Two days later, I found myself back in the hospital beside Scott’s bed. He was antsy to get on with his exploration, but we still hadn’t figured out what our next move should be. I read the paper while he flipped through channels on his tiny hospital television. Every now and then, Scott would make a disaffected grunt to remind me that he was not satisfied by just sitting around, but I really did not know what we could do. Neither death nor philosophy ranked high on my list of favorite topics, so I was not about to go pushing for them. I was willing to help Scott along the way, but he was going to have to lead.
Scott stopped on a news channel to watch for a few minutes. He used to do this when he was in college and wanted to look intellectual. I found it odd that he chose to do it now, but I had taken to letting him act however strangely he wanted. After a few moments, however, I looked at him and saw that he was genuinely entranced. Putting down the paper, I looked up at the news story that was running. The screen showed a picture of a smiling young man in the top right corner beside a newswoman who was explaining the story.
“Roger Wells was found in his bathtub by his mother after a failed attempt at taking his own life. His mother called 9-1-1 immediately and performed first aid. He was rushed to Chester County Hospital, where he is now listed in stable condition. The doctors-”
Scott shut off the TV and turned to me, raising an eyebrow. I felt sick to my stomach and turned away from him, shaking my head. Sliding his legs around to the side of the bed, he pushed himself off and landed in his hospital slippers. Tapping me on the shoulder, he beckoned for me to follow him.
“No, Scott. I know I said I would help with this and all, but I don’t think we should be bothering this kid,” I said, getting up to follow him.
“Why not, it was a cry for attention, right?” he replied snidely. He took a few steps, and then turned to see if I was following. Disappointed that I was not, he walked back, trying to look remorseful.
“Ok, sorry. That was a little much. But suicide is usually a cry for help or something, right?” he said expectantly. I shrugged and nodded begrudgingly. “Right, so is this. I need help too, so we’ll probably get along just fine.” With that, he turned around and walked out the door. I lasted alone for only a moment before I relented and rushed out the door after him. I caught up to him by the nurses’ station where he was trying to schmooze a middle-aged nurse into directing him towards Wells’ room so he could “send his condolences.”
“He means his best wishes,” I said, catching up just in time. The nurse nodded reluctantly and checked her computer. Turning my back to the counter I whispered to him. “Condolences are for dead people. Let’s not make that mistake again.” He nodded and smiled warmly at the nurse who just shook her head and muttered something under her breath. After a few moments, she broke the silence with a gruff, impatient voice.
“Mr. Wells is in F12 if you would like to send a letter. No visitors.” She added the last part very poignantly. Scott nodded curtly and turned away.
“Right,” he said, walking back towards his room. After a few steps, he looked over his shoulder. Seeing the nurse had gone back to work, he darted towards the nearest elevator. I followed him reluctantly as he drew an invisible pistol and slid stealthily through the double doors. He punched a button on the panel and pressed himself flat against the side wall. I shook my head and stood in the center of the elevator, looking back out at the nurses’ station. Scott reached out and pushed me back against the wall so that we were both out of view of the nurses’ station. I rolled my eyes.
“We’re twenty-two years old, Scott. Come on.” Scott’s eyes narrowed.
“I’m going to die in a month, Jack. You come on,” he said in an urgent whisper. I sighed and drew my invisible gun and one upped him by attaching the silencer. “Right,” he said, and attached his own. The elevator bell dinged and the door opened. I leaned out a bit to assess the scene and saw two nurses talking by the other side of their station. Holding up two fingers, I gestured towards the station. He squatted down and crept out of the elevator, stopping with his back against the station desk. I followed him silently and we slid past the nurses and down the ‘F’ hallway. When we arrived at F12, Scott tucked his gun into his invisible jacket and mouthed “cover me.” Before he could slip into the door, I grabbed him by the shoulder.
“Wait,” I said. “We need to take this seriously.” He looked disappointed at first, but he knew I was right. Nodding, he took a deep breath and wiped the smile off his face. I nodded and we went inside the room. When we entered the room, Roger Wells was sitting up in bed, staring at his hospital distributed lunch. He didn’t look up at first. Instead, he looked away out the window as if he hadn’t noticed us coming. Scott walked up to him and, rather boldly, sat down in the chair next to the bed. I stood away in a corner of the room as Scott introduced us.
“Hi, I’m Scott Meyers and this is my friend Jack Henk. You’re Roger Wells, right?” The boy didn’t respond, but went back to staring at his lunch. Scott shifted in his chair a bit and looked at me apprehensively. I shrugged and he looked back at Roger.
“You’re older than I expected,” he said, looking for some way to start a conversation. Roger swirled his pudding around a big, looking annoyed. “I thought you were just a kid from the news report.”
“I’m nineteen,” he said gruffly. “You’re not doctors; what do you want?” Without looking up, he pushed his tray away, spilling the pudding all over the tile floor. Scott slid away from the spill and tried to smile.
