“… the report of my death was an exaggeration” were the (some say apocryphal) words of the immortal Samuel Clements, a.k.a. Mark Twain, in the June 2, 1897 edition of the New York Journal.
Then again, the bastard IS immortal. So screw him. He’s laughing at me.
Unlike Mark Twain’s mistaken obituary, the report of my own death was never delivered to the New York Journal, because the tattered corpse of that notorious yellow-journalism tabloid had already been dead for 43 years on the day I found myself momentarily dead.
I wrestle with nomenclature.
Apparently, death can be as transient as life, and my death was highly transient. Did I die? Was it just a medical event? The question attempts definition and resolution by applying the slippery slope metaphor: Lacking heroic medical intervention, would I have gone from mostly dead to anything other than completely dead? That feels like a good definition. But then it occurs to me that being born from the womb in the first place satisfies that criteria. There is a also a certain irony in writing about my own death. It’s something a dilettante would dabble in. Death is for doers, not for dabblers. I am most certainly, and most unapologetically, a dabbler.
Onward, to my cardiac event. That’s the euphemism for a heart attack, in the aught’s. In the nineties, it was a Myocardial Infarction, or “Emm-Eye” which sounds so money when you’re George Clooney and you’re in scrubs and the cameras are rolling.
There was very little in the way of warning. Unless you want to count six months of in-my-face warning. Post-event, I could look back and wonder just how in FUCK I was able to dodge all the signals in plain view without actually seeing them. I had to actively ignore them instead of passively being too stupid to notice them. Like the classic joke of not being able to find your glasses, because they’re perched on the bridge of your nose.
I am a medicalphobe. I have an entirely unreasonable and non-causal phobia of all things medical. And I cannot, even through primal-rebirth-past-life-regression therapy dredge up a single clue as to exactly why that would be. Navigating this phobia is problematic. I was able to stand comfortably in surgical scrubs alongside the obstetricians when they delivered my triplet baby girls by cesarean, pools of living blood and my wife’s lower internal organs pulled out and flopped out on the hood like teenage motor-heads rebuilding the engine of a Ford F-150; but when the ICU nurse tried to establish an IV in the arm of one of the tiny triplet babies I passed out on the floor, cold.
I have no excuse whatsoever for not engaging the medical establishment in time for my heart problem…it’s just the way I am, or was.
Having a heart attack is a “special” experience. They’re all unique, like fingerprints. They’re all pretty much the same, too. I will not bother with banal medical details, which would be much like watching ER reruns… the way those shows depict a flat-line cardiac arrest is reasonably accurate.
We’ve got a small gentleman’s farm, with four pet horses and two pet sheep. Privately, I had named them War, Disease, Pestilence and Death after the Apocalypse riders. The two sheep, same thing: “Lunch” and “dinner” were my names for them, though they’re forever safe from going “in the freezer.” That’s the 4-H euphemism for Death by Farmer.
* * *
In the two hours leading up to full-on cardiac arrest, I am at my land, doing the evening feeding in the barn. Struggling, drenched in sweat and out of energy like I’ve been for the last 3 months. As we get ready to go back to the house I have a strange pre-cognition that I may not ever see this place again. The feeling is pervasive and unshakable. I look around in silent appreciation, capturing a momentary sense of the place. It makes me think of my “beautiful death.”
* * *
I have imagined a beautiful death. Everyone has a beautiful death. In mine I come to my closing breaths, out on my land in the late evening, and I lay my mortal body gently on the ground and reach up. I ask my dear brother Orion, watchful in the southern sky in June, to take me with him. I travel out to him. I am Orion, I become him.
* * *
Arriving home, my wife is vaguely annoyed with me as I’ve been anything but good company. I suddenly and inexplicably have an overwhelming urge to purge my computer. That moment. Now.
* * *
There’s a concern that every man has: How will history see him? What is his legacy? How will the world remember him? Most importantly, what is the written record of him? I have a friend that worries about that. He has taken steps to ensure that the internet is seeded with data that will paint him in a favorable light should any future researcher feel compelled to look. Every man has a secret or two, papers that are best shredded or burned. That shoebox of letters and photographs up in the attic under the insulation, the dusty artifacts of the woman he passed by in favor of the woman he married. The manila folders stuffed with papers and unfinished manuscripts and early drafts, the off-the-books accounts. In the era of information, the computer is the new smoking gun. Though there may be nothing of implication or incrimination on that disk drive, the computer is by it’s nature a pack-rat. A purge removes data that would tell a false tale. A false tale beyond the point that rebuttal was possible.
The attention paid to my computer put me deeper in the “you are not helping” marital doghouse.
As the evening and my cardiac event progressed, I arrived at that nexus where even a complete stone-deaf medicalphobe cannot possibly misinterpret the nature of his predicament. At that point, I am being clubbed mercilessly over the head with 36 ounce brickbats, and even I have to admit it to myself. I quietly called my wife into the other room. With a very soft calm voice, I made a request:
* * *
“Please dial 911, I’m having a heart attack.”
She looks at me with a face that I’ve never seen before, I can only guess at what she’s thinking. This reality is as remote and as devastating as any reality could be. Certainly it is a jarring contrast to the reality of a minute before, of trivial marital irritation with an man who is an idiot (as if that distinction is ever anything but self-evident). There are exactly zero good outcomes in the realm of all available possibilities, after those few simple words are invoked. Those words are the kind you spend your every waking moment trying to shield her from. You don’t marry a girl to bring pain into her life, you do it to take her burden for your own.
My own version of reality is starting to become a bit wavy. I tell the EMTs to wait, while I give each of my children in turn a hug, kiss, and smile that might serve as a lasting memory.
Just in case.
Time dilates, while on the dim periphery of my awareness, a team of newly-minted best-medical-friends-forever initiate increasingly invasive emergency medical protocols. I am in the ER trauma room when the crash comes.
My wife is being pulled away from the trauma room by two very gentle but unyieldingly insistent nurses, to a special private waiting area. She is also contemplating the new reality. What exactly does it mean for the band when the bassist leaves the building?
* * *
In a slightly vague way, I knew what was happening. I knew that I was inside a building, and would be cheated out of my Beautiful Death. A death inside, away from the sky. A part of me was petulant that I had not crashed two hours before; when I was conveniently upon the earth that I had toiled over, with Orion standing by, patiently. Another part of me lamented and obsessed over the unfinished tasks, the unrealized dreams, the unwritten lyrics, and the unsung songs. I despaired at the lost future moments with my children, each single moment a diamond far too rich for my decrepit station.
And yet another part of me spoke. This part was full of spirit, as it commenced the process of tossing burdens over the rail, into the sea. Life is joyful, but life demands balance and every joy is coupled with a duty. You fill your cup with joy to the extent that you can shoulder the duty that comes with it, and in the end all is in balance. The soul stands as the fulcrum, holding one to the left and the other to the right, bearing the combined weight of both, and as you lament the joy that is lost, you rejoice the duty that is shed.
* * *
In the final moment there is no suffering, just lightness of being…
…but there is no light…
…and I am standing at the rear of an automobile of indiscriminate brand, and I have a companion who is a woman of indiscriminate provenance. She cannot find her keys to the car’s trunk. There is some indiscriminate reason that we need to open the trunk. I actually realize that this is my final-near-death vision, I am lucid in the dream. The thought crosses my mind that somehow I expected something slightly more profound, and ought to cut my losses by looking around for any number sequences that may be in my view.
You know….just in case.