“Shit! Damn!” Guy muttered half under his breath. His small but faithful airplane was droning on, high above the blue green waters of the Atlantic. Glancing out the window of the cockpit, he nervously studied a modern Navy Seahawk helicopter, keeping pace to the left of the craft. The Navy pilot peered out of his own window and pointed to his earphones, a most basic signal for Guy to respond on the radio’s emergency Guard Channel. Further back in the helicopter, another window revealed a uniformed man waving and bouncing like he had a mini trampoline instead of a seat. Obviously, they were really upset and frantically signaling Guy to respond to the “November niner niner seven zero two, do you read me? Repeat! DO YOU READ ME?” message that blared on the radio.
Flying two hundred yards off to the right was a second helicopter, a Bell 407, brightly painted with logos announcing “Channel Seven News, your local On the Spot source”. The words “on the spot” were cleverly arranged around a circular side window located midway back on the fuselage. Inside the window, Guy could see his daughter’s contorted face, screaming some words that couldn’t be heard, but he knew the message.
“Guy! What are you doing? This certainly seems to be taking a long time to get there.” Dorothy’s voice skewered him like a spear. He reluctantly looked over at his wife. One eyebrow, her left, was arched in that classical expression that he had seen so often over the years. Tufts of her hair, gray and disheveled, stuck out randomly from under her headphones. Her lips, ever so slightly pursed, plus that piercing twinkle in her eye, grabbed his attention so fully, so completely, that for a brief moment he forgot all about the Navy helicopter, the Channel Seven Newscast helicopter, even the Coast Guard cutter that was behind them giving valiant chase. In fact, he forgot about the whole damn plan.
Dorothy smiled broadly and waved at the Navy man, now sitting motionless with his jaw wide open.
FOUR DAYS EARLIER
The morning sun streamed into the kitchen and lit up the various bits and surfaces of tile and cookie jars. Guy stood near the window, dazzled by the shine and ground the coffee to begin his daily ritual that had become so familiar to him. A good cup of coffee, savored in the early morning quiet was one of the few pleasures that he allowed himself without reservation. No newspaper though. A few years ago, he quit the automatic daily ritual of digesting the world’s worst data.
“I just don’t read the newspaper Dear. It helps to keep the spirits up” he explained to a bored woman on the other end of the phone. She had called the household and extolled the virtues of subscribing to the local Orlando Daily. “Lord knows there’s enough on my plate to deal with without heaping on fire, famine and bus plunges.”
As he stood by the sink, he willed his breath to bring him courage. On this particular day, this day as familiar as any other, Guy vowed that something would be fundamentally different. The time had come. He needed to be different for his Dorothy. Settling into his favorite chair on the front porch, he envisioned the image of a General in battle; an astute business manager barking orders at scurrying drones; an esteemed judge announcing a ruling. Yes, he knew that he needed to summon the power of decisiveness. “I can’t wait any longer. God give me strength. God give me the wisdom. Please help me and forgive me. I must do it.”
What Guy was struggling with was that curious, profound and ages old question; “How should I kill my wife?” In Guy’s case though, this was no ordinary ‘I hate you and you’re out of here’ type of thought. No, quite to the contrary, this decision, this entire idea was born of Love. From the start, it was an extreme act of bonding and sacrifice.
There were days when the cancer living and thriving in Dorothy’s frail body simply overwhelmed her spirit and the cries and tears tore into him like a knife. There were also a few precious days, like sunshine between violent storms, where a brief peace treaty was observed between the tissues and the tumors. He loved those moments when he could sit with Dorothy and read to her a few of her favorite poems, or flick on the ancient clock radio beside the bed. It was perpetually tuned to the oldies’ station; playing rock and roll songs from the fifty’s and sixty’s. Dorothy’s eyes would take on a far away look with the sounds of Fats Domino, Bobby Darin and Little Richard. Those moments were a brief respite on a good day, but they were coming less and less as summer approached.
Night after night Guy had sat alone praying and pleading for guidance. “I love my wife more than anything. Why should her last days be in such agony? It’s unfair! I can’t stand seeing her like this any longer!”
His frustration was defined by being so close to Dorothy’s pain and suffering and yet, despite his love, his presence and all his efforts, he was utterly helpless to stop it. Always his voice would trail into the darkness leaving him wondering and unanswered.
When the original thought came to him of releasing his beloved Dorothy from her pain, the logic seemed simple. He had read about assisted suicide, whereby a sympathetic doctor helped a terminal patient to gently pass on. After some quick research, he discovered that the practice is highly illegal and no doctors he knew of would have anything to do with it. In Dorothy’s case, her ever increasing dementia and her innate stubbornness accompanied by a complete faith in Nature made any conscious participation on her part simply out of the question. It was going to have to be up to him. Guy had come to the conclusion that it was not his job to do, but rather his right and privilege to assist Dorothy into the next life. Still, he continued to vacillate and fret.
