Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Being a Catastrophist Is Not the End of the World

August 25th, 2022

After being divorced for 15 years, I finally changed the name on my passport back to my maiden name Bowes. I don’t know why I had been dragging my heels, but after my marriage to my second husband, people started asking me whether I was going to change my name again. It was the catapult I needed. I was going to change my name, but not to Stretch’s. To my own. And it felt good.

I stared at my new US passport, basking in Elena Bowes and all its official glory. I signed the document with a black ballpoint pen. That felt good too.

But then I got to the emergency contact section. The passport agency requires not one, but two contacts. I wrote Stretch’s details for the 1st one, a perk to being married, not having those ‘next of kin’ questions depress me anymore. But that second, now that was a problem. If I put one of my three childrens’ names down, and Stretch was with me on that doomed flight where only my passport survived, that would mean one of my kids would get the call. This would be troublesome in two ways. 1) I’d be too dead to explain to the other two that I didn’t love them less for having not chosen them, and 2)  A British Airways bureaucrat would be left telling whichever lucky child I did choose that their dear mother was now departed, terminated, kaput, sayonara’d,  a goner. I clearly couldn’t put my child’s name on that emergency contact. They would never recover.

This passport that only five minutes ago was bringing me great Gloria Steinem joy was now doing just the opposite.

Stretch, what do you put for your emergency contacts?”


On your passport?”

Oh, I don’t. I leave ‘em blank. Why?”

That in a nutshell is the difference between Stretch and me. He never thinks that extra mile. He’s happy to play the odds, the odds of survival. Not me. If something has a 98% success rate, I know I’ll be in the 2%. There isn’t a worse-case scenario that I haven’t considered. Like could a deer suddenly turn vicious?

I saw one last night in our garden, happily chomping on our apples. He saw me, stopped munching and stared…ominously.. I tried to act like a tough, noisy human but he didn’t blink. He saw right through me. Still as a statue. That’s when I noticed his antlers. That deer could be the exception, the one deer who decided to charge at me, beheading me with those horns, my head tossed aside next to a half eaten apple. Note to self mid stare down: stop watching SAW films—way too many dismemberment scenes. Just as I was considering back stepping to my door, Rudolph pranced away. Phew, dodged another bullet.

Meanwhile, Stretch has been pestering me for months to join him at his golf club’s weekly pickleball clinic. I’m not sure which word I hate more: golf or clinic. And of course, the word pickleball is problematic in a number of ways.

“It’ll be fun,” Stretch enthuses. “And we can meet people, make new friends.”

 ‘I don’t want to make new friends.”

That line can only work for so long. The truth is I’m scared—scared of injuring myself either physically or emotionally. Stretch mentions that the clinics are mostly women. So catastrophist me imagines him falling for the pickleball-star, golf-playing, clinic-loving housewife. I give in and Stretch immediately signs us up for the next clinic. This turns out to be the same day the NYT publishes an article called  ”Pickleball, Sport of the Future Injury?” on its front page.

My worse-case scenarios aren’t limited to the outside world. There are dangers in my very own home. Yours too, by the way. When I see the expiration date on a carton of eggs, I subtract a week for safe salmonella-free consumption. My husband, on the other hand, likes to roll the dice. He adds a month to the expiration date. I kid you not.

They put that date just to scare people, make ‘em buy more eggs.”

What, does he have some inside track with the hens? How does he know these things?

Stretch got stung by a scorpion in Africa once, when he was 20. This was pre-Google. He watched the poison pulse through his veins up his arm towards his heart. And did nothing! He knew he’d survive. How? How did anyone know anything before Google? Was he carrying an Encyclopedia Britannica around with him in the bush? He was certainly no entomologist. He was just playing the odds.  I often think Stretch’s attitude towards life is a bit cavalier. And the same goes for his attitude towards death.

The other day we were walking by the Long Island Sound.

Apparently, Hindus like to scatter the ashes of their loved ones over the Ganges river,” I said. “They don’t like people to hold onto the ashes. The grievers need to let go—psychologically, emotionally, spiritually.”

Stretch pointed to the Long Island Sound, and said as if it just came to him, no ponderous thought whatsoever.

This is where I want my ashes spread.”

But you’ll be so cold. The water is so grey”

Elena, I’ll be dead.”

And you won’t be with me because I don’t want to be in the freezing, grey Atlantic.”

He laughed and walked on. Oblivious to the fact that we don’t have a proper death plan—And by proper, I mean he needs to join me wherever I choose to go. Which is certainly not going to be in the Atlantic Ocean.

 I think I’d like my ashes—and Stretch’s—scattered somewhere warm where there are no hurricanes or scary weather patterns. I don’t want my ashes to be flailing around amongst dead fish on a dried-out river even if the locals speak French. I think ideally, we should have our ashes scattered over an enormous bathtub filled with rose petals and scented candles, maybe someplace with a big terrace and daily room (and bath) servicing. And this wouldn’t be for a long romantic weekend. This would be forever.

So, amongst all the other things I need to worry about—like murderous deer and don’t get me started on ticks—we now need to start saving up for our Aman Cremation Getaway.

Post-script: There were no women in our pickleball clinic. In fact, the only other person in the clinic besides Stretch and me and the attractive male Croatian pro (conveniently my partner)

was a very competitive man who kept swearing at himself for hitting the fake ball into the low net. I kind of enjoyed that. I hope he comes back next week.

August, 2022