August 14, 2022

August 14, 2022

Status: Finished

Genre: Fantasy

Houses:

Details

Status: Finished

Genre: Fantasy

Houses:

Summary

We have all established important dates throughout our lives, including birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, vacations, and various dates imprinted in our minds that continue to affect us as either a happy event or a tragic memory that gives us personal pain every year. There isn’t a single person in history who hasn’t experienced a specific date in his/her life, that can continue to affect them annually, but there is a date in everybody’s life, that once it arrives, we never experience it again. And that’s at the end of our life when we die.
The question then becomes, if you had the choice to be told when you’re going to die. The final day of your life. Would you choose to know? This is a story about a man who didn't have a choice.
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Summary

We have all established important dates throughout our lives, including birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, vacations, and various dates imprinted in our minds that continue to affect us as either a happy event or a tragic memory that gives us personal pain every year. There isn’t a single person in history who hasn’t experienced a specific date in his/her life, that can continue to affect them annually, but there is a date in everybody’s life, that once it arrives, we never experience it again. And that’s at the end of our life when we die.
The question then becomes, if you had the choice to be told when you’re going to die. The final day of your life. Would you choose to know? This is a story about a man who didn't have a choice.

Content

Submitted: March 28, 2017

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Content

Submitted: March 28, 2017

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AUGUST 14, 2022

 

Preface

  We have all established important dates throughout our lives, including birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, vacations, and various dates imprinted in our minds that continue to affect us as either a happy event or a tragic memory that gives us personal pain every year. There can’t be a single person throughout history who hasn’t experienced a specific date in their life, that continue’s to affect them annually, but there is a date in everybody’s life, that once it arrives, you never experience it again. And that’s at the end of your life, when you die!

  The question then becomes, if you had the option to know when you’re going to die. The final day of your life. Would you choose to know? The date, the time, where, and the reason you’ll die that day. What would you do? Buy more life insurance. Live a healthier lifestyle, to maybe cheat death. Get a complete physical including a complete blood work count (CBC), for underlying terminal illnesses, or would you strive to cheat death, stay low, out of sight, on that date? Fear of the unknown. Fear of uncertainty. Fear of change. These are fears that we all share, but could the worst fear be,  knowing the last day of your life on earth? Would you want to know? This is a story about a man who didn’t have a choice!

 

 

Introduction

  I could’ve talked to an author, or any psychiatrist, or, maybe, a reporter, from one of those hokey rag news magazines, like The National Enquirer, but I decided to tell my own story. In my own words! The beginning of the rest of my life started with a full night’s sleep. A full night’s sleep, to me, was not waking up in the middle of the night to pee, at least once, during the night, and that was rare. At the age of sixty three, a guy usually develops some form of Nocturia, so I felt pretty refreshed, waking up, and feeling great. Then, everything changed for the rest of my life. 

 

 

February 9, 2017

  Reaching over to the nightstand for the third time, instead of hitting the snooze on the alarm clock, I sat up in bed, shut it off and realized I was going to be late for my annual physical check-up appointment with Dr. Etherton at 9:00 am. It was 8:00 and it would normally take me 45 minutes to drive to the clinic, and that would only give me 15 minutes to shave, shower, and get dressed. There’s no way I wasn’t going to take a shower, remembering the dreaded prostate exam I go through every year when the doctor and I, being good friends since high school, as well, experience a little apprehension and embarrassment during this ritual. Frustrated at myself for not getting up right away, I reluctantly decided to call Dr. Etherton’s office to let them know I’m going to be late because he’s amazingly prompt with his appointments in comparison to other doctors and I know it could affect his punctuality reputation with all of his patients today. And he’s proud of that! After I hung up speaking to his receptionist, and hearing a sigh of discontent in her voice, as if knowing this will end up being one of those days she wished was already over, I threw my phone on the bed, and jumped in the shower. While rinsing off my shampoo and my body wash, it felt like a sharp needle of pain was being injected throughout my entire brain, at the same time, and as quickly as it escalated it went away without leaving any residual throbbing or dull ache like when you have an excruciating migraine. Rubbing both temples with the palms of my hands, I opened my eyes, focusing in front of me towards the shower door, and it was as if someone had used a finger scrolling words on the steam that settled on the shower glass door. As my vision cleared, I could quite plainly read:

August 14, 2022

  As quickly as it appeared, it faded away. Although nothing remained of the message on the shower glass, it became evidently clear, as if imprinted inside my head, of a certainty in my future. No doubt! I can’t begin to explain how I know, or where it came from, or why, but I’m as certain as who my parents were and my name is Micheal McKenzie, August 14, 2022 will be the last day of my life. I stood, looking down with my eyes closed, facing the intense hot water streaming out of the shower head as it enveloped my entire body. I’ve always been skeptical of prophecies and those who’ve confessed they’ve had visions of the future, of forthcoming events or disasters. Have to admit that out of the obvious quacks and charlatans, who had scammed millions of dollars from those who’ve lost a loved one, or would do, or pay anything to speak to someone who’s passed, to say goodbye one last time. During the 18thand 19thcentury, there were hundreds of these quacks and vultures who would prey on the weak and lonely, utilizing the morse code in the form of raps on a table, or the floor designed to move, to bilk life savings from these unfortunate people. And that doesn’t include the oracles of ancient Greece or Italy who powerful leaders, like Alexander the Great consulted their wisdom and future knowledge before going into battle.

  Every religion has its share of professed prophets who claimed to have cured the diseased and literally raise the dead, like in the story of Jesus bringing Lazarus back from the pit of death. When I was in my twenties, I always enjoyed reading the quatrains written by Nostradamus, who during his lifetime from 1503 until his death in 1566, when he foretold his own death. On 1/7/1566, he offered his last prophecy to his priest. While the priest said farewell, “Until tomorrow,” Nostradamus responded “You won’t find me alive at sunrise.” Surprisingly, he passed away that night. This episode, along with other explained prophecies since his death has always intrigued me. Until now! He predicted his death the day before, and I know for a fact that my remaining time, until my death, as of today, is, only 5 years, 6 months, and 5 days, away. Squinting through the steamy glass of the shower stall, I could see that I’ve been in the shower almost ½ hour and there was no way I would be in the medical building until after 10:00.

“Damn it Mike,” I said out loud, hitting the wall with my fist, shutting the water off, and reaching for my towel outside the door. After stepping out of the shower, I went over to the dresser where my cell phone was, and called Dr. Etherton’s office, again.

“Listen, this is Micheal McKenzie, again, and a-a-I’m not going to be able to make my appointment at all today. Something important came up and I’ll just have to reschedule. I’m really sorry and if you have to charge me a no-show fee, that’s fine.”

“Well, that is our policy Mr. McKenzie. There’s a $25 charge that will be added to your account. When would you like to reschedule?”

“I’ll get back to you later this week after I check my schedule,” I answered, knowing I’m a terrible liar, and I hope she didn’t sense that in my voice.

“That’s fine sir. You have a great day.” The phone went dead before I could respond, but it sounded extremely busy over the phone. I’ll call Ed tonight and apologize for canceling my appointment with him. It wasn’t even 5 minutes later, the phone rang.

“Mike, it’s Ed. I got a minute and wanted to give you a quick call back. Are you alright? Or is it the thought of my finger in your butt,” he whispered, cupping the phone, and chuckled, “or does it bring out your closeted homosexual tendencies?”

“You’re nuts! I don’t know why I take your abuse. Need to find a real doctor,” I laughed out loud. “No, buddy, I’m just running late and have to figure something out.”

“Ok, don’t know how I’m going to eat lunch today without your money, but I’ll be alright,” he chuckled again louder. “I better get off here or I won’t have any patients in the waiting room. Take care. Talk to you later. Have a good one.”

“You too, Ed. And thanks for the call back.” After he hung up, I sat there on the edge of the bed, looking at the picture on my home page of my cell. Ava and Max, my Grandkids sitting together on the couch at my oldest daughter’s house, making a goofy face when I asked for a serious smiling face, but I loved this picture of them. Max just turned 15 and Ava was going to be 10 years old within a month. Then, it hit me. I won’t be around to ride as a passenger with Ava after she gets her driving license. Never be able to buy Max his first beer when he turns 21. Only spend 5 more years with my family and friends on Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

“OK, Mike,” talking to myself “It’s not about you. I have to get it together. Maybe make a list. Like a bucket list!”

  That made me chuckle. Carmen’s always been the most prepared one. Making the grocery list, and making sure we had replacement items when we run out in the middle of something. Checking our life policies annually, to see if there are any necessary upgrades we need to make. But, me, making a bucket list and adhering to it? I’ll admit that I’ve even procrastinated on pumping gasoline in my car when the warning low fuel light flashed and I’ve run out of gas, at least three times! And now, I just waited too long to get my butt out of bed to get ready for my doctor appointment, and make it on time. Tears welled up in my eyes, as a tear ran down my cheek. What am I going to do? Reaching for a tissue, I wiped my eyes, and blew my nose, and finished getting dressed. I walked downstairs, smelling bacon and eggs being prepared in the kitchen, by guess who? Carmen was straining the bacon and adding a little bacon grease for flavor back in the pan to cook the eggs. She stopped, looked up, smiling at me walking slowly in the kitchen, and then her face gave a perplexed expression.

“What time is your appointment today, honey,” as she glanced over at the clock on the wall?

“ My alarm didn’t wake me up.” I purposely looked away from her eyes.

“I heard your alarm go off several times down here, so my guess is you hit snooze and went back to sleep. Besides, whenever you look away while talking to me, you aren’t telling the truth,” she said, sarcastically, but still smiling. “You always wait until the last minute Mike!”

“For everything! You’ve never changed. Someday it’s gonna bite you in the ass.” She giggled in her silly laugh.

  She didn’t know how prophetic she was, and I know if she had been looking directly in my face at that time, she would have definitely seen my face turn pale.

“I promise to never be late again. For anything! I’m sorry I lied,” I answered.

“What’s wrong Mike,” she asked? “You seem preoccupied and a little morose. I’m joking, but…”

“I’m alright. Just upset with myself for throwing a wrench in Ed’s day at his office. When I called to cancel, it sounded like they were swamped, and I’m sure my cancellation, even after he jostled appointments to fit me in today, messed up his schedule. You know how punctual he is. Although, he did call back to see if I was alright. A good doctor and a great friend. Unlike me!”

“Yeah, Mike, you’re a terrible person. A horrible friend!” she answered, with sarcasm, and laughed. “Listen, I’m going to be late taking the girls shopping for their birthday. You know how restless they get if I’m not on time? Twins! Been nice to know your family has multiple twin births in their past. Ha!” She winked at me, giggling, and grabbing her purse on the counter, she walked out the door to the garage.

  Standing alone in the kitchen in an empty house, and hearing the garage door open and close as Carmen backed out of the driveway, I guess I just stood there for a few minutes with my hands on the edge of the sink just thinking. Should I tell Carmen what I know? Should I tell anyone? I need to have someone to tell or I’ll go crazy. Don? Yeah, Don! It’s obvious. Don Hammer lives next door to us and we’ve been best friends for some, 30 years or so. He’s an avid hunter and fisherman, which I used to do when I was in my twenties. Mostly rabbit, squirrel, or deer hunting with a bow. Never got into fishing, but love eating whatever Don offered me. Remember when we first met when Carmen and I, and the girls, were moving in, and he was standing on his front porch with a cup of coffee watching the movers unloading the moving van. Remember nudging Carmen as she and I started to open our doors after we pulled into the driveway, and I pointed next door, “Great! Looks like we have a nosey one!” We both laughed and waved at him as we opened the doors to let Missy and Mandy out of the back seat. Don had the funniest, surprised look on his face when he saw the girls together, as we walked towards the house.

“Wave at our new neighbor,” I twisted around and whispered to the girls. “Good morning! Guess we’re going to be neighbors!” I yelled as we all waved at him.

“Welcome to the neighborhood! I’m Donald Hammer. You threw me for a loop,” he chuckled as he tasted his coffee again, pretending it was strong. “Thought I put too much Rumchata in my coffee. Thought I was seeing double,” as he leaned over laughing at himself.

“You’re not! Twin daughters, Missy and Mandy. And this is my wife Carmen. I’m Micheal McKenzie. Mike to my friends.” We had all stopped in front of the SUV telling him how nice it was to meet him.

“My friends call me Don. It’s a pleasure to finally have such a nice looking family move in next door. The last couple seemed really odd, and always indoors. I was afraid that maybe they were aliens or something. They lasted 2 years. I mean I didn’t drive them out, but I did drink a bottle of vodka over the weekend celebrating their departure.” Before them, were the O’Neal’s. A family of 2 boys and 3 girls. OMG! 10 years of pure, excuse my French, hell! I’m sorry! I’ll let you folks go. You have a lot to do, and I don’t want to wear out my welcome. At least not on the first day!” He laughed and chuckled again, at himself, as he turned, waving over his head before going into the front door.

“Think Mr. Hammer was right about one thing,” leaning over to Carmen. “He put too much Rumchata in his coffee! Or maybe bourbon. And I have a feeling he always does,” I laughed at myself and my poor, weak joke. Carmen slapped me on the top of my head as the girls both giggled, as we walked into our new home.

“I’ll tell you one thing Mike. I think you and Mr. Hammer will become good friends,” she said, nodding her head up and down. “For sure! You both laugh at your own jokes,” winking at me.

“His friends call him Don!” I laughed, mocking his words, and slapping her butt as she walked in front of me, and up the steps. Swear to God, when I looked back towards Don’s house, he was peeking out the window waving at me holding up, what I assumed was a fresh cup of whatever, in his coffee. Yep! Carmen was right that day we all met our new neighbor Mr. Hammer. Don and I became the best of friends. Although he went on hunting and fishing excursions throughout the year, and there were weeks when we didn’t see or speak to each other, we could always count on each other when there was a crisis, or just the right time either of us needed an ear. And this is what I needed now! An ear to fill with my insane story, and not judge, or laugh at me. Texted his phone and, when there wasn’t a response after a few minutes, I figured he was out of range, or didn’t have his phone on him. I put mine in my pocket and went into my office. I needed to do some research.

  I googled “I know when I’m going to die?” and a string of odd corny online tests to take, appeared,  asking health questions like, where do you live, do you smoke and drink, etc, etc. The first item at the top of the list was a 14 year old girl who predicted her death on Facebook minutes before she was killed by a drunk driver. She posted ‘I think I’m going to die’ and was killed minutes later by her Dad’s friend who was driving the car, and lost control when he leaned over to retrieve a cigarette he dropped down the foot well, skewering across the road into a ditch and then 60 feet through the air before crashing down, killing the young girl instantly. I was startled back into the present reading the rest of the article, when my phone rang scaring the hell out of me, making me jump. It was Don.

“What’s up Mike! Was mowing the yard and just read your text.” He sounded out of breath.

“If you got stuff going on you need to get done, we can talk later. No big deal. Wanted to talk to ya about something,” I answered, trying not to sound frantic or desperate.

“Naw, come on over. Could use a break anyway! All I have to do is use the blower and it needs another hour, to charge up. Besides, I could use a beer! Got one for you, too, buddy.” He sounded glad to hear from me.

“On my way! See you, in about 5 minutes.” After turning off the phone, I bookmarked the whole page I was looking at, and shut the computer down. Walking out the back door and across the driveway, I wasn’t sure how I was going to tell him what I know, and not sound like I’m crazy. Hell, I thought. I wish I was crazy! I can’t explain it, but I’ll be gone in a little over 5 years. And I know what day and year. Damn!

  Don opened the front door with a beer in one hand and another in his other hand, unopened, and handed it to me as I walked in. He could probably see the distraught expression I had on my face as I walked by him and into the kitchen, sitting down at his breakfast table. He and I have been through some deep personal issues over the past thirty years, like when I received a phone call about 10 years ago, around 2:30am in the morning from him after he was arrested for reckless driving and the biggie, a DUI charge. We had met earlier at our favorite bar for drinks and appetizers to celebrate his birthday.

  He had just turned the big ‘50’, so I set-up a surprise party with a few of his old friends, and the bar staff was also, in on the surprise party. I drove because I know he liked to party, and he could out-party, the best of them. Think he had at least 6 shots of tequila, along with several vodka and cranberry, his favorite drink. Around midnight, I told him we should head out, but he wasn’t ready. Besides, there were a couple girls, we’ve seen there before and they had ordered a huge nacho platter and wanted Don to stay longer. The look in his face was like a puppy wanting another treat, so I asked them to promise to take him home when they leave, since it would be on their way home. No problem, they said. Should have known better. Long story short, the girls got trashed, puked, and passed out in the back seat of their car, and the other one was in the back seat helping her friend, so Don drove. When one of the girls, pulled on his arm, and made him swerve, he was pulled over, by a patrol car. That got him the reckless driving charge, and then he received a DUI, and the girls were released after they slept it off in a jail cell. It became quite the memorable birthday! Being his first misdemeanor, since he was a teenager who forgot to stop at a stop sign, he was fined $2,500.00 for the DUI, $1,000.00 for reckless driving, court costs, a $3,500.00 lawyer fee, and 60 hours of community service. At the time, he was going through some tough financial troubles, so after discussing it with Carmen, we took care of all his costs. He always told me that he owes me, whenever I needed him, for anything. I need him now!

“What’s going on with you Mike? You seem out of sorts. Are you and Carmen having trouble,” he asked, patting me on the back, then sitting down across from me at the table?

“It’s nothing like that,” I answered, before chugging several big gulps from my beer, and putting it on the table. Just have to spit it out! “I’m going to die in a few years, and I need your support, confidentiality, and most importantly, your friendship! I haven’t told anyone else, and I don’t think I want to.” As he looked in my face, he knew I was dead serious. Excuse the pun. He slightly chuckled, and drained his beer, before crushing it, then burped loud.

“Dude, we’re all gonna die. What’s going on? You terminally ill? Thinking about suicide,” he chuckled a little, but knew I was serious?

“I need you to believe me. You’re my best friend, and I need to tell somebody. I woke up this morning, running late for a doctor appointment, as usual, and while I’m in the shower, it came to me.”

“What do you mean it came to you? You’re freaking me out Mike,” he nervously paced across the room, threw the empty beer can in the garbage, then back, standing in front of me.

“As I was drying my hair and face, scrawled on the steam on the shower door were the words, August 14, 2022. Then they faded away.” Looking in Don’s face, I could tell what was going to come out of his mouth next.

“You’re serious! What, you think you received a premonition? What makes you think that’s the day you will die?” He opened another beer and chugged about half of it, before sitting down again across from me.

“I can’t explain it! All I know is 5 years and 6 months from now will be my last day on earth! I need you buddy.” I stood up, walked over to the counter, and looked out the window. He walked over and patted me on the back a couple times.

“What can I do? You’re my best friend, and I’m here for you.” His look told me he believed me and he meant what he said. He and I have known each other long enough to read each other pretty well. Probably, better than my wife and I do. Not slamming our relationship or marriage, but its like I know Carmen tells the girls or her girlfriends more than she tells me, and I’m ok with that.

“To start with, I know it sounds crazy, or maybe I am,” I laughed, “but, you know me Don! We both clown around and joke with people, more than most, but I think we also know when one is serious. Am I wrong?

“No, I can see you mean it. Let’s sit down. I’ll grab us a couple more beers,” he said, finishing his second beer, and grabbing two more. “Go ahead. What are you going to do? I mean, when you gonna tell Carmen,” he asked after he sat down, and handed me a beer, and opened his, and took a large gulp?

“Why do you think I’m talking to you about it? I don’t ever want to tell her. I mean, that could change down the road, but right now, I don’t see it happening. Are you good with that? You good with that?” He had to see the desperation on my face. Without saying anything, he walked over to his desk by the kitchen, reached into a drawer, and sat back down with a binder and a pen.

“Whatever I can do for you, I’ll do it. Never had a friend as close as you, and as long as you’re here, or I am, I’ll always honor our friendship,” his voice crackled a little bit, as it does when he’s emotional. Don always came across as a gruff ole’ fart, but, when you get to know him, you realize how big his heart is. “Where do you wanna start,” he asked as he put the pen on the first page?

  We spent the next 2 hours putting together an outline and some goals, I want to accomplish in the time I have, including a ‘bucket list’ of things, I’d like to get done. First, and foremost, I wanted to call my life insurance agent later today to check our policies, to discuss increasing the payout. A lot! That’s number one. The next thing on my list was to make another appointment with Dr. Etherton, and get there early, and not miss this one. My procrastination days are over. I know it’s my annual check-up, including the prostate gland rectum exam, but I also want tests done for colon, lung, and skin cancers. All cancers! Decided to tell Ed, it’s my wife’s idea from something she had read online, and just so she wouldn’t drive me crazy, I agreed to get these tests done, so she’ll quit asking me how I feel every day.

  Don asked me to promise him that if there is a terminal disease or a cancer, that I would then, tell Carmen about the illness, even if I still didn’t want to tell her about my insane premonition. Had no problem making him that promise.

  Besides, in a macabre, creepy way, at least I’d know what was going to shorten my life, but then it became clear to me how selfish that would be. I don’t want the family, the girls, the grandkids, or Carmen, to know I’d probably die within a few years of some terminal disease. I want my last 5 1/2 years with the family to just flow with all the good things in life, I can do with them. Holidays, family dinners, birthdays, laughter, and enjoy what life I have left. To its fullest! Spending as much time as possible with my incredible twin daughters, Missy and Mandy who, to this day look identical. Right down to the same color of hair, although Mandy wears her hair really short now, and Missy’s is halfway down her back. Missy’s husband Tom Phillips and I have known each other ever since they started dating in high school. Richard Payne, Mandy’s husband and she, met 6 years ago, fell in love, married a year later, and Ava was born within the year. Both great guys in every way. Incredible Dad’s, and the best husbands I could have ever wished for my girls. And my Grandkids, Max and Ava. He’s 6 months from turning 16, and Ava’s 10th birthday is coming up soon. I don’t want to see any of their sad faces, always asking me how I feel, and to feel their pity for me, and watch me die. No, I need to call Ed’s office in the morning. Want to get all these tests done, and pray that they come back negative, so I can forget that scenario.

  I’d rather not know how death is coming, or what time, of my last day, than finding out I’m dying of a long drawn out terminal illness, starting now, for my family to witness for 5 years. We finished discussing and writing down everything I could think of, so we decided to have another beer, leaving the last couple hours behind us, and changing the subject, started laughing, remembering the time, when he had forgotten to put the parking brake on, in his pick-up truck, and it rolled down the hill striking the fire hydrant, giving the neighborhood a temporary geyser until a fire truck, a city water truck, and the police cruiser arrived.  It ended up costing him exactly $1,000.00 which came at a bad time, because he had to put off fixing his front brakes and had been driving on low tread, almost bald front tires for the past 6 months, but it sure made for a good story today. We both needed a good laugh and a break from reality. As he started to repeat the story again, as he does every time this story is brought up, that he was so lucky that his tires lasted until he could replace them, my cell phone rang, and vibrated in my pocket. It was Mom’s ring tone.

“Micheal, how are you doing today? Carmen told me you missed your doctor appointment, but don’t you be mad at her! I called her.” My Mom is the only one who still calls me Micheal, and refuses to change after I’ve asked her to call me Mike. It always comes out of her mouth like I’m still her little boy, using a higher pitched voice, like the way some adults talk to a little kid. 

“Hey Mom! Good to hear from you. I’m doing great. Just getting ready to leave Don’s house. We were sitting and talking about the old days,” winking at Don and rolling my eyes. He and my Mom hit it right off, years ago. Wasn’t sure how she would take him, but when it’s appropriate, he’s a complete gentleman, and when Dad died 20 years ago, besides making the 2 hour drive for the visitation and the funeral, he sent a huge funeral wreath of various flowers, and a massive hanging philodendron plant, that is still alive in one of her spare bedrooms.

  Although now, it winds around the window and patio door that opens outside to a balcony on the 2nd story. She’s convinced that it’s Larry, my Dad’s, way of showing her he’s still around and seeing how that helped Mom’s emotional stability and gave her strength, that’s alright with me.

“You give Don a big hug for me, and tell him his plant is still growing, after all these years!”

“Ok, I will. Before I forget Mom, were you planning to come a couple days, and stay with us, before Ava’s birthday party next month? You’re welcome anytime. Decided to take that whole week off since I’ve got almost 6 weeks of vacation built up.” I really hadn’t thought about it until she called, but I really missed her now, with all this, and I know Carmen wouldn’t care. They’re really close, too.

“I’ll check my calendar Micheal. The reason I called was to ask you what I should do? I received a warning ticket for speeding and this Deputy, huh, hang on!” I could hear paper being rattled as if she was straightening out a wadded up piece of paper. “Oh, here it is! His name is Deputy Sheriff Rick Martin!

  Isn’t that the same officer who helped when Carmen had that flat tire last year? The same police officer who lives near one of the girls, now? Asked Carmen, but she couldn’t remember his name.”

“I’m not sure. Mom! You need to slow down. That’s your second warning ticket! Life is too short.” Just realized how much I sounded like the parent talking to the teenager.

“You’re right, Micheal. I will. Promise! Oh, another thing! Talked to Ava last night on the phone, for over an hour, and I don’t, for the life of me, think she took a breath,” she laughed. I thought to myself, grinning, yeah, she got your yak, Mom. That’s for sure.

“Listen, Mom. Can I call you back later? I see Carmen pulling in the driveway and she’ll need help with the packages. The three girls all went shopping together. Nightmare!” Mom and I both chuckled.

“That’s fine Micheal. Talk to you later, honey. Love you, bye!” She had disconnected before I could say, “love you, back.” Made me a little bit sad. Not saying love you, back, this time. Then I realized how much the rest of my life is going to change, in all aspects. Attempted a weak smile.

  Don shook my hand as I started towards the front door and promised not to judge me, or tell anyone else, including Carmen, until I was ready to talk to her about it. In my head, I think I already knew that she would never hear about it out of my mouth. As I walked down the sidewalk  towards the driveway, Carmen opened the back of the SUV, and stood aside, putting her arms out, palms up, with a huge grin, yelling “Ta-DA!” as the door lifted, revealing a mountain of bags and boxes.

“Listen honey,” she quickly and nervously started her defense. “The girls asked if I could bring everything we bought today home, and they’ll be by later, to pick them up. They’re getting mani’s and pedi’s done at the spa, now. Oh, and that’s part of their birthday present’s, too. Love you,” she said waiting for a response, like, “ok, which credit card did you max out this time?”

“Sounds like you girls had a great day together! Here, let me start taking these in, or the neighbors will think we’re drug dealers,” I laughed, and started picking up bags.

“Mike, are you ok? Don’t you want to know how much this all cost, or ask sarcastically why we bought out the store, or at least be a little upset with me?” She had a stunned look on her face.

