Dating? Oh yeah that….hmmm

“So are you seeing anyone these days?”

That’s an interesting question to ask someone who’s widowed. And by “interesting” I don’t mean offensive. If you are going to offend me you have to stop just short of kneeing me in the crotch and pointing and laughing at me while I writhe on the ground. When it comes to the subject of Emily, I’m pretty candid. I find strangers’ reactions interesting when I tell them about her. They give me a sympathetic stare often times accompanied by a head tilt. The more savvy ones are trying to tell if I’m bullshitting them, but mostly I get the “Oh, I’m so sorry!” or, “You’re so young!” From there they either leave it alone or continue asking questions. I’m fine with either. People want to be polite and not to pry and express guilt in asking. The truth is Emily is never far from my mind. To date she is my favorite person ever and why would I not want to talk about my favorite person ever?

The only time I’ve ever seriously thought, “Holy shit, did you really just say that?” was a few weeks ago at a friend’s party. I was walking around with my sleeves rolled up. On my right forearm I have two tattoos that help me remember how lucky I am to have known, loved and been loved by Emily. I placed them there so on my darker days I can see them and in a weird way they help me to remember to breathe. Anyway, I was talking with a very nice lady and she asked about the significance of my body art. So I told her the story. College sweetheart, engaged, cancer, break up, married, death, very sad, yadda yadda and so forth. About three quarters of the way through this story another lady walks up and comments about the tats. So for her benefit I backtrack and give her the cliff notes. Once I finish, the late comer looks at me, and says in all seriousness.

Her: “So it wasn’t all of a sudden like an aneurysm?”

Me: “No. It was two separate tumors, well three if you count the kidney, over the course of three or four years.”

Her: “Oh well that’s not as bad as if you had lost her all of a sudden.”

Me: “…….hmm”

Other lady: “………..”

Her: “Well you know blah blah blah back peddling and digging herself deeper and deeper”

Me(Internally): “Wow. That’s kind of dumb and a little insensitive. How many spouses has she lost? Oh God, someone stop her. She’s stuck on a loop. Holy hell did she just try to compare losing Emily to her dog dying? Damn. At least it’s not me shoving my foot in my mouth for once. Come to think of it it’s been at least three minutes since you’ve said something stupid. New record, Mackin! *mental self-five!*”

Her: “I’m going to go to the bathroom.”

Me: “Good talking to you.”

I’m the last person to take that kind of thing personally. She probably had a few drinks and I’m sure she is otherwise a lovely and tactful person on any given day, just not that one. And I’m not saying losing your loved one all of a sudden is not as bad as a drawn out illness. As best I can tell both are terrible. I’ll leave it at that.

Anyway, back to the question at hand, “Are you seeing anyone?”

Here I sit a full year and a half after Emily passed and feel only a little less conflicted about the issue. I know what you’re thinking, something along the lines of “Emily would want you to move on.” And or “You are so young, there is plenty of time.” Yes yes, so I’ve been told, often times by people who never met Emily. I know in my analytical mind that Emily would want me to move on. If the rolls were reversed and I kicked the bucket, hopefully in a comical way like getting my head stuck in an empty economy sized can of Hormel chili, that Emily would meet a wonderfully kind, smart, handsome, educated, employed gentleman fifteen minutes after my funeral and live happily ever after. I’m dead serious about that, especially the chili part.

I also know that I am quite a bit younger than the average widower and it takes most people decades and decades to find someone they love enough to marry, if that. But that’s just the thing, It seems unreasonable for me to expect that twice. I was 19 when I met Emily. I was 20 when I had a rare stroke of genius and guts (in my case the two rarely travel together) and asked her out. From there I found a love and intimacy that I had no idea was possible. Someone who looked at me for all my pros and cons and said, “You there. Yeah you. You’re mine.” And I dumbly nodded my head and marveled at my good fortune. Somehow things worked out from there. Before I knew it I was head over heels for her and she was for me. When I start thinking about dating again, I think about all those things. I’m terrified that I’ll never luck into that again. Because at the end of the day I really feel luck is what it amounts to. Luck that I met her and terrible rotten luck that I lost her.

Despite that fear and the astronomical odds I’ve waded into the dating pool a few times in the last year and a half. I’ve met some nice ladies, had a few drinks, had a few laughs but nothing has come of it. There were several reasons why it never progressed very far, the biggest one being that I just haven’t been ready. Having a relationship with someone has been a bridge too far but it took me a long time to realize that. I would go out because that’s what I felt like I had to do. Looking back I liken it trying to run ten miles too soon after major knee surgery. I was hurting badly and was willing to do most anything that might make the pain stop.

I had some friends tell me not to worry about the relationship aspect. Just go out, have fun, sew the wild oats to use the parlance of our times. Well that’s a fine idea for some people I reckon. For me however, I’ve never been smooth enough to be a barroom lothario. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll talk to any woman. After six years of being in a relationship, I got to be one hell of a wingman. My early twenties were spent striking up conversations with women and after a few minutes introducing them to a buddy who would normally squander whatever progress I made for him. Now that I’m on my own though I realize that I am not a closer. Of course I’ve never had to be. But you know, that’s fine because in my limited experience, one night stands and flings, while fun at the time, always leave me feeling empty. I think a lot of people who have been in a happy monogamous relationship would agree that sex without intimacy, without a real emotional connection, is fruitless and ultimately unsatisfying. So yeah, that’s out.

