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The Worst That Could Happen
Tentatively, I grabbed the cold black handle of the Beretta. It was ridged in some places and smoother in the places where oily palms and fingers had worn down the handle. I knew the gun was already loaded. As I pulled it out of its metallic case, I almost dropped it; it was surprisingly heavy. I picked it up again, this time, using two hands. Things were already starting to go wrong. When I imagined pulling the trigger, I had never imagined having to use two hands; I had imagined myself cool and collected, holding the gun calmly with one hand, maybe even tilting it sideways in a kill shot. Nobody had mentioned anything about a second hand. I guess now they’ll have to call me two-hand Sam.
I walked into the living room; the walls were an eggshell white, the way my mother had insisted on them being painted. She said it was easier because they would match whatever furniture we put in the living room. Of course, Dad hadn’t changed a thing in the house since she had died.
He was sitting in the floral armchair, slumped over. He stared blankly at the walls in front of him. He was silent, except for his breathing; his breaths were so slow they had almost stopped completely. He smelled like the manure I used to smell when we drove through the country past cow farms on our way to visit the family in Mississippi. He had soiled himself again.
I looked at him, searching for some sign of the man who had raised me, hoping that I would see the man who was always singing, whether it was a song he had heard on the radio, or one he made up on the spot to fit the situation.
But all that was left was a body.
I felt the weight of the gun in my hand, and I knew what had to come next.
After all, he had told me to.
After my mother died, I visited my dad several times a week to check in on him; he had always laughed when I stopped by the house, shaking his head at me.
“Life is for the living Samantha! Your mom would want it this way. Trust me sweetie, I’m fine.”
He was always in motion, whether he was on the phone calling one of his old friends from his fraternity, or grabbing his keys to go visit one of the shut-ins from the church. He even rushed through meals, just so he could make it to his buddy’s house on time to watch the Baltimore Ravens game.
Most women have to fit their eighty year old father into their schedule; he had to fit me into his.
I felt like more of a burden than a help to him, so I stopped checking in on him, but I did insist on the two of us having lunch together every Sunday. Sunday afternoon lunches were one of the best parts of my week. My dad cooked, and he made the best meals. He always called himself the “meat parent,” because he made some of the best ribs, steaks, and Buffalo wings that I had ever eaten. Of course, he couldn’t cook vegetables or starches to save his life, which was where my mother usually came in. Now that was my job.
The changes were gradual. He started forgetting where he had put things and asking me questions that he had already asked once. One afternoon during Sunday lunch, he grasped around frantically for his napkin, even though it had been in his lap the entire time.
The biggest change was in his appetite. My dad had always been a pretty ravenous eater; he would scarf down two steaks, or an entire rack of ribs, and when my mom would chide him about watching his diet, he would laugh and tell her he was a growing boy. But during Sunday lunch, I had to start nagging him to eat his entire steak and a serving of vegetables.
At first, I chalked all of it up to old age. I was worried about him, but in a way that it was natural to worry about an eighty year old man.
The final straw came one afternoon during Sunday lunch. I had started to clear the table, gathering up the dishes to put them in the dishwasher.
When I reached for my dad’s plate, I asked him, “Are you done?”
“Don’t worry about it, honey; your mother will get it.”
“Dad,” I said calmly, trying to hide the storm of terror that was rushing through me, “Mom’s dead.”
I tried to say it as gently as possible, hoping to protect him from a blow he had already received once.
“Right…” he said slowly; it took him a minute to understand what I was saying.
My heart was beating frantically in a nervous panic, I hadn’t wanted to admit it, but something was wrong. I tried to channel my short-lived middle school career as a trumpet player by breathing in deeply through my diaphragm, and exhaling slowly. After a few breaths, my body had calmed down, but my mind was still bustling around, terrified and melancholy.
“I think we should go see a doctor tomorrow, just to make sure everything’s all right. When was the last time you had a checkup?”
“I’m fine Sam, you’re overreacting. You know how you have a tendency to overanalyze things.”
“Please Daddy? One checkup won’t hurt anything; they’ll probably just tell us about how you’re the healthiest eighty year old alive, ready to go run a marathon and compete in the Olympics,” I said playfully with a little laugh.
“Fine, I’ll schedule an appointment.” he said dismissively. “Let’s hurry up and get the table cleared, kickoff is in five minutes.”
But when we went to see the doctor, everything wasn’t fine. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting for the doctor to come back.
The doctor was a peppy thirty-something year old with a glued on smile and squeaky voice. She reminded me off a dental hygienist, the kind who smiles and laughs as she asks you all kinds of questions about your life, while you struggle to answer because her hands are in your mouth. She had somehow managed to achieve that level of perkiness without a dental mirror and the scraper-thing.
She threw open the door as she walked in the room, with her face in a smile so big, it looked like someone had put Vaseline on her teeth, “Well you guys! I have some bad news for you!”
“Is my blood pressure too high?” My dad asked hopefully, eager for a simple solution.
