This story is by Sue Moreines and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A Fate Far Worse Than Death
“You bastard! How could you say that?” Jackie screamed.
“Look at him,” said Marshall. “He’s been lying there for ten years. Ten lost years, with only more of the same to come. Who would choose to go on like that? It’s not living, and definitely not something I want for my son. Fathers are supposed to help their children, and if there was any way I could have ended his misery long ago, I would have.”
“And on top of everything else you thought about murdering him?” Jackie replied angrily. “How do you live with yourself? Thank God I don’t have to anymore!”
Why are you talking in front of me? You know I can hear! At least the doctors told you I might be able to. This has been tough enough, and now this? I wish I could change what happened, but none of it was my fault. Not the accident and not your divorce. I didn’t ask to end up in a coma, breathing through a hole in my neck and kept alive by a feeding tube.
“Weren’t you listening at the meeting last week? Eight doctors sat around that conference table, each telling us Devin hasn’t made any progress despite years of therapy. When Dr. Shore said it was time for us to consider the final option, they all nodded in agreement. Jackie, it would take a miracle for him to recover now.” said Marshall.
“It doesn’t hurt to believe in miracles. Maybe if you hadn’t given up on him, things would be different.” murmured Jackie.
“I doubt it.” Marshall replied.
I knew you and Dad stayed with me around the clock for the longest time, but then your lives got in the way. All I could do was lie here with Dad repeatedly pointing out, “He’s locked away in perpetual hell!” It was obvious he couldn’t handle it and eventually only stopped by now and then. At least you came to visit as often as you could Mom.
Jackie said, “Yesterday I was sitting next to Devin, telling him about some of the things we did as a family when he was growing up. Like our vacation to Disney Land, building sand castles on the beach and watching cartoons together.”
I didn’t remember any of that. I’ve replayed what I do remember over and over again, since there was plenty of time to think. It was a beautiful fall day as we walked hand-in-hand to the bus stop. While we waited you looked down at me and said, “It’s so hard to believe you’re six years old Devin and there are so many exciting years ahead of you.” I only had time to smile, as the bus arrived and the door opened wide. You kissed me as my fingers slid from your hand. The first step sure was high, but I made it without any help and found a seat by a window. We waved goodbye with our eyes and then I leaned back and watched telephone poles fly by. I still have no idea what happened next.
“I swear Devin understood what I was saying because he blinked his eyes.” She continued.
“Jackie, we’ve been told umpteen times those are just reflexes.” said Marshall.
“Well, then why does it happen only when I’m talking to him?” Jackie asked.
“I don’t know. Probably coincidence.” He replied.
I never stop trying to communicate. Every day I struggle to move a finger, or a muscle in my face, or make a sound. There were a few times when I thought I opened my eyes on purpose when you were talking to me Mom, or maybe it was just my hopeful imagination.
There was a knock at the door, and in walked Dr. Shore. She greeted Devin’s parents and then spent a good bit of time examining him. Minutes went by before she faced them and said, “I don’t need to remind you about what we discussed last week, and now I have some updated news. An 18 year old young man was recently admitted to the hospital. He’s in Stage D heart failure, and if he doesn’t get a transplant soon, he’ll die. Devin’s heart is a perfect match.”
No one said a word for the longest time, but my thoughts were spinning out of control.
Eventually Dr. Shore said, “Look, we know this is putting you in a position no parent should ever have to face. I’m not sure what I would do if I were in your shoes. We just need you to think about it. Any decision you make will be fully respected.”
Jackie started to sob and collapsed onto a chair. As she was comforted by Dr. Shore, Marshall disappeared. When the cloud of pain lifted, Jackie stared at Devin for the longest time, begging him to wake up. After a while, Dr. Shore had to gently lead her to the door.
Lying there in the deafening silence, everything I learned ran through my mind. The truth was, of course I thought about death. It would’ve been impossible not to. Ten years of lying still, unable to do anything for myself. After they stop feeding me, how painful could it be before I slipped into the quiet darkness of death? On the other hand, every night I dreamed about reading a book, running down the street, taking a bath and riding a bicycle again. I deserved to have my life back.
The next day Marshall returned early. He pulled up a chair and said, “Devin, last night Mom and I talked for hours, arguing about what to do. We couldn’t guess what you would want, but we agreed you should be at peace. I’m here to tell you we made the agonizing decision to let you go. Donating your heart to save that boy will ensure a part of you will live on.”
Devin blinked more times than Marshall had ever noticed before and thought Jackie might be right. He reached down to kiss his cheek before leaving, and a single tear escaped, staining his pillow.
I couldn’t imagine what it was like for my parents to choose between whether I lived or died. I’m not sure what I would do, but it didn’t matter since the decision was made. If that boy’s heart kept beating, I would die. If he died first, would my parents change their mind about letting me go? All I could do was lie here and wait, but the clock had started to run in reverse. Not much time left.
Dr. Shore came back to see Devin later that evening. She sat without speaking for a long time, watching his diaphragm rise and fall. Finally, she took a deep breath and said, “Devin, this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Your parents struggle to decide was unimaginable. I know your Dad was here this morning but your Mom wasn’t feeling well enough to join him. I’m sure she’ll be here tomorrow before the feeding tube is disconnected.” Dr. Shore placed her hand on Devin’s shoulder as she turned to leave, and missed seeing Devin’s eyes squeeze shut.
All I heard was this was my last day on earth, since the end began in the morning. It would take days, maybe even a week, before the hands of the clock stopped. I couldn’t think anymore, and fell into a deep sleep.
Marshall paced the floor, waiting impatiently for Jackie to show up. He couldn’t bring himself to go in and see Devin on his own. When Dr. Shore arrived she said, “I hope Jackie’s ok. We can give her a little more time to get here.” Marshall followed Dr. Shore into the room and they both stopped dead in their tracks. Devin’s bed was empty.
I had the most amazing dream. It was a beautiful fall day and I was outside riding my bike and running through colorful leaves that covered the sidewalk. I hated having to stop when Mom called me in, but there was always tomorrow. After dinner and a warm bath, I laid down in bed so I could read my favorite book. Mom walked in and told me she wrote a story just for me. She held my hand and said she called it “A Message to My Son”.
“Devin, I love you with all my heart and would never agree to let you go anywhere without me. The clock is not going to stop, because I decided it was time to bring you home. We’re going to begin counting forward until we celebrate the day you recover. Never forget that miracles can happen!”
As the dream faded I was really in my own bed! Mom was looking down at me, and as I blinked, we said hello with our eyes.