“Listen! I’m fine. Love seeing you, and the girls spending time together. Besides, I should be used to it after 40 years,” I playfully kicked her butt, with my arms full of bags, and chuckled, with a weak impression of Festus Haggen, from the old Gunsmoke series. “Shouldn’t you be inside cooking supper, Ma? Your Man’s hungry!” Think I went a little overboard, and a little out of the norm for me and I can imagine Carmen still looking stunned, staring at my back, but, it’s like my entire outlook on life is already changing dramatically, and I’m thinking to myself, that’s not a bad thing. We had dinner, sat together on the couch watching the nightly news while she filled me in on their day of shopping. Told Carmen about being over at Don’s and Mom calling me, telling me that Ava called her. Mandy had told her about Ava calling Ninny Jett, the previous night. Max started calling Mom, Jett, whose name is actually, Jeanette, when he first started sounding out words. Couldn’t quite get out both syllables, so they ran together, coming out Jett. When Ava started talking, she called Mom, Ninny, because she wanted to have her own name for her Great-Grandma, so after some compromising, they both started calling her Ninny Jett. Mom loves it, and proudly tells everyone who she is, when she’s with the great grandkids. Carmen’s kiss on my forehead woke me up. It was 1:30am, and we had both fallen asleep with the TV on, so I told her to go to bed, and I’ll be behind her, in a few minutes. After turning off the television, the table lamp, and setting the alarm system, I walked into our bedroom. The dim night light in the bathroom was the only light source, while the bedroom was pitch black. I could hear Carmen’s deep breathing from her side of the bed.

“Good night, honey,” I whispered. “Love you.” Silence. Not a peep. Poor Carmen’s worn out from shopping, I thought. Slipping off my clothes, and putting on sleep shorts, I slowly crawled into bed, laid on my back, and let my head softly sink into the pillow, closing my eyes.

“Love you, too,” Carmen whispered incoherently, almost asleep. I turned my head towards the darkness where she lay and smiled, as a tear ran down my face onto the pillow. I love my life, I thought. Rolling over on my right side with my back to Carmen, I closed my eyes, trying to empty my head of thoughts, so I could go to sleep. It was another hour or so of random thinking, people I haven’t seen for years, those who had passed, without even having the chance to say goodbye, or the chance to spend more time with them, before the mental exhaustion of the day caught up with me, and I felt myself falling into a much needed, deep sleep. My last thought was how ironic it is that within the last seventeen hours of knowing when my life will end, my eyes have never been more open.

  Feeling the warmth of the sun on my face, and its reflection from the dresser mirror onto my face made me realize that it must be after 10:00am. When I opened my eyes, I was alone in bed and Carmen was already gone. Remembering that she had a hair appointment this morning, I went into the kitchen, made myself a cup of coffee, and went into the office, to make some calls. Denise Collins has been our insurance agent for almost 20 years now, I was thinking as I scrolled down through my contacts, to give her a call.

  We’ve had whole life insurance coverage for both of us since the twins were born over 40 years ago. With its lifelong coverage and the fact it accumulates its cash value over years, we were advised at the time, it was the logical coverage to have. Taking a sip of hot coffee, I read over our other life insurance policy, term life insurance, which provides coverage for a certain time period, often called “pure life insurance” because it’s designed only to protect your dependents in case you die prematurely. We’ve had it over 20 years, and we had purchased it for a 30 year term, which gave me a sigh of relief, knowing that it won’t expire, before Carmen will need it.

  Both policies have a payout of $500,000.00 which would give a million dollars to Carmen, after my death, but I still wanted to discuss options, on increasing their payout. After getting her voice mail, I started to leave a message, when she answered her phone.

“Good morning, this is Denise Collins! How can I help you?” She always has the friendliest voice, and when you meet her the first time, you just know she’s a good, sincere person. It’s been several years since I’ve spoken to her, but her voice is unmistakable.

“Good morning. This is Mike McKenzie. You may not remember me, because it’s been a few years, but we had purchased a,” she responded, cutting me off, politely.

“Hi Mr. McKenzie! Of course, I remember you. How’s Carmen and the twin girls doing?”

“Please, call me Mike. We’re all doing great! Thanks for asking and I hope you’re doing well. Listen, you’re probably busy, but I wanted to discuss our life insurance policies with you. Have a couple questions. If this a bad time, I can call you back.”

“Not a problem! Actually, I’ve already brought up you and your wife’s portfolio on my computer. What can I help you with Mike?”

“What would I have to do to increase my insurance policies? Possibly doubling the amount.” There was a slight pause, and then I could hear her putting me on speaker phone.

“Since you’re 63 years old now, Mike, you would be required to have a complete physical, including CBC (complete blood count). Now, I see you have been paying a rate of $3,500.00 per year on your whole life and $800.00 on your term policies. To double your policy, even if your test results come back as perfect, which we hope for, your annual rate for both policies will be close to $ 10,000.00, I’m afraid,” she paused, thinking that would get a “wow, that’s pretty high” response, out of me.

“Sounds great! I’ll call my doctor after we hang up and set-up an appointment for a complete physical, and have my results sent to your office when they’re back,” I replied. “Listen, I appreciate all your assistance with this Denise, and I hope you can understand that I’d like to keep this between us. Carmen would just worry, and think I’m dying or something.” If she only knew, I thought, to myself, slightly chuckling, for making a sick joke.

“Completely understand Mike. I’ll be waiting for your test results before filling out the paperwork.  Is there anything else I can do for you at this time?”

“No, that’s it for now. Thanks again. Take care. Bye-bye!” After she said goodbye, I sat back in the office chair, and looked at all of the family pictures on the opposite wall. In the middle of the pictures is Carmen holding both girls after their birth, one in each arm, smiling weakly, exhausted after 48 hours of intense labor. Next to that, pictures of the girls holding their newborn babies, with their husbands standing next to the beds, with proud looks on their faces.

  An older picture on the other side, in an older frame, was Mom holding me when I was probably 2 months old, with my Dad standing next to her. Next to that, was a picture of Carmen and her parents, who were killed, in a tragic car accident, when she and I were first married. It’s one of the few pictures, of her parents, and being an only child, with her only Aunt and Uncle, on her Mom’s side, now both gone, her memories of growing up, and this picture, is all that remains, of her family. Being the type of person my Mom is, she kind of adopted Carmen, as her own, and they’ve been extremely close, all these years. My family is everything to me, and as I took a few minutes looking through every picture on the wall, another idea came to me. My Dad’s been gone for several years, but I thought wouldn’t it be awesome to take the entire family on a different vacation every year from now on. Carmen and I have talked about it for years, but it’s never gone beyond that. The dates wouldn’t work for Missy or Mandy because of school events, or with work schedules, but damn it, I’ll figure something out that will work for everybody, and bring it up at Ava’s birthday party in a couple weeks. First things first, I thought, as I looked up Dr. Etherton’s office on my phone and called to re-schedule my appointment for, probably the most important physical in my life. After I hung up, my stomach started to cramp up a little, wishing this part was over, and my tests had come back perfect.  I’ll know in a couple weeks after my appointment, and the tests are completed, which should be on the Friday before Ava’s birthday party.

  Looking at the clock on the wall, I had until 4:30 before Carmen would be getting home, so I spent the next few hours googling anything and everything about predictions, and things that should be done, before someone dies. The top link that popped up when I googled, ‘what to do before you die’, was ‘one hundred’ things to do before you die, which in my opinion included some trivial things I wouldn’t care if I did or not, like spending a night in a Treehouse, stomp on grapes to make wine, or go lavender picking. Really? And then there was a picture of a beach with footprints in the sand, with the caption, leave your mark in this world. Staring at this picture, it made so much sense to me how imperative it should be for everyone, that leaving your mark in this world should be the main focus during a person’s lifetime, because then you’ll always live on in those who are affected by what you’ve accomplished or leave behind. For some reason, I decided to take my bicycle down from the rack in the garage, and after all this time, I obviously had to fill the tires with air and wipe off the cobwebs. It’s been almost a year since I’ve ridden my bike, and it seemed like a good thing to start doing at the time. To clear my head and enjoy the outdoors a little. As I rode down the driveway, I took a deep breath of fresh air, on this perfect 70 degree day, and started down the bike path lines, along the road. I wish Carmen would start riding her bike with me, again. The only reason I haven’t been riding a bike regularly, is because she quit riding with me several years ago. I bring up riding bikes every month or so, but maybe someday, she’ll change her mind. If I bug her enough!

“What a great day to be alive,” I yelled, as I started peddling faster, deciding to ride over to the natural springs park a mile or so from our house. They have a paved 5 mile bike / jogging trail through the woods to the neighboring park, where I could rest for a while, under a tree, before heading back home. I stopped at the red light on the corner, before crossing the highway to ride into the park entrance.

  The crosswalk light flickered on, and as I started to cross, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a red Mustang bearing down on me, driving over the speed limit, with what looked like a couple teenagers in it. Their light had just turned from yellow to red, before they reached the crossing and I barely stopped in time as they flew by me, only inches from hitting me. You know the old saying, if you come close to dying, you see your whole life flash before you? The only thought that went through my head was, it’s not my time. That made me chuckle, as another question crossed my mind about this whole premonition thing. I wonder if I can’t die before August 14, 2022, because it’s not my time. What a concept, I thought. I laughed at the irony of this all the way to the park before I started peddling my bike a little faster down the trail for the first 5 miles, before turning around, and heading back home. Don’t remember ever realizing how beautiful and fragile the world is around us. Two squirrels were chasing each other around the trunk of a huge oak tree, with the larger one almost losing its grip, trying to keep up with the smaller one that took a sharp 90 degree turn, as it spiraled around and around to head back up the trunk, after almost touching the ground. As it stopped to get its balance, the smaller one turned around with its 4 tiny feet, claws outstretched, and its nose inches from the larger squirrel, as if it was saying, come on, let’s play again.

  Standing there with one foot on the ground, and the other on my bike pedal, watching this drama in nature, made me think how much all living things, plants and animals, depend on each other to complete the circle of life. Sometimes, it’s necessary to assist one another. With compassion, or to just let it catch up. In other words, life can move too fast if you don’t stop to enjoy every minute you have, and the world around you. And that’s what I intended to do for the next 5 1/2 years, of my life. As they scurried up the tall tree and disappeared from my view, I peddled my bike down the remainder of the trail, listening and observing all the serenity around me, with a completely new outlook on life. I stopped, and laid under a tree, resting for a while, staring at the sky, before heading back the 5 miles, to where I started. Pedaling across the crosswalk, where a Mustang came inches to changing my future, an hour ago, if that’s even possible, I headed up the road towards home, and up my driveway, as the garage started opening. Carmen had come around the corner, and hit the garage opener, beeping her horn once, smiling and waving at me as I pulled my bike on the other side of the driveway so she could pull into the garage. 

“Aren’t we ambitious,” she laughed, getting out of the car? “Well, do you like it?” She stood, spinning in a circle so I could see how much of her hair cut, she had cut off, for a completely new style. Short with her bangs trimmed, ears exposed, displaying what I assumed were a pair of new beautiful diamond studs.

“New earrings,” I asked with no expression, waiting for the comeback?

“I’m talking about my hair! And yeah, these are new, too,” she added, as she rubbed the back of her head hair and held out an earlobe, so I could see one of her earrings. “Well?”

“I love it, honey,” smiling big, not able to keep a straight face any longer. “You always look beautiful to me, no matter what you do to your hair. And I agree, the new earrings compliment your new look!” She ran up, hugging me, and looking into my eyes, “I love you, Mike!”

 

March 03, 2017

Finally, the last couple weeks are over, and it’s the only time within the duration of my life, that I’m glad the time has passed quickly. A couple weeks ago, after setting up my doctor appointment, I walked into Dr. Etherton’s office. It was February 20th. Anxious, as if it was my first doctor visit, I just wanted to be done, and have all my test results returned, and praying for a healthy and positive outcome, I picked up a magazine to distract my thoughts. Ironically, Ed’s perfect score of keeping his patient appointments on time, and sitting no longer than 10 minutes, after their slotted appointment time, was broken. And it wasn’t my fault, for being late. There was a patient, who started exhibiting signs of an impending heart attack, with a pain in his chest, sitting across from me, and almost passed out leaning over in his chair, clutching his left arm.

  The ambulance was called, after one of Ed’s assistants ran out of the office door, laid him on the floor, on his back, keeping him calm and comfortable until the paramedics arrived. As this scene unfolded, I felt a little guilty sitting there wondering if that’s what’s going to happen to me. Sitting at home next to Carmen in the living room, and I keel over dead from a massive heart attack. Or worse, with one of my Grandkids sitting in the living room with me, watching TV. That thought repulsed me, and I quickly pushed it out of my mind, as my name was called after the waiting room had returned to normal when the paramedics had left with their patient, on the ambulance gurney.

“Good morning, Mr. McKenzie! And how are you today?” The same nurse, who always made everyone feel special with her pleasantness and sincere greeting, stood there pointing at the scale where they weighed you first.

“I’m great! Thank you. I hope you’re doing well,” I answered, standing on the scale. “Again, I’m sorry for not being able to make my last appointment. I assume that was you I spoke to on the phone.”

“Oh yeah, I remember,” she smiled, nodding her head. “Also, FYI! Dr. Etherton waived your $25.00 no show fee.”

“I wish he wouldn’t do that. Just because we’re good friends,” shaking my head, feeling embarrassed, following her to one of the examination rooms.

“To be honest,” she turned, smiling, and opening the door, “he waves anybody’s fee, if he catches it before we ring it up. He’s such a softy,” she giggled, before she realized how she said that, and giggled “Not that it couldn’t have been your friendship with Dr. Etherton. I didn’t mean it that way.”

“I didn’t take it any other way. That’s Ed!” I grinned, walking into the room as she told me he would be a few minutes, and to please sit on the end of the exam table. She received a call, over the intercom, before she could take my vitals, and left the room.

  The room was silent, as if time had stopped, as I sat there gathering my thoughts, waiting for the life clock to start again. Hearing a small series of knocks, the door opened and Ed walked in.

“Good morning Mike! Glad you found the time to come in,” he laughed as he shook my hand. “And on a crazy morning!”

“Really! I hope that poor guy is going to be alright. At least he was talking and seemed stable when they carted him out of the waiting room. Didn’t realize you had patients almost dying to see you,” I chuckled, at first, then realizing that was in poor taste. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t a nice thing to say.”

“Don’t worry about it Mike. He’s doing well. Just got off the phone with the hospital. The initial prognosis is probably related to heartburn, or simple anxiety,” he explained.

“He hasn’t had any heart related issues, so that’s a good thing. Enough of my world! What’s up with you? How’s Carmen and the rest of the family,” he asked, while sitting on the stool across from me?”

“Everybody’s doing great! Thanks for asking.”

“So, what’s with the interest in having full body scans done? You requested everything, except an autopsy,” he chuckled. “Seriously, you feeling alright, Mike?”

“No, I’m fine! Actually, I’m increasing my life insurance policy and you know how they are, wanting a complete physical first.” Trying to sound like it’s no big deal. “And you know Carmen, if she’s anything, she’s thorough, and sometimes, a little overkill. Something she read, made her worry about me. If I don’t have a complete exam, she’ll drive me crazy,” I laughed!

“Ok, now it makes sense. Well, an MRI should satisfy their requirements, along with a CBC, and the physical we’ll give you today. Listen, I’ll have my nurse take your vitals and I’ll be right back, if you don’t mind. Trying to catch up a little on my appointments, doing double patient duty. You cool with that?”

“No, I understand Ed. Believe me buddy,” I winked at him. “I know how you are,” laughing at him as he closed the door on his way out.

  The door opened again, and his nurse walked in, taking my vitals, and talking about the weather and the commotion earlier in the waiting room. I nodded in agreement, not really hearing every word she was saying, as my mind wandered to other thoughts I had going on in my head. After she left, I sat there for another 10 minutes or so, before Ed rapped at the door before walking in.

“Sorry about that buddy. Think I’m back on schedule now,” he sighed, grinning at me. “I have your MRI set-up for the day after tomorrow, if that works. You can set-up your CBC at your convenience on the website. Anything else?”

“Does the MRI cover everything completely?”

“Well, a CT scan would give a more extensive look at any lung or chest issues, along with other cancers, but I know an MRI should satisfy your insurance company requirements. And besides the CT scan exposes you to radiation, and an MRI doesn’t emit ionizing radiation.”

“A little radiation isn’t going to kill me Ed,” I chuckled, amused at this. “Besides, then Carmen will be satisfied, too,” laughing again. “Let’s set-up the CT scan, too? What the hell? Doubt if it’ll shorten my life anyhow,” chuckling at another of my weak jokes.

  Walking out of the medical office building, I realized that was the first physical with Ed that didn’t make me feel uncomfortable in the least. Even during the prostate exam, while during previous exams, being a little apprehensive with one of my childhood friends since grade school, taking advantage of me as we would joke about as he lubed his gloved finger, sticking it in my ass, and making me tense up. But this time I wanted him to make sure he didn’t miss anything as he checked my prostate for enlargement or any unusual lumps. Of course, the blood work I needed to have done, would test my PSA levels to verify that everything is normal in my prostate, along with evaluating my overall health and detect other disorders, including anemia, infection and leukemia. When I arrived home, Carmen’s car was gone as the garage door started to open. On the refrigerator was a note stating she’d be home later. She and Mandy are at the party store picking up party supplies for Ava’s birthday. Walking into the office, I sat down at the computer and went online. Set up my appointment for blood work in Quest Lab for the next morning. I wanted those results ASAP. Looking down at the medical pages they gave me when I left the office, Ed had scheduled my CT and MRI for next week on February 27th and the 28th, consecutively. Perfect, I thought. Should have all the tests back on schedule, as I predicted, before Ava’s birthday party on Saturday, March 4th. Turning back to the computer, I brought up the google screen, deciding to search for the first of several family vacations to surprise everyone at the party, when my cell phone vibrated in my pocket. It was Don.

“Hey buddy, just wanted to ask if there was anything I can do for you. I know we just talked a couple days ago about your premonition, but it’s still bugging the hell out of me when you dropped that all on me. Don’t get pissed, but do you still feel that way? You know, dying on that date.”

“Wished I never told you Don, if it’s going to drive you crazy. You’re the only one I could talk to about it. Hell, I couldn’t even tell Ed, my doctor about it, and we’ve known each other our whole life.”

“No, no, Mike. I’m good! It just seems like a dream, you know. I’m with you. I just don’t want to lose my best friend in a few years.” His voice crackled some, as he started to sniffle a little. “I’m sorry,” his voice quivering.

“Hey dude, I’m not dead yet! Listen, maybe I can change what I know. I don’t know. I’m as confused as you about this whole damn thing, but I gotta do what I gotta do, you know? Just need to do what I can now in preparation of what I feel is going to happen. Get it,” I asked?

“Yeah, hey,  you mentioned Ed. Did you already have your appointment with him,” he asked, clearing his throat, coughing?

“Sure did. And I’m having my bloodwork done tomorrow morning and an MRI and CT scan next week. I had a colonoscopy last year and that was negative, so no need to go through that crap, again. Should have those results the first of the month,” I answered, confidently.

“Promise to keep me informed, Mike. Ok? Love you man,” his voice crackled again. “Goodbye!” The phone went dead.

  I sat there staring at my phone for a few seconds. Never heard Don so emotional, and he sure has hell never told me he loves me. Wow! Making me wonder if I shouldn’t have even confided in him, but who else could I talk to about something as crazy as this. Ed, my doctor, my friend from grade school? He’s the type of guy who would argue the sun isn’t going to come up in the East, if he was convinced otherwise. Glancing back at my screen under the heading ‘best places to visit in the Caribbean’, I scrolled down through British Virgin Islands, St. Lucia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, etc. A thought came to me, as I quickly scrolled back up to St. Lucia. Remember, Ed told me once, when his family, who always took extravagant vacations, would rent a home on the islands, and he said St. Lucia offered luxurious homes at a reasonable rate. After viewing through several offers, I clicked on The Marigot Sun Villa, with 5 bedrooms, 10 person capacity, 7 beds, with a large private pool and a short walk to the beach. Approximately $1,000.00 per night. Seven day minimum. Perfect! Spent the next couple hours reading everything about the home rental. Hearing the garage door opening, assuming Carmen was coming home, I bookmarked the page and went into the bathroom to take a shower.

“Hey you,” Carmen knocked on the shower door as I was washing my hair. “How’d your appointment go? Did you get there this time,” she laughed?

“Ha ha! Yes, and everything is fine. Just have to get my blood work done in the morning,” I yelled through the shampoo washing off my head and face. “So, you girls get what you need for the big party?”

“Of course! You know how prepared Mandy is. The complete opposite of Missy, who always procrastinates,” She opened the shower door and chuckled, shaking her head. “How can identical twins be so different in so many ways? Never understood that. Now finish your shower Mike. I brought home Italian from Gentili’s.”

  I hurried and dried my hair and body, then looking cautiously around the shower stall to see if there were any more messages scrawled on the steamy glass. Carmen had crudely scrawled ‘I Luv U’, with a smiley face with its tongue sticking out before she shut the shower door, and left the bathroom. That made me laugh. Italian food’s my favorite, so I didn’t waste any time in finishing up in the bathroom, and putting on sweats and a T-shirt. Spent almost an hour at the kitchen table, eating shrimp Alfredo with garlic knots, and spicy Italian salad. And heard, about their experience at the party store trying on silly hats and outfits, while filling the cart, full of party gear. After all, this was a big birthday. The big double digit! We went for a walk in the afternoon, trying to work off all those calories and carbs, then went home and caught up on some of our shows on the DVR. That night we made incredible, passionate love. And to me, it was like the sex we had when we were first married almost 45 years ago. Afterwards, Carmen lay on her side, next to me with her arm across my chest as we both fell asleep, exhausted from the gratification we shared together.

  My alarm didn’t wake me up. It was 5:17am, and it wasn’t set to go off until 6:00am. The loud siren and ambulance lights penetrated through our window and walls, like it was next to our bed. Jumping out of bed, I peered out the window and my heart seemed to stop, as I felt a lump rise in my throat. They had pulled into the driveway next door with a police car in front of the house, with its siren, also blaring. The sirens had both stopped, but the lights remained flashing as the paramedics rushed up the porch steps with the gurney, and medical bag. It was Don’s house! Putting on my sweats and picking up my T-shirt I had thrown on the floor next to Carmen’s pajama’s we had tossed on the floor, the night before when we made love, I ran down the stairs taking three steps at a time and out the front door. Forgetting to shut off our alarm system, it started going off. Assuming Carmen had put in the code when it shut off, the only noise I could hear was the police radio squawking from the open window of the patrol car. A policeman stood in my way at the top of the porch, raising his hand as I went up the steps.

“Sir, you’ll have to remain outside. Let the paramedics do their job. They have it under control,” he calmly announced, putting his arms up, standing in my way.

“He’s been my best friend for years. Please, tell me! What happened? What’s going on?” He immediately could see how distressed and genuine I was. Then he dropped a bombshell.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you, but it appears that Mr. Hammer had called a suicide prevention hotline and shot himself while on the phone with a caseworker.” His voice changed to an empathetic tone as he placed his hand on my shoulder. “I’m really sorry, sir.”

“There’s no way! Don would never do, or even consider suicide. We’ve even discussed how horrible it is, and selfish it is when people take the cowardly way out, without consideration for those left behind.” My voice cracked as I fell to my knees on the porch, and started sobbing.

“It seems that he may have temporarily lost control of reality,” stated the officer as he glanced down at his notepad. “The report from the hotline states that he said, and I quote, ‘I can’t stand to see my best friend die on August 14, 2022! And then there was a gunshot. They traced the call and here we are.”

“What have I done? Oh my God! Should have never told him anything,” I cried, kneeling on the porch, placing my face into my hands, I felt totally responsible for Don’s death and there was nothing worse that could’ve happened. And the officer tried to console me, as he patted my back as I cried, trying to reassure me there was no way to predict what was in his mind, and what he decided in the privacy of his own home.

“It’s not your fault, Sir. He made this horrible decision on his own,” he stated, then cleared his throat, continuing, “Sometimes we can’t just explain it when people do irrational things. We tend to blame ourselves for someones death. Feel we could have done something to prevent it, “ he said, still attempting to instill solace and comfort, to me.

“You don’t understand,” I sobbed, looking up at him! “I could have prevented this.”

“You can’t change what happened. The real question I have, is why would he shoot himself on the very day and year, he said his friend is going to die. I mean, after all, today’s August 14, 2022!”

  Covered in sweat, I sat up abruptly, wiping my face as I looked over at the clock. 3:30am! Carmen was sound asleep, rolled over on her left side and it was pitch black. Rubbing my eyes, I could feel my heart racing, as I quietly slipped out of bed, walking into the bathroom, silently closing the door, so as not to wake her. Flicking on the ceiling light above my sink, I turned on the faucet filling cold water in the palms of my hands and throwing it upon my face, rubbing my eyes. Turning off the water, I stared into the mirror. I’ve remembered my dreams, once and a while, but I’ve never had a more vivid nightmare in my entire life. My kneecaps literally ached, and were shaking, as if I had actually been kneeling on the porch next door and my hands were still shaking, as I opened and closed them trying to calm down. Looking back into the mirror, a thought came to me. Maybe I’m being stupid, and I just had a vivid nightmare, like this one, and seeing that date on the shower glass didn’t really happen. Or in a freakish way, after having a nightmare, I scrawled that damn date on the shower myself! I mean, after all, this nightmare about Don seemed so fucking real. Shutting off the light, and walking back into the bedroom, I looked out the window, seeing a quiet and still neighborhood, and all the lights were off at Don’s house. Crawling into bed and rolling over next to Carmen’s warm body still on her side, I put my arm around her, holding her close.

  As I started falling back to sleep, I decided to give Don a call in the morning and tell him it’s all been a bad nightmare, and I was wrong. We’ll laugh, drink a couple beers, and talk about football or something.

  Closing my eyes, I smiled, falling back to sleep, relieved to have my whole life ahead of me. My alarm woke me up at 6:00am and after shutting it off, I walked by the bedroom window and looked next door. No ambulance. No police car.

  Laughing to myself, I went down the stairs into the kitchen. Carmen was already sitting at the table sipping on a cup of coffee, smiling at me as I went over to make me a cup. As it brewed, I leaned over to kiss the top of her head.

“Good morning gorgeous!” She tilted her face up and I kissed her lips.

“Good morning to you, stud,” she giggled. “Don’t know what you ate yesterday, but eat some more,” she said, slapping me on my butt, as I turned to get my coffee. “Heard you wake up around 3:30 or so, and go into the bathroom. “Old age, giving you Nocturia,” she laughed? “Had to pee?”

“Maybe! ‘Cause I’m going to be around a long time and if I pee 5 times throughout the night, every night, I don’t care,” I responded, laughing, looking forward to many more years and watching my Grandkids grow up. “I’m going back upstairs,” I said as I stood up from the kitchen table.

“Need to jump in the shower to make my appointment at Quest for blood work and traffic could be bad,” I said, glancing at the kitchen clock on the wall and walked out of the kitchen with my cup of coffee.

“Do you want some company in the shower,” Carmen yelled, as I sprinted up the stairs?

“I’ll take a rain check on that, if you don’t mind. Don’t want to be late for another appointment, again,” yelling down the stairs, thinking what if that date appeared on the shower glass when she’s with me in the shower. The thought gave me goosebumps, and I quickly put that idea out of my head. “Idiot,” I whispered to myself! “It was a bad nightmare, like last night’s dream about Don.”

