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I never had much to do with my grandson; I had only ever met him once when he was two years old. He was a little big for his age, with curly jet-black hair. He must have gotten that from his tramp of a mother. Now all of a sudden the law wants me to take in the little brat like he was my own problem. Well, he's not! He’s 17 now and he can look after himself. Hell, I was out of my house at 15, actually I left. I’ve never called or written a letter to either them in past, so I don't know why he can’t just leave me the hell alone now. His father left me at 16 and he was happy to go. Knowing my son, that brat was a “Crack Baby”. Now his father went off and got him and his little tramp killed. That’s not my problem. They should ask the boy what he wants to do, he's old enough.
The man reached out and turned off the light switch, plunging the room into darkness to suite his mood and mumbled, "There’s no room for that brat here, I would fall over him and break my hip. Better if he just goes away."
The old man awoke the next morning from a terrible night’s sleep, feeling achy and worn. He looked to the other side of the king sized bed, the sheets unmoved, still pressed and left undisturbed. He stared for a long time.
“Mary?” He called out, but no answer came. No answer had there been for 15 years.
He swung his feet out off the bed and rummaged around for his slippers. He gave no thought to the events of yesterday. The flashing lights, the officers at the door, them asking him for the identification of two bodies. Then his cold, harsh refusal at their request. There had been arguments about ‘next of kin’ and ‘custody rights’ for the kid. The officer didn’t understand that he just wanted to be left alone.
The man reached up to his nose and pushed the tube, which supplied him with air, back into place. He reached out and grasped the handle of his walker and pushed himself up, shaking. He walked through the long hallways in the house, passing door after door. The three guest bedrooms long emptied, the two bathrooms both unused, the two office spaces with there desks that held no type of decoration on them. He walked into the kitten and opened the door to his medicine cabinet that held his lifeblood.
“Dying,” he grumbled to himself, “used to be easy: you catch something, you get old, and your heart fails. Now it just keeps going and going no matter how much s*** happens to you. Just pop a pill and it goes on.”
His grumbling was interrupted by the first pill being dry swallowed. He stood there eating his breakfast of capsules, each one looking like a ticktack but all costing him his lifestyle. The man stood for a long time staring at the last one, the last of his life; its small form just sitting there. He knew that if he took it, it would mean the continuation.
“Of what?” he said out loud. His isolation from the rest of the world? He mused. The long hours of pain with nothing to do? His gentle and prolonged slide towards death? Every time he took in those pills, he was stretching it out longer, giving more time to something that there was no need for. Nothing in this world held him here anymore. He picked the pill up and set it back down.
“There is no more time, this is my fate now.”
He felt good. He had finely done something that needed to be done. He reached up to his nose and removed the air tube that forced oxygen into his lungs. He pulled it off, as easily as removing a garment of clothing. He inhaled deep and could already feel just a little bit weaker. He reached over to the battery pack for his defibrillator and he could hear the snap of the cord as he unplugged it, but the sharp shrills the device made at him went unnoticed. He removed the holder for the battery and put it in a drawer and closed it. He could hear the beeping growing silent and distant. The drawer shut and the beeping ended. He stood grasping the handles of his walker and could feel himself grow weaker and weaker without the oxygen tank supplying enough air for his one remaining lung.
He slid down and sat on the floor and thought about his life. After staying there for over hour, lost in his reminiscence, the man heard the sound of a car pulling up outside. The crunching of the tires in the snow very audible to him for his hearing had never left him. He wondered who it was, who would dare to interrupt him now. Shouldn’t it be obvious that didn’t want to be bothered?
He stood up holding onto his walker, and he felt lightheaded as he did so. Tightness in his chest made his hands feel weak and heavy. He moved as fast as he could to the door wanting to yell at the idiot outside. He reached his front door and had a hard time opening it, his fingers slipping away from it. He heard the latch catch and he pulled the door to him. The biting cold swept in around him. The man stuck his head out and he saw nothing. There was no car, no one. Only the cold. The man began to shut the door but stopped, remembering something from a story he read once:
A woman threw herself from the Rocks of Dover, because her beloved had died in France in the trenches, when really the man was a captive, not dead. His comrades had only reported his death, because they could not find him after an adventure out into No Man’s Land. Eventually the war ended, and the man went home to find her dead and he killed himself as well. If only a simple letter had been sent home to her, it would have saved them both.
