pink shell

I was the sole employee of a true-crime writer who was dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. What had started as a part-time gig taking dictation on subjects like the inner workings of Mafia families had morphed into a situation something between full-time job and enmeshed pseudo-family. I adjusted my boss’s pacemaker when it wiggled out of place, fired his visiting nurses for him (their offenses were numerous, and usually cosmetic), sliced his food, operated his ventilator, and when he and his wife picked up and moved to Miami every November, packed my bags and relocated right along with them. Though I know he treasured me in his own way, my boss was also more than a bit narcissistic – he often described me as an “extension” of himself – and prone to fits of rage that had, in his pre-wheelchair days, regularly turned violent. It is one thing to watch a person die, and another entirely to watch someone so spiritually unsettled, whose ego rests so squarely on an almost parodic machismo, face the end. He seethed and fumed and lashed out at anyone in close range, which meant mostly his wife and, less frequently, me. Young, bereft of colleagues, and guilt-ridden – I was young and he wasn’t; I was healthy and he wasn’t; I often hated him, despite his agony – I craved a way to process the terrible existential drama that was playing out before me.

That’s when someone handed me Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death.