Intentional Mortuary Behaviour
3 August 2023

I got off the ship at the coal dock in Sandusky, Ohio a few weeks ago.  I drove a rental car home.  I’d just read of another mass shooting and preferring to diminish the odds of my being mass shot, I took the northern route around Lake Erie. This meant a longer drive, but at least most of it would be in Canada and not the bullet-riddled, bedraggled US.  I could see cumulous clouds advancing from the north.  The sky was bruising as though a tourniquet had been tied around it.  Turning the colour my thumb used to when as a kid I’d wrap a rubber band tight on the tip and watch it bloom an angry purple.  

The first squall came at me as I drove down the quiet country two lane towards Detroit.  When we collided, it was like hitting something solid.  My ears popped.  Rain so torrential my wipers on the fastest setting couldn’t keep up. My world suddenly shrunk to an arms width.  The windscreen like the glass of a murky aquarium through which light played in frantic patterns across the interior of the car.  My visibility reduced to the blurry taillights of the truck in front of me.  The only sound was the thunderous, incessant drumming of rain on the rooftop.  It drowned out even Rancid, who up until then had been blaring through the stereo.

An hour later I drove through Detroit as the weather eased and the roads worsened.  The high towers and suspension cables of the Ambassador Bridge appeared, a halo of light in the distance as the storm system finally cleared.  At 10pm I crossed the river and pulled up to the customs booth.  The Canadian customs guy asked me where I’d been.  

‘I’m a sailor,’ I said.  ‘I’ve been on a ship for 6 weeks.’

‘That sounds like a cool job,’ he said.

‘I guess it sometimes is,’ I said unconvincingly.  

As the night asserted itself, I drove through sporadic rain on quiet highways.  I listened to Yoko Ono and then Debbie Harry on Desert Island Discs.  

Karen and Joel invited me to their friend’s cottage on Orr Lake the weekend after I got home.  It was drizzling outside when we watched the men’s Wimbledon final in a cozy ranch style living room and Karen told me about the yips.  Something athletes get when the pressure gets too much.  A loss of composure she said.  I’d never heard the term before.  

‘I think I get the yips when I play pool,’ I said.   ‘I always choke on the 8-ball.’

Karen told me how her son Ethan forgot how to use an escalator during the pandemic.  On their first visit to a mall, she told me he froze in front of one.  Genuinely perplexed and a little afraid.  

‘What do I do Mommy?’ he said, ‘What do I do?’

A few days later I got to thinking more of the yips.

‘Who was it you said coined [the term] or suffered from the yips,’ I Whatsapped Karen.

‘I don’t know who coined the term,’ she replied, ‘but I seem to remember Vijay Singh had the yips.’  

She sent me a link to an article in Golf Digest which described the yips as a ‘focal dystonia,’ a ‘neurological condition that provokes involuntary movement around specific actions.’

“The term the yips was coined by the Scottish golfer Tommy Armour, who said it was a “brain spasm that impairs the short game.” “Versions of it have been known over the years by many names, among them ‘freezing,’ ‘the waggles,’ ‘the staggers,’ ‘the jerks,” ‘whiskey fingers,’ and ‘the yips.’ That last term is the one that’s used almost universally today.’”

I accidentally watched some footage I would have preferred not to see a few months ago.  It showed an orangutan, in the smoking remains of a rainforest facing off in a dual against a bulldozer.  It swung its arms wildly above its head as it charged up the slant of a felled tree, utterly enraged.   It was shot dead before it could set on the machine.  It slumped on the log and slid listlessly to the muddy ground before the advancing toothed tracks of the dozer.

My world reduced and became monochrome for some time after that.  How do we go on from here, I thought.  How do I go on?

I finally arrived home in Toronto at 0300.  I paused on the porch with my bags and wondered if I should make it two easy trips up the stairs or one tough one.  I feel a pang of sadness entering an unlived in, empty house. And staring up into the darkness of upstairs, perhaps a sliver of fear.  The house was stuffy, sealed tight as a well-kept secret, the air mausoleum thick.  My roommates, both sailors too, were away at sea. As ever, I chose one tough trip and lugged my bags up to the third floor in a slow methodical trudge, mounting the third-floor landing as the first beads of sweat troubled my brow.  I dropped my bags and surveyed my small bedroom.  Flicked on the AC.  Scanned the spines of books on my shelves and the wrinkled duvet cover I don’t really like on my tidy, but hastily made bed. 

When I go to sea, I remove the silver ring my Australian cousin gave me in London when I turned 21.  I set it on the desk below images of Joan Didion, Jesus Christ, Joe Strummer, and Zora Neale Hurston. Beside stacks of old notebooks, varied stationary and assorted knick-knacks.  The miscellany of a life.  When I return home, I slip the ring on.  

I slipped the ring on.