This story is by www.rossriter.com and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
TO GET A ROOM WITH A VIEW YOU NEED A LITTLE LUCK
The life-support machines whirred, clicked, rang their lights blinking, incessantly. It was a small, sterile, adequate room, the only one available. Lots of people would be visiting me in this hospice, away from home. It was okay, but like me, now, it had no view.
I expect to spend my final hours in this room. My death rattle, if any, will sound within these walls, which I will never leave again. My tale makes no sense, for which I take full response-ability. I am an African-American male, born and raised in a tiny town in Southeastern New Mexico. After being the first in my family to obtain a college degree, I graduated from Harvard Law School with honors, a rare feat in 1975. The end of the story, however, is not a pretty one. There is no one to blame but me: my hubris, and my permanently residency, in my state of denial.
A previously “charmed” life has now devolved to this. After working 42 years for the United States government prosecuting white collar criminals, international/national drug dealers and others, I retired two years ago. I had no specific plan, nor any bucket list.
I found out immediately thereafter that a grave, medical decision was required. A look in the mirror disclosed the perpetrator of this dastardly crime: “Guilty as charged!” declared the Ultimate Force, from up above. Mercifully, I was given only a short time to ponder my fate. I stubbornly decided that no one would know of my “situation.” I recalled a quote from my undergraduate General Honors class: “LIFE HAS NO MEANING THE MOMENT YOU LOSE THE ILLUSION OF BEING ETERNAL,” FROM THE EXISTENTIALIST AUTHOR, JEAN-PAUL SARTRE.
FOR ME, NO TRUER WORDS WERE EVERY SPOKEN.
I married a black, registered nurse, Helen, and it lasted 20 years. We are the parents of two adult boys, Ramon and Steve. Neither attended college. Steve suffers from bi-polar depression. I blamed myself for that illness, and the failure of our marriage, Helen is a good person and mother.
I have been divorced for 20 years. I live with my significant other, black partner, a talented and bright paralegal and a good partner for me, Christina.
Right after I retired, I started feeling bad, and went to see my doctor. Complaining of exhaustion/general malaise, she referred me to a cardiologist she trusted, at our City’s only Heart Hospital. A standard treadmill test disclosed a genetic heart-defect. I had apparently had this defect since birth, but never known of it.
The prognosis did not scare the cardiologist, nor even my doctor, but it devastated me. I had been a “model” citizen and “good” person for 66 years, not deserving of this apparent end. The cardiologist was solemn, but reassuring. “Let’s get you on the new-heart Wait List immediately. We can hope that the damage already noted will not progress too quickly.” That terrified me more! “How much time do I have?” I whispered. “The average wait time is three or more years, Richie,” he said softly.
I spent two weeks pondering my options. I went online and read the survival statistics and the quality of life issues that await a heart transplant candidate. I returned to the Heart Hospital. “Dr. I have decided to take my chances and do not wished to be placed on the transplant list.” He did not argue, nor dissent, but quickly moved on to the next failing heart patient.
Thus began my two-year slip/slide into depression and my “cure,” alcohol. I would start drinking as soon as Christina left to her job. I would eat nothing, but drink, all day long. I would shower and be in bed when she returned from work to cook our dinner. I would pass out before dinner and repeat that cycle, every workday. On weekends, I refused to go anywhere, nor do anything. Not then knowing of my prognosis or fate, she consulted every resource she could. Being unaware of the root diagnosis, however, no one could treat, nor cure my descent into oblivion.
Two years later, I could hardly breathe, or even leave the house. I returned to the same Heart Hospital and was told that my oxygen level was dangerously low and that my days were now numbered, between two and six months, best case. This time Christina accompanied me. I was too weak to drive. Christina then heard the awful truth: that I had rejected a potential cure, two years earlier. Now two years later, devastated by the sudden news of my impending passing, she was furious that I had omitted to include her in my decision, nor even to share with her my fate the decision would portend. “Richie, how could you do that to yourself and to us?” There was one answer: lifelong narcissism.
I had lost more than 70 pounds, due to the booze and no food. I looked like a ghost. Christina had had no clue that it was my failing heart that was the cause, not the two-year long battle with depression/alcohol. She insisted I tell my family/friends and begin “making plans” for the certain future that awaited me/us. That began a parade of friends and family to our home, to say goodbye. My condition quickly worsened. I was then permanently admitted to this Hospice room.
Many visitors expressed sadness and shared my now, desperate grief. Some noted, ironically, that most of these Hospice rooms had lovely views of the landscaping and flowers outside. Mine looked out onto a refrigerated air conditioner.
My immediate family quickly got over their feelings. They began making specific requests for my cars, my home, my savings, my retirement benefits, my term life insurance and more. Their greed quickly overcame any grieving, or perhaps they were saving that for when I was gone.
The Hospice sent a grief counselor to comfort me. The counselor, a soft-spoken, lady, candidly discussed the range of emotions I was likely to suffer in the next few weeks. “Weeks! I had been told two to six MONTHS!” I ranted. Alas, the ongoing deterioration of my heart and its inability to provide oxygen to my body had truncated the grace period. Detailing the spectrum of emotions I was feeling, she was candid. “Assisted Suicide is an option which our patients here in Hospice frequently request,” she said softly, “but that is not legal in this State.”
This was not uncharted ground for me. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote:
“I FELT MYSELF IN A SOLITUDE SO FRIGHTFUL THAT I CONTEMPLATED SUICIDE. WHAT HELD ME BACK WAS THE IDEA THAT NO ONE, ABSOLUTELY NO ONE, WOULD BE MOVED BY MY DEATH, THAT I WOULD BE EVEN MORE ALONE IN DEATH, THAN IN LIFE.”
Amen! I have now come completely undone. Unfinished, unhappy, alone and fixated on the “mess” I am leaving. Each breath gets harder. Each tear comes sooner. We get no “overs” in this world, or else I would surely grab mine. This room has no view, nor did my decision, two years ago.
My best friend drafted a Will for me. I had little interest in it, but knew I must. I changed it every day, incapable of making decisions. We hastily convened a wedding in the chapel of the Hospice. With my oxygen mask on, unable to say “I do!,” I married Christina. My goal was to salvage for her some government benefits/retirement. My ex-wife, showed up and demanded cash to take care of our youngest son. My older brother, Chuck, an insolvent, retired minister, showed up and demanded a large cash “gift.”
I deeded the home in my name to Christina. I gathered up the rest of the assets and put them all in the name of my older son, Ramon, and told him to “use his judgment” in taking good care of his younger, ill brother, his mother, if she needed it, and himself.
According to the “on call” Hospice MD I was now down to a matter of a few “days.” Even with medication, sleep was impossible. I told Christina to go home and rest last night. A loud knock on the door at 2:00 a.m. this morning startled me, though my eyes were open. The bright Hospital lights glared in through the open door. In ran the Hospice MD. Behind him was the cardiologist whom I had last seen two years earlier. Both rushed to my bedside.
“…a fatal accident one hour ago on the Interstate highway near here,” gasped the cardiologist. “Body transported to Heart Hospital! Removing heart NOW! Waiting for you! Sign this Consent Form NOW! No one on Wait List close enough to here can use it!” he screamed, as they steered me out the door. “Your wife called me two weeks ago, crying hysterically!”
My mind in shock, my mouth agape, I selfishly hoped for a new room, one with a view next time.