“Third time is supposed to be the charm, isn’t it?” My mother remarked over the news program on the radio. “I can’t believe it took him four attempts.”
I wasn’t paying close attention, idly watching strip malls and apartment buildings pass by out the car window. Mottled cloud cover stretched from one horizon to the other, the way the sky looks when it cannot decide whether to rain.
“Reminds me of Miranda’s son. Goodness, how long was he in the hospital before he could try again? A year? I want to say it was at least that long.” As she talked, she glanced furtively at me. Trying to discern whether I was picking up on her meaning.
I changed the subject, asking if I was supposed to know Miranda. “Oh, you met Miranda! I think you were just a little guy though, I took you along to the Christmas party at the office. You hid behind my legs when I introduced you.”
She fiddled with the radio knob until arriving at what sounded like the middle of an interview. “-That’s all there is to it, really. We as a society build it up, make it out to be more than it is. It isn’t just individuals who do that. I mean, what does it amount to? A little poppity-pop, then it’s over. Does that really merit so much controversy?”
The station host interviewing the man, elderly judging by his voice, added in little superficially thoughtful sounding quips here and there, perhaps not wanting his guest to outshine him. The sort of remarks that sound clever in the moment but turn out not to mean much of anything if you go back and pick them apart.
At last, we arrived in the parking lot of the super store. One of those obscene one stop mega markets the size of an airport, just a giant beige monolithic block jutting up out of the asphalt. “I could’ve bought it online” I pointed out.
She put her hands on her hips. “Really? For something this important? You’ll be glad we made a day out of it. I want to be there with you for every step. I know you think you’re a big man now but-” I interrupted, finishing her sentence in a silly voice. “-I’ll always be your little boy. Yes, I know.”
It really was something of a comfort to have her along. In truth it’s the last thing I’d ever want to do alone, yet as the big day approached I found myself keeping everybody at arm’s length. Friends, old girlfriends, even my own family. Pushing people away has always been part of how I deal with difficult feelings, though it’s never actually helped.
It reminded me to get my phone out, checking for comments on my Facebook post where I announced that I’d chosen ballistic penetration as the method I planned to use. All of my closest friends, and surprisingly some who rarely so much as like any of my posts, had something to say about it.
“That’s a classic way to go! My dad did it that way. Very clean, all at once. It’s all about acting on that sudden impulse. I should loan you the album he listened to. Droning meditation music, you rock back and forth while clearing your mind of all thoughts so you won’t hesitate when the time comes.”
Jorge, my best friend of 8 years, had something to say as well. “Don’t get too worked up over this. Millions have done it before you. The important thing is to remember you’re not alone in all this. You’re surrounded by friends who will give you the strength you need to go through with it, because we love you.”
I teared up a little, then became self conscious because I was in a public place. Fucking Jorge, still such a bro even though I’ve been so distant lately. I smiled, slipping my phone back into my pocket as I walked down the candy aisle with my mom. “I don’t need candy. Nobody at the party is going to want candy mom, we’re not twelve.”
She pouted. “Look at these, though! They’re so cute.” She held up a sucker in the shape of a Colt 911, where the barrel was the hard candy part you suck on, and the plastic handle was shaped like a pistol grip. I smirked at the packaging, which read “steel flavor”.
I talked her out of it, and soon we were browsing exit wound canvases. I got the idea years ago when I took a date to an art gallery, where they were showing a collection of exit wound imprints. The blood and brain matter which bursts out of the exit wound, splattering onto a canvas positioned carefully just above and behind your head.
Each one totally unique. Like Rorschach inkblots, but a dull reddish-brown rather than black. It would give Mom something to remember me by, and to hang up over the fireplace. Proof that I’d seen it through, and gotten it right the first time….more than some could say.
Mom took my hand, startling me out of my introspection. “I know I said this already yesterday, but I am just so proud of you. Doing it like a man, making your father and I proud. None of that mincing, half-hearted helium bag nonsense, like the Mathersons’ daughter. You’re not leaving it to chance. That’s how our family has always done it! You’re such a grown man now, I can’t believe it’s almost over.”
It was her turn to tear up, though she was smiling. Happier than I’d seen her for many years. How could I destroy that smile? No, I couldn’t. Nothing to do but move forward with the process. Hard to believe I was already near the end of week 4.
During week 1, the notion that the big day will arrive seems so distant and abstract. It feels like you still have your whole life ahead of you. That’s the week they give you to notify your extended family, to quit your job and make other initial preparations.
It becomes a little more real when week 2 arrives, but it still feels dreamlike. As if you’ve still got the full month, or that the big day will just never arrive somehow. This is the week they allot for you to research the various methods and choose one of them.
I panicked when week 3 arrived. I’m not proud of that, but I’m also hardly the first. Like the same amount of anxiety, spread out over the full month, was barely noticeable. But that it was being compressed into a smaller and smaller space as the days went by, making it ever more intense.
That was the week for making funeral preparations. They should really allow more than a week for that, as it’s a surprisingly convoluted process with a lot of paperwork to fill out. What would I have done if I couldn’t get the plot I wanted? I’ve never heard of anybody being granted an extension.
I still couldn’t believe all of that was now behind me. I remember going through all of it so vividly, as if it was still happening now. But here I am in week 4, still nowhere to go but forward. Week 4 is for organizing the party, and making your peace.
That’s also something that I feel as if I need more than a week to do. But then, would two weeks be enough? Three? It’s the sort of feeling which expands to fill all of the space you make available to it. Before the law passed requiring randomly selected people to go through all this, I’m sure many people didn’t think even eighty years was enough time.
Maybe it isn’t, I don’t know. I don’t have eighty years to find out. I have two days. Not even that, if you count it in hours. It’s funny how granular my measurement of time has become, now that I have so little of it left.
We wound up agreeing on a mid sized, modestly priced canvas after briefly arguing over whether it would be large enough to catch all of the wet emission. I explained I wasn’t going with a very large caliber, so she was probably imagining more of a mess than there would actually be.
Of course she wanted to splurge on the largest size. But I hardly wanted her to waste money on the five by seven foot canvas only for the imprint to be a pitiful reddish blotch in the very center, taking up perhaps one square foot.
On the ride home, I found myself reading an article on history’s most notable exit methods. A sort of macabre hall of fame, honoring those who not only accepted their responsibility but fulfilled it with gusto.
The one which caught my attention involved a clever boy who, half a century ago, had spent weeks constructing a special helmet designed to simultaneously discharge eight shotgun shells into the points where the human skull is known to be weakest.
Parts 2 and onward available to paying members only!