  Having a couple hours before my appointment, I took the opportunity to take a long hot shower. After shampooing my hair and washing myself, I adjusted the shower head to a hard pulsating jet of soothing hot water and stood, facing the shower door. As I took a deep breath, looking down and closing my eyes, the calming effect of the water seemed to wash away the stress and fear I experienced over the last few weeks. If anything positive came out of this silly nightmare, it reminded me how fragile life is, and taught me to live every day, as if it’s my last. What the hell did I put Don through? Poor guy! At least I found out he loves me. That made me laugh out loud.

  Deciding to shave while in the shower, I reached over and grabbed the Barbasol, putting it on my face and reached for my razor. Looking in the small mirror attached to the shower wall, I started shaving. As I turned off the shower, Carmen’s voice startled me, as I didn’t hear her come into the bathroom.

“Hey, handsome! Thought I’d check on you. Been in there for over half an hour,” she chuckled as she rapped on the shower door.

“Just taking advantage of not running late for the first time,” I yelled back as I washed the lather off my face and body. She laughed at my response and disappeared into our walk-in closet connected to the bathroom. Turning around, shutting the shower off, I opened the shower door and grabbed my towel from the outside rack. Drying my hair and face last and hearing the shower door slowly swing shut on its own, I opened my eyes.

August 14, 2022!

  Quickly, I closed my eyes again, rubbing them with the towel in a futile attempt to erase what I saw. Opening my eyes slowly, the date was still there. Only this time, it was underlined and had an exclamation mark, as if to instill its validity. As I stared at it, the walk-in closet door opened and Carmen walked out. Desperately, I wiped the glass off with my forearm as she walked by the shower door smiling at me. Weakly smiling and winking back at her, my heart skipped a beat, as I now realized for certainty. This was the date at the end of my life! It’s real!

  Whenever I think back, on that day in the shower, it felt like being struck by a lightening bolt seeing that date, again. Only this time as an explicit, definitive, confirmation. Still gives me goosebumps sitting here in the doctor’s office, waiting for my test results after all the invasive exams and x-rays I had done earlier this week. At least I had my colonoscopy just last year. Tomorrow is Ava’s 10th birthday party, and pending no serious complications or results showing a terminal disease or illness, it should be a great day. I have all the information on the rental home on the St. Lucia island to share with the family, and even though it’s only been a month since my life’s been changed, it feels like a lifetime. Looking at my watch, even the receptionist was surprised seeing me walk into the waiting room 30 minutes before my appointment. Still having 15 minutes, I reached over to the end table, and grabbed a Scientific American magazine, to kill time. The office door opened exactly at 10:00am.

“Mr. McKenzie! How are you this morning?” The nurse smiled as I walked through the door and went to stand on the scale, knowing the routine.

“I’m great. Thank you,” I responded, trying not to show, how nervous I was. Following her down the hall, she opened the door, asking me to sit on the edge of the exam table.

“The doctor will be with you in a few minutes,” she said as she proceeded to take my blood pressure and temperature, then left, closing the door, leaving me to my thoughts.

  After that bizarre call from Don last week, which I’m sure was the reason I had that crazy suicidal nightmare, I needed some uplifting news. Hearing footsteps outside the door, I sat upright, and prepared myself for whatever results, that Ed has for me.

“Hey there Mike! Good to see you,” sounding upbeat, which I hoped wasn’t just icing on the cake, preparing me for any bad news. He had a file in his hand, and he sat down at the desk next to the examination table.

“Mmm, let me see,” he continued, reading over the results. “Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is your blood pressure today is a little elevated,” he chuckled. “And the good news is you’ll probably outlive me, you son of a bitch!”

“So, everything’s kosher,” I asked, trying not to sound too excited, and jump up and down on the exam table?

“Mike, you are one healthy ole’ man,” he smiled as he stood and shook my hand. “And I’ve already had your results sent over to your insurance agent. When are you going to come to the club again? You owe me another opportunity to beat you on the golf course, again. It’s been too long! I need a Mikey fix.”

“Tell you what buddy. Set it up, but not tomorrow or I’d have a very enraged 10 year old granddaughter who’d never forgive her Po-Po if he missed her birthday party,” I laughed. “Besides, you better show up, too.”

“Wouldn’t want to have you in here, all beat up,” he chuckled. “Just let me know when you’re ready for another ass whoopin’. Take care, Mike. Tell Carmen hi,” as he left the room, “and, of course,  I’ll see you guys tomorrow at Ava’s party.”

  As I backed out of the parking space at the medical clinic, it hit me that I avoided a major hurdle, by not having to put my family through the hardship of watching me slowly disintegrate from a terminal illness. Watched my Dad suffer miserably and slowly crumble away, losing over 100 pounds in 5 years, dying of stage four lung cancer. Remember sitting by his bedside on the night he passed, when he looked me in the eyes and said, “If I knew I was going to die from this and what causes it 40 years ago, I would have never started smoking cigarettes. Wouldn’t it be nice to know when you’re going to die, Son? I would’ve have done so much more with you and your Mother. And at least prepare for it, you know?” I’ll never forget those last words I heard from him, especially now. Gives me goosebumps, hearing those words in my head. Prophetic wisdom from my Dad who, I only re-attained a closer relationship with, during the last 5 years of his life. Whispering to myself, “ In a strange way Dad, it is good to know when your life is going to end, and I will, be prepared.”

  As I pulled into the driveway at home, my Mom’s car was parked in front of the house, on the road, and Mandy’s car was behind hers, with the back seat full of helium balloons.

  As the garage door slowly went down, I turned the car off, and just sat there staring at nothing. You know when you feel like your brain is tied in knots, with so much going on, or things to do, and you just want to clear your mind? I read somewhere, that deep breathing increases oxygen levels in the body, and it greatly benefits the brain. Sitting there with my hands on the steering wheel, and laying my head back, I took several deep breaths, and focused on another technique out of the online article I read. Backward planning. If you got a big job to complete, with a target date, you start from that date, and move backwards. Figure out what things have to happen to finish the job. Then find the next set of things that need to happen before that, and so on, until you get to the beginning. The beginning!

“Beginning,” I asked out loud, laughing? “Hasn’t even been a month yet, when my life was ripped apart. How the hell am I going to make it for another 5 ½ years?”

  Taking another couple deep breaths, I closed my eyes, and then I realized how foolish I’m being. Within the last month, I’ve had a total, complete physical, eliminating one of my greatest fears, of dying of a terminal illness. And I’ll never miss another physical at the doctor, or a Colonoscopy again, for the rest of my life, to ensure that I won’t. Now I just need to call Denise Collins office, and make an appointment to come in and sign the increased life insurance papers there. Don’t want them to come in the mail, and Carmen sees them, if she picks up the mail, first. I’ll sign them, bring them home, and lock them in my gun safe. She’d never look in there. The only way she felt comfortable with a gun in the house, was if I bought a gun safe. I respect her for the way she feels. She had a childhood friend in grade school, who found her daddy’s gun, and accidentally shot her baby brother, killing him. Her family moved away, because of the uproar and the constant press. To this day, Carmen still sometimes has nightmares about that, and not until the girls moved out of the house, would she allow me to bring a gun into our home. A thought came to me, as I opened the car door, to get out. Don’s always loved my 9mm, but after the nightmare I had, of Don committing suicide, I decided not to give it to him, just in case. The door opened, and there was Mom smiling at me, as I got out of the car.

“Was wondering if you were coming in Mike,” she laughed. “Heard the garage door close almost 10 minutes ago. You afraid to walk in on the big party, while we’re decorating? We could really use your creativity! And that ladder hanging on the wall,” laughing again, pointing behind me!

“I’ll be in, in a minute, Mom! And don’t worry, I’ll be in to help. Someone has to come up with good ways to decorate, for the party,” I laughed, turning around to get the ladder.

  As Mom held the door open, I walked into the kitchen where the girls and Carmen were busy decorating the birthday cake, I’m sure Missy baked. The Betty Crocker, of the family. I could hear Tom and Richard’s voices, the husbands of my daughters, who, over the years, I’ve given tons of respect, putting up with my girls, when they’re on a mission, coming from the living room. Stay out of their way! Same with Carmen.

  Gave them each the talk about what they were in for, when the girls each announced their engagement. Of course, we all laughed about it, but I was actually more serious, than the way, they took it. Just like Carmen, and my Mom. They have that authoritative nature, to always control the situation. Being in charge. And I’m sure that’s why the guys, were in the living room, away from the kitchen.  

“Ok, everybody quit slacking! The boss is home!” I laughed, speaking in a low voice. “Look out! Ladder coming through!”

“About time,” Carmen answered, with her hands on her hips. “How’d your appointment go?”

“Great! Healthy as a horse,” I smiled, leaning over to kiss her cheek as I slipped by her with the ladder! “I’ll be in the command post, with the other Generals.”

“Right Dad,” both Missy and Mandy responded in unison, giggling, and rolling their eyes!

“I’ve never got used to you girls saying the same things, at the same time. A little Twilight Zone creepy, if you ask me,” I replied, winking at them as I left the kitchen, carrying the ladder.

“There’s my two favorite Son-in-Laws!” They both looked at me, and smiled. ‘Where do you need the ladder,” I asked?

“Hey Dad, how have you been,” Tom asked, patting me on the back? Richard seemed a little quieter than usual. Keeps thoughts to himself, sometimes, but he’ll open up, if he wants to talk.

“Well, we thought that maybe we should put the banner up above the entrance by the front door, or above the couch. What do you think, Dad,” Richard asked? “You’re the creative one,” he chuckled. “Besides, you know the girls. We would be wrong no matter where we put it,” he laughed.

“Yeah, I’m in charge,” rolling my eyes at him, sounding sarcastic. “Remember boys, I’m married to the creator of your wives. I tried to warn ya both! You had your chance, but now you’re stuck like I am.” We all laughed out loud at this, until we heard Carmen shouting from the kitchen. “You guys getting anything done in there?”

“Working on it honey,” I yelled back! We all chuckled and started decorating.

  We decided to place the ‘Happy Birthday Ava’ banner above the entrance between the living room and the dining room, along with streamers and the balloons on either side. Within 30 minutes we were done, and I snuck into the kitchen while the girls were chatting with each other, and grabbed 3 beers from the fridge. I swear, my Mom could have been Carmen’s Mom, too. Like 2 peas in a pod, and then you add the twins. When Mom, Carmen, Missy, and Mandy were doing something together, it was like they are the only people on the planet. Never figured out, how 4 women can all be talking at the same time, and understand each other.

  Sitting with Tom and Richard, in the living room, drinking beers, we talked about how fast the kids are growing up. Max, Tom and Missy’s boy, is 15 now, and will be driving in August. We joked about how gray Tom’s hair has turned over the past year, and how it’ll probably turn all white when Max turns 16.

  Tom works at a car dealership, and has already been keeping any eye out for a beater with a heater in Max’s first car, but I’m planning on giving him my restored, in mint condition 1969 Mach I, covered in the garage behind the house. That’ll be a surprise for another day this summer, on his birthday. Haven’t told or talked to Carmen about it and I’m sure she will be shocked, because that’s my prized possession. I’ve worked on it for over 25 years.

  With Ava turning the big 10 tomorrow, and, after discussing it with Carmen last week, we’re giving her $500.00 to spend any way she wants, but knowing Carmen and her Mom, she’ll have some say in how it’s spent. As I reached into the fridge for another 3 beers for me and the boys, the girls were all still talking, all at once, but then I heard something that made me rise up, peering over the open refrigerator door.

“So, who found him dead,” Carmen calmly asked Mandy? “Was it one of his kids, or his wife? Did they have any idea he was depressed? Or did he leave a note?”

“All I know, Mom, is he left a note in an envelope on the kitchen table,” she replied, with a shaky, distraught voice.

“What happened,” clearing my throat, and standing up, closing the door? “Who are you talking about?” 

“Oh, I’m sorry honey,” Carmen said. They all stopped talking, sitting at the kitchen table, and turned towards me, not knowing I was in the room.

“You remember Deputy Sheriff, Martin? Rick Martin! He and his family moved in across the street from Mandy and Richard several years ago. They have 3 kids.”

“He’s the one who gave me that speed warning ticket. Remember, Micheal,” Mom asked? “And he helped you change a tire for you, Carmen. Such a nice man.”

“Yeah, they’ve been here when we grilled out, with their kids when they were young. They came over with you and Richard, once,” I recalled, as Mandy acknowledged, nodding her head.

“Dad, he killed himself in the garage, the day before yesterday,” her voice cracked as she came into my arms sobbing. “N-n-ancy came home from work, and found the note on the table. After she read it, she called 911, and just sat in the house, on the couch, waiting for the police. She was terrified to go out there. Her parents have the kids now because they had to sedate Nancy and she’s been in the hospital.”

“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry,” trying to console her, feeling her body shaking, as she sobbed against my chest. “Have you talked to her at all?”

“She actually called me this morning, still groggy from the medication, but she wanted to let me know, she’s alright. Dad, she’s been a close friend of mine since they moved in,” She whispered, looking up at me with swollen, red eyes. “He and Richard became pretty good friends, too. Richard’s just shocked, by the whole thing.” Realized then, why Richard seemed out of sorts, and quiet, earlier.

“Do you have any idea why he would do such a thing, or what was in the note? What made him snap,” I asked, thinking I shouldn’t be asking Mandy that now? “I’m sorry honey, it’s not my business.”

“That’s ok, Dad. When Nancy called me, she wanted to talk about the note,” she replied, as I leaned on the kitchen table where they were all sitting. “He basically wrote that it would be the best thing if he was out of their life because he thought he was losing his mind. And he didn’t want to snap, or maybe harm her and the kids. Guess Rick had called in a Code 5, which means a death, called the coroner, and when he walked into an open front door to find a horrible mass murder scene, in a household where the entire family was slaughtered, apparently by the Father who then turned the shotgun on himself in the garage,” starting to stutter a little, she cleared her throat, and took a deep breath. “It ate at him, and I guess he never recovered.”

“Was this right before he killed himself, Mandy,” I asked?

“No, it was over a year ago. That’s the weird thing. I mean Nancy told me they had discussed it. He went to counseling, therapy, and everything seemed back to normal, until she found his note. Seems that in the police report, after the autopsy of the Father, he had a massive brain tumor, he apparently never shared with his family, and never made an attempt to receive any treatments, at all. And could very well, along with this mass killing of a family, have been the reason, why he shot himself!”

“Oh, honey, that’s horrible,” I whispered, kissing the top of her head, as Missy stood, hugging her sister. “If there’s anything we can do for your friend Nancy, just let us know, ok?”

“I will, Dad. And when Mom told us where you were this morning, at the doctor to get test results, it kinda scared us, you know,” looking up at me, as I moved her hair away from her eyes? “Are you alright? Truth!”

“You girls worry too much,” my voice quivering a little, as I smiled down at Mandy, with Missy, standing behind her. “My tests are all good. I’m fine. Love you girls more than life.”

  It was late in the afternoon, when we had everything ready for the big birthday tomorrow. All the kids left about the same time, because the Grandkids, Ava and Max were at the shopping mall with their friends, and it was time to pick them up.

  My Mom had made her infamous deviled eggs, which made me shake my head, and smile, seeing them in the refrigerator. Deviled eggs at a kids birthday party? Mom would make deviled eggs for breakfast, if somebody asked her to, but nobody in the family would even joke about that, because she would make some. Bless her heart, though. She makes the best deviled eggs, I’ve ever eaten, and everybody else agrees.

  Shaking my head back and forth, I stood up, closed the refrigerator door, and looked around the kitchen. Of course, Carmen and the girls had everything in order, in line, and uniform. Like in a housekeeping magazine cover photo. A little OCD, I’m convinced, in each of them. Turning off the light, and walking into the living room, Carmen was sitting on one end of the couch. Remote in hand, TV off, and dead silence, which was nice. She smiled at me and told me to lay my head in her lap. No argument out of me, I thought, as I plopped down on the couch, stretched out my legs, and taking a deep breath, I smiled, looking up at Carmen.

“It’s been a long day. I’m wiped out. How about you,” I asked? She nodded in agreement, as she brushed my hair with her hand. “That’s so sad about that Deputy Sheriff, Rick Martin, killing himself. Sometimes, I guess, you can’t always know what’s going on in someone’s head. His poor wife and those kids. We should make a donation to the family, and send flowers to the funeral.”  I nodded, agreeing with her.

“Is there anything you want to tell me, Mike?” Her face, now with a somber expression. “Denise Collins called. Our life insurance agent!” Hoping she didn’t see the impact her words made on my face, I looked at her, as if I had forgotten to tell her something.

“I meant to tell you what I decided to do, honey. It’s no big deal! I mean with the dollar buying less and less, now-a-days, from when we originally purchased life insurance, I thought it was a perfect time to increase the coverage. You know, for me, in case anything tragic ever happened to me.” Thought I sounded pretty convincing and logical, but then she asked, what I should have known was coming.

“Don’t we always discuss things like this? We always have! At first, I was a little hurt, but then it made me think, you may know something you don’t want to tell me. I’d like to read your test results, if you don’t mind,” still sounding skeptical, with my response. Couldn’t blame her, though. Knew this was going to come up, eventually, but I thought I bought some time, signing the papers at Denise’s office.

“Of course you can read them, honey. They’re over there! By the way, what did Denise want,” I asked as I pointed to the medical file folder, on the end table?

“Oh, she said you had neglected to sign an addendum, to the new policy,” she answered, then asked. “Are you telling me the truth? Is there anything wrong, you’re not telling me? Cancer, diabetes, any illness? If there is anything wrong, we always work it out. We’ve never hidden anything between us, please be honest with me!”

  Choosing my next words carefully, I responded. “I’m telling you the truth. Nothing is wrong, and I’m totally healthy!” Leaning over, she kissed me on the lips, as I felt a lump in the pit of my stomach, for not being able to tell her everything. Like being sure, I’ll be dead in a little over 5 years, on August 14, 2022. I can’t think of the last time I’ve ever wanted to keep something from Carmen, except maybe a surprise gift, for her birthday or for Christmas, but nothing, like this.

  I woke up first, still on the couch, with my head in Carmen’s lap, and the TV was still off. Shaking her awake, we went upstairs to bed, without discussing anything else, and after kissing each other goodnight, she rolled over on her left side. As I rolled over, the clock on the nightstand read 3:30am. When my eyes opened again, which seemed like I just closed them, looking at the clock, it was 7:34am. And I didn’t remember any dream I may have had, and that’s a good thing. Sitting on the edge of the bed, looking out the window at the clear blue sky, I thought to myself, it’s going to be a great day! Glancing behind me, on the bed, Carmen had already fluffed up her pillow, and I could hear the shower running in the bathroom.

  Peeking around the corner, she was washing the shampoo out of her beautiful long brown hair, and I was tempted to sneak into the shower with her, but decided to make some coffee while she was in the bathroom, and go check my emails in the office. This was Ava’s big day!  

  Setting my cup of coffee on the computer desk, my phone vibrated in my shorts. Had 4 text messages, within the past 10 minutes. Mandy texted: “Would you ask Mom if she bought strawberry ice cream. Ava’s favorite. I called, but Mom didn’t answer. Thanks Dad. Luv U!” Texted her back: “Got it! Seen it in the freezer.” Mom texted: “Would you check to see if I left my purse there?” Then within 1 minute, Mom texted back: “Never mind. Found it! Right next to me on the table. Love you. See you soon xoxo.” Shaking my head, I chuckled, but Mom has been forgetting a lot lately, and I’m getting worried about her. She’s been getting the kids’ names mixed up, and has even called me Larry, my Dad’s name, a few times over the past 6 months. Know enough about Dementia and Alzheimers from articles posted and TV commercials, it scares the hell out of me. Thinking it’s time for her to see her doctor. The last text was from Don. “See you later at the party. Let me know if you want me to bring anything. Just wondered how your test results went. Never heard from ya. See ya buddy!” Tossing my phone down on the desk, I leaned back with both hands behind my head. Damn it, I should have texted him after my appointment in the parking lot. Picking up my phone again, I texted him back: “Hey bud! Was a busy day yesterday with my doctor appointment and decorating for the party with everybody here. All tests are good. Just bring yourself. Ha ha!”

  Didn’t have anything important in my emails, except the normal advertising and marketing crap. It’s worse than all the wasted junk in the mailbox, but at least it’s easier to get rid of it. Hitting the box to delete all email, I scrolled down to uncheck anything I wanted to keep. Getting ready to delete all of them, an email caught my eye, so I unchecked it. It was from my brother-in-law, Kenny, who lives in Hawaii, with my sister, Marcia, and their 4 year old son, Jesse.

  Marcia will email me with pictures, and money scheme sites, when she wanted my opinion on something, but Kenny has never emailed me, so this isn’t what I expected.

  Hi Mike,

  Wanted to let you know that Marcia and Jesse were involved in a car accident on Thursday, when a drunk driver ran a red light, and rammed into the driver’s side, of her car. Marcia hit her head on the side window, shattering it, and received multiple cuts. She had over forty stitches, but more seriously, some internal trauma. Jesse was in the back seat, behind her, in his car seat, and that saved his life, according to the doctor. Some bruising, and a little afraid, but he’s fine. The doctor told me that Marcia’s lost functionality in her left kidney, and the right one is barely functioning so they had to temporarily place her on dialysis. After the swelling goes down, they’re hoping her kidney will be able to take over, again, but I’m really worried. For a cautionary measure, they put her name on a list for a donor kidney, but it’s such a long list. I’ll keep you updated. Didn’t want to ruin the big day for Ava and everybody by calling you this morning. It’s Ava’s big day so tell everybody we love them, and we’re all ok.

  No need to call today. Been pretty hectic and the phone service is shaky, here in the hospital. She’s in the Kona Community Hospital, Room # 722. I’m just sitting here watching them both sleeping. Don’t worry, I’ll keep you informed, if there are any changes. Sending all our love. Tell Ava happy birthday, and her card’s on the way.

Talk to you soon,

Kenny

  I read his email a couple more times, shaking my head, in disbelief that this happened to Marcia, and then I signed out. She’s had her share of bad luck over the past couple years, with losing her job at the resort where she was the director, when they were  purchased by another company, that left her and Kenny struggling to make ends meet, and now this. The first thing that popped in my head, was to donate my kidney, if I’m compatible. Poor Marcia. Thank God Jesse’s ok! I walked into the bathroom where Carmen was drying her hair, and asking her to turn it off a minute, I told her about the email from Kenny, and the bad news about Marcia. We agreed not to bring it up until later in the day, after the presents were opened, we sing happy birthday, and have our cake and ice cream. Everybody started arriving around 1:00, when Mom and Don rang the doorbell, first, around noon, standing together at the front door. Don was on his way over, when Mom pulled into the driveway, and helped her bring in presents, and a coffee cake she made this morning. They both wanted to arrive early to help with any last minute details, but Carmen had everything ready, so they sat outside on the patio, drinking coffee and having a piece of coffee cake. Carmen was standing at the kitchen counter watching them outside the window, when I walked up behind her, giving her a hug, and kissing her neck.

 

“Look at those two,” she said, smiling. “I wonder what they’re talking about?”

“Knowing Don, he’s telling her about his fishing trip he’s planning to the Bahama’s this Spring with a few other guys he goes down there with, every year,” I laughed. “What’s really funny is, know matter what they’re talking about, Mom thinks the world of Don. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why,” I chuckled, “ but if it’s good for her, who cares?”

  Carmen turned around, in my arms, putting her hands around my neck, “Mike, I’m concerned about your Mom! When she called me the other day, looking for her purse, she asked if I had heard from Larry, your Dad,” she said, sadly, looking into my eyes.

“Yeah, she’s called me by Dad’s name a few times over the past month,” kissing her forehead. “It’s time to make a doctor appointment for her, to see what medication she can take to improve, or at least help retain her memory. And with her still driving, it worries me.”

  We were still holding each other in the kitchen, when the front doorbell rang. It was Missy and Tom, with Max coming up the porch steps behind them. As they entered the doorway, a car horn beeped a couple times, as the Payne’s pulled in the driveway, behind Mom’s car. Ava jumped out of the car first, running up the steps, grinning from ear to ear, as the trunk opened. Mandy and Richard got out of the car, and were unloading the trunk when a van pulled in front of the house, a side door opened, and four of Ava’s friend’s jumped out carrying presents. The driver, one of the girl’s Mom’s, waved, yelling to her daughter to call when they’re ready to be picked up. As the girl’s walked by me, standing with the door open, I waved at the van as it took off, seeing another car, a sedan, I’ve never seen before pulling up where the van had vacated. A shiny new black BMW 7 series, I think. The door opened and Ed jumped out, with his arms apart, smiling, as he walked around the front of the car.

“Well? What ya think, buddy,” he grinned, walking towards me, pointing back at it? “Just picked it up this morning.”

“How much did you make on my last appointment,” I laughed, out loud, shaking his hand? “Glad you could make it, Ed! Nice car,” looking back at it in the road, giving it a thumbs up. “Nice of you to remember the little folk,” I said, sarcastically, but smiling.

“Funny, Mike. Ha-ha.” He raised his fist, as if to punch me in the face, and put his arm around my shoulders, as we walked into the house, full of people, and closed the door behind us. Tom and Richard were standing in the foyer, and turned to shake Ed’s hand when we entered the house. We’ve all played golf together several months ago, and Ed boastfully pointed out how he and Richard handily killed Tom and I before we even got to the tenth hole, beating us by twelve strokes. All of us, never took it seriously, except Ed, who could afford to play three or four times per week. After all, golf’s a game you need to play, a lot, to be good at all. Since his wife died of cancer, he filled his days out of the office, on the golf course, and that was therapeutic, for him. They were still rubbing it in, when Carmen peeked out of the kitchen, and waved her finger, at me, to come over to the kitchen doorway.

“What’s up, honey,” I asked, glad to get away from the continued taunting, although I really didn’t care? We all, always have a great time together, even with Ed’s bragging.  

“Would you go check on your Mom? Don came in the house, and said she started crying when he told her he’s occasionally been going to the cemetery, visiting your Dad’s grave, pulling weeds, and just making sure it looks nice,” she whispered to me. “She didn’t understand, saying that Larry was at home, not feeling well. Then she started crying!”

“I bet Don feels like shit,” patting her shoulder, heading for the back door. When I opened to door, Don turned his head towards me, mouthing the words, “I’m sorry.” Mom had her head laid down on her folded arms, on the patio table, sobbing.

  Kneeling down, on one knee, next to Mom, I put my arm around her shoulders, “SShh, it’s alright, Mom. I’m here. What’s wrong? Are you alright?”

“Micheal, what’s wrong with me,” she asked through her teary eyes, now streaming down her face? “I’m so confused. I know Larry is gone, but I didn’t remember. I’m so sorry Don,” she responded, looking across the table, at Don, visibly distraught. “It’s not your fault.”

“Jeanette, it’s ok,” he answered, reaching over, rubbing her forearm. “You’ll always be special to me. I love you! You just got mixed up. I understand.”

“Mom, I think it’s time, you went to see your doctor. There’s medication you could be taking to help your memory. Ok?” Looking into her eyes, seeing fear, and helplessness.