“Well, like I said, my name is Scott. I was admitted here a few days ago with a terminal illness. They tell me I only have a month to live,” he said, looking downcast for added affect. Roger, however, only looked angrier.
“I didn’t ask for your stupid life story, jackass. I said what the hell do you want?” he said, clenching his fists around the hospital blankets. Scott cleared his throat and looked at me again before continuing.
“Right, well, so I’m dying like I said. And I just wanted to ask you a few-”
“Are you here to tell me just how great it is to live and how I should live every day I can or something?” Roger burst in. “Because I don’t give a rat’s ass what you or anyone else thinks. I’ll do whatever I want with my life or whatever it is.”
“No, that’s not why I’m here,” Scott said, trying his best soothing tone. “See, a few days ago, I decided that I wasn’t about to die without knowing what I was getting myself into, you know. I guess I’m just looking for some insight.” Roger turned to Scott and looked at him blankly for what seemed like an eternity. His eyes were hard, like they had seen too much in too few years, but the muscles around his face still quivered with youthful uncertainty. When his locked gaze finally broke, his eyes darted about the room for a bit before settling on his own lap.
“Ok,” he said. “So what do you want to ask? You want to know why I did it? Why I went chasing after death when everyone else runs away from it?” Scott nodded a little, but the look on his face conveyed a certain disagreement.
“I guess I’m just curious what you see in death that interests you. What do you know about death that made you want it?” Roger looked confused at first, but shook this away. I could tell he had an answer to what he thought Scott was asking, but something in him was hesitant.
“It can’t be any worse than living,” he said stubbornly, and turned away to the window. Scott shifted uneasily in his seat and looked at me. As usual, I had nothing and simply shrugged. Scott rolled his eyes at me and turned back to Roger.
“Right, well that is the basic argument for suicide, I guess. I’m just wondering how you know.” Roger answered without turning.
“I don’t expect you or anyone to understand what I’ve been through. I lost everything I ever cared about, I’m going nowhere in life. I flunked out of college, so I’m never going to find a good job. And that’s not even the half of it. You don’t understand what it feels like to be me,” he finished with an involuntary sniff that sent a tear sliding down the side of his face. Scott sighed and sat back in his chair.
“Right,” he said, sounding frustrated. “No one can ever really fully understand another’s pain, but that’s not what I was asking. I’m not really interested in your life…” Roger spun his head back around with an astonished look on his face.
“Scott!” I said, giving him a stern look. He shook me off and continued.
“What I mean to say is, I’m not asking you what you know about your life; I’m asking what you know about death.” Roger looked at Scott, his expression still surprised, but hardening back into anger.
“I just want to know your frame of reference,” Scott said. “Where you expecting an afterlife or just nothingness or was it something else? What did you expect to happen when-”
“Shut up!” Roger screamed, his face turning flush. “You shut up and go to hell!” Roger threw his legs over the far side of the hospital bed and struggled to his feet. Scott leapt out of the chair and blocked his exit.
“Calm down,” he said, more forcefully than he meant. I knew he was getting carried away, but I did not know how to stop it. I watched in silent horror as the scene unfolded.
“I just want to know what comes next, ok? Did you see anything or feel anything after you did it?” Scott asked, his eyes growing wider. Roger staggered a little as the veins in his neck began to pulse visibly.
“I said shut up, damn it. Get out of here!” Roger’s voice was getting louder as he struggled toward the door. I knew someone would be in here soon and find us accosting poor Roger. I grabbed Scott by the arm and tried to move him out of the way, but he resisted.
“How can you say death would be better if you know nothing about it?” Scott asked, reaching towards Roger who staggered back and bumped into the bed.
“I don’t know, damn it. Just leave me alone!” Roger stumbled over and fell to the floor. Curling up in a ball, he began to wail and rock back and forth. Scott looked at me and I gestured toward the door with my head. Nodding, he followed me out of the room and we hurried down the hall as a half dozen nurses rushed toward the sound of Roger bawling on the floor. We had just reached the elevator when a familiar voice called out after us.
“Hey!” Bridget shouted. “What the hell did you two just do?” Scott backed into the elevator and hit the door close button ten times, but Bridget was too fast. She slammed the doors back open and stepped inside with us.
“Did you two just come from Roger Wells’ room?” she asked, already knowing the answer. I looked away, ashamedly and Scott scratched his head and looked at the ceiling. “Didn’t I tell you two to show a little more respect? That poor kid is already messed up.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Scott said, shrugging. “He seemed to have it all together to me. Knew all about how terrible life is. Really very inspiring for someone like me.” Bridget stared him down and he fell silent. After a few moments, the elevator doors opened and we filed out. Scott attempted to look regretful. My shame, however, was genuine. What were we thinking?