So, am I dating anyone? No. Am I open to it? I think so. I’ve come to the realization that I am as far as I’m going to get in the mourning process. I have weathered the harshest parts of this storm, not as well as I would have liked, but the seas have calmed a bit and I’m able to stand up on the deck without clinging to the mast for dear life. (I have never sailed a day in my life, I just like boat metaphors.) Enough time has passed and I’m in a place where I could contribute to a relationship. She just has to be the right person. Someone who knows there is no competition with Emily. For my part I won’t ever compare her to Emily or hold her to some impossible standard. As a good friend told me, you can’t compete with a dead woman, she can do no wrong. That’s a losing situation for everyone involved. I’ll always love and in some way mourn her, but presumably I’ve got a few more decades before I shuffle off this mortal coil. Emily is a key component to my past and who I am today but I’ve got a future that I intend to enjoy, hopefully with someone nice, pretty, smart, funny, likes and or tolerates Bob Dylan. You know, the important stuff.


The Subconscious is a Weird, Funny, Sad, and Wonderful Place

So there I was sitting on a wrap around Victorian style porch in what had to be the Deep South. The porch was attached to a beautiful older house with a balcony and spires and shudders and the whole nine yards. There was a magnificent magnolia tree that shaded the house. The weather was hot and muggy…really hot and muggy. It was one of those days where you can see the humidity, you could taste it. I felt myself sweating through my shirt and my eyes stinging from the drops perspiration that came down my forehead. I was sitting on an overturned bucket in front of a chessboard with pieces in play. I was losing…badly. I looked up at my opponent and was surprised to see that it was Gregory Peck. He was wearing a white oxford shirt, a grey vest with a gold watch chain and grey slacks. He also wore a pair of tortoiseshell-style glasses. He was leaning back in a rocking chair with one hand on the knight and the other on his chin as he stared intently at the board. I looked at him as he looked at the game in progress. “Holy shit.” I said to myself. “I’m getting my ass kicked in chess by Atticus Finch.”

“Benjamin, don’t swear. It’s unbefitting of a gentleman.” Gregory Peck said without looking up from the game.

“Yes sir. Sorry sir.” I replied.

Then I heard someone say in a high-pitched effeminate voice, “Looks like Atticus has you in his crosshairs.”

I looked to where the voice was coming from and there leaning against the railing was Phillip Seymour Hoffman with Collins glass in one hand dangling at his side and bringing a cigarette to his mouth with the other. He was wearing sunglasses, a fedora and a linen suit.

“Hush, Dill.” Gregory Peck said sternly as he placed the knight within striking distance of my king and said calmly, “Check.”

Then I woke up wrapped up in blankets and without the fan on drenched in sweat. I guess that explains the humidity.

Dreams. We all have them…well I don’t know that. I have not done the appropriate amount legwork in research or polling to make such a blanket statement. But hey, FOX News does it all the time so why can’t I? All I know is that most people I know have dreams. It’s unifying in a way. Even animals have been known to dream. Ask any dog owner. I’ve seen several pooches go from a dead sleep to running and barking after the squirrel they’ll never get. I saw one wake himself up, much to my delight. I can’t judge though, I tend to have very vivid dreams myself. You know, the kind of dream where all five senses seem to come into play. I have been known to get out of bed at night in a panic, turn on the light, rifle through my closet and come back to reality while trying to stuff myself under my bed to hide from a band of marauding clowns. As you might imagine, I felt quite silly. Emily was too tired to be amused. She just wanted to go back to bed. Looking back I wish I was man enough to stand up and fight them but in reality I know one hard and fast rule, don’t fuck with clowns, especially the marauding type. On the bright side I found a pair of headphones that I had given up for lost while I was scrambling for my life.

I don’t mind most dreams, even the clown one. At the time it was disconcerting but looking back on it but now it’s pretty humorous. It’s the bad dreams that stay with you. The ones that are triggered by actual events in our real lives. According to some website I read while halfheartedly researching this diatribe, dreams are often symptomatic of highly stressful times in ones life. Not surprising.

For months after Emily died I had the same recurring dream. One where I was walking through the smoking ruins of a city that had just been carpet-bombed. I hear someone screaming for me. Someone in distress. I start to run toward the voice. Climbing over wreckage and debris. I don’t know why I’m running. The voice is unfamiliar. I just have to get to it. Finally I come to a solitary stand-alone door in the middle of the hellscape. I can hear the voice through it. I turn the doorknob and try to open it. I push hard with my shoulder. I can feel my feet losing traction as it slowly begins to open. Sunlight comes through the crack as the door finally gives way. I step inside and find myself in my mother-in-law’s house, the house where Emily passed. Not only am I in the house but I am in the same room and there is Emily. She’s dead. I just know it by looking at her. A nameless, faceless doctor stands besides her with the stethoscope on Emily’s chest. He looks up at me and says, “You’re too late.”