“Nope, I’m afraid it’s something much worse,” her teeth widened into a bigger smile as she shook her head. She reminded me of my tenth grade civics teacher who would smile at us as she tried to get us to stop talking so we could discuss political parties, but her smile would grow bigger and bigger as she got more and more angry. I knew people could be passive aggressive, but I had never heard of people being passive depressive. “I hate to say this, but what we’re seeing is the early onset of Alzheimer’s. I’m afraid there aren’t many treatment options available; most of it is experimental at this point. We could try to get you into a few trials, but I’m afraid the odds are slim if not-“
“That won’t be necessary,” my dad said, cutting her off. She was still smiling, looking down at him like a three year old boy, rather than a grown man. I knew that she didn’t mean any harm by it; she probably couldn’t even help it. It was more than likely a part of her personality, but in that moment, I hated her; I hated that stupid smiling woman who thought she could deliver life altering news, and make it all better with a smile and a sorry. That woman couldn’t even muster up the decency to at least look sorry.
As soon as we got home, I started rambling.
“You know what, don’t worry about it Dad, we should probably get a second opinion anyways, I mean, I don’t know that I would trust that woman, she didn’t seem to know what she was talking about, and really, I didn’t like the looks of her from the start. And when you think about it, the only reason we went to her instead of Dr. Brown is because she had the earliest available spot, and maybe we should be suspicious of a doctor with so many available appointments, there has to be a reason why they’re not filling up, here, I’ll call-“
“Samantha,” he said, resting one hand on my shoulder to quiet me down, “everything’s going to be okay. We’re just going to have to roll with the punches, okay?”
“But Daddy,” I whined while tears built up in my eyes; I was ten years old again, “there has to be some mistake, how can you just give up so easily?”
“I’ve been around long enough to know how to pick my battles; you’re just going to have to trust me.”
I should have been comforting him, but instead he was comforting me. That was the last day he was like a father to me. After that, things started going downhill; I became his guardian and caretaker as I began checking in on him more and more frequently. He had good days and bad days; one afternoon a few days after his diagnosis, I walked into the house to find him in the black leather desk chair with his back hunched over and his face in the computer.
“Hey Dad!” I said jovially, making myself be cheery for him, as I walked towards the computer. I wondered if he would be lucid today, or if it would be his worst day yet.
He turned to face me; his face was crinkled and worried, he didn’t even bother to greet me, he just swiveled around, looking me straight in the eye, “I’ve been doing some research about what to expect,”
“Mmmhmm,” I nodded, avoiding eye contact; I didn’t know what to say. How could I sugar coat something so awful?
“And I don’t want that to happen to me. I don’t want to become another victim, another number-”
“Maybe we can look into the trials that the doctor talked about,” I said, trying to placate him.
“No, that’s not what I mean. I’m asking you not to let me become like that. When the time comes, you’ll know; you’ll know that I’m no longer in there. Set me free, Sam, before I become a victim. I don’t want you, or anyone else to remember me like that; I don’t want to become a burden. I don’t want you to have to give up your happiness to take care of me. You have a husband and you have kids, and they need you Sam. Don’t let me ruin it. I don’t want to be a prisoner to this disease; when the time comes, set me free.”
The time had come, and I knew it. I knew it by the drool that made its way down his chin slowly, until it was dangling from the edge of his chin. I knew it by the blank stare, the face where no trace of a smile was left. He was already gone.
I wanted to be calm about it. To just pull the trigger and walk away, knowing that I had done what he would have wanted.
But life is never that easy.
Selfish, I thought to myself, how could he be so selfish? He was wasting away in a chair, leaving me to do the dirty work. Why me? Why weren’t you man enough to pull the trigger yourself? But there was no one left to scream at, no reason to direct my anger at a living corpse.
The tears were welling up in my eyes, I blinked and the first tear fell. After that first tear, there was no stopping the rest of them; all of the tears I had been holding in since Dad’s diagnosis poured out. They were hot as they trickled down my cheeks; I could feel the trail they left on my face, leaving the skin on my cheek feeling tighter.
I started struggling for air; I was trying so hard not to let the sobs make a sound. My chest shook as I gasped for breath, trying to breathe in, while the sobs fought to escape. A tear rolled into my open mouth; it was salty, and the memory of the taste reminded me of all the other times when my parents had comforted me as I cried, but now there was no one.
I was supposed to be the strong one, since he couldn’t be, but the tears wouldn’t stop. I gripped the Beretta with two hands, and I pointed it straight at his head.
His eyes didn’t widen in fear, they were as blank and empty as ever. But for a moment, just a moment, they seemed as if they were the eyes of someone who had lived for thousands of years and they seemed to beg me to pull the trigger, to end the misery. But when I blinked, he was just a shell again.
I tried to cock the hammer of the gun back, but my finger slipped.
Why wouldn’t anything go like I had planned? I started sobbing harder.
I cocked it back again, doing it right this time. I rested my index finger on the trigger and I-
In a moment of panic, I told myself I couldn’t do it. I imagined seeing him lying dead in his chair, and I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t ruin his favorite chair; I couldn’t ruin Mom’s eggshell walls with his blood.
But you have to, I told myself urgently, trying to do what was right. He didn’t deserve to waste away like this; he had been gone for a while now. I should have already killed him. It was like euthanizing an old dog: it wasn’t fair, but it had to be done.
I was caught in a moment of indecision; if you had asked me in that moment, I wouldn’t have told you what was coming next, because I didn’t know. Half of me was telling me to set the gun on the end table so I could grab a handkerchief to wipe the drool off of his face, but the other half of me was screaming at me to end it already.
The tears were still pouring down my face, the ideal of cool, calm, and collected was long gone.
I pulled the trigger.
The sound of it made the walls tremble.
And afterwards, silence.
The eggshell walls ruined.
The chair ruined.
And for what?
I didn’t know.