“My biggest dread is forgetting my family,” Her eyes widened, as she began to chew on her lips. An obvious sign of her, in distress. “What if I don’t recognize you anymore, or the Grandkids?” Her voice quivered, as she caressed my face. “Will you go with me to see my doctor?”

“Of course I will, Mom. I’ll even set up the appointment for you. You’ll never be alone. I promise,” stroking her hand, on my face. The back door opened, and Ava ran out towards us.

“Ninny Jett,” she screamed as she ran into Mom’s arms, hugging and kissing her! “I’m 10 today. Double digit age, like you. I love you!”

“My little Ava Jo,” Mom beamed, with joy, as she held her close. “You are becoming such a big girl. I love you, to the moon and back,” she smiled, looking at me, mouthing the words, “thank you.” She put her face close to Ava’s face. “You know what, Ava? I’m going to break with tradition. There’s a package behind the couch, with a pink bow, I think you should go open now,” she grinned, looking at me. “And no argument out of you, Micheal!”

“You’re the boss, Mom!” I responded, kissing her cheek, before standing up, looking at Don, who was now smiling, but had a concerned look in his face. We had discussed Mom losing her memory, and if it’s dementia, it usually progresses to Alzheimer’s disease. Made me feel sick!

  Ava ran into the house, weaving through the kitchen, between Carmen and Aunt Missy, yelling to her Mom, that Ninny Jett told her she can open her present from her now. Before she had a chance to respond, she was already in the living room behind the couch. Mom, Don, and I walked into the house, and Mom told Mandy, it was alright. It was her idea, she said, as she went to watch Ava open it. I explained to the girls and Carmen what happened outside, with Don, still feeling guilty about making Mom cry, standing next to the back door. Told them, it’s taken care of, and I’m going to take Mom to the doctor as soon as I can get her an appointment. Both Mandy and Missy, had also noticed the difference in Mom, and they fully understood, and were glad I was involved. More importantly, was that Mom, knew she had a problem. When we walked in the living room, Ava had unwrapped what she’s wanted for a while now. It was a Refractor Telescope. Since science class this year had started studying the solar system, she developed a huge interest in the universe, and the stars.

  Glancing over at Mom, the joyful look on her face, brought back memories when Mom and Dad loved giving us what we always wanted, when Marcia and I were kids. Remembering the email from Kenny, I wondered how she’ll react, when I tell her about Marcia’s accident in Hawaii. Tears were running down Mom’s face, when Ava hugged her, thanking her for her present, and wanted to open the box, and put it together.

  Richard told Ava to wait until after we’ve lit the candles on her cake, sing happy birthday, and after she opens the rest of her presents, he promised to help her assemble her telescope. We were all around the dining room table when Missy walked in carrying the cake, with the candles lit, and set it down on one side of the table. After singing happy birthday, Ava easily blew out all 10 candles, in one breath, and Carmen started cutting a piece for everybody, and Missy put a scoop of ice cream next to each piece. Ava and her girlfriends, ate at the small folding table at the end of the dining room table, and Max thought it was cool sitting with the grownups, at the big table. One of Ava’s friend’s has a crush on Max, and he wanted to be, as far as possible, away from her. Made me laugh watching her smiling, staring at him, and he’d just turn his head. Oh, to be young, again! After finishing our cake and ice cream, the little girls sat in a circle, around Ava, on the floor in the living room, and everybody else sat on the couch or chairs. Ava was like a whirlwind, when it came to opening gifts. Paper flew everywhere, and as they were opened, she ran to whoever gave it to her, giving them a hug, and a big thank you, before returning to her spot on the floor, to open the next one. She received a $100 gift certificate from her Aunt Missy and Uncle Tom, from Toys R Us, a $50 check from Don, and a big thick book of Hubble Telescope colored pictures of the universe, from Max. Ed gave her a birthday card, and when she opened it, there was a dollar bill. He cracked up laughing at her response, and then gave her two, one hundred dollar bill’s. Thought she was going to burst our eardrums, the way she screamed when he laid those in her hand.

  Then her Dad, who had snuck out of the room, returned, wheeling a new bicycle, from him and Mandy. She opened the card from Carmen and me, and was excited to have a $500 check, and as the card read, to spend on anything you want.

  Mandy frowned, a little, at us, when she read the card. Carmen had called that response, saying Mandy would, more than likely, decide what she could do with that, but then she winked and smiled at us, rolling her eyes.

  Ava and her friends were outside, playing with her new telescope, and Max wanted to go see my Mach I, sitting in my garage out back, so he ran into the kitchen, and out the back door, to where I had it stored. That left all the grownups in the house, so I figured it was the best time to bring up the email from Kenny, and Marcia’s car accident. Whispered to Carmen, who was washing dishes in the sink, that we should tell everyone about the accident, now. I called everyone into the living room.

“I didn’t want to tell everyone about this, during Ava’s birthday party, but I need to let you all know about something.” The small talk between each other stopped, as I proceeded. “ I got an email from Kenny in Hawaii,” putting my hand on Mom’s lap, who was sitting next to me, “Marcia and Jesse were in a car accident Thursday. Now, they’re both doing well.

  A drunk driver, ran a red light, hitting them on the drivers side. Jesse was pretty shaken up and he’s fine, but Marcia had some internal trauma,” I continued, feeling Mom, squeezing my hand, shaking.

“How bad is she, Micheal,” she asked, starting to sniffle?

“Well, she lost the functionality in one kidney, and because of the bruising, the other kidney isn’t functioning properly, so she’s on a dialysis machine,” hearing deep sighs around the room. I continued, “they are hopeful it will start functioning on its own, once the swelling subsides, but in the meantime,” I paused, looking at Carmen. “I didn’t discuss this with Carmen yet, but I’m going to have my blood tested to see if I’m a match, if she needs a kidney. Not sure, what else I’d need to do. Ed, can you enlighten me more, on the process?”

“I’m so sorry to hear about Marcia! If you are compatible, with an initial blood test, you’ll need to have a couple more blood tests done. Those would be for tissue typing and cross-matching, but being a direct relative, there is a high percentage of being a match, if the initial blood test shows compatibility.”

“Well, I’m ready,” I replied! “Tell me what I need to do, then.”

“It is a good idea to start the process ASAP, because if you are approved for the donation, the surgery can then be scheduled,” he responded. “Now, the surgery is usually scheduled 4 to 6 weeks in advance, so contact Kenny, and get me the contact information of her doctor, in Hawaii, and on Monday I’ll set-up a time for your blood test. Will that work for you?”

“Perfect! Thanks Ed,” I answered. “Of course, if Marcia’s kidney starts functioning, this could be mute, but I just want to be there for her, if she needs me. She’d do the same for me.”

  A memory when we were kids popped into my head, when I broke my arm, being pushed off the slide in the school playground, when I was 11. I remember how afraid I was, being taken to the hospital in the ambulance. The school had called Mom to tell her what happened, and she and Marcia walked into the emergency room, where I was laying down, while the doctor was evaluating my injury. It was surreal to me, because as I stared at my arm, I realized that the bone was sticking out of it. He had already ordered a series of x-rays, but told Mom they were concerned with infection and would have to sedate me, to re-set the bone. When Marcia saw my arm, she told the doctor, that if I needed a new arm, she would give me one of hers. Being already sedated, I don’t exactly remember that moment, but Mom would always bring it up with friends and relatives, and they’d all laugh about what she said. Well, now Sis, it’s my turn to offer you a piece of me, if need be, I thought, and chuckled a little to myself.

“If she does need a kidney, and you are compatible, you would spend a couple days in the hospital, and then an additional 4 to 6 weeks of recovery time,” Ed said. “Just want you to understand what this would entail.”

“I’m not concerned about my recovery time,” looking in Ed’s eyes. “How long would Marcia’s recovery time last?”

“Not going to lie to you, Mike,” he answered, seriously. “A kidney transplant is a major operation, and there are complications associated, including the pain, delayed wound healing, bleeding, and risk of infections. The most dreaded complication,” he paused, looking at me, and my Mom, who leaned forward, with an anxious look in her face, “is a rejection reaction. In other words, when the body rejects a newly donated kidney. Now, the odds would be with your sister not rejecting a kidney, but I’m just putting those possibilities out there.”

“Ed, how long would her recovery time be, after the transplant,” Mom asked?

“Hospital recovery is usually 5 to 10 days, for a kidney transplant, pending no complications, as I’ve gone over. She’d spend, oh, approximately 24 to 48 hours in intensive care immediately after the surgery,” he responded, as he noticed my Mom’s face turned pale, as she looked at me. “Jeanette,” he continued, placing his hand over hers, “A kidney transplant, if she’ll even need one, has a much higher success rate compared to a decade ago.”

  The back door opened and Ava and her friends ran in screaming, excitedly, about how much they could see with her new telescope, and we all changed the subject. Looking into Mom’s eye’s, holding her hand, and rubbing her back, I whispered to her, that everything will be alright. I had the predictable feeling that she’ll need a kidney, and I’ll be the perfect match. Thinking to myself, what better outcome of this whole damn thing, of knowing when my life will end crap, would be to leave a piece of me, living on, in my sister, to extend her life. What a concept!

  Not knowing for sure, what was going to transpire the remainder of the year, with Marcia, maybe needing a kidney, and what that would all entail, Carmen and I placed the family vacation talk on hold until the next year. After everyone had left, I helped Carmen, finish cleaning up, and both being totally exhausted, we called it a day, and went to bed early.

 

September 2, 2017

  I woke up early this morning, which isn’t a normal thing for me on a Saturday, when I usually sleep in until around 9:00 or 9:30, but today we’re celebrating Max’s 16th birthday. His birthday was actually on Thursday, August 31st, when he turned the legal age, when he can drive, but only if he passes the state exam. He’s a smart kid! Good head on his shoulders, but I was a little anxious. Not because he’s going to be driving a car, but also, with all the responsibilities, and obligations that go along with it. A big part of growing up. Knowing my Grandson, I’m confident that he’s got a good, mature head, and that’s one of the reason’s I’m out here, in the garage, putting my final hand wax job on my most prized possession, a 1969 Mach I. I remember, when I found this car 25 years or so, ago. A midnight black, bad ass-looking, Mustang, with a 351 4-bbl., manual 4-speed, and not the type of car, for someone like me, who was raised during the ‘muscle car’ years. Me and a couple friends, buried the needle, one afternoon, clocking 125 mph. Scared the shit out of us! Don’t see the adventurer look, or the stupidity look, I had, at his age, so I’m not concerned about giving him a sports car. His first car! Max is going to freak out, when he opens the envelope, we’re giving him, and finds the paperwork, title, and the keys to his first car. Tom was a little apprehensive, and envious, at first. Felt like he wasn’t adequate, in not being able to give his son more, and I could understand that, so I told him, we’ll tell him this. This car is a present from both of us, after we had discussed, and decided he was responsible enough to take care of it. I’m giving him the car, and that he, his Dad would pay for the insurance, and teach him how to work on his own car, when it needs repairs.

  Finished, polishing a mirror finish glaze, on the car, I walked into the house, made another cup of coffee, and went to sit out on the patio, on the chaise lounger, around the pool. Laying back, closing my eyes, I started thinking about the last few months. The last 4 months seemed to fly by, and I hope the rest of my life doesn’t go that fast, but doesn’t it always seem to fly by fast, for everybody? It was mid-morning, around 9:45am, April 30th, on a Thursday, when my cell phone rang, and by the ringtone, it told me it was Marcia calling, or at least her phone was being used to call me. A couple months had passed, since she had her accident, and was put on dialysis, waiting to see if her remaining kidney would recover, after the swelling subsided, and start functioning on its own, again. When I answered the phone, I didn’t think I’d hear my sister’s voice on the other end, and my intuition was correct. It was Kenny, and the good news, was she had recovered from most of her injuries, for the most part, but after an examination and tests were done, the bad news was, she needed a kidney donor.

  I had called Kenny a few days after the birthday party, and told him about my intentions to volunteer a kidney, if necessary, and if I was compatible. After he told Marcia, he put her on the phone, and we talked on the phone for over an hour.

  She thanked me, over and over, telling me how much she loved me, and then started crying. My sister drives me insane sometimes, but I love her. That bizarre concept, came to me again! I could really have a part of me, still alive, after August 14, 2022.

  Having all my blood work done, it was just a matter of time, when we’d know the compatibility results. Within 2 weeks, the results were in, and I was the perfect match, so we coordinated the surgery date, with my flight itinerary, and before I knew it, I was on a plane, to Hawaii. It was a long flight, and within an hour, I started to doze off, as the plane hit turbulence. A loud voice, entered my right ear, scared the hell out of me, and I almost dropped my coffee cup.

“Hey, Dad! We’re getting ready to sing happy birthday, and cut the cake,” Missy yelled, after opening the sliding patio door.

“I’m awake. Be right in!”  

  As I walked into the house, there was Max, sitting next to his first, steady girlfriend, Cindy, who, as  I told his parents, was the perfect match for him. I was right! Looking into their faces, the way their eyes glowed, when they were around each other, reminded me of, when I met Carmen in high school. I was a senior and she was a freshman, and her parents were very apprehensive when I picked her up for our first date. Her Dad was extremely suspicious, at first, of his daughter going on a date with a guy, 3 years older than his baby girl, but, after realizing how respectful I was raised, we soon became pretty close. And it wasn’t long into me and Carmen’s relationship, when we had that same look in our eyes, as Max and Cindy have now. Sitting next to Carmen on the love seat, was Don and Mom, involved in one of their frivolous conversations, probably, about nothing, but they were like two peas in a pod, and that was good for both of them. Ed had dropped a birthday card by earlier, apologizing for not being able to make it. A good friend of his, was flying in for the week, and he had to go to the airport, to pick him up. Richard was walking out of the kitchen, with Ava behind him, carrying a couple packages, laying them on the table against the wall. Missy and Mandy were at the table, lighting the candles, before we all sang happy birthday to Max, as he blushed, trying not to show his embarrassment, in front of his girlfriend. After the cake was cut, and we were all sitting in the living room, eating, I noticed Max staring at his gifts and cards, leaning over and picking up the manila envelope from us. He started shaking it, and hearing a slight jingle, he looked over at me, smiling, questionably. Quickly, I changed the subject.

“So Max, when are you planning to take your drivers license exam,” I asked? “Your Dad tells me, that you’re not, too bad, of a driver,” winking at Tom, who held his hand up, waving, as if expressing, not too bad.

“We’re going to the DMV on Tuesday morning, right,” he said, glancing over to his Dad, who nodded, affirmatively? “He told me he found a car at the dealership, that would be perfect for me. A few dents, but it runs good. He’s having it checked out, and hopefully, I could, maybe, have a car, in a couple weeks,” his voice changed into a question, glancing towards his Dad?

“You’ll have a car soon enough, Max! Then, comes the expense and responsibilities taking care of it. Life isn’t always a bed of roses, bud,” he chuckled, smiling at me!

“Life can be a bitch, Max!” The voice exploded in the room, at the same time everyone took a breath, or was quiet, at the same time. It was Don! “I mean, it can be tough. Not always easy,” looking down, feeling flustered, that probably, even the neighbors, had heard him. We all busted out laughing, and I thought Mom was going to choke, when she started laughing, with that giggle of hers, where she can’t stop. And then she starts snorting. Missy and Mandy, had come out of the kitchen when they heard Don, and were standing in the doorway laughing, and shaking their heads. And then my wife! My wife, Carmen! Stands up, in the middle of the room, pointing a finger at Don.

“Yeah, Don! Life can be a bitch, but then you might marry one!”

  I’ve seen very few times, that my twin girls were shocked at anything. And for that matter, shocked into silence, but when their Mom, stood up, and made that remark, they lost it, and fell on their knees, in laughter, clutching their stomachs.

  Cindy, Max’s girlfriend, sitting next to him, had a stunned look on her face when Max’s Grandma said that. Welcome to the family, I thought, grinning. My phone vibrated in my pocket. It was Marcia!

“Hey, excuse me, everyone! Marcia’s calling,” holding up my finger, answering it. “We got you on speaker phone, Marcia!” Holding my phone up.

“Hello, everybody!” Marcia sounded upbeat, and great. “Happy Birthday Max!” Suddenly, she, Kenny, and Jesse, broke into the ‘happy birthday’ song, for him. When they were done, we all applauded. We applauded their singing, as shrill and off key, as it was, but we were also, all happy to hear how healthy Marcia sounded, when just a few months ago, she was bedridden, on dialysis, with no guarantee of a future. When I had landed in Hawaii, to give my sister, a part of me, to keep her alive, I was terrified. Not for myself, but for my sister who deserved to have a full life, to raise Jesse, and just being happy. I was worried about her body, possibly rejecting my kidney, after raising everyone’s hopes up, and what that would do to them. After Marcia’s successful surgery and recovery, from the transplant, and no organ rejection, I couldn’t be happier. Having to delay the family vacation this year, because of her surgery, we decided that we’d all go to Hawaii, next year, for vacation.

“Thanks Aunt Marcia and Uncle Kenny,” Max yelled. “You, too, Jess! Love you guys!”

“If you haven’t received your card, yet, it’s in the mail,” Kenny said! He would always say that, but it was, and it would come a day or two later.  

  I passed my phone around the room so everybody could each talk for a few minutes to Marcia and Kenny on the phone. After we hung up, Carmen went over to the table, and started giving Max his presents, starting with the wrapped gifts. Couldn’t wait for him to finish opening his presents, and like his Mom, he took his time, first reading the cards and then opening the gift. He had just opened his gift from Cindy, a gold necklace, and a gold bracelet, when Carmen laid his cards in front of him. Mandy and Richard gave him several gift certificates from various restaurants, because they knew that he and Cindy loved to eat out. Another smaller card fell out, from Ava. He laughed as he read it out loud. ‘Happy birthday to the Coolest older cousin! – From the best cousin. Ever!’ Ed had given him a $200.00 check, and Mom gave him a $100.00 gift card to the local movie theatre, since he and Cindy loved going to the movies. Don, also gave him a check, and then he opened the card from his Mom and Dad. Tom winked at me, as Max pulled out a gas card, with a $500.00 credit.

“Now Son, that should hold you for a while, but after that’s gone, you’ll be paying for your own gas,” he laughed, leaning over, and messing up his hair.

“Thanks Mom and Dad. It’ll last a really long time, if I don’t have my own car for a while,” he chuckled, rolling his eyes.

  Carmen tossed the manila envelope, he was shaking earlier, and he ripped it open, pouring out its contents on the table.

“W-w-what,” he stammered, as he looked back and forth, from Carmen to me! His eyes fell on the keys that clinked on the table, attached to a Ford Mustang Keyring. His eyes welled up, as he picked them up.

“Happy birthday Max,” Carmen smiled as she stood up, leaning over, hugging him, and kissing his forehead. His mouth still open, he picked up the pile of papers, and a car title slipped out, onto the table.

“All I ask is you take care of my baby, buddy!” I stepped closer to him, as he stood up, and hugged me, almost sobbing. “You know we love you more than you know,” I smiled, looking in his eyes, rubbing his hair, then pointed over to his parents, sitting on the couch. “Your Dad and I are both confident that you have more responsibility, than most teenagers, your age. Your Grandma and I are giving you your first car, and your parents are paying for your car insurance, and your Dad and I will teach you how to work on your own car, but you’ll have to work part-time to pay for its repairs. Fair enough,” I asked?

“Your Mustang is your most prized possession, Po-Po.” His voice shaking, as he stood there, looking down at the keys and the pile of papers on the table. “I-I-I,” He plopped back down next to Cindy.

“No, Max! You and Ava, are my most prized possession. Not sure what your Grandma’s is,” I chuckled, winking and glancing over at Carmen. Everybody started laughing, as she rolled her eyes, at me.

“Don’t listen to your Po-Po, Max,” Carmen responded, shaking her head, and slapping my butt. “He’s full of, you know what!”

“I promise Po-Po! You’ll never see your car dirty. Ever,” he animatedly replied, crossing his heart. “And then when I’m old enough, you and Dad, and I can go get a beer together,” he joked, looking over at his Mom, whose face changed, glaring at him. Everybody laughed again, except for me. I won’t be around for that, I thought to myself. Life is so damn short, especially knowing when it’s going to be over. Quickly, I wiped a small tear forming in my eye, seeing if anyone noticed it. Don, who had been sitting in the recliner, unusually silent for him, detected the reaction in my face, and smiled at me, giving me a thumbs up. The next 5 years are going to be tough, but I’m relieved to have been able to tell someone else, what I know, giving him a thumps up, back.

“So, Max,” Ava spoke up. “Big Cuz! My favorite cousin. Mom won’t be the only one who can take me to Callie’s house, you know,” grinning from ear to ear, then noticing Cindy staring at her. “I mean, when you aren’t on a date,” she giggled. “You live right down the street from our house!”

“Max, but seriously,” his Dad said! “It will help your Mom out, if she needs something from the store, or,” pausing, nodding his head towards Ava, “you could offer to take your cousin somewhere, or pick her up, but he’s not your own personal taxi driver,” looking stern, winking, and grinning, at Ava. Richard and Mandy both concurred, pointing fingers at her. Everybody laughed, and then started conversations between themselves. Carmen and the girls started cleaning up the wrapping paper scattered on the floor, as Max and Cindy looked over his presents, whispering between themselves. Happen to glance over at Mom, who had been fairly quiet, and detected a strained expression in her face, as she started biting her lip, whenever something made her uncomfortable. Don had noticed it as well, and went over to the chair where she was sitting, and knelt down, as I walked over and patted her shoulder.

“Mom, are you feeling alright?” She looked up at me, despairingly.

“Micheal, I’m afraid,” she whispered, grabbing and then squeezing my hand, on her shoulder. “When Max started opening his gifts from everyone, until just now, I didn’t know what was going on,” her voice becoming shakier, as she continued. “I didn’t know who anyone was, for a split second! What’s going to happen to me?”

“We’re all here for you, Mom. You’ll never be alone,” I answered. “We all love you.”

“You ain’t gonna get rid of me that easy,” Don spoke up, assuredly. “And you have the best family in the world! I know because they put up with an old fart like me,” he chuckled, as Mom looked down at him, with her smiling eyes, picking up his hand off her knee, and kissing it.

“You are family, Don. And Micheal couldn’t have a better friend,” she answered, with a calmer voice, then looked up at me.

“Mom, I’ll call your doctor in the morning. He may have to re-evaluate your medications. Ok?” She nodded her head, agreeing, as Max walked towards us.

“Po-Po, could we go see your car,” sounding a little impatient?

“No, but we can go see your car,” I responded! Looking down at Mom, she smiled, and whispered, “Go ahead, I’m ok. Don’s here.”

  As we walked towards the door, Tom and Richard followed us out to the garage, and Don yelled he’d be out in a little while, after he talked with Mom, a little longer. As the garage door slowly opened, and seeing Max’s facial expression, gave me the greatest feeling that I’ll never forget, as long as I live. Since he was 4 years old, he always wanted to go see his Po-Po’s car in the garage, but today, watching him, as he sat behind the wheel of his own car, made me realize this would be the last time we’d go out to see the Mustang together, in my garage. A little sad, but at the same time, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

  We each took turns taking a ride with him around the block, and Tom was maybe more excited than he was, showing him how to do general maintenance and repairs. Towards the end of the day, as the sun started to go down, everybody started leaving the party. Missy backed their car out of the driveway, then Max and Tom in the Mustang, with Ava in the back seat, honking and waving as they drove behind Missy down the street. Carmen and I stood at the end of the driveway, until they disappeared, and walked into the house. It was a good day. One of the best days of my life.

  December 31, 2017, New Years Eve, was on a Sunday and my wife and I were celebrating at home watching the New York City fireworks, on television. We had opened a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck Brut, one of Carmen’s favorites. Not really being a connoisseur, of champagne, they pretty much tasted all the same to me, which would drive Carmen crazy, when I’d make that comment, “they all taste the same to me!” But on this night, sitting with her snuggled next to me on the couch, toasting the news year, and drinking our champagne, it tasted incredible. The previous year was unique, and a game changer. Game changer! That makes me laugh. Quite the understatement, when you consider, my life took a 180 degree turn last February. The last quarter of 2017, flew by, but it always does with the holidays all jumbled together within 3 months, from Halloween, to Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, but now the new year is coming up. The family plan, we discussed over Thanksgiving hadn’t changed, for vacation in 2018 was Hawaii, and everybody was already on the same page.

  We were going in March, during Spring break, so the kids wouldn’t hardly miss any school, since we were going to be gone for 2 weeks. After taking Mom to the doctor last October, and she was prescribed Namenda, a drug used to treat moderate to severe confusion, related to Alzheimer’s disease, it wouldn’t cure her condition, but it would improve memory, awareness, and give her the ability to perform daily functions.

  Her doctor did discuss with me, when he pulled me aside, that we need to be prepared to make a decision, if and when she loses those abilities. It’s something Carmen and I had discussed the last couple months, and we decided, that there was no way we would put her in a nursing home environment, and that we would bring her into our home, when that time comes. My wife is incredible, and when she was the one who insisted she would move in with us, it was a done deal. No questions asked! And when I was out with Don one night, for wings and a beer, and told him about what she had said, he insisted that he would be available anytime, when Carmen and I needed a break. I looked down at Carmen with her head in my lap, and she was already snoring at 12:22am. As I was leaning over to kiss her forehead, my phone vibrated and rang a familiar ringtone, a buck deer snorting. It was Don! As I tried to answer it right away, so as not to wake Carmen, she opened her eyes, smiling up at me.

“Hey best buddy! HAPPY NEW YEAR,” he was yelling, with loud country music in the background! “I’m going outside! Hold on!

“It’s Don,” I whispered, looking down at Carmen.

“Yeah, I know,” she laughed! “Tell him ‘Happy New Year’ for me. I have to go pee.

“Is that better,” Don yelled, again!

“I hear you! You don’t have to shout anymore, you nut! Happy New Year to you, too! I assume you’re down at ‘The Barn’. I knew exactly where he was, and I could hear rodeo hollering in the background. They have a mechanical bull, and it’s Don’s bar, with tight T-shirt waitresses and 75 different draft beers. “Carmen says Happy New Years, too.”

“Same to her. Having an awesome time and don’t worry about me, I got a disigated driver!”

“You mean designated driver! If you can’t talk, you can’t drive, buddy. Be careful, and call if you need a ride. Talk to you later. Bye!” As I started to hang up, he yelled.

“Hey! Also, wanted to ask you whenever you’re ready to go over this year’s to-do-stuff, let me know,” he said quite clearly. “I’m here for you, anytime,” his voice started to quiver. “I-I don’t wanna lose you, buddy. Only 5 more years, right?” He was trashed, and getting emotional.

“Ok, ok. Let’s not go there tonight,” I whispered into the phone, hearing the toilet stool flushing. “Be careful! No driving! Talk to you later this week, ok?”

“Alright. Going back inside!” The phone went dead.

“Did you tell Don, Happy New Years, for me,” Carmen asked, leaning over the couch, kissing the top of my head?

“Yes, I did, and he said he has a designated driver. He’ll be ok. Too old, and mean to die,” I laughed.

