Modern Miserable Man

The truth, which will be difficult for some of you to hear, is that he died alone because he was an unpleasant person.

It’s a hard truth, so I understand if you need to percolate on it for a bit. We’ve all been raised by movies, yeah? And movies always have those…well, if not happy endings, then satisfying ones. The hero wins. The villains die. The incredibly attractive, young people get over whatever petty bullshit they couldn’t see past for roughly an hour to fall in love. And everyone learns a lesson. Always with the lessons.

That’s not what happened here. He wasn’t a villain. He didn’t rob banks or burn down orphanages or spend a frankly ridiculous amount of energy and time trying to destroy some hero who probably doesn’t even know his real name. He was…a guy. He went to work and paid his taxes on time and put three kids through college. He wore khakis and drove a sensible car. He wasn’t a villain. He wasn’t a good guy, either.

He took his anger out on his wife and his kids. All the little things that annoy everybody but some people need to make that shit somebody else’s problem. Flat tire. Can’t find something. Going to be late. Sports team lost. He never thought of it as abuse because he never got physical and no one ever told him that abuse could be emotional. That’s not true. He could have learned about emotional abuse roughly thirty-two times over the course of his life. But he was also the kind of man who didn’t hear what he didn’t want to hear.

At their wedding, his wife explicitly told him before the ceremony that she didn’t want to do the thing couples do where they push cake into each other’s mouth. She thought it was tacky and didn’t want to mess up her makeup. But the man wanted to do that. And the man didn’t like to be told no. So he did what all manly men do: he pouted. He pouted through the ceremony. He pouted through the vows. He pouted through the first dance. And when it came to cut the cake he pushed it into her face anyway. She started to cry and he got mad at her for ruining the whole day. Forty-three years of marriage and they never once watched their wedding video.

(If you’re wondering why she stayed with him, I don’t have a good answer for you there, either. It wasn’t some scary or dramatic reason. Like I said, he never hit her. But that was part of the problem, because she could convince herself that his behavior was normal. He was just emotional! Really, it was her fault when he was mad or pouty. She just had to be better. It doesn’t have a satisfying ending, either. She only left him when she left the mortal plane.)

He ruined most major family events because something made him pouty. Driving to his oldest kid’s high school graduation they got cut off. He was still pouting when his son’s name was called, and still expecting his family to make him feel better at lunch afterward.

The middle kid’s graduation was held outside but it was too hot so he yelled at her in the car on the way home like it was her fault.

He didn’t even go to the youngest’s graduation. Something had pissed him off to the point of not leaving the house. No one remembers what it was, but they all agree it doesn’t really matter.

Once his wife died his kids stopped calling or coming by. He did love them. He was proud of their accomplishments and their families. It never occurred to him that he should tell them that. Didn’t they know? He worked hard for them. He got them through college. Wasn’t that enough?

The answer, if you weren’t aware that that was rhetorical, is ‘no.’ It wasn’t enough. He was a hard, angry man. One by one his kids left home to go to college and realized the stress they had lived under their entire lives had been manufactured by one man. The oldest shared a microwave with their freshman roommate. He heated up tomato soup and it exploded. He was cleaning it when his roommate came home and apologized so profusely that at first the roommate thought something was on fire. When the roommate finally understand that it was just messy microwave, he stood there for a few seconds trying to understand why he should care. And while the roommate stood there trying to figure out why he should care, the oldest son started a year’s long revelation that maybe, just maybe, his dad sort of sucked.

He did. He wasn’t a villain, but he totally sucked. That’s the point of this.

His wife dead, his kids across the country and ignoring him, he became a bitter old man. Bitter because this wasn’t the life he had been promised. He had a family, he paid for everything and kept them alive, so they should be taking care of him now. He never learned a lesson. Never figured out it was his own actions isolating him. Obviously, it was everybody else’s fault.

The man didn’t even get to die in his own bed like he wanted. His faculties were going, and after the fire department had to come out because he put a Hungry Man TV dinner in the microwave and set it for six hours and forgot about it, they worked with the state to declare that he needed to go to a nursing home. He hated it. He thought he hated being taken care of, but actually he loved it because that’s what he thought he deserved his entire life anyway. What he really hated was the fact that the staff didn’t take his shit.

One day, he wanted chocolate pudding with his lunch. But the nursing home had run out of chocolate, so he could have vanilla or butterscotch. But he wanted chocolate. So he began pouting. A good solid pout would have put his wife in the car to go buy chocolate pudding. But the volunteer serving lunch didn’t have the power to get chocolate pudding and thought he was being ridiculous anyway. He asked to see his tech. And then his nurse. And then the manager. All the while getting angrier and angrier, eventually shouting at the owner. Who only told him they wouldn’t take that kind of abuse and he could get chocolate the next week.

It only got worse from there.

Eventually, he was so unpleasant the staff tried to avoid his room. This is the part most people don’t want to hear. Everybody likes to think of medical staff as superheroes, always sacrificing themselves for the sake of their patients. But the truth is, medical staff are just people. People who want to help other people, yes, but also people who don’t want to get abused just for doing their job.

I am not claiming there was any dereliction of duty. In fact, I am telling you straight out there wasn’t. The man had been wealthy, and this nursing home was very expensive. He could afford the sort of care that every person deserves (of course, he didn’t think that way). The staff at this nursing home, volunteers, techs, nurses, therapists, doctors, all of them, they were good people and good at their jobs. They would bathe him regularly and keep him clean. They would take his vital signs and labs on time. They would check his chart and make medication adjustments. They did not neglect him. They just couldn’t stand to be near him and his abuse for any longer than they had to.

That made him worse. He would see the way the staff would laugh and joke with the other residents and wonder why they wouldn’t with him. Of course, he never saw any fault of his own. It couldn’t be that those other residents were friendly, or at the very least chill. No, they all hated him. Probably jealous. He never changed, except to get more bitter.

They might have caught the clot in time to save him. They might not have. He’d already lived eight-nine miserable years, anyway. He was dead in his bed for five hours because he died at two in the morning and the night nurse didn’t feel like getting yelled at just for opening the door and checking on him. She’ll live with the guilt, on and off, for years. She shouldn’t. But she’s a good person.

And that is how the modern miserable man dies. Still making people miserable beyond the grave.

I don’t know if there’s a moral to this story. Maybe it’s just The Moral, the one we’ve been trying to teach each other, and mostly failing, since the beginning.

Be nice, because karma is real and it’s not some cosmic entity righting the universe but dozens of people who have enough self-respect to not take your shit.


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