“What do you mean I’m too late?!” I hear myself shout, “DO SOMETHING GOD DAMN IT!!”

The doctor puts his stethoscope, around his neck and proceeds to walk out as I try to stop him. I place my hands on his lab coat and I suddenly feel weak and helpless. My arms just stopped working. He pushes me to the side and walks to the door as I plead with him to do something, anything to save her. He shakes his head at me as he closes the door behind him. I look at Emily. I begin to sob. Then I woke up…still sobbing. Sleep was out of the question for the rest of the night.

No one needs dreams like that but they are part of our reality, our human conscious or I guess in this case subconscious.

I’m not one to look for meaning in dreams. I don’t think there is any outside force trying to communicate with me. I feel like dream dictionaries and interpreters are for people desperately seeking deeper answers than can be reasonably supplied. Dreaming is just an activity the body does to deal with stressors. I had and sometimes still have bad dreams about Emily for obvious reasons. I loved her with every piece of me, spiritually, mentally, physically or otherwise. There was no way in hell that the pain and anguish of her death was not going to seep into my subconscious. I have just come to accept it. When I have bad dreams I try to put them in perspective and look at my life of late to see what triggered the episode. Sometimes I figure it out, most times I don’t. Either way I take a deep breath and start thinking about all the good times with her. I try to remember holding her hand, or her beautiful green eyes. I try to remember the warm tone and lilt of her voice the first time she told me she loved me. Then I do my best to go back to sleep.

Bad dreams featuring Emily are fewer and farther between these days. I felt like I had a breakthrough a few weeks ago when Emily made an appearance and she had all her hair. She looked like she did before chemo and surgery. It was wonderful. I don’t remember what it was about, I just remember she was there and she smiled. I always liked it when she did that.

I take that as a good sign. Not a sign that I’m over it. I am quite positive that I will never completely get over her death. I don’t think anyone who loses a loved one does get over it. I will rebuild though. I think the dreams of her are going to be a key part of my new foundation.

People and Things that made me want to come home.

Well I moved. Packed up, threw stuff in a container headed north to God’s country. Or as you may call it, Virginia. I don’t know if it’s quite God’s country. I’m not quite sure what that term really means. Virginia is my country though. I like it. I know people there. While I am sad to leave behind so many lovely people in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, I really think this is for the best. I could go into more detail about my reasons for leaving but I fear they are pretty predictable. Sad widower being sad and needing to get away, blah blah blah. I’ve really got to get out of this sad bastard style of writing that I have found myself in. I’ve become Kafkaesque….and pretentious.

So with that in mind, instead of talking about the sad things that made me leave the deep south, I’m going to talk about happy things that called me back to the motherland.  This is part one of a series. I shall call it, “Happy things that lured me back to the Motherland.”


 I get to hangout with my grandfather. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him, my grandfather is one of the kindest, funniest, and most badass individuals you could meet. Currently he resides in a retirement community. He has dementia. To some people that might seem like a drag, but what can you do? He is still fun to talk to. He forgets things and asks the same question every five minutes. After awhile I start coming up with new careers. So far I’ve been a doctor, accountant and a lawyer. He was very proud of me all three times. Sometime he asks if I’m married. Normally I’ll say no but sometimes I tell him about Emily, to which he responds. “I’m sorry, son.”It seems like a simple response and though my grandfather met Emily several times I am not sure if he really remembers her. But the warmth and sincerity of his tone tells me that he hurts because I hurt, my troubles are his troubles. Then I show him a picture of her. He says something to lighten the mood, “She was beautiful. How’d you manage to get her?”

Despite sitting through a literal Groundhogs Day scene I love talking to him. He tells a hell of a story. In 83 years this man has seen and done a lot. He still remembers some of it. Mostly important stuff, like what kind of beer he drank in Vietnam and what kind of fish he caught in Lake Mendota in the 1940s. He can tell you about the fear and dread of being captured in East Germany in 1958 and the elation of being released months later and seeing his wife and young son.  He remembers the challenge of dropping mail and supplies from an L-19 Birddog to remote Special Forces camps in places “he doesn’t remember.” He definitely remembers the horror and carnage of seeing bodies stacked up like cordwood after failed enemy attacks on fire bases. He remembers that war is horrible and stupid. He remembers that all any man has in this world that’s of true value is the love of family and friends. He remembers the love and loyalty of dogs that have been gone for 15 or 20 years.He remembers that his father worked three jobs during the Great Depression to support his family.  He remembers his wife of 58 years and that who he is and what he has done is a direct result of a strong and loving partner. And he remembers his grandson and he is happy to see him.

So yeah. I’m going to spend as much time with him as I can. He is going to wingman for me as I hit on the good looking nurses and physical therapists. I’m going to sneak him wine and pipe tobacco. Apparently he isn’t allowed to have either. I call bullshit on that policy. I say that but what do I know? Very little. I’m doing it anyway.