“What were you thinking?” Bridget pressed as we entered Scott’s room. I lumped down in a chair and Scott plopped onto his bed. Bridget stood like a white marble tower, glowering down at us from on high. Her cheeks were ever so slightly flushed creating a soft, rosy complexion that perfectly complimented the deep red of her flowing hair as it drifted down the sides of her face and onto the light pink scrubs that covered her shoulders. By the time I finished taking it all in, I was having trouble remembering just what it was we had done to anger her. This girl was creating serious problems for me and it was only the second time we had met. Luckily, Scott was not so entranced.
“Look, I need to figure this out,” he said, unrepentantly. “I’m going to die. He wants to die. It seemed like a perfect fit,” he finished, raising his arms at her as if it was foolish of her to even ask. Bridget slumped back against the wall and sighed.
“I thought you were going to carry yourself with a little more tact from now on,” she said, shaking her head. “Don’t you think that kid has been through enough?”
“Well, he put himself through it on his own, didn’t he?” Bridget looked away, a frown twisting her normally smooth features. Scott looked over at me and I gave him a look to say she’s probably right.
“Oh, I see,” he said, a hint of tragedy in his voice. “I’m on my own here? What can I tell ya? I guess it just really stuck in my gut.”
“What did?” Bridget replied.
“Oh you know,” Scott said, throwing up his arms in frustration. “There are plenty of us out there would love to have a little more life and what does he do? He tries to throw it away on a whim. It’s disrespectful.”
“You can’t really tell him what to do with his own life, you know,” I said, not quite sure where I was headed.
“Oh sure, sure, but you know guys like him never think about anyone else. It’s not just his life, it’s the life of everyone he knows too. Guys like him don’t care.”
“I don’t think that’s a very fair assumption,” Bridget said, jumping in. “You don’t really know anything about that kid or what he thought about. Maybe he thought it out plenty. Sure, it’s still a little selfish and I would never condone it, but who are we to say what he thought or felt?”
“So what if he did think about it for a long time?” Scott replied. “Does it make it any different if it’s well thought out? That just makes him more of a jerk in my book. There’s just no excuse for it.”
“I don’t think you can just say that for everyone,” I said. “Plenty of people look on death as a sort of release.”
“Sure, sick people,” Scott answered. “Chronically ill people who are in a lot of pain, but does that really compare?”
“Why not?” Bridget said, pushing away from the wall. “If you’re ok with a person in pain choosing their own death, why can’t anyone choose the circumstances of their own death? Why is it disrespectful to you?”
“Well, first of all,” Scott said, pulling himself up in bed. “I never said I was ok with a mercy killing. This kid’s suicide isn’t about choosing the circumstances of his own death, it’s about him not thinking things will ever get better and probably being wrong.”
“Alright,” I interjected. “So what about assisted suicide then? Does that make it completely different? Is it always ok for someone in pain to decide to die?”
“I don’t know,” Scott answered. “I guess that sort of thing really depends on the situation.”
“Well ok,” Bridget cut in. “Then if it’s not absolute in that case, what makes you sure it’s absolute in any other case? Isn’t the whole issue a spectrum between doing it foolishly and ending a horribly painful life?” Bridget finished and leaned back against the wall. The three of us sat in silence for several minutes, trying to process everything we had said. I could tell Scott was not satisfied, but he didn’t know what he could add. Finally, Bridget cleared her throat and raised her right hand.
“Let me just point out though, I’m not taking up the ‘pro-suicide’ banner here. I’m just saying, don’t assume things about people. You have no idea what he’s been through.”
“You know what?” Scott said. “You’re right, I don’t know what he’s been through, but I do know some other things. I know it takes some kind of a dick to throw away what some of us would dream of having. Not everybody gets the chance to make something of their life. In a month or two years or whatever, that Roger kid is going to have the opportunity to turn his life around, no matter how bad it is now, and really make something of himself. You know where I’ll be in a month? Dead. So you tell me, what the hell was I supposed to be thinking?” We could both tell Bridget was shaken by what had just been said, but Scott didn’t seem fazed. He looked away out the window, a quiver of either rage or sadness shaking his face. I leaned forward in my chair and sighed.
“Everybody makes their own choices with their own lives,” I said, ruining my fingertips along the sides of my jeans. “You can’t get hung up on trying to make people see things the way you do, that’s not what this is all about. You’re looking for your own answers, right? You want to know what comes next? Well, we’re figuring that out for ourselves, aren’t we? What else can we do?” Scott shifted in his bed a bit and nodded.
“Right,” he said softly. I could tell he was still unsatisfied with how the encounter with Roger had played out, but the fact that it could lead him no farther toward an understanding of death seemed to be settling in.
“Well, what next then?” As he spoke, Bridge stood up sharply as though she had just remembered something.
“Oh yeah,” she said, her lips parting to reveal a pearly white smile. “I’ve been thinking about what you said the other day and I thought of a way I could help. I’ve got someone you should meet…”
End of Part Two
The rest of 'Dying' is available in its entirety as a Kindle download on Amazon.com.