I thought I was dying last night. It went like this:
I met a friend at the Malthouse for the opening-night performance of Antigone. The bar area was full of people talking and laughing. I hugged my friend, talked, laughed, said how hungry I was. She'd already ordered food. I went up to order some too, saw how expensive it was, bought a bag of crisps instead.
People with a cruel streak might tell you Scottish people don't like spending money and love eating crisps. In my own case, that's true. I've rarely had disposable income and have always loved crisps. Not as my main evening meal ordinarily, but sometimes. The choices, at $5 each, were sea-swept-and-salted or some kind of hipster beetroot chips. Sea-swept-and-salted seemed like a lower-value proposition and considerably less healthy, so fuck that.
I crunched, my friend chewed, people talked and laughed.
We filed into the theatre space, found our seats among friendly glances. The excitement was palpable – and why wouldn't it be? We surely all sensed that, before long, someone would be gouging out their own, or someone else's, eyes. Greek tragedy without the eye-gouge is inconceivable. What's tragic about an actor getting through a whole play with their eyes still in?
The stage was thin-lit, deathly cold. There was no fall from happiness for the characters: everyone was miserable from the get-go. The situation they'd found themselves in was shit. They felt it. We in the audience felt it. Such emotions are contagious. I could feel my spirits sinking.
I nearly jumped with joy when it became clear that Antigone would, in fact, have her eyes gouged out – and not just her eyes but her internal organs. Yas! She stumbled around in mock-agony, a blood-spattered bandage over her face. Great.
I skulled a post-show red wine, went to get my bike, felt relieved it was still there, given its predecessor was stolen a few weeks ago while I was watching Hamlet at the Arts Centre. At the time I'd wanted to gouge the thieving bastard's eyes out. I still do.
There was a text on my phone from a friend and neighbour in Brunswick. Did I want to swing by his house on the way home for a nightcap? Yes, I did, because we're all going to die.
I rode through the city thinking about David Bowie's two-tone eyes and the actors I'd just watched pretend-dying. They were good at it. Sometimes you can see the actor's chest still moving and it can ruin your depression. In this case, the pretend-dead parties were naked, lying shoulder-deep in a swell of blood-red water that had been seeping onto the stage for some time. I didn't see a twitch. They must have practised that a lot.
At my friend's house we drank beer, talked about books, luxury bags and podcasts.
At home I tiptoed through the house so as not to wake my wife or kids, went to the bathroom, peed – and saw something I didn't understand. That didn't compute. My wee was the wrong colour. Darker than it should have been. Dehydration, I thought. But then, no, it was definitely red. Wee isn't meant to be red. I had blood in my urine. My fucking kidneys or something. I was dying. And worst of all, I couldn't stop weeing, just had to watch it streaming out, feeling giddy with vertigo, thinking: this is fucking it, I'm dying.
I considered looking up "blood in urine" on my phone, baulked at that idea, wanted to gouge my eyes out. As if I'd want to know. It might not matter, I thought. It might be nothing. I don't need to tell anyone. I can give it a week, maybe two – if I'm still pissing blood after that I'll go to the doctor or, even better, go to the Outback, ride there even, write a note to my wife and sons from Coober Pedy, tell them I didn't want to die in front of them, hopefully they'd understand, could they bring my washing in, etc.
I tiptoed into the box-room my sons share, kissed them on the head as I do every night, said I loved them. I'm fucking dying. Me. Hush little darlings, don't you cry, Daddy's diseased and he's going to die.
I lay in bed, not sleeping. Cuddled my wife but she didn't wake. I didn't want her to. I wouldn't tell her. She's had blood tests done lately, has a clean bill of health. I've not had blood tests done.
An hour passed, two. It could have been the red wine, I thought. That might have been it. I'd skulled it, and not had any water since; it had simply gone through my system and come out as part-wee-part-wine. Maybe. But that had never happened before. To anybody, surely, except a full-time wino, or Jesus.
Mortality poked at my brain, prevented me sleeping. I counted eyeless sheep, pictured myself lying back, relaxing in a steaming bath of blood. Nothing worked until I struck upon a thought that brought me some comfort: people get sick and die, it happens every day.
In a family unit of four, there's four-times more exposure to that reality, a quadrupled risk profile. In our biological pod, if someone has to get sick and die in the next while, I'd rather it was me. Any other permutation would end me anyway.
Then I remembered I'd written a book, and that it was about my family, and that my kids could look at when I was – at best – a fuzzy memory.
Was he really that sad all the time, Mummy?
Not all the time, sweetheart. I saw him laughing once. It sounded ... odd.
I felt that I'd always known, somewhere, I'd die just before or after the book's publication. And if that was the case, if destiny was unfolding as it was meant to, I could surely – surely to fuck – go to sleep. And then I got to musing on book sales, and thought: Oh, nice one. Bestseller, surely. Tragic backstory + book = cash aplenty. The royalties (both film and print) would go towards keeping my kids in clothes, putting them through university. They'd be fine. Hooray.
But then I needed another piss. I didn't want to go because the torment would start again. I lay in bed, not going, needing to. It took all my strength to give in to the sensation, get up, go to the bathroom. I didn't put the light on. I closed my ungouged eyes, peed in the dark, trying to work out via sonic texture if I was firing blood.
When I'd finished, curiosity got the better of me. I scrunched my face, flicked on the switch. The wee in the bowl was wee-coloured, and indicated perfect hydration. In context, the prospect of only sometimes pissing blood seemed like a good result.
In bed, as I was in the last stages of drifting off, something came back to me with a greasy crunch: the beetroot crisps. Was that it? Was I pissing beetroot? I've since found out beeturia is exactly that – a condition whereby betacyanins, particularly betanin, interact with stomach acids in a way that turns waz red.
The real tragedy? It's genetic. So no more beetroot crisps for me.