The Payoff

Dearest Rachel –

After pondering last night’s dream, I found myself wondering about how, exactly, I would be expected to make good on such a wager in the first place. For that matter, for the other guy – whoever the heck he was – to even expect me to do so would have required him to put up some consideration on his part, and I don’t recall anything of anywhere near equivalent value being set against my life (I think I recall a pair of shoes being part of the wager, but why I’d even be interested in another guy’s shoes is beyond me. Then again, it was a dream, after all).

There is a story of a condemned criminal who, when asked if he preferred a particular method by which he was to die, offered ‘old age?’ as a suggestion. To be sure, he might have gotten it in most states these days – and whether that’s a good thing or not, I will leave to better minds than my own. And really, no one actually dies of ‘old age,’ technically – although the telomeres on the edges of your chromosomes do eventually fray over time and multiplicity of copies made during that time, it’s not what kills one any more than an auto-immune disease does; it’s simply the gatekeeper that falls asleep at its post that lets the real killers in. Old age, like auto-immune deficiencies and the like, are what we’ve come to know as ‘co-morbidities’ in this day and age – they don’t strike the blow that fells you, but there’s little question they are a major contributing factor.

So, setting aside those sorts of factors – and, I suppose, any situation that would allow me to potentially outlive my fellow bettor – how would I be willing to pay him off? I’ve often said that I don’t fear death – and even less so now, since I would get to see you again, and for ever, no less – but the process leaves a lot to be desired. There aren’t a lot of pleasant means to get across the Jordan, and yet, at some point, I’m going to have to make that trip eventually.

The funny thing is, very few of us get to choose how we do so, and to a certain extent, those who do so cause lasting damage to themselves and everything they were in life (not that it matters to them at this point, seeing as they’re dead now). At the risk of infecting you with an earworm that I was listening to the other day, I want to give a particular example of such an individual (who admittedly, is actually not the singer, or even supposed to be a main focus of the video – the story, as I heard it, indicated he was in the studio at the time and, being invited to participate in the filming, threw himself into it with the abandon you would expect from him. I may be wrong about the veracity of that, but it’s certainly plausible, given his character):

He shows up at about at the 2:05 mark… and now you know who I’m talking about, and why his legacy is tainted, in my mind. Granted, the song and its lyrics are not his, but his public life seemed to well embody them. This is the man who, while working on the voice of the Genie for Aladdin, would call up his friend Steven Spielberg (who was filming Schindler’s List at the time – a masterwork, to be sure, but one with a topic that was absolutely draining him. You remember, as you refused to enter Yad Vashem’s exhibit when we visited Israel the second time), and cheer him up by performing some of his material over the phone for him. And yet…

It’s not a story that’s unique to Mr. Williams, of course; Julius Marx (better known to the world as ‘Groucho’) would relate the tale of a depressed-to-suicidal man whose psychiatrist recommends a good belly laugh to cure his ills. He specifically recommends a circus clown whose antics are virtually guaranteed to lift his spirits and lighten his mood. Of course, you know that the twist is that the unfortunate patient was, in fact, that clown, and unable to help himself escape his own doldrums.

It makes me wonder whether the psychiatrist would ever see the circus the same way going forward, or if by now realizing who his patient was, would find all the joy and laughter drained out of it.

But, let’s give Mr. Williams the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he sensed the onset of dementia caused by Lewy’s disease, and wanted to leave before he degenerated into a hollow husk of himself. Especially for a public figure, a celebrity, to deteriorate in public would be no less damaging to his ‘brand’ and legacy. Mental disintegration is no way to go out; you saw it in your mom, and previously in her mom, and while I never got a definitive answer from you, I’m sure that you feared it happening to yourself. I think it was part of the reason that you worked on crossword puzzles and sudokus and the like; to keep your brain active for as long as possible, and stave off that kind of decay. It helped that you enjoyed them, but I’m pretty sure you mentioned it as a form of mental exercise to keep it working that much longer. Not that it matters at this point.

So, that’s one way that I would prefer not to use as my exit. What other options are there, and are they any better? Yours had the virtue of being quick, if not painless (depending on whether you were unconscious from the moment of impact), but I think that I would need a little more time to get things in order first; both for my own sake, and those are depend on me. That kind of rules out most forms of accident: fires, drownings, falls. Besides, most of them would be excruciatingly painful in one way or another.

I’d probably prefer something along the lines of a lingering illness, but not too lingering. Something that lasted for a year or two, while I got my affairs in order, and then let me go in my sleep. To be honest, I expect just about everybody would prefer to die in their sleep; who wants to be aware of what’s happening to him, and sense the accompanying pain?

Or, maybe not everybody. At the risk of telling yet another story, I recall an interview with a race car driver who was asked whether he feared strapping himself in to that machine that might easily cause his death at several hundred miles an hour. He responded with, “Do you expect to die in bed? Then how do you get the courage to climb into it every night?”

A fair point, although I think I’ve basically answered it for myself. Still, to each their own; I know it’s been said that you ‘would have wanted it that way,’ if maybe a few dozen years later. I certainly would have preferred some more time.

Be that as it may, keep an eye out for us, honey. I’ll check in with you later.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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