The first four pages of The Second Chances of Priam Wood:
January 24th 2012
As I lay here dying I realize there are many things I wish I could change. What is a life without regret after all? Never has a life been lived where things have fallen exactly according to plan. Not a single person has accomplished every instance of happiness that they wished to. I sure haven’t. I’m filled with desires that seem to dig into my skin, my skin that is old and wrinkled now, covered with dark spots which seem to be laughing at me.
This isn’t the way I thought my life would go. This isn’t the way I thought everything would happen. If I had known when I was younger that I was still going to be alive at the age of seventy, I never would have believed it. When I was little I used to think I was going to die every day. I’ve always been afraid of death, but now, as I lay here alone, as I feel it slowly creeping upon me, almost as if death itself is some sort of smoke that is about to envelope me, I know one thing: I am ready to die.
As ready as I can be anyways. I realize now that I can’t change those things that have already occurred. I can’t go back and be a better man. I can’t mend all of the hearts that I have broken. All I have now is myself, all I have is this seventy year old body that is slowly wasting away at a seemingly faster rate as each day goes by. We all start to die the moment we are born. The second we enter this world is the youngest we will ever be, after that instant we begin to lose our innocence, our life.
I have no one. I had a family once, but they are gone. I am alone in the world and for the most part, it is my own fault. Everyone who ever loved me has gone away and it’s because I chased them, not on purpose, not because I wanted them to leave, but because I was afraid, I was weak, I was wrong.
I think of her face. I think of her sweet, soft lips, the twinkle in her eye and the way she laughed when I said something that pleased her. I think of the way her waist felt when I pulled her close as we danced, the sound of her voice singing in the shower and of the times we used to walk together in the park. I think of her delicate hands running down the small of my back while we laid in bed all day. I think of her, it’s all I ever do.
She’s gone now though. She isn’t here. Like all of the people in my life, my wife, the only woman I ever loved is gone and I know it’s my fault. At least that’s what I tell myself. I’m not sure why I was never able to realize all of the things I was doing wrong while I was doing them. It is as if I was drunk the entire time I lived, and now that I am dying, I’m finally beginning to sober up. The haze of my days is sliding away and I’m in a realm of understanding. It’s too late though, time is running out.
I always told myself that I would never die in a nursing home, yet here I am lying in this bed at a center for the old and unfit. When cancer decides to take hold of the body, it sure is one hell of a bitch. The nurses are nice though, they take good care of me. I’m comfortable…well, as comfortable as one can be when he’s dying of cancer in a nursing home all alone. Yes, I am alone, that word plays over again and again. Perhaps that’s what scares me most of all, and not the actual fact that I’m dying. No, I think I’ve finally come to terms with that. I’m scared that I’ve failed. I’m afraid that my life was a waste, the days drifted by like a reverie I couldn’t comprehend. I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t good enough for them.
So I’m alone, and I suppose that is what I deserve. Besides, the people in my life I loved the most couldn’t even be here if they wanted to be. They’ve parted this planet long before I have. I’m not dead yet. No, not yet.
It’s coming though. I can feel death grabbing onto me more every day. The nurses talk to me and each time they feel farther and farther away. The rain outside doesn’t seem like rain at all, but rather small droplets of dreams that I once had but can no longer recall. I know death is coming, and at last I wish it would. I’m tired of waiting to see what happens next, if anything does. I’m ready to go, to go to wherever we all end up going when we’re gone.
I look across sometimes at the mirror on the other side of the room and when I do I wish the man who stares back at me could have been better. A better son, a better brother, a better husband, a better father, a better man. I wish I could tell the people who loved me how much I loved them, how much I do love them still, just one last time.
That’s not how life works though. The secret surprise you thought would never happen hits you in the face and before you know it you’re an old man dying alone in a nursing home bed. My life didn’t amount to nothing, oh no, I did things, but not everything I wanted to.
As I sleep I dream listless dreams of faraway places I’ve always wanted to see but haven’t. I dream of paint colored clouds drifting through the sky. I dream of the house I grew up in, in the town I feel I barely even remember at all and I dream of her, of course I dream of her.
My ballerina, my love, my life…Ellie was as sweet as the summertime even on the coldest January afternoon and somehow she was mine, she was all mine. Until the day she wasn’t, until I made her change her mind.
