Holy Shit – I'm Dying!

(NOTE: This essay is part of a group of essays, written roughly between 1993 and 1997, which I privately call “The Receipts.” They were essays written when I was an unquestioning lad engaging with the world in pure shock-jock mode, and if you want proof that I used to be an absolute dingbat, well… Here’s the receipts.

(It’s essays like these in part that made me create the BS-O-Meter plugin for my site, where I said:

(“Part of living life honestly on the Internet means you crystallize some of your past self and present it for current critique – which is fair.  But when you blast Past Ferrett for some crude take, just keep in mind that Current Ferrett may be cringing at being related to that idiot, kind of like those embarrassing relatives who won’t stop posting Trump memes on Facebook – yeah, I’m connected to him, but I’m not exactly proud of that fact.”

(In this case, I left these essays up because I don’t believe in deleting past stupidity.  If you wish to use this as proof that Past Ferrett was an idiot, well, I won’t disagree with you.  If you wish to use that as proof that Current Ferrett is an idiot, well, I can’t blame you.)

Here’s what bothers me about dying; I won’t get to tell anyone about it.
Sure, I can talk my head off about the prelude to death, but those final thirty seconds, in between the time when my body fails and my brain dies, are forever a mystery. My “Bon Mots From Beyond The Grave” article will never be published; my autobiography will be missing a couple of truly riveting paragraphs.
In other words, I am such a monstrously egotistic moron that the fact I won’t get to tell anyone what it’s like is far more distressing than death itself. This should tell you something about me.
The reason I talk about this is that I recently had a very bad drug trip that welded “Death” and “Ferrett” together in an unbreakable lock for about an hour. I lay there with dry, reddened eyes fixed firmly on the TV – but my brain was down in my chest, looking around dispassionately like an auto mechanic and saying: “Here. Right here. It’s gonna clench up like the worst leg cramp you ever had, and then it’s lights out.”
When I finally came down, I realized that I wasn’t going to pull off some last-minute hat trick, no movie-style magic was going to save me. At some point, I was destined to cease all commentary. Seeking assurance, I turned to a medical book entitled “How We Die,” which informed me that your own death was almost invariably devastating and psychologically traumatic, and always excruciatingly painful unless you had the good graces to slip out during a coma.
Thanks for the big menu, God.
“How We Die” tells the story of Irv Lipsner, a sixty-eight year old stockbroker whose heart failed on a tennis court one sunny day in 1985 – and came about as close to dying as you can get. He didn’t see any bright lights or heavenly angels painting the way to a royal throne; there was just a gradual dimming of his consciousness, a feeling that his body was “shrinking”, and some wonder at the fact that he wasn’t moving anymore. In other words, he was aware all the way down that, “Hey! I appear to be dying here…” but was unable to speak.
The thought that I’ll be aware for those last sixty seconds of consciousness – which is when I’ll really have some observations that literally EVERYONE would want to read – and my last thoughts will die with me is what itches. Oblivion? Been there, done that – about ten months before my first birthday, in fact. But I mean, I’ve always said that I’ll stop complaining when I’m dead, but you know, I thought I’d at least get to finish.
Then I thought about my hemorrhoids.
One week I went to work and noticed a distinct squirm-inducing itching in my ass. If felt like a line of ants marching in and out of my butt. A week later I was bleeding rectally, an act I associated with prison gang-rapes. I called to make an appointment; the next thing I knew a doctor was shoving a lava lamp up my ass – and the day after that, I was two fingers deep into my own bleeding colon, trying to worm a melting wax bullet sufficiently high into my digestive system so that I wouldn’t be excreting valuable steroid juices all over the inside of my underwear.
“So this is old age,” I thought.
And then a funny thing happened; whenever I went to a friend’s house, I started looking in their medicine cabinets, which was something I associated with nosy neighbors in old “Bewitched” episodes. But I had to reassure myself that I was normal – that my anal antics weren’t some freakish act.
And sure enough, I found ’em. Tubes of Preparation H. Wax bullets. Even more elaborate medicine transfer devices, some of which looked like bazookas. About half of my friends had evidently gotten bleeding bum sores, and nobody had told me about it. And I had fucking chatty friends. My pals would routinely tell me that their sex lives sucked – with their boyfriend still in the room – that they were going broke, that they had once had an abortion. And yet….
