I’m about ninety, 8.5’x11″ pages into writing my first novel. I sure would enjoy some feedback on the first six pages from people in my network. Thanking anyone in advance who takes the time to read this, and please remember this is unedited, for the most part.
by TONIA ALLEN GOULD
Right before you die, your feet turn white and your legs get all mottled-up in color somewhere between the vibrant hues of purple and blue. You can’t see your legs and feet anymore, because you’re immobile and on your back, where you have been placed, in your final resting pose by your nurse. Your hearing is strong, and the audible whispers of the people around you confirm what is happening to the body that you can no longer see or feel. It frightens everyone around you to watch the metamorphism as your organs begin to shut down, one-by-one. Life, or what was left of it, leaves your eyes long before this, before your body becomes a chameleon and starts to change its colors.
The bright blue eyes that you once had are now dark and glassy and all fogged up. The people around you become nothing more than clouded, living and breathing visions through your own drug-induced, fog daze. Thankfully, the morphine you have been administered takes the edge off of anything that resembles pain.
It takes you awhile to focus in on your surroundings and find who you are looking for as you scan through the sea of faces hovering over you. You give an obligatory nod to each new one you see to let them know, that you know, that they are there. These are the people who have come to watch you die, but your pride won’t allow you to do it in front of them.
While your family is gripping your hands and holding you tight; you stare off, for a time, into a place that only the dying can see. You’ve just started to entertain the prospect of going there and start to play with your own breath to see if you can stop the beating of your own heart, but you’re not quite powerful enough for that. Also, you’re not ready yet, because people have come to pay their respects, and waiting is the right thing to do.
Your loved ones seem more prepared for you to go than you are because they don’t want you to suffer anymore. In those brief moments you have to escape within yourself, you admit, if only for a fleeting second that you are scared. But, by now; you’ve ultimately come to grips with your destiny. You know you will soon die, and suddenly you have an altruistic sense of what that really means.
You muster up just enough energy and final breath to say goodbye to all the people that float in, and drift around you; a steady influx of people that rattle the door every time they enter your personal space and pull you away from where you almost went. You’re just lucid enough to stay awake, because you owe it to them, and know it’s important that they get to say their final goodbyes. They are the people that care about you the most, the ones who have come to bid their final farewells, and you chalk off the people who didn’t; they are now permanently erased from your mind.
You tell everyone that you love them, and you say it with your eyes too, because speaking takes too much out of you. This time, you mean it with all of your heart and soul, and in a way that only the dying can feel, and you wish you had the words and the voice and a loudspeaker so that you are sure that they know. Those people who stand over you, lurking, are hoping and praying that you’ll die soon, while they are watching, because secretly they are in awe of your teeter-totter between life and death, but mostly because they don’t want to watch you feel any more pain. They have no qualms about telling you that it’s alright to go, and that they’ll see you on the other side. But, you’re not quite sure that is where you’ll end up.
Miraculously, your closest loved-ones, your children and your spouse, are each willing you to live and praying for you to die at the same time. They are silently begging you with their own eyes to stay, as if you have some degree of say in the matter. They also are praying that you’ll be taken comfortably and without any further degree of suffering. They are conflicted by this push/pull of both willing you to live and willing you to die. These people are the ones with words still left unspoken. They have unresolved issues with you about how you lived your life, and how that impacted them. You know they are in turmoil, and even though you took so much from them, and caused them so much pain, they are still there—forgiving you for the life you lived, and letting go of whatever was left of what they were still holding onto. The guilt of this and of dying consumes you. You’ve caused everyone so much pain already, and you know that they will be there when you take your last breath. If only you had more time, then maybe you’d undo some of the things that you did.
Chapter 1: The Journey
Less than twenty-four hours earlier, I was sitting with my husband under the pavilion in our backyard, sheltered from the sun, snacking on real images of my home and life, with my laptop finally open, pecking away at that novel I’m only half-way finished writing. Occasionally, I would glance-up to watch my son’s newly perfected dive permeating the pool’s crystal clear surface. When his head broke the water each time, and he managed to catch his breath again, he would look up at me to see if I had been watching him. I’d smile, he’d swim to the edge of the pool and get out and do it again. I sat there for hours, watching him, and reveling in the fact that my husband was home from his business travels for a spell, both of us content to just sit there, and just be home together again for a while. Both of us, I’m sure, sat their wondering what our lives would be like, just the three of us, when my daughter, Gabriella finally left for the University of Colorado at Boulder in just two short weeks.