More to follow….


Why fight other people when I can fight with myself?


I sat on her bed in her dorm room. I stared at my feet as I got the nerve to say what had been on my mind all night… week… month…most of sophomore year if we are going to be honest. Emily was watching On the Waterfront. I was too busy arguing with myself to pay much attention. The argument was between my senses of self-doubt and confidence. It was not then nor is it now anything unusual for me.

 Confidence: “Dude, she’s into you. You’re sitting on her bed, she’s leaning against you. She practically has her head on your shoulder. Just say it. Just tell her that you want to be mutually exclusive.”

Self-doubt: “Are you nuts? What if she says no? She’ll probably laugh you right out of the room.”

C: “Oh come on. Grow a pair and do it.”

SD: “She’s going to laugh and tell her friends. Then they are going to laugh. Then everyone on campus, faculty included will get together and talk about what an asshole you are. You are never going to be able to show your face outside of your dorm. You’ll have to withdraw within the month. Or throw yourself off the roof of Mobile Hall.”

C: “Fuck you! If it were not for you, self-doubt, there is no telling where we would be. We would rule the world. This girl is everything you need. Don’t you dare fuck this up for us. I’m right about this and you fucking know it!”

SD: “No, fuck you, confidence! You are reckless and make us look like a complete ass all the damn time. You get even worse when alcohol is involved.”

C: “Oh sure, bring up something that has nothing to do with the subject at hand when you know you’re losing. Why do I have to keep apologizing for asking that waitress out and then inferring that I could beat up her boyfriend? I could have by the way. 6 foot 5, 250 isn’t that big. ”

SD: Shut up shut up shut up! She is staring at you. Fuck. Be cool.

All of a sudden I became very aware of my breathing. During the heated argument I was having with myself I had started breathing very rapidly without noticing it.

C: “You’re breathing too hard you idiot! Try and be cool for once in your life.”

I try to slow my heart rate and control my breathing. But soon enough I realized I was just holding my breath. I smiled at her.

C: “Breathe before you pass out, you spaz! Damn it, Mackin.”

I let out all the air all of a sudden through my nose in somewhat noisy fashion. Emily’s brow was knitted and her green eyes lit with concern.

“Are you ok?” She asked.

“…yeah…Marlon Brando…he’s something else,” I croaked, “…great voice. ‘Charlie I coulda been a contenda.’” I said in the worst Marlon Brando impression that has ever been uttered.

SD: Putz.

She smiled and laughed nervously. “We can watch something else if you want to. I’ve got plenty of DVDs.”

“Oh no this is fine….I could be content watching grass grow with you.”


SD: “Nice one, Humphrey Bogart. I bet if you dart out of the room right now you can be far enough away from the building not to hear it before she busts out laughing at you.”

Emily looked at me and the room brightened as she smiled from ear to ear.

SD: Holy shit, it might be working.

C: Keep going, idiot. Go for the kill before you screw it up again.

“Emily, I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with you these past few weeks.”

“Me too.” Emily responded.

I felt like my face was burning up. If had shifted my collar I bet steam would have escaped from my shirt like in the cartoons. To this day I can only imagine the bright bright shade of red my face must have been.

SD: Nope. Nope Nope. Bail out! Mayday mayday mayday. Change the subject. Talk about the movie more. Better yet just run. Go north. Don’t stop running until you get to Georgia. That’s the only solution.

C: If you don’t shut up, self-doubt, I swear on all that is holy that I will beat your ass. Do it, Mackin, take the shot.

“Umm…I was wondering if…um I mean I uh really like you…really like like you.”


C: What are we, in middle school? Want to just drop her a note during homeroom?

“I really like you too.” Emily responded with a giggle.

C: Yessss!!! Doo it!!! Finish her!!!

“So you want to, ah I dunno, make it official, like mutually exclusive maybe?”

C: Shakespeare you are not.

Emily again came close to blinding me with her smile and nodded her head vigorously.

C: Hate to say I told you so, but I told you so. Actually I love to say it. I told you so.

SD: Fuck you

The movie ended. Both of us had class the next day. I decided I should probably be going. She got up and walked me to the door. It wasn’t a big room but it seemed to take forever to get across as I plotted my next move. I began to seriously wonder if I should kiss her or not. Of course I wanted to. At that moment no person had ever wanted anyone more than I wanted to kiss Emily. Not just any kiss, the melt in your arms old movie kind of kiss. The one everyone dreams of being a part of.

…Wait…what if she doesn’t want to kiss me?

C: Are you fucking kidding me? Really? After all that? Damn it, Mackin.

SD: No. You’ve already won way more than I would have guessed. Get out and go home before you lose it all. Who the hell would want to kiss you anyway? Obviously the girl is deranged enough to publicly admit to knowing and liking you.  If she is not deranged she is probably just setting you up to humiliate you. Publicly too. Like in Carrie. Good job asshole, you are going to get us covered in pig’s blood while wearing a prom dress. I knew it.

