Today I will die.
Right now, I can feel the pressure of the ventilator shoving air down my throat and into my lungs in a rhythmic whoosh. It startles me every time, used as I am to breathing that happens spontaneously. I can’t say that it’s a bad thing, but I am weary of it. I will be glad to see it go.
The last few days have been a parade of family in and out of the room, entering the doorway as if onto a stage. Their voices are louder when they talk to me. “You get out of here and we’ll hang out like we did when we were little kids!” my sister shouts in a weird, cheerful singsong. Where once I would have jumped her shit for being phony — Bitch, you haven’t seen me for eighteen months and now you want to get together for old time’s sake? — now, I get it. It’s what we do. Death is a hard thing to look at. We ignore it as long as we’re allowed to. It’s not like any of us were so great at confronting the hard stuff head on.
Without opening my eyes, I will know when the kids come into the room. My only daughter will be first — she’s been here for days. Daughters are the women we can love unreservedly, without expectation and without counting the cost. Daughters love us back the same way. She’s tender hearted — I have felt her hot tears drops onto my face, and then she apologizes as she hurriedly wipes them away. But she’s strong too. Like her mother. She will be with me today as I die, grieving but unafraid.
And ah, her mother. “Ladies love outlaws,” she said to me once, coyly. I laughed and buried my face into her luxuriant hair. “And outlaws looooove ladies,” I assured her. Ours was the love story that never should have happened, forbidden and taboo. And yet, it did, and we gloried in it for ten years before it crumbled at our feet. Addiction and fear smothered it. But in its ashes, the love remained, in a bright ember lying at our feet.
Today I will die.
It’s been a long, strange journey of treatments and medications. I actually thought I had beaten death — they said the treatments were helping. I should have known better. When did a man like me ever have that kind of luck? When they went in to make sure the tumor had shrunk, they nicked a damn artery in my lungs and I have been bleeding ever since. How about the irony in that, right?
My feet are black and as cold as ice — me, the guy who always had to leave his feet out from under the covers. My sister rubs them whenever she comes into the room and tucks them, like a baby, under the bed linens. I heard my daughter whisper yesterday that my fingers are turning purple now too.
My one natural son will sit at the foot of my bed. I’ve raised so many kids in my life — my brothers and sisters and their kids, and the kids shared with me by my women. But this one is mine, and it’s like I spit him out. We’ve never known quite what to say to each other, him and me. If you want to know the truth, we still don’t. But he’s here. He will be with me.
I’m not afraid to die. You’d think I would be with the fire and brimstone I was fed all of my childhood. We had the streets on one hand, and Brother Don on the other. To me, God is no God who could abandon the children He has made. That’s something humans do, and if God is like humans, then what have we all been so worried about all these years?
It’s time. The kids file in, they huddle together. The nurse looks at them and, seeing no one lose their nerve, she reaches over and turns off the machine that forces me to breathe. I immediately give one big sigh. It feels so good to do so without being forced.
And then it is as if the molecules holding me together — holding everything together — start to dissolve, slowly at first but then more quickly, like sand falling in on itself. I don’t resist it — I’m part of it all, as the fetters fall off and the light gets brighter.
I lived — oh how I lived — and I loved with every breath in my body. And today is my day to die.