“Good. I’m going to bed, honey, unless you want me to stay up with you. I’m really beat!”

“No, that’s alright, go to bed,” pulling her head down to kiss her softly on her lips. “Love you, and Happy New Year.”

“I love you, too, Micheal.” she answered, looking into my eyes, her eyes smiling.

“Where’d that come from? You never call me Micheal. Mom still calls me that, from when I was a little boy, when everybody did!”

“I don’t know! Have to admit, over the past year, there’s been things, I’ve seen in you that make me smile, and constantly remind me of how much I love you,” leaning down and giving me another kiss on the lips. More passionately, and longer.

“Oh…So you’ve never noticed how great a catch I am, until this last year,” I responded, sarcastically! “Thanks a lot,” I chuckled!

“I’m being serious, goofball,” she thumped my head, with a flick of her finger. “Since you were late for your physical appointment last year, you’ve never procrastinated, or ever been late for anything, number 1! And…Mister tight wad,” she flicked my head, lightly, again! “You haven’t blinked an eye, or asked what it cost, whenever I buy anything, which still makes me pinch myself. That’s number 2! You call the girls, almost every other day, to see what’s going on, and how everyone’s doing. Number 3! And then you give Max your prized possession, without batting an eye. Number 4! Number 5, you’ve got everybody taking annual family vacations together, starting this year, to Hawaii. And number 6, you gave your sister, whom you always said drives you crazy, your only left kidney!” She started laughing, then snorting. “I’m teasing you about the kidney. But, I’m not complaining,” she admitted! “It’s just, that I love you, the way you are, and I don’t want our life to ever change together, Micheal! Kinda like calling you that. It’s a dignified name for an honorable guy. And I’m just glad you’re mine,” she kissed me again, turning away. “Good Night. Love you!”

“Good night, honey,” I answered, patting her hand as she turned, to go to bed. “I love you, too,” I answered, hardly able to keep my composure, as tears filled my eyes. After she left the room, I quickly wiped my eyes, and turned off the television.

  Sitting there, in the stillness, with the end table light on, I started thinking about everything. The girls when they were little. When I met Carmen, and when my Dad died. A flood of memories, that literally made my head ache, as I rubbed my temples, trying to silence the flood of random thoughts. Closing my eyes, I took several deep breaths, then focused on what needs done this year, so I turned off the end table light and went into the office, to do my, as Don put it, on the phone, the to-do-stuff for this year.

  It was around 2:45 or so, when I crawled into bed, and snuggled next to Carmen putting my arms around her waist. She stirred, moving her arm over mine, rubbing it a little, before falling back into a deep sleep. Two thoughts went through my head, before falling asleep. My physical appointment for this year and planning our family vacation to Hawaii, so the whole family can be together, which hasn’t happened in over a decade. It’s a new year.

  It’s been another unusually mild, warm winter, which seems to be breaking global records annually, becoming the norm, and the violent, extreme Spring storm season had begun, and it’s only mid-March. I was watching a ‘Breaking News’ report, out of Texas where over 40 tornadoes touched down within a 10 mile range, all at once, devastating an entire town, overnight, when the doorbell rang. Muting the TV, I answered the door, and there was Ed standing on the porch, with his arms raised, bent at the elbow.

“Well, are you ready,” he asked, tapping his watch, with his other hand? “Tee time is in 30 minutes., and Rick and Al are already there, in the clubhouse, I assume, having drinks.”

“Oh, shit! Got caught up watching about those tornadoes in Texas. I’m ready though! Just need to grab my house keys, and get my clubs out of the garage!” He had called me last night and asked if I could fill in, for a no show, to play golf at the country club.

  And after turning him down several times, over the past few weeks, I thought, I owed him. Haven’t ridden in his 7-series BMW, yet, either, and I know he loves his car, so I indulged him.

“You ever get any dust or dirt on your car, Ed,” I asked, laughing, as he opened the trunk for me to lay my clubs in the back, next to his clubs?

“Hey, that’s right, you haven’t even been in my car, yet! I love it, Mike,” he eagerly, responded. “It’s a M760i xDrive sedan, with a 6.6 liter, twin power turbo V-12 engine xDrive, and it’s a beast! Over 600 HP,” he continued, grinning from ear to ear, as he started it revving it up! 

“Nice! Although I’m not sure what all that means, but it sounds fast. 600 HP,” I asked, shaking my head? “Unbelievable!”

“It can hit almost 200 MPH,” he answered, as he sped down the road, towards the highway! “I had it close the other day. Scared the shit out of me,” he chuckled!

“You don’t have to prove it to me today, bro,” I said, anxiously! “Ok,” I asked, patting his arm?

“No problem. We can make the tee time, with 10 minutes to spare, going only 80,” he answered, winking at me, as he merged onto the highway, and punched it.

  He was right about making it in plenty of time, as we pulled into the parking lot with almost 15 minutes before tee time. As we were walking towards the clubhouse, with our clubs, Rick and Al were heading down the cart path towards us, in a cart, clubs in the back, and a drink in the cup holders. These guys take the game so seriously, that, at first, I didn’t really enjoy playing with them. Al would scream at the ball, and even threw one of his clubs into a pond, one time. Rick’s been known to throw a tantrum, and swear to never play again, but would be the instigator, who would set up tee times, and then find guys to play. Eventually, I realized that this was their way to relieve their own personal stress, and to also, have a few drinks, and enjoy each others company.

  It was after 7:30pm when Ed dropped me off in my driveway, before backing into the street, and screeched his tires, leaving a double skid mark on the road. The front porch light flickered on and off, before the garage door opened. Damn it, I thought! That clown woke Carmen up. Shaking my head, I walked into the garage, and put my golf bag away, before hitting the garage door button, and walking into the house.

“Well, honey, did you guys have a good time?” Carmen asked, standing in front of the sink, washing a glass. “BTW! Who was the teenage driver, who brought you home,” she mocked?

“Actually, it was a pretty good day. Sunny all day. Not much wind. And the kids didn’t throw their toys in the water, or throw a tantrum on the fairway,” I chuckled! “But really, I had a good time. Don’t spend much time with Ed anymore, since he joined that expensive club, but he seems really happy. I need to take a shower. I’m beat!” I said, taking a long, deep breath, and heading towards the doorway. “Oh,” I twisted around! “That teenager was Ed, in his crazy fast BMW. See you in the morning. Good night!”

  Hearing Carmen’s voice in the kitchen, saying good night back to me, I headed up to our bedroom. Stripping down, and turning on the shower, I stood in front of the sink, looking in the mirror. Have you ever stared at yourself, so intensely, that you don’t recognize yourself? I mean, everybody sees changes in their faces, as they grow older. Longer ears in men, your skin loses its elasticity, leaving wrinkles, and starts sagging, changing your facial features. Aside from the normal changes we all notice in our looks, as we age, I literally felt like I was looking at a stranger. A person I didn’t know, and it struck me as odd, at first, and then I chuckled, at my reflection, and stepped into the shower stall, standing under a jet full of hot water. Everybody changes on the outside, as they age, and go through the years of their life, but most people, don’t notice their insides as they change.

  Change’s altered with eating habits, smoking, drinking, and individual lifestyles, affect our organs, and, in some instances, determine how long of a life a person may have, if they aren’t killed accidentally, or kill themselves. Not saying that I can notice my organs changing inside of me, but my lifestyle has changed considerably, over the past year. Carmen and I have changed our diet. We don’t smoke. We occasionally drink, but never in excess. By every aspect, we should both live a long, healthy, life, but I’m not a fool. I know my limits, and I know when my time is up, but that’s no reason, or an excuse not to take care of myself. Over a year ago, I lived life like everyone does.

  We work full-time, literally wishing your life away, wanting the week over, to enjoy the weekend. We mark the holidays on the calendar, and then we can’t wait until they are over. Then the annual cycle starts again, and before you know it, you’re looking in a mirror one morning, and you say to yourself, where did the time go?

  Drying myself off in the shower, and then drying my hair, I stepped out of the shower, walked up to the mirror, again, and wiped off the steam. Smiling at the image looking back at me, it then made sense to me, that after 63 years, I now see myself better than ever, and I’m definitely not seeing a stranger anymore. Actually, I honestly see who I really am, for the first time, in my life. When my head hit the pillow, I was already asleep, and didn’t even hear Carmen when she came upstairs, to bed. I slept great, all night, and never woke up, once.  

  The next morning, Carmen had already left after I finished brushing my teeth, and was getting dressed. She and the girls were going to get their nails done, and do a little shopping. Surprise, Surprise! Good with that, because I needed to finish the plans for the family vacation to Hawaii, in a few weeks, so I made a cup of coffee and went into the office. I spent over an hour emailing the boarding pass itineraries, from Hawaiian Airlines to everyone, and the car rental information. Mom was extremely excited to see Marcia and her family, since it’s been over 3 years since they visited us, and with her dementia condition, she was terrified she would forget them, before she ever saw them again. Leaning back in my chair, I noticed the time, realizing Carmen won’t be home for a couple more hours, so I opened another google window, and typed in ‘The Afterlife.’ I was raised an Italian Catholic, but as I grew through my teen years, and seeing contradictions in the church from changing mass being spoken, only in Latin, and then to English.

  We weren’t allowed to touch the sacramental bread, the holy communion wafer, whatever you want to call it, and then we could touch it. Then the Vatican decided to de-canonize, or take away sainthood, from people who were recognized as saints, by the church, hundreds of years ago, because, duh, why? What could they have done being dead, for hundreds of years, to lose their sainthood? And one of the strangest things, to me as a young boy was, that if we confessed our sins in a dark booth through a screen to a priest, I could walk out of the church, sin free. Of course, I had to say so many Hail Mary’s or Our Fathers, or some kind of penance for absolution of my sins, but that whole concept didn’t make a lot of sense to me at all.

  So I could do a lot of bad things, and go tell a priest through a dark screen what I did, walk out, and start the new week sin free, and do more bad things. Really? Mom was a deeply devoted Catholic, and still is, going to church every Sunday, but being a little bit of a rebel, as a kid, she always used to push me into the church. I was an altar boy, then went through the confirmation, the last of four initiations for Catholics, the other three being Baptism, Penance, and First Holy Communion. Respected my Mom, and love her with my whole heart, but this religion thing, and witnessing the hypocrisy, within the church, and then the global sex scandals, involving priests and bishops, made my decision for me. I’ve come to the conclusion that any religion, if it’s adhered to, in its teachings and commitment to just be tolerable of others, and just be a good person, I don’t care what religion it is. I’m good with it!

  And for those who use their “religion”, to spread hateful lies, and to justify condemnation against other people, are hypocrites, and if their hell is real, they should go there, when they die, in my opinion.

  Of course, the first article that popped up, was out of Newsweek, where a neurosurgeon found himself in a coma, where he experienced things he never thought possible. I read the entire article, although being skeptical, but it was a well-written article explaining his experiences, and what he envisioned what he witnessed. Scrolling down, I opened another window on a Quantum Theory shedding light on what happens after we die, called, ‘The Afterlife’. It talked about human consciousness, and where it comes from. Is the brain a receiver of consciousness, or is it a product of the brain?

  In other words, if it isn’t a product of the brain, it would mean that our physical bodies aren’t necessary for the brain to continue on, and awareness can exist outside of our bodies. One theoretical physicist implies that our consciousness doesn’t die with us, but rather moves on, suggesting that consciousness isn’t a product of the brain, and that it’s entirely something else, and science is only beginning to understand what it might be.

  The theory went on to read, that consciousness plays a fundamental role in the creation of matter, and that the observer creates the reality. He, also implied that if the body generates consciousness, then consciousness dies when the body dies. But if the body receives consciousness in the same way that, for instance, a cable box receives satellite signals, then consciousness doesn’t end at the death of the body. It read, when examining the nuerochemical processes in the brain that occur when someone is having a subjective experience, although important, doesn’t offer certain conclusions, or answers. It doesn’t prove that the nuerochemical processes are producing the experience, but what if the experience itself is producing the nuerochemical processes? After reading these various articles on the afterlife, from the religious aspects, to the scientific community, it became quite clear, in my mind, that the mind is capable of producing its own conceptual conclusion on philosophy, religion, and other areas of our lives, and is able to produce a reality of its own.

  And that any strong belief, in a religious afterlife, or what we will experience, after death, or not, can alter each of our own reality, and make any religion or belief real, to an individual. Going back to the articles on near death experiences, there were those who were, either resuscitated, or awoke from a coma, with various stories of seeing passed loved ones, or golden gates, or literally no memory, were either influenced during their lives, through a religious upbringing, or a strong belief in no religion. And in each of these individual cases, it affected their near death experiences, from their strong beliefs. In my case where I know I’m incapable of seriously following, or instilling a firm belief in any one religious belief, the only reality important to me, now, is what I do before my life ends. Boy, I thought, wouldn’t it be awesome if I was able to control my mind, to not let me die on August 14, 2022?

  The mind is a powerful, misunderstood organ, but now I’m fantasizing. After I clicked out all the windows, I heard the garage door opening. Carmen was home. I deleted the history, on my computer, and went downstairs, hearing the back door opening.

“I’m home,” she yelled, as she walked in the kitchen, from the garage!

“Hi, honey! Well, I’ve got everything ready for the vacation to Hawaii, this April,” I responded, walking into the kitchen, noticing she was holding several bags. “Anything else, in the car, you need me to bring in?”

“One more bag in the back seat, if you don’t mind. Thanks!” She kissed me lightly on the lips and lay the bags on the table. “Me and the girls stopped by the new swimsuit store at the mall. Figured we may as well check it out, and buy swimwear for vacation.”

“I don’t have to be psychic to know you girls would probably go shopping, for new swimsuits.” I laughed sarcastically, as I hurried out the door to the garage, as she attempted to kick my butt.

“Smart ass,” she snickered, as she started emptying the bags, and humming her favorite song, ‘We are Family’, by Sister Sledge. This annual family vacation decision we made together, was going to be great for the whole family. We’ve all been so excited, about this upcoming vacation, ever since we discussed it last year. Life is good!

 

December 25, 2018

  Looking down the long hallway, sitting next to Carmen, with the girls pacing back and forth in front of the visitors lounge, this wasn’t the family holiday I would have ever anticipated. Spending time in a hospital, is never enjoyable, or a planned event, but on Christmas Day, with the entire family. It sucked! The ambulance brought Mom into the emergency room about 2 hours ago, with a caravan of 3 cars, not far behind, including Max with his girlfriend, and Ava, in the back seat of his Mach I Mustang, still spotless.

  We were all sitting down for Christmas dinner, with literally everything you could imagine, to eat. We had turkey, a ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, and gravy, with multiple sides, including, according to Don, his world famous green beans, with cream of mushroom, onions, and bacon. Everything was delicious, and we laughed, and talked about everything families discuss during the holidays. The previous year, the weather, what’s going on in everybody’s life, and of course, the best vacation any of us has ever had, thus far, when we visited Marcia and her family in Hawaii. Carmen and the girls had just brought in the dessert plates with Mandy’s delicious homemade cherry pie, and vanilla ice cream. With Missy, being the go-to baker in the family, Mandy was especially proud of her baking skills with her cherry pies.

  She had just placed a plate in front of Mom, who, now that I think about it, was fairly quiet, during dinner, when Mom, smiled, looking up at Missy, and mumbled incoherently, before slowly falling out of her chair, onto the floor.

  Missy screamed, and the room went silent, as we all turned towards the end of the table, where Mom had been sitting, but had collapsed on her side next to the table. Quickly, I jumped up, running to Mom’s side, feeling her pulse, and forehead. Everybody had formed a circle around me as I called Mom over and over, for a response. Carmen had already dialed, 911, and I rolled her on her back, while Tom brought a pillow from the living room to prop under her feet. The paramedics were already coming into the dining room, with the gurney, while Carmen was answering questions, asked by the dispatcher, as she relayed the information to the ambulance. Within 30 minutes, after Mom collapsed on the floor, the ambulance had turned on the siren, and was heading to the emergency room, with all of us in our cars. When we pulled into the parking lot, they had already rushed Mom into the ER. We parked the cars, and here we sit, waiting for the emergency room doctor. The double swinging doors opened, and the doctor walked out, with a sober look in his face, as I stood up, with everybody else, surrounding us.

“Mrs. McKenzie, had a hemorrhagic stroke, caused by a rupture of a blood vessel in her brain. She’s stable and resting quietly, but still hasn’t regained consciousness, as of yet. We’ve administered drugs to reduce the blood pressure and to slow down any bleeding that may still exist. The good news is, it was a small rupture, so surgery isn’t necessary to repair the bleed,” he explained, looking around at each of us, as the girls sobbed, and the look of uncertainty in our faces. “The bad news could be, since she has dementia, it may accelerate her condition, into the next stage, of Alzheimer’s. I’m sorry, but we’ll know more after she wakes up.”

  Don was literally running down the hallway, after the elevator doors opened, with a distraught facial expression, and an obviously, concerned, look in his eyes. Explaining what we’ve heard so far from the doctor, to Don, standing in the hallway, everybody else soberly walked into the waiting room. He was so shook up, I put my arm around his shoulders as we entered the room, shutting the door behind us. After some initial conversations, after hearing the doctor’s diagnosis, the waiting room went silent, as we each went into our own thoughts.

  I remembered when we landed in Honolulu airport, and were walking outside from baggage claim, towards the Hertz car rental counter, when Mom started screaming. We all turned to her, thinking she had fallen, or had been attacked, or something! She screamed right in my ear! There were Marcia, Kenny, and Jesse, running towards us from the parking garage. I told Marcia that we were renting a couple cars, but she insisted they wanted to surprise us at the airport, so she made me promise not to say anything. She looked great, and it made me so happy seeing the red glow in her face, with tears in her smiling eyes, as she ran into Mom’s arms hugging, and kissing her. Jesse had grown a few inches, in his almost 5 years of life, and wasn’t that much shorter than Max, I noticed, when he walked up to Max, and Cindy. Don’t think I mentioned that we went ahead and paid for Cindy’s airline ticket, also.

  I just knew that she was going to be the best thing in Max’s life, and you could call it a premonition, that someday, she’ll be a member of the family. This was a family vacation, after all!

  It was really good seeing Kenny after these last few years, and I could see he’s gained a little weight, which was great, because I always thought he looked too thin for his height. He and Richard, Mandy’s husband had never met. When they were married, Marcia flew over for the wedding, but Richard had another European business trip, and couldn’t make it. And the last three times, Marcia and Jesse flew over during other occasions, he was out of the country, so they never had the chance, to meet in person. Kenny was an International Accountant, for one of the largest banking firms on the islands, and his job was his passion, until Marcia’s life was altered so drastically, after her wreck. He then accepted a demotion, within the company, to be able to spend more time at home, and not flying extended international business trips. Richard and Kenny bonded almost immediately, when they discovered they both shared a huge interest, playing pool. Richard is pretty amazing at playing billiards, when he’s not clowning around. Actually, he’s well known in a few of Seattle’s downtown’s oldest bars, where they have pool tables, and the regular’s know better than to play him for money. He’s not a pool hustler, who goes out of his way to rip guys off, on the tables, but he’s been known to shut someone up, who brags about being the best, in shooting pool. When some guy hears that Rick Payne’s the man to beat, and to prove he’s the best pool player around Seattle, he has to beat Rick, first. More than one guy, has lost hundreds of dollars playing him. And with Kenny, who has a pool table in his basement at home, there would be no doubt, where we’d find Kenny and Richard, during the next couple weeks.

  Originally, we were going to spend a week with them, and then a week on the coast, at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, famous for its canoe paddling with surfing pioneers, and the legendary ‘Blue Note’jazz clubs, with the gorgeous view of the mountains, behind it.

  After we all settled in at Marcia and Kenny’s beautiful home on the beach, with their own private swimming pool, our plans quickly melted away, and we agreed to spend the entire vacation with them. Besides, it wouldn’t have been easy pulling Marcia and Mom apart.

  They were as close as they have always been, even living so far away from each other. And not realizing, at the time, this would be one of the most memorable and exciting 2 weeks, in my life. I could almost honestly confess, and speak, for each of us, that it was also everybody else’s, as well. But just like anything else, we all experience in life, time seems to fly by too fast, when we’re having a great time. After 2 weeks of dining outside next to the ocean waves, watching Max, Cindy, and Ava learning to surf, under Kenny’s direction, who was pretty good at it, and singing on the beach, under the stars, shopping, laughing, and talking about events that had happened, it was time to fly back to Seattle. That early morning, before we went through customs, while everybody made sure they hugged everybody, we all had tears in our eyes, and the girls started crying.

  After Marcia gave Mom a ton of pictures, from when she and Kenny were married, and the years of Jesse growing up, she promised to call her every other day, to see how she was doing, and catch up. Knowing my sister, it was also to help her remember, and not feel so lonely, as her current memory fades. She kept her word, until the day, Mom wasn’t there to answer the phone anymore.

  The sound of the emergency room doctor’s voice, broke up the memory in my mind, as he walked into the room, closing the door, behind him.

“Mrs, McKenzie, has..” he started, before being interrupted.

“She’s my Mom!” I corrected him, nodding my head, with tears in my eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized, looking around the room. “I’m sure this is a hard time for all of you and I’m a firm believer in being honest, no matter the diagnosis. The family always needs to know the truth!”

“Look, I’m sorry, too, Doctor. It’s been a bad day. Please, tell us, what’s going on.”

“Well, she suffered a massive stroke, which not only paralyzed her left side, at this time, but when I asked her if she wanted to see her family, she told me she’s been all alone, since her husband died, and then she slipped into a mild coma. And that’s because of the pressure of the swelling, in her brain. As the pressure goes down, as it will, she’ll wake up,” he spoke in a calm sympathetic voice. “Now, to what degree, the stroke affected her brain, this could change dramatically, when the swelling subsides, and the brain starts functioning properly, but to what degree, we won’t know, until then.”

“What do you suggest we should do for now,” I asked?

“The hospital can offer counseling, and advice on a credible assisted living community, or a reputable nursing home, if you wish them to contact a facility for her.” When he offered that, Carmen squeezed my arm, and looked into my face as I turned my head, and she spoke up.

“Mom will be moving in with us, Doctor. Mike and I have already discussed it, and it’s been decided.” Carmen smiled, looking at me, with tears, forming under her eyes.

“I just want you to both realize, that in her condition, after suffering a massive stroke, and with her dementia, we’re not sure how the stroke fully affected her, right now. Within 48 hours, as her brain heals, and we do a couple cognitive tests, we’ll know more. Listen, I have more patients to see, so I’ll talk to you soon. Take care,” he smiled, turning towards the emergency room doors.

“Thanks doctor! You too,” I said. Turning to Carmen, she knew what I was getting ready to say, so she said it, first.

“You want to stay here with your Mom, tonight,”Carmen said, inches from my face, putting her arms around my neck. “The nurse told me they have a nice recliner, next to her bed, if someone wants to stay all night, and I already told the nurse you would be staying, right?”

“You know me so well,” I grinned, leaning forward and lightly kissing her mouth. “If she wakes up during the night, in a strange bed, and none of her life around her, she’ll be so afraid.”

“No, I know! I agree, but you try to get some sleep, too,” she commanded, poking my nose, with her finger. “See you in the morning, and hopefully, she’ll wake up tomorrow. Good Night! Love you,” she replied, blowing me a kiss, and closing the door behind her.

 

2019

  The first six months of the year, were tough, on all of us, especially Mom, who was proud of her own home, and disliked the idea of anyone having to do anything for her, or to wait on her. Carmen called it right, that night, when she left me all night in the hospital, sitting by Mom’s bed. The next morning she did wake up, and although her face, did have a slight droop, on the left side, which never went away, she regained full mobility in her extremities, and was able to walk, without any assistance, in a few days. They prescribed a couple medications to increase cognitive and behavioral symptoms, and another to hopefully delay or slow the symptoms of the disease down. Before she was released into our care, a couple weeks later, the doctor explained it was hospital policy to meet with an administrative counselor, to go over what we may experience, and what to expect, bringing Mom into our home, to live with us.

  We made the bedroom downstairs, into Mom’s room so she wouldn’t have to worry about the stairs, and Carmen and the girls, tried their best to arrange it, so she would feel at home. They placed the family pictures she had in the living room at her house, on the wall, across from her bed, so she could see them when she wakes up every morning. She had an old statue of the Virgin Mary she had on one side of her dresser, with her Mothers rosary, she had brought from Italy, as immigrants, escaping the tyrannical dictatorship of Mussolini, draped around the shoulders of the statue. This was Mom’s most prized possession, and Missy had a great idea, where to put it. My Grandmother, used to have a small altar, with a small prayer bench that pulled down, in front of it. It had a crucifix in the middle of the tiny altar, with two rows of candles, which could be lit during prayers, for those who’ve passed. It had been stored in the back of the closet underneath our staircase, for years. Missy and Mandy pulled it out of the closet, cleaned it, and placed new candles in the holders. They placed it next to Mom’s bed against the wall, and asked me to install a small shelf above it, and then Missy set the Virgin Mary statue on the shelf.

  When Mom saw her new bedroom, and then her Mom’s altar, she broke into tears, hugging each of us, and from then on, she’d kneel at her altar, after she woke up and before retiring, at night, to say a rosary.

  Carmen and I had studied, and read everything we could find on what to expect, and the do’s and the don’t’s, on living with a relative suffering from dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease, and we both learned how challenging and frustrating this entire transition will be for everyone in the family, but especially for Mom. According to an article, I read, it says to be prepared if your loved one, out of frustration, says something shocking, you need to respond calmly. Knowing how stubborn and assertive, my Mom can be, I know it’s coming, sooner than later. It wasn’t long! I was playing golf with Ed, and those crazy guys, Rick and Al, who we always play with. It was a Saturday morning, 3 weeks, after she moved in with us. Carmen was making breakfast, talking to Mom, who was taking a sip, of her first cup of coffee. It was still steaming, and too hot, so she blew across the cup, cooling it down, then she looked up at Carmen, and out of the blue, with an assertive, but sincere voice.

“Why am I here,” she calmly asked? “I’m ready to go home,” she stated, placing her clasped hands in her lap, slightly rocking, as she does, when she’s nervous, waiting for an answer.

  Carmen said she didn’t know what to say immediately, and then remembered, what we had read, ‘Often people try to go back to a place where they have more control in their lives.’ After Mom started to repeat the same question, Carmen walked over, sitting down, across from Mom at the kitchen table, and smiled.

“You’re here because we need you to live with us right now, Mom,” she said. “You don’t like it here? If you don’t like your bedroom, we can change it, however you want it.”

“Hey, don’t you be sneaking into my room, and change things around,” speaking up, defensively, and sounding, more like Mom. The old Mom!

“Oh, ok! Your room’s safe,” Carmen giggled, then Mom laughed a little. “Would you like to help me decorate the other rooms,” she asked Mom, who’s eye’s opened wide? Carmen had given Mom the option, where she could control her own life, and she took the bait. I think that’s always going to be the key to keeping her happy and comfortable, while transitioning into her new home, and life, in general, from now on.