C: That’s it. I’m kicking your ass!

My confidence then proceeded to kick the shit out of my self-doubt because I did something that normally I didn’t do. If had done it before, I definitely wasn’t sober. I kissed a girl I had never kissed before without warning. Prior to this all of my first kisses came after long discussions about everything under the sun until the girl got so bored she left or just went in and kissed me instead. It’s a terrible system.

Now don’t get any notions in your head. I was no Clark Gable or Humphrey Bogart. I was much too short and chubby. She was not Vivian Leigh or Ingrid Bergman. She was much too pretty and classy.

I grabbed her by the hand and leaned in. She must have been caught off guard because just as my lips reached hers she began to pull back.

C: Shit. I was wrong.

SD: Shit. I knew it.

But all of a sudden Emily processed what was happening and leaned forward into it.

That kiss is one of those clichéd happy places I go to mentally when I’m in a bad place physically or emotionally. It probably wouldn’t have looked like much to someone watching but to me it was the beginning of a whole new world. That kiss confirmed to me that there was something special about this girl. I didn’t know exactly what it was at that point but I sure as hell wanted to find out.

After a second or two we broke the awkward, yet sweet, yet powerful embrace. She smiled again. I liked it when she did that.

“So I’ll call you later?” I asked.

“Yes please. Goodnight.”


I walked back to my dorm. In a daze. Ran into a few trees. Tripped over a sprinkler head. Some people I knew might have greeted me on the walk back. If you were one of them and are reading this and I didn’t respond, sorry about that.

I stopped by my friend Matt Sullivan’s room. I had to tell someone. But it had to be someone who would be cool and logical about it but at the same time would give a glimmer of giving a damn. Matt Sullivan is that guy. Even keeled about most everything regardless of whether he should be or not. Except if you insult Kurt Cobain. If you do that, especially after a few beers, be ready for a debate.

He was watching TV with a somewhat glazed look in his eye. I sat down on one of the campstools he had in front of the set. We watched some movie for a few minutes. Can’t remember what it was but it probably had Bill Murray or Michael Keaton in it.

After a few minutes I said plainly without looking away from the TV. “I asked Emily out tonight. She said yes.”

“Nice, man. She’s a cool lady.” Matt replied in the same fashion.

Without looking up from the set, I gave a little smile as I thought about what had transpired.

I finally said simply, “Yes she is.”


ImageMy parents were busy in the 80s. Long story short, they were married in 1980, went traipsing through Germany for a few years courtesy of the U.S. Army and had quite a fine time, as best I can tell. What with the visiting countries and the good food and beverages, a non-stop party with the rest of the lieutenants and their wives, all while thumbing their collective nose at the communists across the way. But all good things must come to a grinding halt eventually.  1984 rolls around and the parentis Mackin find themselves in Fort Knox, Kentucky. While the commonwealth of Kentucky is a wonderful place I am sure, it is probably not nearly as exciting as swinging Western Europe. So the happy couple had to find other things to do. As a result my sister Kathleen was born in November of that year.

For a few years it was my parents, Kathleen and two huskies, Sam and Ski. It was the mid-eighties, music was for the most part terrible, the USSR was crumbling, and Rambo First Blood Part II was taking the box office by storm. The decade was looking like it would be all together unremarkable until thankfully for everyone I busted onto the scene in June of 86. Now the party could start. A month after I was born my parents loaded the household up, stuff, kids and dogs and headed south. I’m sure my father made an argument for leaving the dogs and the kids but Mom said no. So we move to Madison, Mississippi and my Dad begins doing whatever army stuff he was called upon to do. Obviously that didn’t take up too much of his time because my sister Annah showed up in June 1988. In under four years my parents had three children. After that I guess they got cable because no others have joined the Mackin brood to date.

But this isn’t about my parents, so enough loosely concealed references to their sex life. This is about my sisters and me.  Our upbringing wasn’t all too remarkable. We did normal kid things like play games and sports and go to school, some of us did better than others. I was in the others category. Mom insisted we eat at the table as family as often as possible. That was nice. There we learned to sit up straight, put napkins in our laps, chew with our mouths closed. We also learned that above all else, Annah was to have the green plastic plate or there would be hell to pay.

My sisters were pretty good early on. Sure, we fought like all siblings do. We tried to be civilized though. For instance, one day I happened to be in Kathleen’s room for very important and legitimate reasons. Kathleen informed me that my border crossing was unwarranted and consequences would be had if I did not cease what I was doing and retreat back to the zone of neutrality that was the hall. I decided not to heed my older sister’s warning and instead laid down on the floor in peaceful protest. Kathleen feeling that further diplomacy was useless launched an all out offensive which devolved into a tussle and ended with Kathleen sitting on my chest and bending my fingers back. Well this brought me around to Kathleen’s way of thinking. In those early days when Kathleen was bigger than I, she was quite good at helping me see things her way.