They were ashamed, as I was. And they didn’t need to be. We were all suffering.
We were all getting the first symptoms of old age, and none of us wanted to talk about it.
And then I thought about my grandfather.
Now when most people looked at my grandfather they saw an itinerant drunk who had been committed for alcoholism on more than one occasion – but I look at him, and now I see he was a fucking genius.
Keep in mind that I never met the man. My grandfather’s heart blew out like an old tire one afternoon in 1969, about two months before I was born. He was eating a bowl of minestrone soup, and my grandmother went to get him some salt; by the time she got back, he was face-down in his soup, stricken stone-cold dead, eternally scuba-diving for pasta. He was just over fifty years old.
Now here’s the brilliance of his scheme; he kicked off before the really bad stuff started happening.
Sure, playing “hide the suppository” in the grassy fields of my butt was humiliating, but it didn’t interfere with my social life. I can still go out, play basketball, lift pinball tables off the floor, run up flights of stairs. But it’s a strange feeling to be sitting here in my body, right now, as I type, and silently nodding: This is the best it’s gonna get.
Right now.
It’s all downhill from here. This body is degenerating, the fingers wearing down as I hammer these words into the keyboard. Your eyes are wearing out from trying to focus on this article. Somewhere there’s some poor fucking technician whose brain is going as he tries to fix the router that sends you this article. Everyone in the world is decrepitating. And I think my grandfather had the right idea; kick off early, before it gets really bad.
Rather than just thinking of him as the charming Irish wetbrain that, by all accounts, he was, I prefer to imagine him sitting at a table, deep in thought, and muttering quietly to himself:
“By God – I need to die by fifty!” His brow furrows. “But how to accomplish this? I’d like to enjoy life, but somehow kick off early – and I don’t want to go too painfully.” He snaps his fingers. “I’ve got it! Terminal alcoholism! Not too crippling, it passes the time quickly, and it’s a freely-available substance. Doris, have you a bottle handy? I have a mission!
And so he got through life, had one major blowout, and died. I’m reasonably sure he enjoyed the hell out of his time on this planet, hard as it was on the family.
But alcoholism isn’t for me; for one thing, I just don’t have the time. To be a really good alcoholic you have to commit to at least four or five hours a night of steady drinking, and you can’t play Diablo II drunk. For another thing it involves evenings that you can’t account for, and I’ve already established that I believe every aspect of my life should be chronicled. I’d spend all my free time interviewing people to try to piece together what I did during my blackouts. As smart as my granddad was, I’m afraid I have to go my own way.
Besides, there’s a new danger: It might not work.
Medical techniques have advanced to the point where they can save you from instant death. It used to be that cancer killed you: Now, thanks to chemotherapy and other techniques, you can now spend the rest of your life living in terror of the next tumor! Heart attacks used to kill – but in today’s modern world, you can be brought back from the dead to live a life free of red meats, alcohol, strenuous sex, major exertion, excitement, and, basically, life.
The danger’s not in dying, but in NOT dying.
If there was a pill you could take that would make heart attacks instantly fatal, I’d take it.
Lordy, do I want a clean death. You know how I want to go? A sniper. I want the first shot out of the gate, preferably a clean head shot – you don’t want to be the second or third sniper victim because, you know, people are moving around then, there’s a lot of screaming, and now the sniper’s nervous because, you know, now it’s showtime – but one efficient..44 jacket through the skull to end me. The last thing to go through my mind would be a hunk of gunpowdery metal.
Plus when you’re assassinated, you automatically get nice writeups. We like dead people in America; Lincoln was a power-hungry, manic-depressive dictator, but one bullet and suddenly his picture is wallet material. If I go from, say, Leukemia, I get a three-‘graf writeup in the back section of the newspaper – but a gunshot, and suddenly there are editorials written about me, my relatives get interviewed to find out what I was like, and my website goes Top 10 for a week. What a deal.