“Sure,” Mom answered, excited! “You know, I have several ideas on what we could do with that room across from mine.” Carmen grabbed a notepad, and made them another cup of coffee.

  When I was dropped off at home, by Ed, after another memorable eighteen holes of golf, with the three stooges, I decided to call them, Carmen filled me in, on her day with Mom. After hearing what transpired, I was so relieved, that we had met with the counselor at the hospital, who gave us literature on handling specific, behavioral problems, and that we done our own research. Carmen opened a bottle of red wine, and we relaxed on the couch, with a couple glasses. Carmen told me Mom went to her room to take a nap, right before I got home, so we decided to take the opportunity to relax, and watch some TV. Don had invited us over for dinner, and he was so excited in sharing the wild boar rump roast, he’s been smoking all day. Besides, it would do us all good to get out of the house, and he and Mom have always been good for each other. It was almost 6:00pm, when I heard Mom’s bedroom door click shut, and then her footsteps, as she started walking down the stairs. When she saw us on the couch, she walked over, and stood behind us.

“Aren’t you guys ready,” She asked, sounding impatient? “Don wanted us over by 6:45, and you only have 45 minutes. I’m ready!” Listening to her, if I didn’t know any better, I’d swear she was the way she’s always been. Being authoritatively, and, in charge. And her old self!

“You’re right, Mom! I need to jump in the shower. Won’t take me more than 20 minutes,” I answered, jumping up, off the couch, and heading upstairs.

  Carmen had already changed to go over to Don’s for dinner, so she sat down with Mom, waiting for me. We had a great evening at Don’s house, and his smoked rump roast was incredible. It was sweet, tender, and along with the green bean casserole, he had in the slow cooker, and homemade mashed potatoes, we all finished our meal with a full stomach. Carmen made it quite clear, that she and Mom would wash the dishes, and clean up the kitchen, since Don insisted on cooking the entire meal, by himself. So after we ate, he and I went out to the gazebo, he had in his back yard, to open a bottle of top bourbon I had brought over, on the rocks. Knob Creek Single Barrel, 120 proof Reserve. He had four homemade hardwood chairs, around a small fire pit in the middle, already casting a red burning glow, inside the gazebo. Being late April, it still gets pretty cold, when the sun is starting to go down.

“Cheers,” as I raised my glass towards Don’s, and we clicked glasses, before sitting down across from each other. “And by the way, that was an awesome dinner!”

“Cheers, to you, too, buddy! You don’t have to sugar coat your opinion on my first attempt, at cooking the whole meal, but thanks, anyway,” he scoffed, and started cackling, as he finished his first drink. 

  “No, really, it was awesome! I think Mom had three slices of your roast, and she hasn’t eaten that much in a while. Thanks, Man! You mean so much to Mom, and, she needs you and others, she loves so much, around her, to help keep her mind active, and do things with her, on a regular basis.”

“Mike, just tell me what you want me to do.” Don looked as sincere as the day when he made a commitment to me. “I’d do anything for her, anyone in your family.”

“It’s your family, too, Don,” I answered, pouring more bourbon, in his glass. “Just be yourself, you know? As Mom’s life becomes a struggle for her, she’s apt to strike back with aggression, because of fear, from confusion, paranoia, and just trying to communicate.”

“You’re not the only one with a computer, and google, Mike,” he sat upright, sipping on his drink. “I’v done some research myself, and realize that she is gradually going to lose basic memories, like what she was doing, or where did she put something, and eventually, not recognizing people, even members of her own family.”

“Yeah, that’s what’s going to be the worst, but I’m convinced, that if we all keep her mind active, with games and old pictures, it’ll be better for everybody. The reality is, as pieces of her life, literally disappear from her memory, and before our eyes, we have to learn to accept it, and continue being a part of her life, even if we’re, in her eyes, strangers,” barely able to complete my thought, as my emotions surfaced, and I leaned back, in the chair. Finishing my bourbon, I took several deep breaths. 

“Listen, Don, I need to say this,” I whispered leaning forward. “If Mom outlives me, which she very well may, I’m asking you to continue being there, for her.”

“You know I will buddy! We’ve talked about this,” as he leaned forward, clicking my glass with his, again.

“What I mean to say, is I need you to take my place. Whether she doesn’t know me, or anyone as this disease progresses, I’d like her to think she always has a Son, caring for her. And if she’s comforted, thinking you’re her Son, go with it, ok?”

“I get it! That’s something you don’t need to worry about,” he nodded, agreeing. “Always be here for you, her, or any of the family, no matter what.”

  Carmen called from the back door, that it was getting late, and Mom was ready to call it a night. Standing up, Don gave me a quick hug, patted me on the back, and we headed towards the house. After we got home, Mom went to bed, and I told Carmen about the discussion, Don and I had outside. She agreed that what we need to do, is to have a family meeting, and go over a sensible, and productive strategy, to give Mom the full support, she needs during this aggressive and debilitating disease. We met the following Sunday, while Don took Mom down to Pike Place Fish Market next to the Puget Sound. She loved strolling through the vendors at the market, and especially loved watching them tossing salmon to each other.

  After almost 2 hours, discussing what Mom is going through, and what changes are inevitable, and how we can prepare for them, the best way we can, Carmen laid out a desk calendar, on the table. She marked every other Monday to take Mom to the Woodland Park Zoo, where she enjoyed seeing the penguin exhibit, her favorite animal, where you can view them underwater, as well, and the beautiful nature paths throughout the zoo. The girls agreed on dates to take her various places, in the Seattle area, from the Japanese Garden, various art galleries, the Space Needle, and to one of her favorite places to visit, Pike Place Market, where she was at now, with Don. She always loved seeing the beauty of Seattle, with the views of Puget Sound and Mount Ranier, in the background. Max and Ava both agreed to visit her often, to play some of her favorite games with her, like Domino’s, Phase 10, and Monopoly. Don didn’t feel the need to write down dates, to remind him of plan’s to do something with Mom, because he ended up showing up, or calling her to do something several days a week, anyway. I was so proud of how the family, decided to all pitch in, and stand together, in spending time with Mom, keeping her active, and playing games with her. These were ways, we all decided would be the most beneficial for her, and in the end, I think it reminded everybody, how short of a time we have on this planet, and every available minute, we have with our loved ones, should not be taken for granted.

  The remainder of the year seemed to fly by quicker than most, as life sometimes does, and Mom’s demur and health issues, seemed stable. And with her medications from her doctor, and the best medication she could ever receive, her family and loved ones, she was extremely happy, and relished all the attention, even marking her own calendar, when something was coming up, or she was going somewhere. The holidays came and went without any incident, except we had one of the best Thanksgiving Dinners, and Christmas’s we’ve ever had. The Christmas Day evening was winding down, and after everybody left, Carmen went into the kitchen to finish cleaning the counters, and the tables, while Mom and I sat on the couch, looking at old photo albums.

“Micheal, do you remember this picture of you way up high in the tree,” Mom asked me, pointing at a black and white picture of me, probably around eight years old? I was wearing blue jean bib overalls, and a dirty white T-shirt. I was holding onto the tree, about 10 feet from the ground, like I was glued to it, staring down, with my eyes wide open.

“Oh yeah,” I laughed. “Think that was the first time I climbed that old cherry tree. Didn’t I do something wrong, and that’s why I was up there?”

“You little stinker! You and your sister were playing in one of the closets, and you got mad, and told her she was adopted. Remember,” she asked, pulling my ear? “Marcia started screaming, and crying, I’m adopted! Micheal told me, I’m adopted! Then you ran out in the street, almost getting hit by our neighbor in her car, when your Dad chased you with his belt,” she started laughing, uncontrollably!

“And you scurried up that tree in the back, like a squirrel! I laughed so hard, I had to lean back in the couch, wiping tears from my eyes. You did show your stubbornness at an early age though. I’ll give you that! Think you stayed up there for almost 3 hours,” she finished her story.

“I remember that, but Dad still whooped my butt, when I walked into the house, thinking he had left,” as I recollected, nodding my head. “He was hiding behind the door, and when I walked in, he slapped my butt hard, but he didn’t use his belt. Can’t remember him ever using it on me.”

“Your Father never used a belt on you kids, but when you or your sister ever saw him with it, he figured that was enough,” she responded, chuckling. “He loved you both so much.”

  After Carmen came out in the living room, shutting off the kitchen light, we sat, looking at old pictures, talking, and laughing for another 2 hours, before calling another, successful holiday, and going to bed. For the very first time, for New Year’s Eve, we decided to have a party, so we invited our neighbors, people Mom loved being around, and the whole family. Max and Cindy, Ava, and her new boyfriend, Chase, came over. Don showed up, with Nancy, a girl he had taken to the movies, a few times over the past 6 months. When he walked in, and introduced her, to all of us, he acted like a guy, none of us knew, being so polite, and being careful, not to use slang, or cussing, when the words came out of his mouth. It was hysterical watching him suppressing an expression, or not commenting on anything, he otherwise would blurt out, making everybody crack up. Carmen even started making faces to him, unbeknownst, to Nancy, whose head would be facing the other way, and he’d just roll his eyes, trying to ignore her. Ed showed up, by himself, after returning from Chicago, visiting his ailing Aunt Lucy, who was in a nursing home. He was the only family she had, and he would always visit her on her birthdays and around the Christmas holidays. As we all sat around the large TV screen, in the living room, counting down the last few seconds of 2019, I glanced over towards Don, who turned his head towards me, smiled, giving me the thumbs up.

“10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1,” we all counted down, out loud! “Happy New Year!!!”

 

2020

  Over Thanksgiving last year, we had all agreed to have our family vacation in May, during the last days of Spring, We originally planned, to go to Europe, this year, to visit where Carmen’s family came from, but decided to stay closer to home, because of Mom’s condition. Mandy and Tom had purchased a used 38’ Motorhome RV with enough room to sleep 10 people, last year, and so we decided to drive to Yellowstone National Park, which was approximately a 12 hour drive. This was perfect, because none of us have ever visited one of the most beautiful, incredible parks in the world, and it’s only 740 miles away from Seattle.

  Don said he would be more than happy to watch the house, why we were gone. Besides, he was entering a fishing tournament, during that time, and there was no way he was going to miss that. So, with Mom, Carmen and me, the girls and their husbands, Ava, Max, and his girlfriend, Cindy, we hit the magic number of 10 people for the trip, in the huge RV.

  The drive to Yellowstone Park from Seattle, was more exciting than any of us realized. As we drove through the desolation and the beauty of Eastern Washington, and then through the pine forests of Northern Idaho, and into the land we all know as Big Sky Country, Montana, we were all amazed by how beautiful the country is.

  All being fans of nature, history, and the Old West, it quickly became evident, to all of us, this would be one of the best vacations any of us will ever experience, together, as a family. What an incredible family I have, and the world we live in, I was thinking, as we passed the state sign, ‘Welcome to Montana’.

  Then I heard Mom’s voice, as she started reading, the book she purchased, about Montana. The books on the state of Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming lay scattered on the small table, between them. She’d been reading about each state, and sights to see, since we left home, and the kids loved everything about their Ninny Jett, whose face always glows, when she’s around her Great Grandchildren.

“Now here Max, you’ll love this,” she said, turning the opened book around, pointing at the picture! “Virginia City! It says this old western mining town is the perfect snapshot of life in the old west. Founded after an 1863 gold strike, 13 miles away from Alder Gulch, Virginia City popped up on the map, serving all the nitty gritty activities that, come into boom towns, during the late 1800’s.”

“That sounds awesome, Ninny Jett,” he answered, holding the book, and reading about things to do there, getting louder and louder, as he read. “There’s horseback riding, and you can ride in a stagecoach. Ghost tours! Pan for Gold!! What’s Rocky Mountain Oysters?” The Motorhome went silent, for a second.

“Micheal, you ate those before! Remember,” Mom asked, looking into Max’s eyes, with a confused look? “Your Uncle Milt gave you a plate of them at the ‘Testicle Festival’ when you were 8 years old.” Max sat upright, shocked by what she had said, looking at his Mom, not knowing what to say or do. “They’re deep-fried cattle testicles. He even bought you a silly T-shirt from the fair, that I wouldn’t let you wear to school, because,” she started to continue, then stopped, staring out the window, looking as if she had lost her train of thought, which she’s done more and more, lately.

“Mom,” Missy asked, changing the subject? “Does it say how far, Yellowstone Park, is from Viriginia City? If it’s not far, we could spend a few hours, back in time here, in the old west, and eat lunch.”

“It says here, it’s located 20 miles west of Yellowstone Park, as the crow flies,” pausing, and looking at Missy, and then at Max, who still looked stunned, but managed a small smile. “Here it is, it’s 90 miles by road!” Mom’s voice crackled, as she looked at me and then at Max, lowering her voice. “You’re not Micheal. You’re Max! I’m so sorry honey,” she apologized, putting her face in her hands, and started to cry.

“I am so scared, I’ll wake up, and not remember any of you,” she mumbled, then lay her head on the table. Max stood up, and sat next to her, putting his arm round her, then kissed the side of her head.

“We won’t let you ever forget us, Ninny Jett. Never! We love you so much. Now, where does it say we can pan for gold,” he asked, turning the book around?

“It’s called Gold Rush Adventures, where you can pan for gold,” she answered, then looked at Max. “You’re an incredible boy, turning into a man, so fast. I love you, with all my heart!”

  It was my turn driving the Motorhome and, over the last few miles, I’ve been able to see the Yellowstone Arch, dedicated to President Teddy Roosevelt, in the distance, and as we got closer, I could read three inscriptions carved into stone. ‘For the benefit and enjoyment of the people’, was above the arch, was the first, I could read. ‘Created By Act of Congress, March 1, 1872’, on the right side and ‘Yellowstone National Park’, on the left. As we drove through the archway, a chilling thought, ran through my head, as the shadow of the arch, verified, we were now entering Yellowstone Park. In a little over 2 years, is my last day on earth, and I’ve never really thought about what I believe happens, after we die. Carmen has deep Catholic roots, going back several generations, but she has deviated away from the more antiquated, ancient teachings, like banning artificial contraception, abortion, homosexuality, to name a few, but has strong beliefs, in the afterlife, to enter heaven through the golden arches, and live forever, with God. Would I walk through an archway, similar to this archway, or a golden gate, or go the other direction, to hell? Wonder if hell has an archway? I chuckled to myself, for keeping my sense of humor, and reached over to grab my bottle of water, from the center console. I decided, I’ll worry about that another time. The sound of a car blasting its horn, starting to pass me, as my left tires went over the center line. Veering to the right, I waved, with a smile, as he flew by, mouthing the words ‘I’m sorry’. Continuously, blaring his horn, as he passed me, he gave me the finger out of his window, above the hood. Mature guy, I thought!

“Hey Mike, we’re all awake. No need to rock us awake,” laughed Tom, as he stood up, behind the front seats. “No, seriously, you’ve been driving for several hours,” he said, patting my shoulder. “I’ll take over. Besides the campground isn’t very far now, and I’ve gotten pretty good at parking this bad boy!”

“Thanks Tom. I’ll take your offer! Besides, I think I’ll read out of one of those brochures, about the park, before we get to the campground.”

  After we reached our campground, we started a cozy fire, with evening approaching, as the sun was slowly, making its nightly exit, out of view. We all sat around the fire, excited about finally being here, exhausted from the drive, but still wanted to share ideas on what we wanted to do tomorrow, and over the next couple weeks. The kids talked about roasting Smore’s and hot dogs over the fire before we had even left Seattle, so we put hot dogs, on skewers, to cook over the fire, and the girls were making Smore’s. Max and Cindy were cuddled under a blanket across from our campfire, sitting in a double lawn chair, drinking hot chocolate. Ava was sitting on her Dad’s lap, with heavy eyelids, stretching, and leaning back against his chest.

  She yawned, and smiled at my Mom, as she sat down next to me, wearing a light tan, hooded sweatshirt, zipped up, with the words, ‘World Greatest Great-Grandmother’, in bright red letters, scrolled across it. The wood from the fire, started crackling more, gaining strength, as it grew higher. Looking up, the sky was pitch black, with millions of stars peeping through its darkness, and I’ve never seen the vastness of the universe, displayed at one time, with such beauty. Except for the sounds of the fire, it was completely quiet, as I gazed around the fire, looking at the family. After the fire had burned down to where there was only a red glowing pile of ash, everybody had almost all retired for the evening, except for Carmen and I, as we cuddled together, under a blanket, in the double lawn chair, that Max and Cindy had vacated. I was awakened by Carmen, pointing at her watch which showed 1:30am, so I stood up, stretching, making sure the fire was completely out, and we went to bed. 

  For the entire two weeks, we had accomplished everything, each of us wanted to do or see. Tom, Phillip, Max, Cindy, Ava, and I went horseback riding the next day, while Carmen, Mom, and the girls, decided to remain back at the campsite, unpack things, and take a stroll down to the beautiful lake near the campground, to observe the wildlife. Missy and Mandy, each brought binoculars. Mandy, also, had brought her Nikon D4s, a 16 megapixel, full-frame camera, perfect for wildlife photography, as she wanted to frame pictures for everybody to display in their homes, from our vacation. Enjoying the nature, especially in the vastly, diverse environment that Yellowstone Park provides, should always be experienced by everyone, she stated. And we were never bored the entire vacation. We went kayaking, day hiking, a couple guided tours, visited Old Faithful, went bicycling, did a little fishing so we could say we did it, and the flavor of fresh caught fish, even impressed Ava, who really doesn’t like seafood. As with all fantastic vacations and good times, the time was gone, before we knew it, and we were headed home with some of the best memories, we’ll all cherish, forever.

The crisp breeze of the Fall came a little early that year, as the first wave of leaves dropping from the trees, forewarned us what was coming. We had only played 3 rounds of golf all summer, but Ed couldn’t blame me, for blowing them off. He had several conferences, he needed to attend and when we had scheduled several tee times, it either rained, or was extremely hot. The Summer of 2020, continued breaking records around the world, while our summer averaged 10 to 20 degrees warmer than average, well into the 90’s, and several 100’s. Rick and Al, the other two guys, who usually play with us, had prior commitments, on the only day, that Ed and I could coordinate our schedules. So he and I decided to schedule an early tee time, on a Saturday, to play 18 holes, before he had to travel to San Francisco, for the last medical conference, this year. We tee’d off on time, around 7:00am. I played the best round, in my life, beating Ed, by 7 strokes, so we had a few drinks, with lunch, before he let me off at the house.

  Since the conference didn’t start until Monday morning, he was driving down to Portland, to take Highway 101 the rest of the way to San Francisco. Considered, as one of the most beautiful drives, over the hills of wine country, through the Redwood Forest, and winding around mountains, with a gorgeous view at every turn, he wanted to drive, instead of flying, to enjoy the scenery.

“You played a great game, today,” Ed yelled at me, as I shut the trunk, after getting my clubs!

“Thanks, man!” I stopped, and stood there, waiting for the smart ass comment, but it didn’t come. “I did kick ass, today, didn’t I? I mean, you know what I mean. I kicked my own ass! My best game ever. And I beat you,” I laughed!

“Yeah, you did, buddy,” he concurred, and started backing out. “See ya later in the week! Take care, and give Carmen my love,” he said. He started backing out, and his window was going up.

“I will! And thanks again, for the compliment, without the normal smart ass response!” The car stopped and his window started rolling back down. He leaned his head out.

“If I didn’t let you win once and a while, you’d quit playing with me,” he cackled, rolled the window back up, and squealed his tires, leaving skid marks, like a teenager!

  Shaking my head, and laughing at him, I waved goodbye, as his car turned out of the driveway, onto the road. A chilly breeze blew through the bushes, in front of the house, and gave me goosebumps. It also, raised the hair on the back of my neck. While standing there, at the end of the driveway, watching Ed’s car disappear over the hill, his voice popped into my head, when he was talking about his new BMW, and how excited he was, ‘It’s a M760i xDrive sedan, with a 6.6 liter, twin power turbo V-12 engine xDrive, and it’s a beast! Over 600 HP and it reaches close to 200 MPH!’ Now, I’m acting like a parent, worrying about a teenager, I thought, to myself. I’ve always felt safe riding with Ed, and we’ve driven down many winding roads and highways, and he’s never acted irresponsibly. Leaning over, and picking up my clubs, I started walking towards the front porch. I was exhausted, and a hot shower would be perfect, and maybe a bourbon on the rocks. Another chilly breeze filtered through the bushes, and hit me head on, but for a second, it didn’t feel like my body diverted the breeze around me, but felt like it filtered straight through my entire body. I disregarded it, and went inside to wind down. Seeing Carmen and Mom on the patio in the backyard, I went outside to sit with them, after grabbing a cold beer, to brag, a little, on my awesome game. It was 2 hours, before we all went inside, and I went upstairs to take a shower. I had just turned on the shower, and stepped out, waiting for it to get hot, when my phone rang. It was Don’s ringtone.

“Hey, Don, I’m just getting ready to shower,” I yelled, over the shower noise. “Can I call you back, later?”

“I need to talk to you, now, Mike!” The tone in his voice, was serious, so I reached inside, and turned the water off. “It’s important!”

“So, what’s going on? What’s up,” I asked.

“Turn on your TV, to channel 7!”

  After clicking the remote, and setting it back down on my end table, the TV came on, and it was already on channel 7. The local Seattle news channel we usually watch, had a reporter, who was holding a microphone, in front of a highway, full of police cars, and emergency vehicles, with lights flashing.

  The TV was on mute, so I reached down to turn on the volume, while staring at the screen. The movement of a crane in the background, behind the reporter, caught my attention, and then, a car came into view, being lifted from the edge of the road. As the volume came on, I dropped the remote on the floor. It was Ed’s car! I just knew it. Black, and although it was crumbled, like a beer can, you couldn’t even tell what kind of car it was. And the reporter confirmed it, as far as I was concerned.

“Again, we are at the scene of a horrific accident, where, although a man’s life was lost, a family was saved,” he announced pointing at the car being lifted from the deep valley. “A man, his wife, and two small children, were in their van, when they had a flat tire. Not being able to get far enough off the road to have a level area to change the tire, according to the Father, the van had its two left wheels on the pavement.”

“The man driving the black BMW, actually swerved towards a truck coming from the other direction, to stop it from hitting the family in their van. The pickup truck would have definitely slammed into the van, pushing it over the cliff. When we spoke to the Father of the family earlier, he told us that if the guy in the BMW, hadn’t been there, and did what he did, they would have all been killed. No names will be released at this time, until the surviving family members have been contacted. We’ll provide more information, as this story continues!” Collapsing in the chair next to our bed, I started crying. I was sobbing, with my head in my hands, when Carmen walked in.

“This is Ted Tankersly! Channel 7 news!” I shut the TV off, and told Carmen what happened.

  When the whole story came out, apparently, the pickup truck coming from the other direction, had crossed the center line, and was headed towards the disabled van with the family, and would’ve surely pushed it over the cliff. The black car, driven by Dr. Ed Etherton, intentionally, swerved towards the truck knocking it away from its designated path, but the momentum of the heavier vehicle, pushed the BMW off the road, and over the edge of the cliff, falling 75 feet, to the rocks below. I remembered, Ed’s commitment to the Hippocratic Oath, ‘to treat the ill to the best of one’s ability, to preserve a patient’s privacy, to teach the secrets of medicine to the next generation’, and so on, was sacred to him, and he was vastly respected in the medical field, and by hundreds of loyal patients.

  Another section of the oath, came to me, I remember reading on the wall, in a frame, behind his desk, ‘most especially must I tread with care, in matters of life and death. If it is given me, to save a life, all thanks’. Even at the end of his life, Ed was dedicated to saving lives, if he could, and that’s why I felt an obligation to Ed, and his memory, to give the eulogy, at his service. Standing behind the pulpit, looking over the massive crowd of people extending outside of the funeral home, and glancing over to where one of my closest friends, mortal remains, lay in permanent slumber, I wiped a tear rolling down my cheek, cleared my throat, and began.

How you make others feel about themselves, says a lot about you! Think about that statement! How you make others feel about themselves, says a lot about you! That statement is a reflection of Ed’s persona, and his accomplished goal, in life, and I think everyone here, can relate to that, in their own experience, in knowing him. Eddy, as I used to call him, Ed Etherton, Dr. Ed Henry Etherton, was known to, and remains to this day, well known and respected, by literally everyone, he’s ever met in his life, who feel privileged, to have ever known him. Looking around this room, and seeing the multitudes of people forced to stand outside, because of the hundreds who’ve showed up to honor, and celebrate the life of Ed Etherton, who was devoted to his patients, his friends, and coworkers, makes me humble. Talked to a gentleman, last night, who drove 100 miles to give his condolences to a man he never met, but only heard about him on the news, recently. He stated that he had to say goodbye to a good man, a doctor, who dedicated his life to helping people, and healing the sick, but also, sacrificed his own life, to save the lives of strangers.”

“I’ve had the privilege of knowing Ed, since we were both in grade school, where we remained friends, and stayed close, all these years later. We lived through our teenage years together, remaining the best of friends, when every little thing seemed like a matter of life and death. Like feeling left out, or being made fun of, in front of your classmates.” I paused, reaching over for the picture in the frame, closest to me. Holding it up, I pointed at one of the framed documents, on the wall, behind the picture of Ed sitting at his desk, in his office.

“Ed took the Hippocratic Oath very seriously, and it literally became his instruction manual, in being the best doctor, and person, he could be. I’m not going to read the entire document, but I want to share the last sentence. ‘If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live, and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling, and may I experience the joy of healing those who see my help.’ That was Ed, and in the end, he answered a calling, to sacrifice his life, to save those, who needed his help. So don’t cry because Ed Etherton’s life is over. Smile because it happened, and we all benefited from being a part of his life. I loved him, as a brother, and I’ll never stop missing him. Thank you!

  I assured myself, out of respect for Ed, that I’d get through the eulogy, without breaking down, and I know that’s the way,  he would’ve wanted it done. No sadness. No tears. Just a celebration of his life.

  We were all seated in the front row at the cemetery, as the minister delivered the committal services and the graveside prayer. Since Ed’s family was all gone, after his Aunt Lucy, died a few months ago, we were always considered by him, as family, and he was always a part of our family, in our hearts, and minds. As we headed back to our cars, after the service, I glanced at the thousands of headstones lined in perfect rows, as we walked between them on the gravel paths. A date caught my eye, a few headstones away from the path. Walking up to it, I read Claire Matthews. Mother. Daughter. Aunt. Always loved, and never forgotten. Born April 14, 1924. Died August 14, 1984. Closing my eyes, I envisioned my name on my headstone. Micheal McKenzie. Father. Grandfather. Son. Uncle. A man who predicted the day he died. Shaking my head, I gave a slight chuckle, as I heard footsteps approaching me on the gravel.

“Mike? Are you alright,” Carmen asked, walking up, and giving me a hug? “What ya looking at?”

“Oh, I was just thinking about what Ed would like on his headstone,” I lied. “You know he was never a guy wanting pity or fuss, or want for anything. Always had an incredible sense of humor, although he was the one always laughing at his own silly jokes. God, I’ll miss him,” I choked, as I couldn’t talk anymore, weeping as I held Carmen in my arms.

“We’ll all miss him, honey,” Carmen responded, kissing the tears from my cheeks.

