exercise, this was the way to do it. I used to play regularly three times a week over lunch, but lately, I’d hardly participated at all. I needed to get my mind off of this Xanax withdrawal. I needed to outrun it.
The court was brimming with young, new faces. New additions since I’d been gone, to be sure. The games were fast-paced and we were really out and running. Harvard, a 6’5”, 250 pound former division 1 college athlete was on the court, and, by our standards, unstoppable. He was on my team, and we were running, running, running like horses. An hour and a half had gone by, and My lungs felt shrunken and my chest ached. Knowing I shouldn’t, I decided to play one last game by 2’s and 3’s to 20. We were up 16 to 15, and suddenly, my vision began to go. I steadied myself. I couldn't focus.
“I have to quit guys, sorry,” I gasped. I back peddled to the water fountain, nearly falling into it. (I needed to get my peasant ass out into the hallway so my impending death didn't inconvenience anybody). The hall became a dark tunnel all around me as I gasped and silently prayed:
"Don’t die, don’t die, don’t die. Mason needs you. Mason needs you. Oh my god."
I ran to the bathroom and put my head under the faucet and felt the rushing cold water over my neck... "slow down heart, slow down, slow down..."
Soaking wet, I wandered back out to the hall and down the stairs where the lockers were, but I couldn't make it through the door. I found a couch nearby and leaned back into it. I placed my left arm over my head and tried to breathe. This had been going on for a few minutes, when they guys started streaming down the stairs. The game was over.
“Are you alright?” Steve asked.
“You don’t look good,” Mark said.
“Are you going to throw up in my car?” inquired Jim.
“I just need to sit here for a minute…” The lights were flashing. Chest pains!! I remember thinking it must be embarrassing to die.
“You’ve stopped sweating,” Mark said.
“I’ll get you some water,” said Steve.
“He probably needs something to get his electrolytes back up,” said Mark. He appeared with water. Jim handed me a banana and a Powerade. I gulped it all.
Another twenty minutes went by, while I repeated these things in my head: “Oh my god. Mason needs me.”
Young women and men walked by with curious expressions. I can see their thoughts: “I’ve never seen anybody DIE before!” and “man, that dude must be diabetic.”
“Let’s try this…” I finally said to Jim, motioning toward the stairs. I walked slowly, stair by stair, out the door, down the long sidewalk and across the large, 3-tiered parking lot. Jim was nervously trying to make small talk, but I couldn't concentrate. It was 94 degrees outside. The air was so thick you could feel it pushing back against your body. Oh god. I pressed the Powerade to my face and cold drops of water landed on my thighs.
At last, we were back to our building. I stumbled in through my office door, and waved, thanking Jim for the ride. I walked carefully to my desk and slumped in my chair. Needed the water from the fridge. Stood up, 23 steps, grabbed the water, Xanax on the tongue, and poured the water down over it. 30 minutes later, I took another one. I was going to have to kick this on another day. Maybe the next one.