But, as anyone knows who has ever suffered any degree of loss, life can turn on you like a dime. Here it is now, vast and wide, and staring me straight in the face from the window of a Boeing 767. I rub the misty, double-paned glass, and realize the drops of moisture are only present on the outside of the window. I resolve myself to settle into my seat and relax during the four-hour flight from Los Angeles to Detroit. Jesus. How did I even get here? Hopping on a plane wasn’t part of any one of the carefully laid-out plans I had for myself today.
The flight attendants’ finally prepare themselves for take-off and the plane gains speed and shimmies down the runway and I am almost instantly and immensely humbled by the intense sunset glowing starboard, burning hot like a California wildfire. The distant fiery blaze ignites the horizon, as the plane rises and ascends to the West over the Pacific, as one lone tear traces my face, and lingers a moment on my chin before dropping to a small, wet stain on my white linen shirt. I haven’t the energy to wipe it away. Already it has been a very long day and I wish that I was home with my family having the backyard barbecue we had planned with our friends, The Coopers.
Like my tears, the sunset begins to fade and the other passengers fall quiet as they reach up to turn off their seat lights. It is in this instance that I welcome the sudden hushed voices in the cabin along with the steady hum of the plane’s engine. Somehow, I am soothed, like a baby who is quieted by the constant purr of a washing machine or a vacuum cleaner despite her mother’s own desperation to calm her. Turning again to face the window, I just barely catch the sight of the sun as it finally dips and then drops, disappearing entirely into the horizon as the plane continues to rise up over the Pacific where it finally makes its subtle turn towards the East and back to the place where I was born. The magnificent peace of the sunset coupled with the plane sailing through the air, penetrating the clouds, quiets my mind for the first time today and I surrender to the beauty and enormity of it all. I have never felt so small.
My circumstances preclude me from getting up to use the restroom, although I really have to go. I’ve had to pee since I pulled out of my driveway to make the sixty-minute commute to LAX from my suburban bedroom community in Agoura Hills, located just northwest of Los Angeles. I wish now, too late, that I had used the restroom at the airport, mostly because the small, dark-haired woman with a pixie haircut who sat next to me appeared to be hunkered down for the night. Coiled up neatly into herself, her tiny frame was completely shrouded by the airline-issued red, micro-fleece blanket.
My seatmate stirred only once when the plane shook from a bit of turbulence. I wondered how many people before her have used the very same blanket she cuddled with so contentedly, and I imagined that it had never been washed by the airline. A bit of bile rises in my throat and I am sickened momentarily by the thought of someone else before her wiping their nose or slobbering on the blanket that she surely thinks is her own now. I don’t even want to think about the thinly covered pillow that rests behind my own head which was propped against the window. I was happy to have been assigned a window seat so I would have someplace to rest my head. At least my husband had the foresight to take care of that detail for me when he desperately raced to book my emergency flight back to the Midwest.
I really didn’t want to talk to anyone right now, particularly not a stranger who might like to engage in small talk. Tonight I was lucky. I usually end-up sitting next to some chatty person wanting to know what I did for a living or asking me other trivial questions that, in my opinion, a perfect stranger should never ask another. Besides, I really wanted to be alone with my thoughts to take the inevitable journey down my old and cobbled memory lane. This is a one journey I wouldn’t necessarily be taking right now if it were not for today’s earlier events.
True, it has been some time since I have allowed myself to dig-up the old decaying bones of my somewhat repressed childhood. Something told me that I should do it now, on my own terms. Otherwise, all of those memories and emotions will come flooding back to me tomorrow morning, in one giant sensory and environmental overload the moment I pulled my rental car into my parent’s driveway.
Finding myself unable to sleep, I finally succumb to the nagging, incessant urge to get out my laptop. I bend over at the waist and stretch my right hand as far as it will reach and poke around for my backpack that is jammed inextricably under the seat in front of me. I am aware that the tall man sitting there feels the commotion and I hope not to make him my mortal enemy on the trip as a result of my restlessness. Unzipping my bag and extracting the computer; I immediately revel in the thought of using it for something other than to rifle through various client presentations or to check email. It’s rare for me to “turn-off” work, but I know I won’t be able to do much for my marketing business this week when I am back in the Midwest dealing with the latest Colbert Family upheaval.