I am dying. Aren’t we all? Then, to clarify: I am dying and there is nothing you can do about it. That is not to say, in the passive sense, I will die some day. I mean to say I am actively dying.
To specify further, this is not a threat. There is a sense of imminence, but no act planned. The acts were already done. I am laid out, blue cotton blankets bundled at my waist, in a hospice bed as we speak. I am dying. There is nothing left to do.
I must specify again. I did not choose to die. I just chose the dying. Dying as an active, if passing state. I was alive, and I decided I would rather be dying. To die was just a natural conclusion to the dying.
I will further clarify. I do not want to be dead. I am not suicidal. And to die outright would be an end of all of my work. I am not ready for that work to be ended. This is my greatest achievement: getting to a place of dying. I want to take pride in this success while I can.
Your body will fail you. I do not mean necessarily now, or tomorrow. But one day, all of our bodies will fail. There will come a time where the doctor says, no more white sugar. No more fatty meals. No more sex, your heart is too weak. No more driving. No more traveling. Don’t sit up in bed.
Piece by piece. Bit by bit. All you love will slowly be stripped by you as your body does what all bodies do: fail. If you are lucky, it will all happen at once, swiftly, and you will need not mourn the universal failure. Most of us are not so lucky. Most of us will awake, year by year, our sight, our hearing, our speech, all slowly dying out before our body gives its last breath.
How are you supposed to stand it? How could the most rational, well-adjusted person cope with the knowledge that the body they have had their entire life will kill itself off so naturally. The brain will live on, often never failing at all, acutely aware that its container is rotting away and with no means to restore it. It is a cruelty.
And yet. I chose dying. I chose this acute awareness of death. Why?
Why? If you knew that a photograph would slowly fade away due to years of ultraviolet exposure, would you hang onto it anyway, hoping that it would last long enough to bring you joy when you most needed it? Have you ever watched the entirety of a sunset as the world slips into darkness? Have you ever had a meal so good, sex so good, a moment so good that you became afraid that when it ended you would never have anything so good again?
Goodness can be too good. It is a perversity. It is nothing to feel good if it can come to an end. You will only be left hollow, wishing you had never felt good at all, so that the feeling could have never crossed your mind. Yes—to know that the highs are highs, you must also have the lowest lows to compare them to.
I do not want highs. I do not want lows. I do not want to be some passive figure at the hands of external forces. That is superstitious. I believe only in the slow, agonizing failure of the physical form.
I chose dying every single morning after I first learned it was an option. Listen. I saw the failure of the body first hand. My mother developed malignant breast cancer when I was only twelve. I saw the tragedy of days.
First, they took her blood. A simple subtraction. Then they took her hair. They took a piece of her skin. They took her breasts. They took the color from her cheeks. They took away the healthy layer of fat, covered in stretch marks from when she had borne me twelve years prior. They took her teeth. They took her nails. They took her consciousness. They took her ability to recall my name. And finally, when there was nothing left to take, they took her life.
Every single thing. She was erased and eaten by time and illness. She desperately wanted to live, and her body failed her all the same.
My body would not fail me. I would fail my body first.
It is disgustingly easy to fail your own body. Simple habits. Environmental factors. Scratch yourself without washing your hands first—a flesh-eating filth could take possession of your skin the next day. You can make it look like an accident.
I would not eat. That was how I got to dying at first. They wanted me to eat and I would not. Trauma from mother dying. Sour stomach from grief. No one would see it as intentional. Why would someone with years until their body failed choose failing their body first?
When you do not eat, it is easy to get into the hospital. They will give you tubes to sustain you. Tubes with lovely, open skin. A poke or a prod to introduce bacteria. A day later, the tightness and heat of infection.
The next step. Do not let them cure the infection. Keep down no antibiotics. Your stomach is so sour and weak, after all. Let them bring out their intravenous solutions. No matter. Worm your hands along that sweet wound again.
Open new wounds when they aren’t looking. Let them think someone else is neglecting you. Let them titter and gasp as the angry red sores sprout up your chest.
Once you have done it once, it is easier to do it again and again. The failure body can only take so much. Become creative in your pursuit of dying. Spit onto your scabs. If you are alone, gnaw on them. Become acquainted with the taste of your own blood.