“Hell, I might go to jail. Hell, I will go to jail” he lectured himself. “That doesn’t matter”. Still Guy couldn’t bring himself to act. Was it the right thing to do? Some days he was convinced of the necessity of taking action. Other days he was nagged by doubts. He had spent the better part of the last four months wrestling with this dilemma along with all its many ramifications.
Yesterday however, procrastination was on the chopping block. No more time spent in distraction and doubt. The appointment with Dr. Berger was at 10:00 am. Guy was a punctual man and arrived on time. At 9:58 (he checked his watch) he rolled his lovely, but shrunken wife into the antiseptic odor of perhaps their last visit. He hated that astringent smell, always had, but he loved the rapt attention that Dr. Berger always gave Dorothy. He was the one, a year prior, who held her hand and looked both of them in the eyes with the bad news. The cancer was back. Inoperable. Terminal. It wasn’t a real surprise. At that point, after a one full round of chemotherapy, both of them held an unspoken expectation of fate. After the appointment, Dorothy commented that in a strange and poignant twist, the look on Doctor Berger’s face and the ultimate bad news was a relief.
Over the months of her initial treatment, a gradual knowing had sunk into Dorothy that changed her. She began to leave behind the thoughts of her own mortality. When she was reminded of it, she dismissed her plight as “just a part of the cycle of life”. Guy spent these last few years watching Dorothy’s health decline and fighting his melancholia with both denial and exaggerated attempts at cheering up Dorothy and the family.
One thing was clear. You couldn’t artificially manipulate or influence Dorothy’s feelings. No one could or ever had. She didn’t respond to ‘cheering up’. When she was in a good mood, it was obvious and when she was not, ‘look out’. Everyone in the family knew this and accepted the fact. Dorothy ‘just happened’ and so it was with the cancer. The tumors were now a part of her and she yielded to it with grace. Presently, the unpredictable wildcard in the Pickering household was Dorothy’s advancing dementia. It was coming on strong.
One morning last month, as Guy’s coffee was brewed and poised to be savored, Dorothy slipped unseen behind him in the kitchen doorway. She screamed in her loudest voice.
“What are you doing here? What do you think you are doing? Why aren’t you at work?” Dorothy’s voice so startled Guy that he fumbled his mug, sloshing most of the steaming java directly onto the head of Oscar the cat, who was until that point, curled and purring at Guy’s feet.
Oscar let out his own complaining howl, “Yeow! That’s hot!” The orange tabby leapt straight up and scratched his way over the kitchen sink and out the open window. In his fur flying haste, he knocked over the tall glass vase with fresh daisies which shattered in a thousand pieces on the floor. Safely under cover in the front yard landscaping, Oscar licked himself clean and contemplated Dorothy. “She’s getting kind of ‘out there’ isn’t she?”
Guy immediately jumped out of his chair and began reassuring his disgruntled but lovely wife that he had retired 10 years previous and had not ‘gone to work’ for quite some time. Actually Guy was cut off as the mysteries of life revealed themselves once again. The cat and vase dance/commotion had somehow startled Dorothy into awareness. Guy watched transfixed as Dorothy held up her hand and smiled that certain faint smile that signals ‘everything is OK’. She did however start nagging Guy about the sloppy kitchen he kept. Why hadn’t he cleaned up the mess on the floor?
“What’s wrong with you?” she scolded. Such was life in the Pickering’s home.
Back to yesterday’s appointment, Dr. Berger’s same soulful looks coated some bitter pills. “One month, maybe two” he had somberly announced. Guy sucked in his breath when he heard the news. Dorothy was seated off to one side of the examination room staring intently at a plastic laminated poster on the wall; the human body’s entire musculature sans skin. She was getting apprehensive as she studied the poor man on the poster who had obviously been skinned alive but yet incredibly, still stood proudly as if posing for a magazine underwear ad.
“Nothing we can do?” Guy softly inquired.
“Nothing but keep her comfortable. It’s time to change the prescription”.
Dorothy’s pain, on some days, was severe. “So what’s to lose. Give her the good shit.” Guy listened carefully as the Doc gave him instructions on how to use the morphine patches. Turning to a drawer Dr. Berger pulled out a few small vials of pills. He paused and carefully studied the labels crammed with tiny writing. Looking up, he held Guy’s eyes a moment and finally broke the silence.
“Give her two of these a day; they’re new. I’ve read up on this one in the journals. In some cases, it really has helped people that suffer from dementia.” The good doctor had a disconcerting wince on his face as he cautioned Guy about possible “crazy behavior, perhaps a bit unpredictable”. None the less, Guy was grateful for anything that might help his wife.
“Guy, we are leaving right now!” Dorothy was nervously glancing over at an eye level tray of scissors and scalpels.
“Well that’s it for the Doc,” Guy thought as he loaded Dorothy back into their car. “No sense in going back again. Can you imagine the Doctor’s next spiel?”
“Well I think we’re down to 19, maybe 20 days. Make an appt with the nurse out front, will you? In a week, we’ll do another update.”
“No thank you Doctor, I’ll take it from here”. The only good thing about the visit was the new drugs.