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Out with a bang 

If death is inevitable, go out kicking

I personally think 50 is too young to die, but Lucky Yates has it all planned out, sort of. He says he wants to be eaten by a snake in the Amazon or something. He wants to go out with a bang, though I don't see how being swallowed whole qualifies.

"That's a slow death, not a bang death," I point out, "and being broken down by digestive enzymes has gotta hurt, too."

"Pythons suffocate you before they swallow you," Anna corrects me, but I don't buy that. Who's to say you don't regain consciousness with your body half-swallowed? And what if the snake is swallowing you feet first? It's not like you can run away at that point, so you have to just lay there like an idiot with half your body hanging out of a snake's mouth for what could be hours.

"No," I tell Lucky Yates, "please just climb a pyramid in Peru and fall off the top or something." Now, that is a good way to go if you ask me. In college I heard about a couple who accidentally did just that, and I remember thinking that had to be the coolest way to kick the bucket this side of being blown apart in the space shuttle. But Lucky Yates is pretty unbendable about the snake.

"I'm not gonna be sitting there in the snake's belly, twiddling my thumbs going 'Hiya,'" he says, smiling with his really white teeth. "I'll be dead, got it?"

That's just it. I don't get it, this whole desire to die young before you become a burden on people. Fifty is downright sprite if you ask me. I know plenty of people in their 50s and ... goddam, let's just say it would be a real waste to feed them to snakes. That's not saying I myself expect to live much longer than 50. Not that I plan to pitch myself from the top of a pyramid or anything, it's just that people in my family seem to drop like flies after the 50 mark, and I just don't have any experience dealing with relatives who make it to old age.

But I hope I get old. I do. I want to go to the airport every chance I get and be wheeled around like a rickshaw passenger. It might be fun not to feel my feet, too, which I hear is what happens to old people who spent their life not eating right. It might be great to grab onto people as I stumble around. I get grabbed a lot by the tottering elderly, and I really don't mind that much. Once it was a 90-year-old German woman who turned out to be an original Budweiser heiress. I saw her again about two years later and she remembered me. She had given me her address and wondered why I hadn't written. I would have felt bad about causing a rich old lady to await a letter from me, but I was too busy marveling at the sharpness of her brain and hoping beer played a factor in that.

And then there is Miss Taylor, who lived across the street from me in the crack neighborhood. She was in her 80s and used to dance barefoot in the rain, plus she planted sunflowers in her front yard that used to grow so tall they'd almost touched the rain gutters on her roof. Watching her one morning, I was struck by the difference between Miss Taylor and the memory of my own comparatively young mother, who couldn't even climb out of a car without having to catch her breath. She used to embarrass me, I'm ashamed to admit. Especially when she got so ill that the only place that would take her was a Tijuana cancer clinic where, for thousands of dollars a day, they specialized in prolonging death once conventional doctors had deemed it inevitable. I used to have to carry her from her bed to the bathroom because she refused to use bedpans. Her habit was to start kicking the second she saw the Haiti-trained doctor coming through the door with a bedpan under his arm. Once she knocked it right out of his hand to the floor, where it clamored loud enough to wake the whole wing.

Now, whenever I wonder if I have the strength to deal with something seemingly insurmountable in my life, I just remember that Tijuana cancer clinic and how I had to cradle my own mother like an infant as her life leaked out of her. At that, I know I can face anything, because it's times like these that define you. They serve as a denominator of your character, and I'm grateful my mother bestowed this on me.

But, God, sometimes I'd give it up just to have her back. I wouldn't care if she couldn't dance in the rain. I wouldn't care if there was hardly anything left of her except her colostomy bag connected to her head in a fishbowl. I just really wish she'd made it to old age and was still alive, and whatever burden that might mean to me — or her — I'd gladly bestow it or carry it. I would. But barring that, at least I have the memory of my mother alive and kicking at a Tijuana clinic, knocking bedpans to the floor and going out with a bang.

Hollis Gillespie is a commentator on NPR's All Things Considered, and the author of Bleachy Haired Honky Bitch and the upcoming Confessions of a Recovering Slut: And Other Love Stories.

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