A convenient thing is feces. Hard to acquire if you aren’t eating, but the body has its ways. The smallest speck in one of your wound holes will spike a fever. With luck, sepsis will come soon after.
Sepsis is a milestone. From there, you are in the clear for dying. Do not lose heart if you recover once—it will be much easier to spiral lower the next time. I was septic five times in six years despite previously being in model health. As the sepsis came more frequently, so too did the beginning of organ failures.
For myself, it was the kidneys. My skin turned a lovely yellow tinge around the scabs. The nurses would not leave me alone for feedings, but in feigning sleep, I could always find time to get to work on the wounds. The one in my leg was the size and color of a bitten plum.
Yes, they intervened. Of course they did. My wounds were covered in bandages. They were suspicious. But you cannot stop a person who is at peace with their body failing them from allowing it to fail. If I fought even the slightest then, I would not be dying now. I was content to go slip under the current.
My pulse was erratic. My potassium levels were horrific. They told me I had a persistent staph infection. Then pneumonia. They told me with a grave look on their face. They wanted me to be sad, or to be scared. I was not.
The skin on my toes was thin. I could peel it off easily. I could put more poison into myself. They took three of my toes in the end. They were desperate for the infection not to spread. I let them take the toes. There would be other things to ruin.
The easiest places to ruin are the ones they can’t see. Your ear canal. The septum. The urethra. Take a nub of finger nail. Feign an itch. Scrub your hands in that spot until it draws blood. Dip the finger into an existing wound and bring the fetid matter to the new opening. If any of the nutritional slurries that they force down your nose leak, rub that in as well. Take a bit of shit caked to your blooming hemorrhoids and introduce that.
They won’t notice for a few days. If you don’t scream, it can spread for at least a week. Antibiotic cocktails pumped directly into your blood as you confuse and resist them with novel, powerful death-causing colonies.
Let them murmur about a transplant. Let the specialist lift up your arms, pull away the hospital gown. Become a perfect object for the doctors and let them still wonder why you have no desire to live. Your body is already so far gone that you will never be seen as a human being again.
If they bind your arms to keep you from scratching, you still have teeth. Some may be ready to fall out, but they are just as sharp. Bite your inner cheek until you can spit out the blood. Run your tongue along your sweat-stained chin. Bring that grime back inside your mouth to the hole you have opened up.
They can’t force you to accept treatment. You’ll still need just a little here and there to get into the perfect state. It would be simple to die outright. It is hard to be dying.
Let them transfer your units. Take you out into the sun for a reminder that life could be beautiful. It is still more beautiful to pick a state of permanence. Beauty fades, but to choose to fade yourself is also beautiful.
I am no prisoner to time. I will not have bonds that are lost, friendships that fall to pieces, loved ones to miss me when I am gone. It will be just me, inside the abject corpse, rid of this transient world.
I told them I did not want to be resuscitated. That I would take no donations. They were mad that I would not fight to delay the inevitable. They were mad that I chose the one thing you aren’t allowed to. That was when they had me speak to the counselors, the social workers, the psychiatrists. They wanted me to be mad that I was dying. I was not.
I felt my limbs become stiff. I felt my breathing become ragged. I knew I would never become better. I was happy. I was so happy.
I am happy now, in this state of imminent death. It will come soon, maybe in a month or so. My heart is weak. My liver is also failing. The catheter that they have strapped to me shows blood in my tea-colored urine. Another toe is infected.
Even if I decided to live tomorrow, I would have no chance at survival. My body is too far gone. I have broken it expertly, deliberately, and with a fastidious care that could be called love. I respected this body so as not to let it be forced to decay with time. I eliminated any potential for questions. I saved myself.
If you see me in my room in the hospice center, stop in. Say hello. I will share the secret of the failure of the body. I will show you how to succeed in failing yourself. How to choose dying is to live in the truest way.
I do not have the strength to adjust these blankets around my chest. I think I am cold, but perhaps I am hot. I am not aware of these vague sensations anymore. The brain has a way of stopping pain once it exceeds a certain threshold. You lose the instincts for fear. You lose the instincts of will, of ego, of the conflict of being an individual body against the masses of society.
When I awake and see the lights on in the white room, I smile. I will see that harsh light every day until I see no more.