I’ve got more stories about both sisters that go along the same lines, as I’m sure most anyone with at least one sibling does. We didn’t always like each other but we were always there. In rough times you know no greater ally than a sibling whether you are aware of it at the time or not. As army brats we moved around several times in the span of a few years. While we were all more or less social kids by nature and none of us struggled to make new friends, but those first few days in a new place could be lonely without siblings. We would explore the new quarters together. Walk about the neighborhood and find the best playground, figure out what routes the ice cream truck used. With my sisters always there, moving was easy, it was an adventure.

Once we settled in Virginia we went to the same schools. In high school Kathleen and I did not get along 90 percent of the time but there were times when we came together. We went to the local catholic school that required uniforms on a daily basis but every so often they would have an out of uniform days to raise money for this or that. On these days I would come down stairs ready to go in my cargo shorts, calf length white socks and running shoes. Both sisters would look at me and shake their heads in disgust. They would then take me up stairs and tell me what to wear so that I would not be a complete embarrassment to the family. To this day my sisters remain my fashion consultants even though they both live on different sides of the country.

After we all grew up and moved out of our parents’ house most tensions between the three of us subsided. I remember being on my way home on break and feeling weird about how excited I was to see Kathleen and Annah. They were still the same short women that I had grown up with but now they had these complete other facets to their lives that didn’t involve me. They have both grown up to be absolutely delightful people and there is seldom a time where I would not rather be a in the same room with them. The change in attitude towards my siblings makes sense when I think about it. Look at how much siblings who grew up in the same household go through together. We had seen each other through crushes, first loves, break ups, high school and college graduations, engagements, weddings, jobs searches, job interviews, arguments with significant others, arguments with parents, deaths in the family. It’s a bond that runs deep but has not been discussed. It just is. As I have wandered through my adult life on my own I have come to the realization a few times that my sisters have an understanding of me as a person, of my background, of my mentality that no one else is capable of having. We all just know. I know it may be 2 a.m. where one of them is but, if they hear that phone ring and know that I’m on the other end; I know they will pick up. They know that I do the same.

Over the last three plus years they have proven how deep our unspoken all for one, one for all code has gone. The day after I had taken Emily to the ER and the doctor discovered the mass on her brain, they decided that the best place to get the initial surgery was at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Emily and her mother were transported from Newport News by an ambulance and I would follow in my car after I tied up a few affairs. Not knowing exactly where I was going I decided to use the family GPS. It just so happened that Annah was had the garmin, so on my way out I stopped by her dorm room at the College of William and Mary to pick it up. I knocked on the door and as soon as Annah opened it she immediately wrapped me in a bear hug around my waist. “We will get through this.” She said while holding me tightly.  Then she let go and walked back into her room. I followed her and stood next to her desk while she got the system.

“You doing ok?” she asked as she reached in her closet.

I had been asked that question a few times that day by friends of the family and Emily’s friends and medical staff and other members of my family. Up to that point I responded stoically with yeah I’m fine and then I would start talking about Emily again. I don’t know why but Annah asking me that question hit me hard. Maybe it was fatigue; it was early evening and I had slept maybe an hour or two since the previous day having kept vigil over Emily in the ER the night before. I think it was that, coupled with the fact that it was the first time I had been alone with one of my people since the ordeal had begun. I was in a safe place with one of the few people in the world who knew me the best.  All of a sudden I went from “Mr. in control of his emotions” to my chest heaving and my eyes welling up. I remember thinking, “Fuck, Mackin, you are not, I repeat, NOT, going to break down in front of your baby sister.” But it was too late. I sat down at Annah’s desk and sobbed uncontrollably with my head in my hands.  After a few seconds I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up. Annah stood there with a bunch of tissues and put them in my hand. Then she put her arms around my shoulders and listened as I talked about everything that happened. How Emily’s head had been hurting almost every day for the past month and a half and how instead of being kind and loving I had been a complete ass. I thought she was being hyperbolic and needed to tough it out. While I didn’t say that to Emily, I remember not being as patient as I could have been. I thought it was just the stress of grad school coupled with the anxiety of being so far away from home. Now she was going in for major brain surgery and the thought of losing her, especially after acting so terribly was too much to handle. After a few minutes I was able to regain my composure. Annah then reminded me that this wasn’t something anyone could predict. She told me to carry on for Emily. She told me the past was the past. I had to move, I had to act. So I did. I got up, drove to Charlottesville, still feeling guilty but emboldened by my little sister’s words.   Annah was 21 at the time. Annah is smarter than I. She is smarter than most people. On top of that she is wonderfully empathetic. I think she might take over the world. But that’s a different entry all together.