“This is not what I had in mind when I said, over my dead body”, I chuckled. “Now, that sounds like Ed! The perfect epitaph for his headstone, as we both laughed. “ Let’s go home!”

  The last months of 2020, were not unlike most every year during the major holiday season’s, with Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, all together. These months, as always, go by faster than the previous months, but it seemed that time was moving faster, a lot faster, to the end of my time. The effects of Mom’s Alzheimers started appearing more frequently, losing short term memory, and occasionally, forgetting peoples names. When Halloween arrived, a part of Mom from the past, when Marcia and I were little kids re-appeared, but I didn’t care if it was something she used to do when we were young. It was just so good to see her, fully engrossed and excited about an old holiday tradition, I haven’t seen in many years. Dressed as a witch, she wanted to sit near the front door, with a bowl of popcorn balls, she used to make many years ago, and when the doorbell rang, she would open the door wide, to see, and hear the children, dressed in their Halloween costumes, yelling “Trick or Treat.” Then using a witches cackle, occasionally scaring the smaller ones, she’d put a popcorn ball in each of their pockets, or bag.

  She adored talking with the little ones, always timid and shy, at first, but immediately, her charm and smile would leave them giggling as they ran to the next house.  It was healthy for her, and the children, who came to the door, It was especially, good for me, seeing my Mom as she was, from years past.

  After our traditional family Thanksgiving dinner, the house phone rang, and it was Marcia, wishing us a Happy Thanksgiving, but also, wanted to ask us if we had anything planned next Spring, mid-April. They wanted to come and visit everybody for their vacation, and see Mom again, after I had called her a couple months ago after Ed’s funeral, and told her about the deterioration of her health, and the advancement of her Alzheimer’s. Putting her on speakerphone, we all agreed how great it’d be for them to come to Seattle, and we’d all have our vacation at home, and take them sightseeing. Always wondered, where people who live where everybody dreams of going on vacation, would ever want to go for their vacation. When Marcia and Kenny were married, and they decided to move to Hawaii, she would always say, “why go anywhere, when we have all this in our backyard!”

  We chatted back and forth on things we could all do, while they’re here, and, an hour later, after we hung up, the girls already had ideas of their own, what to do when they’re here.

  The forecast for Christmas Eve, was unusually warm, and instead of making my Grandmother’s infamous Italian red sauce and spaghetti, as I did every year, Don actually came up with a great idea. Since he added the gazebo with the fire pit, he also built an awesome raised deck, which wrapped around the corner of his house, with a deck level Jacuzzi, and deck lighting on the lower level, and outdoor furniture, with bench seating on the upper level. It also, had a full outdoor kitchen, including a gas and a charcoal grill. Don had always been a tight wad, especially with the money he inherited from his Dad, who had won $500,000.00 in the state lottery many years ago. He told me that his eyes were opened, along with his wallet, after he learned of what I know about my time, and he decided, since he can’t take it with him, why not enjoy it. Everybody brought their own special side dishes, and with Don grilling fillet minion steaks, he had purchased at a local butcher shop, where you get the best cuts in Seattle, we all sat down, and after saying grace, had one of the best Christmas Eve dinner memories, any of us ever had. New year’s Eve ended the past year, and then New Year’s Day, started a new one.

 

2021

“Nothing they say, is more certain than death.

And nothing is more uncertain than your time of dying”

 

  The words came on the screen, at the beginning of one of my favorite rerun TV series, called ‘Grimm’, and it made me chuckle, a little, under my breath. Carmen and I were binge watching New Years Day morning, on the couch.

  We had gone to bed early, even missing the countdown of the new year. As the episode started, those words stuck in my head. Pretty sure it’s a Thomas Paine’s quote, proven false, in my situation. I bet, he never thought, or anyone for that matter, a person would know for certain, when his time is coming, but I do. A year and a half! A year and a half, to enjoy the rest of my life. Carmen who had her head in my lap, looked up at me, and smiled, before kissing me, and getting up to get another cup of coffee, during a commercial.  

“Do you want more coffee,” she asked?

“No thanks, honey. I’m good.” As she headed for the kitchen, my cell phone rang. It was Don.

“Happy New Year, buddy! And to Carmen,”

“Happy New Year, to you, too,” I responded! “Saw your car lights, coming through the window, early this morning. Must of had a great night!”

“Had an awesome night! Had a smart ass, hot shot, a guy wearing a cowboy hat at ‘The Barn’, who challenged anyone who could ride the bull longer than he could, betting a C note,” he took a breath. “I kicked his ass,” he cackled!

“You and that bull, you nut! You’re gonna kill yourself, someday.”

“Hell, buddy, I’ll outlive you, and you live healthy.” He paused, and I could hear regret, in his tone. “I-I-I’m sorry, Mike. I wasn’t thinking,” his voice started shaking, sounding subdued.

“Stop it! We’re good. The heat of the moment. Forgotten!” I started getting texts, on my phone. Looking down, they were from the girls, then Max, and then Ava. Then a call came in from Marcia. “Hey Don, Marcia’s calling from Hawaii. Call you later, ok?”

“No problem! Sorry again,” he apologized, and hung up. I answered her call.

“Happy New Year, bro,” she yelled!

“And Happy New Year, to you guys!”

“I can’t believe it’s 2021! Wow! Hey, also wanted to make sure you’re still good with having my crazy family, there in April,” she giggled! “We’re all really excited. How’s Mom doing?”

“She’s doing ok. Has her moments, and sometimes frustrated, but Carmen and the girl’s have been incredible with her. They upped her medication, and it seems to help some. You know, what else, can you do? And, of course, we’re still good about you guys coming!”

“Yeah, I know. Just wished I lived closer, to be able to spend time with her,” she sniffled.

“Hey now, come on. She’s excited you guys are coming in a few months, and she’s comfortable,” trying to re-assure her.

  I didn’t want to go into the details about her episodes, we’ve been dealing with, when she wakes up in the night calling out for my Dad. Then not remembering who I am, or who Carmen is, and waking up normal.

“Well, I won’t keep you, Mike. Tell Carmen Happy New Year from us, and we’ll talk to you in a month or so. Love you guys!”

“Love you too, Sis.” The phone went dead, as I read the New Year’s wishes, everybody sent, in a text to me, and responded. When Carmen came back into the living room, she was responding to the same group texts, as we relaxed, again, finishing, watching the last four episodes, of our show. We had made a commitment to start regularly, riding our bikes, this year, so I went and opened the garage door. Having already aired the tires, and checking them out, we got dressed, and rode the 5 miles, down our favorite bike trail, and then back, riding a total of 10 miles. We rode our bikes, religiously, every other day, 3 times per week, for the next 6 weeks.

  On one of our biking trips, a chilly breeze, coming through the tree’s, brought up a memory, from the past. The same chill, I felt, when Ed drove his car down the road, out of sight, for the last time, I ever saw him alive.

  It was late February, on a warm Sunday afternoon, and we’d already ridden, the 5 miles to the end of the bike path, and were just getting ready to start back, and I felt a cold chilly breeze, filtering out of the woods, and literally through my body. My wife had started peddling first, then put her foot back down on the ground, turning her head around, as I stood there straddling my bike, looking around slowly.

“What’s wrong Mike?”

“Shhh,” putting my finger to my lips! “Do you hear that?” A shaky, faint cry for help, was coming from the woods, to my left. “There it is, again.”

“I think I can hear it! There, Mike,” Carmen yelled, pointing towards a flash of white clothing! Following her gaze, I could see someone on the ground, behind a tree. Dropping my bike, I ran towards the voice, and behind an old oak tree, an elderly woman, was sitting on the ground, with an old man’s head in her lap, unconscious, but breathing.

“Please help us, sir,” the old woman pleaded, wearing a white sweatshirt, rubbing the old man’s forehead, and then leaned over, kissing it. “My husband, just collapsed, and he won’t wake up! I don’t want to lose him. He’s my whole life!” She started sobbing, uncontrollably, as I knelt down, to console her. Then he stopped breathing, and she screamed.

  I had been certified in CPR, for years, in the past, but it’s been at least 6 years, since I renewed it, but I knew what to do. I laid him down on the blanket, she had covered him with, and yelled to Carmen, who was walking towards us, to call 911. Making sure his airway was open, I listened for breathing, and looked at his chest for movement.

  There wasn’t any! I started giving him chest compressions, and after about a dozen, I gave him 2 rescue breaths, holding his nose shut. I repeated this, over and over, until I could barely, start hearing a siren in the distance, getting louder and louder. Obviously, we were lucky. There was a one car wreck 4 miles away, where two ambulances were called, and there was only one minor injury. The second ambulance received the call from dispatch, when Carmen called 911, and they headed over immediately.

  While Carmen was running towards the path, waving in the air, showing them where we were, I heard a cough. Looking down, the old man’s face regained a rosy glow, and he began breathing, and tried to speak, looking around, in terror.

“You’re alright, sir. Here’s your wife,” pointing at her, still kneeling on the ground, with her hands, in her lap, sobbing. She grabbed his hand, squeezing it.

“I’m here! I’m right here, Arthur,” she smiled, tears running down her cheeks. “He saved your life. He’s your guardian angel! God sent you here,” she bluntly said, looking into my eyes. “Thanks for saving my love!” She started hugging me, as the paramedics, set the gurney on the ground next to him. Standing up, I helped her stand, out of the way, so they could take over. Placing an Ambu Bag, over his face, they took his vitals, and started an IV. I told them everything I did, and the elderly woman kept repeating that God had sent me. As they started to lift him, one of the paramedics, looked at me.

“You probably saved his life! How did you hear her, from the path? That’s about a hundred yards or so, and these dense woods, can become pretty soundproof.”

“My wife and I were just riding our bikes. I felt a cold breeze, so I stopped, and heard her crying, for help. Just lucky, I guess.” As they started carrying the old man on the gurney towards the path, one paramedic whispered to one, “The air is perfectly still. There’s no wind, at all!” He shrugged his shoulder, licked his finger, and held it up in the air.

“Well, then maybe God did send him, then.” The other one chuckled, then said, “Or he’s psychic!”

“Yeah, right! However it happened, this elderly couple were very lucky when this guy showed up.”

  I walked a few yards behind them, with the elderly woman, clutching my arm, to support herself, down the path, to the road, where the ambulance was sitting. After putting the gurney in the back, they allowed the woman to sit in the back with her husband, who desperately asked for her to be with him. Before they started to help her, step into the ambulance, she turned, to give me another hug, and whispered in my ear.

“I don’t even know your name, but I’ll always say a prayer for you every night, for giving us both a chance, for a longer life. You’re a good man! Thank you,” as she kissed my cheek.

“My name is Mike! I’m just glad I was there,” I smiled, looking into her eyes, then patted her shoulders. “Go be with your husband. Take care of him.”

“Oh, I will,” she responded, being helped into the van. “And my name’s Bertha!”

  Walking back down the path towards Carmen, standing by our bikes, I felt excited about what happened. Of course, I was thankful, that the woman’s husband is alright, and that I was there to help them, but this ‘chilly breeze’ thing. The same chill that went through me, watching Ed, in his car, going down the street, and then being killed, later during the day. But this time, when I felt it, a life wasn’t taken, but was saved. What the hell does this all mean? Do I have the ability to predict when someone is about to die, and maybe save them? Or is it because I know when my last day, is coming, and I’m just closer to death’s door? As we got off our bikes, to roll them into the garage, Carmen grabbed my arm.

“Mike, I’m so lucky to have you as my husband. I was so proud of you.” as she wrapped her arms around my neck, kissing my lips. “I want you to promise me, we’ll grow old together. I love you!” She stared into my eyes, smiling, pointing a finger, inches from my nose.

“I’ll do my best honey, unless something better comes along,” I joked, and acted like I was going to bite her finger. “I love you too, silly!” Then I turned away, so she wouldn’t see the somber look, on my face, as I started putting the bikes, on the racks. When I shut the garage door, and went into the house, Carmen was already on the phone, with the girls, telling them about our day at the park. While she was on the phone, the email notification tone, on my phone went off. It was Marcia, sending me their itinerary for their flight, April 15th, and how excited they were to spend their vacation, with the family, here in Seattle. The front door opened, and I could hear Don and Mom’s voices. He had taken her down to Pike’s Market again, and they were laughing, to one of his corny jokes, as he gave her the punch line.  Before I had the chance to say, or ask anything like, how was your day down by Puget Sound, Carmen had hung up the phone, and started telling them about the old couple, in the park. Surrendering to my wife’s excitement, I made the open and close mouth sign, with my hand, behind Carmen’s head, and headed upstairs to shower. She saw me out of the corner of her eye, and took a playful swipe at my head. Don and Mom both laughed, continuing to listen to Carmen, as I walked upstairs, still making the talking hand sign.

 

September 26th, 2021

  It’s really been a hot summer again, and it had rained all night, raising the humidity level, and making it uncomfortably muggy. Carmen had asked me early this morning, if I would go to the grocery store to pick up some eggs, and milk, for breakfast. Didn’t mind going to the store, earlier in the day, around 8:30am, because the store was usually pretty empty, of shoppers, and I was back in the car, within 10 minutes, heading home.

  Being Sunday, most people were in church, or just sleeping in late. On the way home, I glanced at the outside temperature on the dashboard, already showing 89 degrees. Another record hot day! Passing houses, driving down my street, there were several people, already outside mowing their yards, to avoid the excessive heat, predicted, later today. Sounds like a good idea to me, as I clicked on the garage door opener, and it started to open. After shutting off the car, I stepped outside of the garage, to look my grass, which wasn’t that high, but seeing my neighbor across the street, wave at me, then starting his lawn mower, inspired me to mow mine, as well. And then like domino’s, up and down the street, everybody would mow their yards, because their neighbors had mowed theirs. It’s funny how that works. Smiling to myself, I hit the button, closing the garage door, reaching inside the car, to grab the groceries.

  Suddenly, that eerie, chilly breeze, came from behind me, slamming into me, like a commercial fan had been turned on. Running inside the house, into the kitchen, I threw the grocery bag on the counter, next to where Carmen was starting breakfast.

“Where’s Mom,” I screamed! The panicked expression on my face, startled her.

“She hasn’t come downstairs, yet,” she answered. “Why, Mike? What’s wrong?” Before she had finished, I had already sprinted upstairs to Mom’s room, and banged on her door.

“Mom! You awake?” No answer. No response. Just silence.

  Opening the door, she was lying on her back, on the floor, with her bare feet sticking out, from the other side of the bed. Running around the end of the bed, and looking down, she appeared unconscious, with her chest barely rising. I yelled at Carmen to call 911, and ran over to kneel next to her, lifting her chin, to make sure her airway was open, and checked her pupils. I was holding her head in my lap, rubbing her forehead, and calmly speaking to her, when the paramedics, rushed into the room, with the ambulance gurney. As Carmen and I watched them, working on her, and putting her on the gurney, they carried her down the stairs, and rolled the gurney into the back of the ambulance. Don was running over, when they slammed the back doors, and took off, with emergency lights on, and the sirens blaring. Don and I jumped in my car, while Carmen went into the house, to put the eggs and milk in the refrigerator, and make sure the house was locked up. After setting the house alarm, and jumping into her own car, she wasn’t that far behind us, as we drove to the hospital emergency room, approximately, 20 minutes away. As we turned into the parking lot, we could see the ambulance, they brought Mom in, with the back doors wide open, and the lights still flashing.

  We were directed to the same waiting room we sat in, when Mom had her last stroke, and it gave me a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. Don sat in the corner in a chair, with his elbows on his knees, and his head in his hands, obviously, extremely distraught, slightly rocking back and forth. He and Carmen had planned to take Mom to the zoo today, to witness the introduction of a new waddle of penguins, to their new home, in the expanded Antarctica display.

  Standing by the window, with my hands spread apart on the sill looking down, at literally nothing, but the window sill ledge between my hands, I remembered when Mom told me last night, she was going upstairs, because she was just feeling out of sorts, completely drained, and just wanted to go to bed, even though, it was only 6:30. I was so damn engrossed in some stupid movie on TV. That should have been a red flag!

  And why the hell, didn’t I feel that damn chilly breeze last night, when maybe, if I had taken her to the emergency room, then she’d have a better chance of survival. Who knows how long she laid on the floor, helpless, while I was at the store, and Carmen was downstairs. Hearing sobbing from across the room, and turning my head, I saw Carmen at the round table in another corner, with her head lying in her arms, crying, and mumbling to herself. Walking over I knelt down by her, putting my arm around her.

“Why didn’t I go up to check on her,” she asked, raising her head, looking at me, with tears running down her face? “I’m so sorry, Mike.”

“Shhh! Now, it’s not your fault, honey. I could’ve very well checked on her too, before I left for the store,” rubbing her neck and kissing the top of her head. “We can’t blame ourselves. She could’ve woken up in the middle of the night, and fallen to the floor. There’s no way of knowing.”

  The emergency doors opened, and an all too, familiar doctor, from Mom’s last stroke, walked into the waiting room. For the next 15 minutes, our worst fears, were affirmed. We learned that she suffered another hemorrhagic stroke, which has left her in a coma, and she was put on a ventilator. Thus far, the prognosis wasn’t looking promising, for her to regain consciousness, but they would have to do a PET brain scan, in order to determine the extent of the damage to the brain, and its tissues. While the family and Don decided to get something to eat, I sat down, alone, by the window in the waiting room to give Marcia a call. She answered, and after hearing my voice, she knew something had happened to Mom. We talked for over an hour, about the good times we had when they visited us in April, for vacation, and how excited, and alert she was, whenever we went sightseeing, and out for dinner. Then, she brought up something, when we were kids, that I’d blocked out of my head, for all these years.

“Do you remember the time, you and I had made a fort out of blankets, over the dining table, and Grandma, who was living in the lower level of our house, yelled upstairs for Mom, and then we were sent across the street to the neighbors? You were almost 8 and I was 6 years old, but I still remember, that day, when Grandpa died.”

“I forgot all about that,” I remembered, but as the memory, of sneaking downstairs, many years ago, to wake Grandpa, came into my head, there was something that happened, before I found him, that I had never really paid attention to, or ever thought about it, until now!

  The story was always told, that Grandma had found Grandpa, dead in his bed, but she wasn’t the first one. Earlier in the morning, before sunrise, I was woken up, by a chilly breeze blowing through the small bedroom, I shared with my sister. It was late September, and the house was still humid, from the high record breaking temperatures, the day before. It was an hour earlier than when I would usually wake up, but it was Saturday. And on Saturday’s, my Grandpa would let me feed the ducks, he had in the back yard, in a pen.

  I know it sounds hilarious today, whenever we shared this story, with relatives and friends, but on weekdays, Grandpa enjoyed turning the ducks loose on me and Marcia, and I’m sure she still has nightmares, like I did for years. If Marcia and I were helping Grandma, pick cherries, out of the tree behind our house, or any other time, we were in the backyard, Grandpa loved to sneak outside, unlatch the duck’s pen, then sit in his old rusty metal yard chair, and laugh his ass off, as they pecked at our heads, while we ran through the bushes and trees, trying to avoid them.

  I loved my Grandpa, even though he always, made me a little nervous, because I never knew what he was going to do. And he was scary looking, with long white hair and a huge white beard, and with his piercing black eyes, he just looked evil. He was always looking for ways, to scare, or tease us. He would always clown around, and try to catch us off guard, but he didn’t scare me that day. The chilly breeze woke me up, and after going to the bathroom, and seeing the sun just starting to make its entrance, I decided to sneak downstairs, and try to scare Grandpa, for a change, but he didn’t wake up. I touched his hand, leaning over the side of the bed, and it was cold. Climbing up on the edge of the bed, his eyes were wide open, seemingly looking at the ceiling, but he never moved. Terrified, I ran back upstairs, hiding in the fort we had made the day before, over the dining table, with a blanket pulled over my head, and I fell back asleep. When Marcia woke up, she crawled into the fort with me, and we started playing, until we heard Grandma’s cries for help.

  After hanging up with Marcia, I became aware that I was the only one in the waiting room. And it was so quiet, I could hear and feel, my heart thumping hard, in my chest. My head was flooded with memories of these occasional chilly breezes, without realizing their significance, and now, since the day I’ve seen my future, and my last day, it’s making sense. The ability to sense one’s imminent death, but in the case of the elderly man in the woods, earlier this year, I was forewarned of the potential of a death, and had a hand in saving a life. I did change the inevitable! So is it possible to alter my fate, as well? The door opened and Carmen walked into the room, in front of the girls and their families, with Don behind them. They had gone down to the cafeteria, while I was on the phone with Marcia. The rest of the day, we took turns by her bedside, talking to her, reading to her, or just holding her hand. Ava read to her the children’s book, Ninny Jett, had bought her when she was a little girl. It was her favorite story, about a little caterpillar, wanting to fly, and was told by all, to be patient, and after metamorphosis, it changed into a beautiful Monarch butterfly, and flew away with the others, like him. It was late, when everybody went home, but I stayed by Mom’s bedside, that first night, reflecting on what I’ve learned, and searching my memories, for the various times during my life, I had felt a chilly breeze. The next few weeks, there were signs of hope, when her eyes would flutter open, as if she was gradually waking up, but then she’d sink back into a comatose state. Towards the end of October, Carmen was sitting with her, while I went to get something to eat, when Mom suddenly opened her eyes, staring at Carmen.

“Mom, it’s Carmen,” she responded. “Can you hear me,” she asked, reaching for her hand, when Mom jerked her hand, away from Carmen? And then she raised her eyes towards the ceiling, while relaxing her arms by her side. When I received a text from Carmen, what just happened, I ran out of the hospital cafeteria, and to the elevator. While watching the floor numbers light up, as the elevator headed for the 10th floor, a chilling breeze surrounded me, like a vortex of wind.

  When I got to Mom’s room, there were several nurses around the bed, taking her vitals, and checking her pupils. Mom had gone back into a coma, after Carmen pushed the emergency call button, and she was standing at the foot of the bed, arms folded, pacing back and forth. I walked up to Carmen, putting my arm around her, as the head nurse, walked up to us.

“I’m afraid her organs and systems are shutting down. I’m so sorry,” she explained, as her voice cracked, sounding so sincere. “I’m afraid, it’s only a matter of time. Is there anyone we can contact for you?”

“No, that’s fine. Our girls and the rest of the family, are staying in rooms, in the building next door. We’ll call them, to let them know what’s going on. Thank you,” I said. “You’ve all been very kind.”

“It could be very soon. Or it can last hours. Anything else we can do, for you or your family, please, just push the call button. We’re right down the hall.” She, and the other nurses, smiled and left the room.

  After the girls, and their families spent the next couple hours, by Mom’s bedside, and walked out of the room, I looked over at Don, who had been so quiet, sitting in a chair, outside the doorway. His eyes, full of tears, looking back at me. I motioned him into the room, and let him spend time alone with her, shutting the door behind. It was almost another hour, before the door opened, and he walked out weakly smiling at us, and thanked me for letting him spend time with her. Everybody had all fallen asleep in the waiting room, in the chairs and the 2 couches, while Carmen and I were sitting in a couple chairs, next to the bed. The hospital was silent, except for the occasional sounds, every hospital has, in the middle of the night, along with the erratic breathing, coming from Mom. The skin, in her normally rosy cheeks, had turned a dusky color, and her hands and arms, felt very cool, as her blood pressure was falling. A rattling sound escaped her lips, as she licked them, suddenly waking up, looking at me.

“Micheal,” she barely whispered, forcing a weak smile, and taking a gasping breath, she continued, “you felt it, didn’t you!”

“I felt what Mom,” I asked, sitting up in the chair, startled?

“The chilly breeze! It’s always been inside you, but now you feel it, more often.” She said, looking directly into my eyes. “Your Grandma heard you that early morning, when you found your grandpa’s lifeless body. Not until she went into his room and found him, did she know for sure. She felt the chills, too, and had passed it on to you.”

“Why, Mom?” I whispered, shocked by her response. “I don’t understand. Where does it come from?”

“It’s a gift Son. I love you.” she answered, as her eyes fluttered, then shut. An extremely chilly breeze filled the room, although the door was shut. Then after she took a few erratic deep, raspy breaths, she breathed her last. She was gone. My sobbing woke Carmen up from the chair in the corner, as she ran around the end of the bed, hugging me. Looking down, Mom looked at peace, and leaning over, I kissed her forehead, and whispered, “I love you too, Mom. See you soon.”

 

2022

  It was a difficult last few months for the entire family, after Mom’s death, last October. We had her funeral, as she wanted, in the Catholic church, where she always attended. Don beseeched the family to allow him to give the eulogy, and also, refused my offer to help him write it, but it was perfectly done, and we all appreciated how he addressed the family, and everybody in attendance. Mom would have been proud of him. He had always thought of her as the caring, thoughtful, Mom, he never experienced, growing up in an alcoholic environment. She was laid to rest next to my Dad, in the town they had met, married, and started raising a family. The holidays at the end of the year were the toughest any of us ever had, without Mom, who always put smiles on everyone’s faces, with her silly limericks, and the ability to bring everybody together, when she entered the room. At our last Thanksgiving dinner, Ava had set a plate for Ninny Jett, next to her, like every year, and before we ate, and saying a prayer, I gave a toast to Mom, as we all clicked our glasses.

  The Christmas season and the New Year, seemed to come and go, so quickly, even though, I knew in my heart, it would be my last, but the gnawing feeling inside me, made me wonder if I could possibly change my demise. But how could I do that, when I have no idea what the cause of my death will be? I could die in my sleep. A heart attack, at the kitchen table. Hell, I could be hit by a meteor sitting in my chair watching TV! It’s March, and there are only 5 months left, until August 14, 2022, and I can’t believe it, but I’ve accomplished everything that Don and I had outlined over 5 years ago. My phone vibrated, and Carmen’s ringtone went off in my pocket, and I had to recline the rocker, to reach into my pocket, to answer it.

“Hey, honey! The girls and I had our nails done, and they want to come by the house, to look through those old photo’s of the family, we have in our closet, in a couple boxes. Could you find them, and get them out of the closet for us,” she asked? I could hear Missy and Mandy giggling, and talking in the background, sounding like the two little girls, I used to drive to grade school, sitting in the back seat giggling and cutting up.

“That sounds like fun,” I replied. “Tell the girls, I’ll chill a couple bottles of white wine, and we can make it a family thing. Be good to see how pretty they were, at one time,” I laughed, hearing a ha-ha and a whatever, from them, assuming Carmen had me on speakerphone.

“We’ll be home in about half an hour, then, if this traffic stays constant. Love you! See you soon,” Carmen said. “Love you Dad,” the girls yelled, in unison, before the phone went dead!

  When I heard the garage door opening, I had already laid the boxes of pictures on a chair, next to our dining room table, and was going through a thick pile of old black and white pictures, that had been tied together with twine. There were a few faded old pictures, with torn edges, and turned brown, because of their age, of Mom and her siblings, playing in a tree house, that their Dad, had built for them. Another picture, was of my 3 uncles, with play rifles and guns, chasing each other around the yard, playing army.