The only problem is that I don’t know where snipers are found. The work ethic has really declined in America, and now we’ve degenerated to Columbine kids walking through a school and shooting everything in sight. Shit, I could do that. I want a real professional, someone who’s willing to fire from 500 yards away in deep cover, the kind of job where it takes fifteen minutes just to realize who’s shooting you. Columbine was over in forty-five minutes, but Charles Whitman took hours. Now that’s skill.
Frankly, I wish there was a school for mass murderers. They’re already obsessive – you know they’ll study hard.
But we can’t all hope to be shot. In all probability, my life will run down in the same way that my computer is. When I was eighteen, I was the brand-new Dell model that cost four thousand dollars and ran faster than most of the games on the market. Now that I’m thirty, I’m the middle-of-the-road model that runs that latest FPS smoothly… but already you’re thinking about that next upgrade. By the time I hit fifty, I’ll be the PC you have to hunt in the bargain bin to find games that run on….
And seventy?
Man, it’s time to throw the damn thing out.
Now, those of you reading thus far may get the image of me standing on a high cliff at sunset with the wind whistling through my gray hair, clutching a shotgun with one hand. I raise the shotgun to my mouth, my wizened visage noble yet serious – kind of like Charlton Heston, really – and shout to the winds, “IF THIS BE LIFE, I DENY IT!” And then there’s a large “boom!”, seagulls scatter on the shore a mile away, and the camera returns to a smoking body as the credits start to roll.
Hell with that. I’m as much of a pussy as any of you. If there’s more life, I’m taking it – but only because of my stupid relatives. My wife, for one thing, wants me to live. My stepkids, despite their occasional desire for me to die forever and never come back, would probably miss me. I’ll have friends. And although there are reasonably painless ways to cack out, they all involve leaving a big rotting corpse in the middle of the room for people to find. (I mean, I’m a messy guy, but even I’M not that bad.) The other alternative, wandering into the woods and being eaten by the Blair Witch, also seems unlikely.
MY hope is that by the time I hit sixty, self-euthanasia will be accepted, in much the same way you sort of expect to kill your cats once they get old. I want to be able to send out big black invitations with fine bone-white lettering: “HAPPY DEATHDAY!” And on the inside, in finely-calligraphed gilt lettering, it would read: “You are cordially invited to the ritual slaughter of Ferrett Steinmetz, who’s pretty much decided this is it. See ya next Saturday – or if not, then I guess I won’t ever.”
Everyone would show up. There’d be candles and cake – lots of cake. What the hell would I care? All my friends would be around, and it would be understood that trying to talk me out of my euthanasia would be about as rude as shouting out, “THE GROOM IS A CLOSET HOMO!” at a $10,000 wedding ceremony. Everybody’d be kind of happy and kind of sad, just like when somebody you like at work finds a better job. The preacher would give a sermon, and I’d get to find out what kind of a guy I thought I was.
At the end I’d be strapped to a special table, and, to the sounds of the “Happy Birthday” song being played backwards, the drugs would be released. I’d fall into death in gentle drowsiness, with my friends applauding. While they were talking about how the show went, my body would be checked for appropriate lifelessness, cremated, and the ashes put into the fireworks display out back. I’d go out with a bang.
And the best thing? It all goes on my credit card. Go ahead, you bastards, make me pay.
But that’s not going to happen. I’m going to die painfully, and probably in terror. Is there anything funny about that? No. I can whistle as I walk past the graveyard, but I’m still fucking scared. And what scares me is not the death, but the pain.
I can’t get rid of the pain… but there is one thing I can do.
Considering that I know me better than anyone else, I can forecast what my final thoughts will be merely by figuring what will be going through my mind in the last moments of life. That way, when I die, I can die if not painfully, at least with a certain satisfaction.
Wait. Why am I not saying anything? Why is it hurting less now? It still hurts, but –
Holy fuck, the room’s gone dark.
Is this it?
My God, will (insert name of current most-dependent loved one) be able to function without me? Will I finally get to see whether I can meet (insert name of most-loved dead friend) in heaven? I shouldn’t have (insert name of most-depraved, body-degrading activity I have obsessed on)….
Oh my God, my body’s shrinking. Shit. And I don’t get to tell anyone…
…didn’t I write an article about this?
I did.
Thank God, they’ll know. They’ll know.