So, the man did not let himself fall out of his routine of checking mail in the hopes that a simple word from his son had come. Maybe this year around Christmas, he would have written. A parting word in his will maybe, just maybe.
The old man walked out to his mailbox in the cold, the walker making a crunching sound on the snow covered sidewalk. He glanced at the front of the newspaper that declared: “Car Crash on Icy Road Kills 32.” He threw it aside, trying to put it out of his mind. He stood in the cold, looking at the stack of letters.
He mused to himself, “For a man with no one, you sure get a lot of mail.”
There were the letters threatening to take away his credit cards, while others proclaimed ways of attaining new ones. Then there were the bills. Why should he bother, the cancer would kill him soon enough, then there would be no more bills to pay. At the bottom of the stack there was a simple folded slip of paper. Just a slip, not even an envelope.
The man unfolded it and began to read the neat, handwritten scrawl.
I know that you and my father had not spoken in over 14 years, but I do know that he regretted what he had said to you and leaving you to deal with it all alone. I know that I am not your problem and I’m not asking for help in this life, I have the insurance money and the house, so I will be fine. I just wanted to write this letter letting you know that he was sorry because he never got to say it to you.
My father used to check the mail everyday; he made it into a kind of religion. I never knew what he was doing, for the longest time, but I finely figured out that my father was looking for something. He would always get a look on his face when he pulled out his mail. Almost a smile, but then he over the years that smile faded. They were all but gone by the time I was 13. I think he was truly upset. Then when I asked about you, he would always get silent, refusing to talk. He would up and leave. I think that he wanted in those first years for you to write him. Begging for what, I do not know. But as time passed I think he became upset and sorry by his own actions. I think he was sorry, I think he became the sorriest man in the world. I don’t know why this letter is coming from me and not from him, he was a proud man and I think that is why he never did write this himself. For that I am sorry too.
I gathered from your neighbors that you are not well and that you will soon be joining him in that place we all are said to go. I never believed in heaven, but now I’m not sure because if these things were left unsaid then it would be the worst injustice in the world. I only have one thing to ask of you, grandfather. When you close your eyes for the last time, open up your heart again, for he longed to have a father again.
The old man, heavy-hearted and bloodshot eyes, trembled and the slip of paper fell from his hand. It landed lightly in the fresh snow. The man turned and through his tears, he knew that he had to live just a little longer. That he had to get back in touch with his blood. He turned and put his walker in front of him and started to move quickly back to his life. Breathing heavily, he felt that he had so much to do. The man’s hands held tight onto his walker. He hardly reached his front step. He started to lift the walker up, over the lip. He realized that he could not feel his left arm, He couldn’t lift it. The walker was not moving. His breathing was getting shallower; he couldn’t get enough oxygen. You idiot, the man thought to himself. That pill was you heart medication, and you took your damn defibrillator off line. What the hell were you thinking?
You didn’t check the mail; you didn’t follow your routine. Now you’re going to pay for it. The old man lifted his left hand to his heart where he could feel an uneven rhythm being played out. He started to panic and stumbled forward over his step leaving behind his walker. He grasped at the handle of the door but could not open it, his fingers weak and useless. He fumbled with the door which left him feeling weaker and weaker by each second. He pushed the flat of his palm on the handle and turned. The door fell open and as did he when it opened far enough. He slumped to the floor and collapsed there. His breathing getting slower, he couldn’t move now. His strength was gone, but his mind was still thinking: so who is going to tell my story? This is not the story where she jumps. No this is the one where she slipped and she was not trying to kill herself. Why did I do this, why? Why did I push everyone away?
The black night took him. His heart might have failed him, but it had finely been opened. The old man’s body lay in his doorway halfway between the cold outside and the warmth of his home. No one would find him for a long time for no one really cared anymore.