As Emily and I went through our hardship, my sisters were not only there for me but they were there for Emily. As anyone who has been married or in a long term relationship can tell you, your family liking your significant other can make life so much easier, well the Mackins and Buttericks liked Emily. All of them, as best I can tell. She was smart and pretty and had table manners and was good to me. What more could you ask of an in-law? Emily was one of theirs after about four months of us dating and they took care of her as such. When Emily was doing chemo in Washington D.C. during the winter and spring of 2010 I was at Fort Benning for infantry officer basic course. While I hated being away when she was going through treatment, I didn’t have a job. This was when unemployment throughout the nation was peaking. Being at school for four months would stave off the unemployment line for a bit. While I was gone she and her mother stayed with their cousins in Northern Virginia. That is also where Kathleen lived at the time. Every so often, Kathleen would go and sit with her brother’s fiancé. I never asked her to do it, she just did. She would go and hang out with Emily. They would talk and sometimes Kathleen and her hetero life partner, Katie would do her hair and paint her nails. I would call Emily and she would excitedly tell me about Kathleen coming by. “Oh Ben, Kathleen is just so easy to be around. I just feel calmer when she is in the room.” That might not sound like much to most people, Kathleen included, but at times like those when illness and treatment and surgeries and blood tests and every other stressful thing is coming at you at once, people with calming auras are so awesome to have around. It meant a lot to Emily and it meant the world to me. I could think of no one better to be there for my beloved in my stead.

My sisters are the some of the best people I know. I love them more than they could ever know.

The Last Days of a Mississippi Girl

It has been over seven months since she died. When I look back at those last few days all I remember is the darkness, the gloom, the pall that was cast over everyone in the household while we waited for her to die. I remember Emily’s mood in particular. The cruelty of the situation was too much to handle. Up until the day before she passed she was completely cognizant of what was happening. She was a 25 year-old woman with a husband and a dog and plans for a long happy productive life. Instead of living and loving as she had done so well to that point, she was going to face eternity alone.

 What do you say to someone in that situation? As anyone who spoke to her for more than 20 seconds could see, she was incredibly intelligent. Trying to comfort her with bullshit was out of the question. So I just sat there. I held her hand. When she would break down I would get in the bed and hold her. When I broke down I did my absolute best to leave the room. “God damn it, Mackin. Don’t make it any worse for her.” Became my mantra.

I guess one of the worst moments for me was the morning before she died. Hospice had sent a hospital bed for her to make sitting up possible. Even though it was way more convenient, Emily wanted no part in it. It was another sign of her impending doom. She would stay on the couch in the living room for hours trying to sleep, just to avoid going back to our room. But soon enough it became too hard for her to move and she had to relent. After a day or two of being in the hospital bed, coupled with the effects of the cancer spreading through her brain she became confused about where she was. She would say to me,

“Ben, why can’t we just go home? I hate sleeping here, I don’t want to be here. “

“Darlin’, it’s ok. We are home. You have your TV, and bedspread, look here’s your dog.” I put her Dash on the bed to try and drive the point home. “Try to relax.”

“Why are you lying to me? Where’s the doctor? Find out when I can go home.”

After awhile it just became easier to play along. I agreed and acted discontent with her. The show of solidarity seemed to make her feel better.

“I don’t know, baby. I’ll go find someone and fuss at them.”

“Oh Ben, don’t fuss at them. Just find out when I can go home.

“Ok, Darlin’. I’ll be back.”

“Love you”

That was easy enough until later that day.

She was sleeping and I was holding her hand and trying to wake myself, our selves…whatever…. Trying to wake up from the nightmare we were living. All of a sudden she opened her eyes and looked at me. I smiled at her and kissed her hand and put it on my cheek.

Emily looked horrified and snatched her hand away from me.

“Excuse me sir, I don’t know you.”

I felt my heart drop into my stomach. That hurt.  I know her head wasn’t right, I know she was confused and didn’t mean it, but fuck, that one hurt.

“Emily, it’s me Ben. Your husband.”

“No sir, I’m sorry but I don’t know you.”

It was dark in the room and maybe she couldn’t see my face well enough. I don’t know. There was no convincing her. I had to play along.

“I’m sorry ma’am. I hope I didn’t offend.”

“I’m married.” She said with narrowed and offended eyes.

“Oh really. I’m sure he is a good man.”

“He is.”

“Is he good looking?”

She looked at me indignantly and said. “Of course he is.”

I sat there for a few more minutes and she asked me to go get her mother.

“Sure. It was a pleasure talking with you Misses…..?”


“It was a pleasure talking with you Mrs. Mackin.”

She slowly drifted back to sleep and I left the room as Emily’s sister came in to sit with her. I went outside, sat in my car and broke down.

Later that evening I was the only one in the room. As usual I was holding her hand. I had to. Physical connection became important to me in those last few days. Holding Emily’s hand ranks very high on my list of favorite things ever. She had the softest hands. The absolute softest. I’m not exaggerating. Her hands were always cool too. Not cold but delightfully cool. Which is one of the small ways we were so compatible. I am about as warm natured a person as you can find. My hands and body are always heated. So us holding hands was mutually beneficial because she was always so chilly and I so hot…temperature wise.

Anyway, I was holding her hand and reading a book….what was it??….a book of short stories by O. Henry I think. I can’t remember the exact story. Anyway, I was holding her hand and felt her stir. She turns her head and looks at me. I was worried she was going to freak out again. But I could see in her beautiful green eyes that she recognized me. It wasn’t a “glad to see you” look. It was more of a look that she had business to discuss. She said:

“So you park the car.”

“… sure, babe.”