My body aches. Seventy years of life is a whole lot of time while still being none at all. My body was born to betray me, it has always contained within it the workings of my destruction, it was only a matter of time before it decided to turn against me. Maybe today will be the day. As time goes on I begin to pray to sail away, from this life, from this place, from the fears I’ve always had, and from the mistakes I already made.
I still feel alive. It’s not the same kind of feeling I felt while I was young and full of hope for the days of which I knew naught. It’s the kind of feeling that I know though, the feeling of being within a space, residing in a place.
I think about my mother and what she would say to me now if she were here. I feel a cool moisture on my forehead and imagine it’s her lying a washcloth on my face to help me feel better since I’m sick. When I open my eyes I realize it’s not her though, it’s just a nurse who has come to do what I had already previously asked. My dreams, my past and my present seem to all be colliding at once.
No, my mother is gone, just like Ellie she left me before I was ready; she left me before I knew what to do, what I could do, what I should do. I had to keep on living even though living wasn’t always easy, and even though the way in which I lived wasn’t always right, I still lived, I still loved, just with a heavier heart that buried itself deeper into my chest, further from the surface, hidden from those who tried to gain the key to open it.
My shoes feel thin. However, as I look down at where my feet are I realize I have no shoes on. Or rather if I do they are two very old looking shoes that seem to resemble the feet of an old man. An old man, that’s me, I recall, that’s me.
This life I have lived was a life with myself. Sure, it was with others too, many people this is very true, but every day I’ve ever lived I was the only one who was always there. Even those I loved the most couldn’t complete every step of the journey with me.
I’ve loved at great lengths and at various strengths, but I’ve never been able to truly love myself. For how can I after all of the awful things I’ve done? How could I love myself after all of the mistakes, all of the breaks that I myself have begun? I’ve cried tears of sorrow and those of pain. As those tears have fallen I’ve often looked within a mirror and told myself to feel it, to feel the misery, the madness, the sadness. For if I couldn’t feel, how could I have become better? How could I have made those mistakes memories in which to learn by, in which to heal?
I reach out for her hand, to calm me down as I feel something within my chest burning now, burning bright red. Her hand isn’t there though, no, it’s not. Ellie’s hand hasn’t been beside mine for many years now and I know why. I have no hand to hold as death starts to take its final toll. No hand to hold but the hand that is my own. I lift up my right and grasp it with my left. I squeeze on both sides. The pressure seems to lessen the pain, but only for an instant.
I close my eyes and try to think of a day that isn’t today, but nothing will come to my senses. I am here and this is now. This is the day I’m going to die, yes I do so believe, this day has arrived.
As I lay here dying I realize I actually am dying, currently…now. I want to yell out, to ask for help. I want to scream for my mother. Even though I am an old man I want her to console me as if I am a child. For I realize that death makes me feel young, it makes me feel unsure and unaware and naïve once again.
I wish Ellie were here to help me, or even my brother or my son. I wish I had someone. I wish the life I lived wasn’t so contrived and contorted. I wish the happiness I once had lasted longer, I wish I had been a better man.
The pain is spreading now and I squeeze my eyes tighter as some sort of light seems to be trying to get in. I decide to open my eyes and see the sun is shining through the window. The past few days of rain have finally stopped, the light has come back. I can’t help but laugh to myself, even though the laugh comes out more as some sort of choke. Light, as if I dying deserve any kind of light, yeah right.
I tried to be good, really I did, I always tried, but trying wasn’t good enough. I let them down, I disappointed them, I left them, I angered them, I broke their hearts. I broke my own. I did the wrong thing simply for the sake of doing it, but instead of learning from my mistakes I just seemed to make more of them. I messed up, I gave up.
I stare out the window and when I do I see something in the distance running this way. It seems to be an animal of some kind; I think I’ve almost made out what it is when something else takes over my senses.
Death of course.
It’s not a person who takes me, or some evil sorceress who finally breaks me. I die myself, with one last flash of pain, and with one last gasp of air I cry out. The light fades, my time is gone and death takes over. Everything fades out, completely to black.
I, Priam Wood, just a man, am gone. My time is up.