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David Martin was lost. There was no other way to put it. He had tried denying it for days now, a month, or was it only a few moments? Time itself seemed to have shot off at rocket speed, leaving David behind in a zone of timelessness. He heard the ticking of the clock on the wall above his cluttered mantel, but he could not believe that the hand was moving. How could it be, now? Everything had changed.
Shaking his head to clear away the dismal and confusing thoughts, David dragged himself out of bed, rubbing his thin, bony hands together to restore the circulation. Since he hit sixty-five, David seemed to be constantly cold. And things didn’t exactly improve when you got up to seventy-three.
The old man put on his slippers and picked his way across the house to the den, stepping carefully around the piles of clutter and dust that had accumulated in the past two months, past the mountains of hospital bills and the photo albums of him and Rose.
Rose. What was he going to do about Rose? David picked up a photo album at random, grabbed a cup of coffee, and continued on to the den to think.
Sitting down, he flipped open the album, pages now dog-eared from his late-night perusals. Staring at their wedding picture on the first page, David got the warm glow he always felt when looking at this beautiful, cheerful, light-hearted woman smiling up at him through the years. But lately, this warm glow had been accompanied by choking sorrow. How could the Rose in this picture- his Rose- be the same Rose now lying helpless on a cold, sterile hospital bed, barely breathing? It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t fair. But he wouldn’t think about that now. He couldn’t. He flipped the page.
There, David taking Rose on her very first storm hunt. He remembered this day so clearly. He remembered how brave and calm and intelligent his wife was. Her confidence had made his cheeks burn, as on his first professional storm chase he had panicked, nearly jeopardizing the team. Looking at this thin, white-haired, stooped old man, no one would ever think that he used to be a tough, adventuresome storm chaser. But time does things to you. It mellows you out. And breaks you, thought David bitterly to himself. A new page.
A beautiful meadow and David and Rose staring up at the sky through Rose’s telescope. This was the very meadow in which, just ten or so years ago, they had discussed the darker parts of their futures. Where they had agreed that if one of them ever slipped into a coma or some other horrible condition, the other would end it. No waiting around God knows how long for something to happen. No sir, just pull the plug and be done with it. They were active people, storm chasers and astronomers, trailblazers and lovers. Not waiters.
But how could I? How could I just end it? David thought desperately. We didn’t really think it through, we were innocent, even then. We didn’t really think we would ever-
-But you promised, interrupted the other David maliciously. Are you going to betray your wife for your own selfishness?
Groaning, the old man tried to push the voices away. Ever since Rose- his darling, loving Rose- had fallen into a coma two months ago, David had been at war with himself. He felt a tremendous guilt every day that he broke his decade-old promise to his wife. But at the same time, he felt a sick pleasure that every day there was a chance that when he walked into the hospital room, Rose would be sitting up, smiling, waiting for him.
This never happened. Heartbreak happened. But this daily stab to the heart, this cut, this throbbing wound was his life now. And that was better than that hollow, dead feeling wasn’t it? Better than that first month when he couldn’t believe, when he was just a traveler watching someone else’s life?
Of course, he knew what he should do. David had to think of his wife lying immobile in that cold, sterile room. Rose had always loved nature, growing, watching the stars and planets, going on adventures and hikes through the dense forest and brush surrounding their home, her thin, cool hand in his own. Being strapped down to that bed must be killing her, thought the tortured man to himself, putting his aching head in his hands, but how can I live without her? The pain was unbearable. Even worse was the paralysis of making this impossible decision. David was used to quick, efficient decisions; that was what his old job required.
Eager for some distraction from his internal war, David flipped on the TV and put an old video cassette into the VCR. This was one of his favorites: his very first successful storm chase. Usually, watching the magnificent monster swirl, howl, and rage in Northern Florida calmed his nerves. He loved to watch the various cloud formations and marvel at the awesome power and speed of the tornado. But now he saw something entirely different.
This time, he was in the tornado, being spun around in circles, yanked this way and that. One wind current had his arm, pulling him away from his wife; another had his leg, dragging him toward the hospital and whispering to wait, just wait. Confused, David tried to scream out for help, but the howling wind tore the sound from his lungs, hurling it away from human ears. Every once in a while, David could see the sun, but just when he started to reach out for it, he was whisked away again. Dizzy and sick, David was bombarded by other hurtling objects: a tree of despair, a truck of heartbreak, an entire town of agony.
With a yell, David brought his hand crashing down on the remote control. The TV went black, and in it, the old man saw his wild, tortured eyes reflected back at him. There were tears rolling down his cheeks. Sweat glittering on his forehead. This madness had to stop.
With another yell, David grabbed his car keys and drove like a madman through the streets to the hospital. He screeched to a halt and hobbled inside as quickly as possible, ignoring the pain in his chest and hip and the startled gasps from the employees and waiting patients. He dashed down to Rose’s room, yelling for the doctor all the way.
Dr. Steel arrived. Desperately, David gave him the order to end it, to end it all. Holding Rose’s hand, tears streaming down his cheeks, he watched as his promise was fulfilled.
And the winds died. The howling stopped, the wrenching on his heart ceased. David did not know if he was falling or floating, but he didn’t care. Either way, he was weightless. The choices had stopped tearing him apart. It was over. He was safe.