  Picking up a picture of my Grandmother, holding Mom, who was the youngest, in her arms as a baby, I had forgotten how beautiful she was, but, looking at her features now, with her dark Italian complexion, and almost black eyes, I wondered how many times she felt the chilly breeze. Staring at this picture, I was startled a little, when Missy walked up behind me, pointing over my shoulder at the picture.

“Hey, Mom! Is that Grandma, when she was a baby,” she asked, turning her head towards Carmen, who walked up next to her?

“Oh yeah, she was the chunky one as I remember, right Mike?”

“She would always tell me that her Mom would tease her, telling her she was fattening her up for Thanksgiving dinner,” I laughed, remembering how serious she was, when she told me that. “True story! But then, she said her Mom would start cackling, like a witch, and chase her around the house.”

“You know, Missy, you were just like your Grandma, when you were just a baby. Chunky, with puffy legs, and arms, but so precious,” Carmen said mockingly, and then smiled.

“Mom, Dad! Do you remember when Max was born,” asked Missy, sitting down with a glass of wine? “The nurse came out, holding our newborn baby, and Tom, looking down at his face, and as serious as he could, said…” Carmen interrupted, saying, “So how long will it be before his eyes open?” We all erupted into laughter, as if it was yesterday.

  Mandy had opened another box, and starting passing around pictures of the Grandkids, after they were born, with Carmen and I each holding our Grandchildren, for the first time. Carmen pointed out, that when Mom was close by whenever pictures were taken, she would always manage to be in the shot somewhere. She was photo bombing, before it was a thing, and that made us all laugh, then feeling, a little subdued, realizing how much we all missed her.

“Honey, do you remember when the girls used to pretend to be each other,” Carmen asked, holing a picture of Missy, almost 4 years old, riding her bike, by herself? “You were running behind her, and then letting her go, and you yelled…”

“Way to go Mandy! And then I felt a tugging, at my leg, looking upwards at me giggling. “That’s Missy, Daddy. I’m Mandy.”

“That’s when it started,” I glared at the girls, shaking my head! “When you were both young, and your hair was exactly the same, there was no way anyone could tell you apart.”

“Oh yeah, it was fun, until that time you and I, turned 16, and we traded our drivers licenses,” Missy added, as Mandy remembered, nodding her head. “Then I was stopped for speeding, and it went on your driving record,” pointing at Mandy.

“And it would have been a felony, if the officer had known, you were using a fictitious license,” Carmen reminded Missy.

“Yeah, and if memory serves me, you girls never tried to fool us, or anyone again, on purpose,” I said, holding up several pictures where the girls had their hair completely different, and not wearing identical clothing. “And it was obvious, it scared the hell out of both of you!”

  They both shook their heads in agreement, as Carmen opened another bottle of wine, before sitting back down at the table, with the photo’s scattered all over. We decided to let the girls look through them for any duplicates, or any pictures, they each wanted for themselves, to hand down to their kids someday. We spent the rest of the day, until it started getting dark, and Mandy’s phone rang. It was Ava, wondering what they were having for dinner, and Mandy told her she’ll bring pizza home. Not realizing how fast the time had gone, Missy called Tom, and asked him what he wanted on a pizza. Then, she and Mandy both called ‘Veraci Pizza’, thin-crust pies, baked in a wood-fired oven, the family’s favorite pizza, then started placing their photo’s in folders, to take home. As they were putting their wine glasses in the sink, and getting ready to leave, I stood in front of them.

“I’m so glad you girls came over, and spent the day with us. It was fun! It made my day, and I think we both needed a twins fix,” I chuckled, giving them each a long hug, and kissed their cheeks, as my eyes welled up. “I love you both so much,” my voice cracked. Noticing a little concern, in Missy’s face, I started joking with them. “Now which one is which?” I pointed back and forth at them, then laughed.

“Oh Dad,” Mandy answered, as she rolled her eyes. “I love you!”

“Love you too, Dad.” Missy replied,as they both hugged and kissed Carmen.

  We both walked outside with them, as they got in their cars, and started backing out of the driveway. Thinking about the two bottles of wine we had drank, I slowly glanced around, holding out my arm, to see if I felt a breeze, of any kind, but it was very still. Smiling, with my arm around Carmen, we both waved, as they honked their horns and disappeared over the top of the hill, on the road. Walking towards the front door, Carmen looked up at me.

“I told them to text me when they both get home,” she responded, holding up her cell phone. “I mean, we did drink two bottles of wine.”

“I think they’ll be just fine,” I answered. “I have a good feeling about it,” smiling, kissing her forehead, as we entered the house, noticing she still looked concerned, making sure her volume was up for text notifications.

“Well, I’ll still worry, until they both text me,” she said.

“Hope they each have their own drivers licenses,” I chuckled, making Carmen laugh.

“You are a nut, but for some strange reason, I still love the hell out of you,” she kissed my cheek, before walking into the kitchen.

 

May 07, 2022

  It was a Saturday. The sun was filtering through the trees, illuminating the walking path I was on, as its early morning warmth began to burn off the fog that seemed to hover a couple feet off the ground. Carmen had errands to run this morning, so I decided to go for a walk, instead of riding my bike. When I left the house, the fog was so thick, you couldn’t even see across the street, but now as it slowly dissipated, it looked eerily like a white cloud had fallen out of the sky. Or like dry ice when it’s used to generate fog for a nighttime stage play scene. Over the past 5 years, I’ve learned to greatly appreciate the world around me and the wonders of nature, and its beauty. After that agonizing first year, with the initial fear and stress in completing everything I wanted to do, to make sure my family will be taken care of, after I’m gone, I spent every waking moment, like it’s my last day, to study, learn, and educate myself, like a sponge soaking up water. Carmen and I started walking or riding our bikes, down this path from one park to the next, and then back home. I realized I’ve learned more about life, than any google search, or reading a book, could teach me. Just listening to the natural sounds, the movement of wildlife in the brush, and watching birds flying overhead, has given me the peace and solitude, I can’t even remember  experiencing, before that haunting morning with the realization of how short life can be. And in my case, I actually knew how short my life would be.

  In a strange, macabre way, knowing when my life is ending, is actually better than not knowing, because almost all people have no idea when they will die, or how, unless you’re suicidal, and you control your own destiny. Looking ahead, I noticed 3 young boys, probably around 14 years old, stopped with their mountain bikes on the wooden bridge across a ravine, now filled with water from the massive rainstorm we had the night before. Temporarily turning the narrow ravine into a rushing white water river, they were pointing at something in the water. The taller one saw me walking towards them, and began yelling at me. Suddenly, I felt the chilly breeze, coming from behind me, and it filtered through my body.

“Hey, mister! There’s a girl down there in the water,” he screamed, pointing over the bridge railing. Running onto the bridge, up to the boys, I followed his finger, and could see a small girl, clutching on a broken tree trunk, as the water made it harder and harder for her to hang on.

“If one of you boys have a cell phone,” I yelled frantically, seeing the taller boy, nodding his head, “call 911, and tell them what’s going on,” yelling back as I climbed over the railing, judging the distance to the water to be about 10 feet. What the hell, I thought! This isn’t my day to die. I have 3 months!

  Without another thought, I jumped. Hitting the fast moving current of the water, and feeling it take control of my body, I struggled, keeping my head above water, looking ahead. It took every bit of strength I had, in this 68 year old body, to not be dragged under the water’s depth, which was probably 5 feet, as I searched for the girl clinging on the tree trunk. Catching a glimpse of movement to my right, I reached out, just as the girl lost her grip, being sucked underwater, and grabbed her arm, keeping her head above water. The current was stronger than it looked from the bridge, and it was like I had concrete blocks chained to my feet dragging me underwater. Figured these new hiking boots I bought, filled up with water, and were the culprit, as I started swallowing water and coughing, taking a breath, trying not to be pulled down. Struggling to regain any footing, I felt some solid ground under my feet, and with the terrified little girl, struggling, still in my grasp, I bent my legs slightly, pushing up, and throwing her on the bank. As I threw my arms onto the ground next to her, digging my fingers into the mud, a wall of water crashed into me, turning my head, slamming me into a large rock on the bank, knocking me unconscious. Remember, being lifted out of the water, then hearing frantic voices and the sirens, and then the prick of needles in each arm. Although my eyes were closed, there was a tint of daylight penetrating my eyelids. My mind filled with the memories of Carmen, the girls, the Grandkids, and then it emptied, until my thoughts were incoherent flashes of shapes and sounds, and then my mind went dark.

First, I regained consciousness, and thoughts ran through my head. They didn’t make any sense, but it was like when you’re starting a cold car, from a slow drag, barely cranking over, until it speeds up and the car starts. The filtered light through my eyelids was the thing I remember, until I started hearing several voices. Familiar voices. My eyes felt like they were glued shut, as a sliver of blinding light made my eyes fill with water, almost painful.

  As my vision cleared, I recognized Carmen standing at the end of the bed I was in, speaking to a nurse, with her arms folded, looking distraught.

“Is there any change at all,” she asked, wiping her eyes with one hand, arms still folded? “Why won’t he wake up?”

“He is stable, and his vitals are good. And he’s been breathing on his own for a few weeks now, and that’s an encouraging sign. You’ll have to wait for the doctor. He’s making his rounds and should be here soon. He’ll give you any updates,” she responded with empathy in her voice, patting her arm, and turning to leave the room.

“Ex-excuse me. I-I-I,” my voice cracked, weakly, barely making a sound, and my throat was dry and it ached. Clearing my throat, I took off the oxygen mask and called out again, louder. “Excuse me. I can hear you!”

  They both turned in shock, staring and not moving for a couple seconds, as if they were statues. The nurse dropped my chart, yelled out the door for the doctor, rushed towards one side of the bed. Carmen ran to the other side of the bed, leaned over and kissed my head, squeezing my hand.

“Mr. McKenzie, can you hear me? How are you feeling,” she asked quickly, while checking the vitals screen next to the bed, and felt my forehead? “Don’t talk if your throat hurts. Here, take a few chips of ice to soothe your throat, first.”

“Mike? Oh my God. It’s so good to see your eyes,” she cried, as she placed her head next to mine, and whispered in my ear, “I love you so much.” She lightly kissed my dry, cracked lips.

“I love you,” I answered, as a tear ran down my cheek. Hearing several voices, I turned my head, seeing the nurse, at the end of my bed, handing my chart to a young doctor, who after looking at it, peered at me over his glasses at me, before walking up to the side of the bed.

“Mr. McKenzie, we’re very glad to have you back with us.,” he stated as he took a penlight, checked my ears, and looked into each eye. “You’ve been in a coma for a long time, and we’ve all been worried about you. What’s the last thing you remember?”

  My mind was suddenly flooded with everything that occurred that day. The boys on the bike, the little girl in the rushing water, and jumping in. “How’s the little girl? Is she ok? I did everything I could to help her,” sounding distressed, as I looked around the room.

“Yes, she is perfectly alright, and fully recovered! As a matter of fact, she’s written you a letter almost every day, thanking you, along with other cards from friends and relatives,” he responded, pointing at the window sill and around the room. Slowly turning my head, I saw many cards and flowers, surrounding the bed, and the window sill had what looked like hundreds of letters in envelopes.

  Jerking my head forward, with an obvious shocked look on my face, I stared at the doctor, then the nurse, and then at Carmen sitting next to me on the other side of the bed, rubbing my arm, still holding my hand.

“Just how long have I been unconscious,” I asked, sounding afraid of the answer?

“Mike,” Carmen spoke, squeezing my hand, smiling at me? “You’ve been in a coma for several months! It’s…”

“Oh my God,” I exclaimed, fearing how much time I have left, now! Worse yet, what if today is my last day.

“It’s been 3 months and 3 weeks. Today’s September 8th,” she replied. “It’s your birthday, honey! You woke up on your birthday!”

“That’s impossible,” I shouted out! “How can that be!”

  Carmen slightly chuckled and smiled, leaning over and kissing my cheek, “Well, it happens every year, Mike! Whether you like it or not. Mine was 2 months ago.” She winked, smiling at the doctor and nurse, who also started laughing at her joke. With her face close to mine, she kissed my lips, “Happy birthday, honey! Welcome back.”

“We’ll leave you two alone. I’m sure you have a lot to catch up on,” the doctor smiled, as he patted my right arm, before turning to leave the room. “Welcome back!”

“Thanks doctor, for everything you and your staff has done for me and my wife,” as I choked back the tears, and cleared my throat. “I’m just thankful to have another chance at life,” I continued, knowing he and Carmen have no idea what I really meant, by saying that.

  I don’t understand what happened, or how it happened. Or if I was totally wrong about the whole knowing when I’m dying thing, but, I didn’t care. Maybe being in a coma throughout the entire day of August 14, 2022, from 12:00am to 11:59pm, I cheated death, but right now, that’s speculation. There are numerous unexplained events, or Déjà Vu moments we all experience in life, we can’t explain. You know, like the gnawing feeling you sometimes get in the pit of your stomach, like you’ve been somewhere before, or the feeling that this has happened before. Over the past 5 1/2 years, I lived, what I thought was the remainder of my life, and they were the best years of my entire life. As I lay in the hospital recovering through physical therapy re-training muscles I hadn’t used for months, and a counselor who visited me several times, for a psychiatric evaluation, all I wanted to do, was to continue living my life, day by day. As if it’s my last! The day I was being released from the hospital, Carman, Missy, and Mandy had packed up the cards, letters, and flowers that had filled my room all these months, and had just left to load the car and bring it around to the front of the hospital.

  I had just eaten my last breakfast in this hospital, when a small girl, wearing a pink dress and matching shoes, with her hair in pigtails and pink bows walked quietly into the room with a woman standing behind her. As she cautiously, approached the bed and stopped a couple feet from me, her Mom softly guided her towards me.

“Mr. McKenzie, this is Shiela, my daughter, and she has something to give you,” her Mom said, as she nudged her shoulder. “Don’t be afraid, honey. This is the man who saved your life.”

“Hello, Shiela! It’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” I replied, in a quiet voice.  “I haven’t had the time to read all your letters yet, but I will when I go home.” Suddenly, she jumped up into my arms, hugging me, and whispered in my ear.

“Thank you for saving my life, Sir,” as she kissed my cheek, and laid a piece of paper on my chest, before slipping back down on the floor. Holding the piece of paper up, she had drawn a picture of a river. I assume it was where she was when I jumped in the water. Next to the river was a picture of an angel, with wings, holding onto a little girl’s hand, above the water. In a child’s scrawl, she had drawn a line to the angel, with the words ‘my guardian angel’, and a line to the little girl with the word, ‘Me’. Before I could say anything, she blurted out.

“That’s you,” pointing at the angel, with a huge smile on her face, folding her arms, obviously proud of what she had made for me. “And the girl, is me!”

“Thank you very much, Shiela,” I answered, hardly able to hold back a sniffle. “I’ll cherish this forever!” Her Mom came over, thanking me over and over, for being there when her little girl was in danger and shared with me, that after that day, she wakes up every morning, with a smile, giving Shiela a big kiss and a hug, and thanks God for putting me there on that bridge, that day. Carmen and the girls walked in the room, and after introductions, they all went into the waiting room next door for coffee, and to chat. Shiela stayed with me, sitting on the edge of the bed, talking about everything from her new doll to her cat, Callie, she has at home, and what she likes to eat, and doesn’t like to eat. And I loved hearing every detail.

  Sitting in the passenger side, next to Carmen as she pulled into our driveway, after a couple weeks of rehab, before being released from the hospital, was the best day of the rest of my life. The only thing that had changed since I was knocking on death’s door, in a coma, is the new certainty, that I have no idea when my time on earth will end. That’s ok, but I had still already made my choice to live every day as if it’s my last. Thinking back to that pivotal time, in my life, February 9, 2017, appearing on the shower door, signifying the day I’ll die, I realized that it actually, not only changed my outlook on life, it changed it for the better. There was Missy and Tom’s car. Mandy and Richard’s car. Max was just pulling behind his parents car in his shiny, always spotless Ford blue muscle car. The 1969 Mach I Mustang I gave him over 6 years ago. And I’ve yet to see it dirty. He married a girl he’s known since Grade School, almost a year ago, and Carmen thought at the time, they were planning to start a family right away. Carmen parked in the driveway, so it’d be easier for me to get out.

  Know she was just being a little over-protective, and she’s been known to get that way, I’ll never complain again about it. If she really knew what my life’s been like, and what’s been going on, she’d really freak out. As she came around the passenger side, to help me get out of the car, I stood up, waving back at Max and Cindy, walking up the sidewalk, towards the front porch. Cindy looked about 6 months pregnant. Carmen saw the smile on my face, and placed her hands, on my shoulders, and looked into my eyes.

“Max and Cindy wanted to surprise you Mike. After you woke up, they asked if they could give you the good news. How could I say no? We’re going to be Great-Grandparents, honey,” rapidly, rubbing my shoulders up and down, then hugging and kissing me!

“It’s the best news in the world, I could hear right now. I love you so much, Carmen!” We were still hugging when I heard a familiar, good to hear voice, coming from behind me.

“Well, there you are, Mike,” Don bellowed as he walked up to me, as I turned around, and proceeded to bear hug, slapping my back several times, with both hands. “I’m so glad to see you buddy! BTW! Can I borrow your new lawn edger?” Breaking into one of his infamous, laugh at his own jokes, laughs, we both cracked up.

“Don, you have to be careful,” Carmen reacted, wedging herself between Don and me, nudging him back. “He just got out of the hospital!”

“Honey,” I said, patting her shoulder. “If any motion was going to hurt me, I would’ve been in pieces after we pulled into the driveway, with your driving,” I replied, chuckling!

“You guys are both crazy,” she replied, waving her arms over her head, as she walked towards the house, then turned back to us! “But that’s ok. I love you both. Well, maybe you a little more, Mike,” she scoffed, giggling to herself, as she walked towards the house.

“Yeah, I’m really glad to see you, too, buddy” I answered, as we shook hands, hugging, and patting each other on the back! “It’s great to be alive,” as I winked at him, smiling!

“Po-Po!” Ava screamed, running into my arms, as I entered the living room, where everybody was standing and applauding. So glad she hasn’t quit calling me Po-Po, even being 15 years old, now. She gave me a big kiss, almost strangling me, with both her arms squeezing, around my neck. “I missed you so much! I thought I’d never see you again.” Still hugging me, as Mandy and Missy ran to hug us together, like in a huddle, and, of course, they started sobbing.

“Ok, girls! Shhh. That’s enough crying,” I whispered patting them both on the backs. “I’m alive! Not dead.” Looking around the room, Carmen has started taking pictures of us, with her phone, and then motioned Tom and Richard into the shot, for a family pic. Then told Max and Cindy to get in the group. Don took the phone from Carmen, and told her she needs to be in the next shot.

“Ok, you guys, say cheese,” Don yelled, and took another couple shots! Carmen walked up to Don. “Ok, Don, you’re in the family, too. Stand next to Mike,” as she pointed towards me, then pulled out a telescopic selfie stick, from the end table drawer, and took a pic of all of us together, with the ‘Welcome Home” sign behind us, over our head, in the same spot Ava’s ‘Happy Birthday’ banner was, over 5 years ago.

“Honey,” I whispered, pulling her aside. “Where’s Mom? Is she doing alright,” I asked, with concern in my voice, since I didn’t see her in her favorite recliner, next to the window?

“I’m sorry, Mike. She’s been sleeping a lot these days,” she responded. “You’ll have to go upstairs later. She’ll be so happy to see you. Told her you were out of your coma, but you know, since she had her stroke, her memory has gotten progressively worse.”

  I’ll never forget that Christmas in 2018, when the whole family was here, as usual, and we had just eaten dinner when Mom collapsed, falling on the floor, out of her chair. With her dementia grow worse over the past year, and then after having that major stroke at Christmas, Carmen insisted that she lives with us. And I couldn’t agree more, after visiting a few nursing homes, and seeing how depressed some of the elderly were, with no family, and nobody ever visiting them. Besides, the closest facility was over an hour away. The rest of the day, we laughed, had trays of various snacks, a vanilla cake, Missy baked, and ice cream. We shared memories, and discussed the family vacation, we had planned a few months ago, and now the trip’s back on for the fall. My sister called late in the day, to wish me a happy homecoming, wishing she could be here, and she still thanks me for her life, when I donated one of my kidney’s to her, years ago.

  The years went by, and as life runs smoothly, it seemed to fly, so quickly. On the 26th of October in 2021, my Mom went to sleep, and never woke up. She had suffered the last couple years of her life, feeling distraught and upset when she couldn’t remember names, and at one point she couldn’t even recognize me for an entire day, but we always made her comfortable, and she passed away peacefully, during the night. Carmen and I started spending time, doing more active things together. We even plowed up a corner of the back yard, and started planting a garden every year, and whatever we didn’t eat, or give to the girls and their family, we donated to a local charity group, for the poor and homeless. Don would always see us outside, and helped with weeding, planting, and harvesting the crop.

We rode our bikes down the path through the nature preserve 3 times a week, and completely changed our diet, to plant-based meals, thus improving our health substantially, and probably increasing our life span. Max and Cindy had 3 boys, and Ava went into nursing college, and acquired a job at the local hospital. After I turned 90 years old, it became difficult for me to work the garden, but I didn’t mind because Max would bring the boys over, and they loved working with Po-Po in the garden. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

 

  We all live our lives, and most of the time, selfishly taking it for granted, but I can honestly admit, when I thought my time would end, some 24 years ago, I made every day, every hour, every second count, as long as I was taking a breath. And after I woke up from a coma, passing that dreaded midnight hour of my life, I still continued making every moment of my life count. It was a lesson, given to me, that I wish everybody could learn from, and as I’m laying here in bed, now,  at the age of 94, with Carmen, the love of my life sound asleep on her left side, I feel that my life’s been full, and I wouldn’t have it changed in any way. Turning my head, the clock on my nightstand read, 2:35am, September 13, 2047. Reaching into the top drawer, I pulled out a tattered, slightly torn, piece of old construction paper. A child’s drawing of a guardian angel pulling a little girl out of the water, given to me in the hospital, many years ago, I placed it on top of my chest, smiling. Closing my eyes, I went to sleep for the last time.

 

August 14, 2022

  The clock on the wall, next to the TV, mounted on the wall bracket, showed 6:46am as the suns early morning rays filtered through the horizontal blinds which were slightly opened, and left a beautiful pattern on the wall, no-one witnessed. A chilly breeze, entered the room, but nobody noticed. The TV was turned off, and there was the sound of the breakfast carts being wheeled down the hall, with the smells of eggs, bacon, and oatmeal permeating the rooms. The only other sound was the medical device next to the bed, as it pumped a constant flow of IV fluids into the patient’s arm, and the oxygen mask continued to expand and contract on his face. Suddenly, the wavy lines, on the monitor screen above the bed, all turned into five straight lines, and an alarm sounded its emergency warning. The quietness of the early morning in the room, was interrupted by nurses bursting into the room with a crash cart, as the code blue process went into high gear.

  Laying the patient flat, and removing the pillow, the nurse checked for a carotid pulse, and started compressions. The other nurse removed the oxygen mask, and placed the Ambu-bag over his mouth, and began administering direct oxygen flow, manually. After finding no pulse, the AED/ defibrillator pads were applied across his chest. The doctor, who was making his rounds, ran into the room as the nurse prepared to administer the first shock.

“Clear,” she shouted, so everybody backed away, not touching the patient! The first shock made the chest rise. Checking the pulse, it remained silent.

“Clear!” The second shock produced the same result. Shaking her head back and forth towards the doctor. He told her to administer adrenaline directly in the heart, through his chest.

“Clear!” The third and final shock delivered, without any change, the code blue team, looked defeated. The nurse turned off the medical devices, and waited for the doctor’s response. He glanced up at the clock, thinking how much he hated this part of his job.

“Time of death! 7:26am, August 14, 2022!”

 After charting the time of death, by one of the nurses, she followed the doctor out of the room. The other nurse unhooked the IV’s, and wheeled the machine which had kept Micheal McKenzie alive these last several months while he was in a coma, and never regaining consciousness, out of the room. Stopping for a few minutes by his side, she looked into his face, a kind-looking face, wishing she would have had the chance to see him wake up and meet him, after hearing how incredible of a person she heard from all his visitors. He’s had family or friends here almost the entire time, since the paramedics had brought him into the emergency room after pulling him from the water, unresponsive, and without oxygen, to his brain, for at least 10 minutes. The odds were against him, but he seemed like a fighter. Whenever she was the night duty nurse, she’d check in on him, after his visitors left, or seeing them fast asleep sitting next to him in the recliner, holding his hand.

  Seeing the love and respect in his family's eyes that they had for him, and the way they would talk about what he did for everyone, made her feel like family. And that crazy friend of his, Don, who always made her smile. She was shaking her head and chuckling, thinking about that funny guy, when the door opened and his wife, Carmen, the twin girls, Mandy and Missy, and Don slowly walked into the room with sorrowful expressions. The girls’ husbands stood inside the door, while the rest of the family was in the hallway, waiting for the opportunity each pay their final respects and say goodbye.

“It’s not fair,” spouted Carmen, visibly frustrated! “He deserved a long, happy life,” her voice shaking, barely able to finish her comment, as she sniffled.

“Excuse me Mrs. McKenzie,” the nurse whispered, touching her elbow. “He had this laying across his chest, when we came in the room.” She handed Carmen the picture.

  The picture that little Shiela drew for Mike, thanking him for saving her life. It had an angel with an arrow pointing to it, calling Mike her guardian angel, pulling a little girl, out of the water, who was Shiela. Shiela and her Mom had come every weekend to visit him, hoping he’d wake up so she could thank him, in person. Carmen would tell Mike when they were there, and after sitting next to him last night, she had left it lying on the edge of the bed. A tear fell on the picture, from Carmen’s eye, as she smiled, staring at it, then looked around the room at everybody.

“He would have loved meeting this little girl! This little girl, he was willing to die for, so she could live. Do you think he knew she was here every week to see him? Or that we were always here, by his side talking about things we’ll do when he wakes up? Like when I would talk about starting a garden, and to finally agree on taking down our dusty bicycles, and start riding them through that forest preserve, on that bike trail, he loves,” she said, as she squeezed his hand, and kissed and lay her head on his hand, crying. “He always asked me to ride bikes with him again, and I always found an excuse not to. I promised him, when he woke up, we would.

“Oh, he lived a long full life! And knowing Mike, I bet he’s heard every word said, and knew everyone who visited him, even that little girl, he saved,” Don responded, placing his hand on her shoulder as she sat next to the bed. “And life’s never fair, but what he accomplished in his life, was more than most people ever do, in a long lifetime. He lived every day as if it was his last,” he started crying, remembering the day Mike told him about his last day on earth.. “He was more special, in ways than anyone knows. The best guy I ever knew!”

  The entire family stood around his bed, staring down at the man they all loved so much, each reflecting on an event in their life with him. Carmen leaned over, kissing Mike on the lips for the last time, laying that drawing a little girl made for him, on his chest. A picture of her, with her guardian angel pulling her out of the water, saving her life. He lived his life, the way he wanted to live it. His expression reflected a man, who was at peace. He certainly did live a full life.

 

END

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


© Copyright 2017 Kerry ONeal. All rights reserved.

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