“I’m going to go in an get a table. I don’t want to be late.”

“…Sounds good.”

“Do you want me to get you something?”


“A drink. Do you want me to order you a drink?”

“Sure darlin’. A gin and tonic would be good.”

“Ok. I’ll see you in a bit. I love you.”

She fell back asleep shortly after that.  While those were not the last words we said to each other, that was the last full conversation we had.

The day she died she was hard to understand. She rarely spoke and when she did, it was very short. When she spoke it was normally a request for water, which was administered by a dropper because she was unable to hold on to a cup. With every request there was a please. When she had had enough water she would say thank you to the best of her ability. I would tell that I loved her. She would respond with what I tell myself is “I love you too.” I can’t say for sure.

Her family and I and my mother kept vigil. We all took our opportunities to tell her how much we loved her. Around noon on a Sunday, I was sitting in the family room sending an email and watching Mother Dearest starring Anne Bancroft. My brother-in-law walked in and gave me a look. I think he might have said something too but I just remember his face. It was a look of pure devastation. I stood up and went back to the room Emily was in. I sat on the left side of the bed. Her Mom was on the right. Her father had been at mass. We had called him and told him to hurry home.  My Mom had gone to the grocery store. Her cell phone could not get signal in Vicksburg.

Emily’s breathing was spacing out. The pauses were getting longer and longer. Her father arrived and sat at the foot of the bed. We sat and watched. Long pauses between breathing. …..Slowly in…………….slowly out. I recognize that Emily was the one dying but I felt like I was witnessing my own apocalypse. The world as I knew it, the world as I loved it, hung in the balance of Emily’s labored breaths.

I remember thinking, how could this be? How could this lady, this wonderful, strong person be dying? This was the girl who happened to go to the same college that I went to when she had her choice of any college in the country. The one that introduced herself to me in August of 2005 saying, “Ben? I think our parents know each other from Spring Hill in the 70s. The brilliantly smart, funny, awkward, gorgeous brunette, born in Los Angeles, lived in Japan, raised in, and from what I can tell with a great amount of bias, was the pride of Columbus, Mississippi. The lovely young woman who took an interest in a short, chubby and sometimes funny kid from Virginia who barely got into and out of the same college, the girl who was essential in building him into the man who writes this story.  How could this be happening to her?

We sat there. Slow breathing. Struggling.

I remember being not sure of what I wanted to happen. Of course on one hand, I wanted her to keep fighting. Fight through and breathe normally, to stave off death for as long as she could. On the other hand she was tired. Her chest was heaving, struggling. We had no way of knowing if she was comfortable. Part of me wanted her to cross completely over. End the suffering.

She carried on breathing for a few minutes, the pauses got longer…. Then all of a sudden her whole body seized up to the point where she rolled to her side. Then she exhaled and that was the end. It was 12:20 p.m. on Mother’s Day. The sun was out on a beautiful Mississippi spring day and the gardenia bush outside our window had just bloomed. Emily loved gardenias. The world, this plane of existence, was without Emily Irene Henry Mackin. We are poorer for it.

Emily and I had been on a roller coaster since November 4, 2009. That was the day her head was hurting so badly I took her to the Emergency room. The day the E.R. physician told me that there was a large spot on the X-ray of Emily’s brain. We…and by we I mean Emily with me there some of the time, had been through the ringer. Three years, six months and eight days from that rainy cold November night to the day she died. In that time Emily had beaucoup surgeries, hours of radiation, beaucoup chemo sessions, beat cancer, saw a relationship crumble due to circumstances far beyond anyone’s control, taught at a snobby catholic girls high school in New Orleans, found time to talk to me while I was deployed, built the aforementioned relationship back up, lost a kidney to cancer, got re-diagnosed with brain cancer, more chemo sessions, got married, more chemo sessions…. And the end.  The entire time the thought of giving up never entered Emily’s head. If there was an option to continue treatment, then damn it, that was what Emily wanted to happen. Her enthusiasm to continue living at all costs despite the consequences to her own comfort was inspiring. She is the bravest person I have ever known.

Needless to say the last three and a half years ranked among the world’s worst roller coasters with its ups and downs. The ups were amazing. The wedding Emily’s parents were able to give her was absolutely beautiful.  The whole day she glowed with the happiness and excitement that only those who have experienced true hardship are able to have and appreciate. But as amazing as the wedding was, at the end it was all downs. Speaking for myself, over the last six months I felt like I was hurtling down into a never-ending abyss.  Watching your best friend and partner whither away is the worst combination of heart breaking and soul killing. The only positive spin I could put on this part of my life is that I was doing it with my best friend. I knew then that Emily was coming to the end of the track. I knew she was going to get off this ride and go on another one.  Leaving me to continue my terrifyingly dark descent. If there is a God I have no doubt that Emily is with him/her…. or Him/Her…whatever. I go back and forth as to whether there is a God but that is a discussion for another time.

In abrupt conclusion, Emily was one of the most pure spirits you could ever hope to meet. How the hell I lucked out and got her to marry me, I’ll never know.