A Lesson on Living

By ImmigrantsKid

I wrote this for my high school literary magazine last year.
I wonder how you'd think the old man would sound like in real life...

--

"Live like you're dying," the old man told me, chuckling. "That's the secret to life." He was sitting back at an obtuse angle due to his adjusted hospital bed, dressed in an off-white johnnie. An IV tube ran down his pale and skinny arm that was adorned with only a plastic bracelet. A breathing tube loosely hung around his neck, removed from his face so he could laugh. 
    "I don't mean dying like this." He lifted his pale and skinny arm to gesture to the colorless surrounding. "I mean, this is pretty pathetic to live in, let alone not living at all." I could see the blue veins that streamed down his arms and branched out across the back of his hand, where the IV needle jutted out. "You see these flowers over here?" He motioned to a beige coffee mug filled with wilting white roses next to his bed. "These people have been coming in when I'm sleeping and dropping them off everywhere. They're acting like I left for Afterlife-Land already." I turned and saw that there were flowers everywhere. Cheap plastic vases lined the windowsill while bouquets wrapped in tissue paper littered the tables and floor around his bed.
    I swiveled around in my chair to face him again. "What do you mean by dying then?"
    "Hmm...Good question, what do I mean? Give me a sec to think, will you?" His thin eyes focused on the back of his left arm that was left untouched by any injury or hospital equipment. He took at least five seconds before he answered "skydiving" and let his arm fall by his side and looked at me conclusively.
    It took me at least five seconds before I could respond "...huh?"
    "What, you don't get it? C'mon, you're not that slow a kid, are you?" He tilted his head back and laughed robustly, the sound of his voice increasing at least a few decibels. I thought he'd gone senile and forgotten what he was telling me about.
    "What does skydiving have to do with dying...or living?"
    "Haven't you ever been skydiving before?"
    I shook my head.
    "Not even once?"
    "Not even once."
    "Well, gee, that's sorry to hear." He laughed again. This time I could see the slightest shade of pink appearing in his cheeks. I wondered when, or why, he would ever expect me to go skydiving. "Let me tell you, kid. You've got to go. There's nothin' in the world that compares to skydiving." He took a few moments to laugh again before he calmed down enough to keep speaking. "I mean, you kids may get excited over, I don't know, you're teen things, whatever that means. But this--this," he lifted in hands to emphasize. "This gets you exhilarated." He roared with laughter again, rocking back and forth, without breath. I debated whether to call a nurse.
    "Maybe you should put that breathing tube back in," I suggested.
    "Ha, me? Nah, kid. I'm okay. Did I scare you? Sorry, I didn't mean to. Usually I would mean to. I get a kick out of practical jokes. You should ask Mira. She's my primary nurse. She hates me. But, I didn't mean to scare you. A bunch of good memories came rushing back, that's all." He chuckled again before laying back in the raised upper portion of his bed, his chest rising and deflating more rapidly than before.
    "Memories of skydiving?"
     He nodded, grinning. "Those were good times."
    I sighed. "Well, you still never explained."
    "Well, why're you rushing me for?" He huffed and sat up again. "I'm getting to that. Besides, you got anywhere else to go?"
    I glanced at the clock, not because I actually had somewhere to go, but because I didn't want to look down or at him stupidly. "Not right now," I muttered.
    "Then be patient," he snapped before exhaling and resting his back against the bed again. "Now about the skydiving. Like I said, there ain't nothing like it. You're up in this little helicopter, staring down fifteen thousand feet. Your heart's racing. Your mind's not thinking. And you're probably grinning, either out of excitement or fear. I said your mind's not thinking, but you at least sense the possibility of death or permanent injury. That makes your heart beat faster and your stomach turn but half the time, your mind's not registering that, because like I said, it's not thinking. You can't hear. You barely feel the sides of the exit way you're holding. There's wind flying across at a million miles an hour. You get your last second thoughts about whether or not you should jump and then you close your eyes and you just do it."
    "Like Nike..." I chuckled. He glared at me. I looked away, apologetically.
    "And now you're flying. Well not really flying, more like speeding to the ground at some acceleration I never bothered to memorize in high school. So really, you're actually bolting down to a final velocity that I never really learned to calculate either. But I know that final velocity will more than a hundred percent kill you. So in a sense, you're in the act of dying." He smiled wryly.
    "And why should I live like that?" I wasn't disturbed, but something close to it.
    "Because of the thrill."
    I stared blankly. "That's it? The thrill?"
    "Yeah. That's it."
    "But you could get a thrill from doing anything dangerous. You don't have to go skydiving. I mean, people steal cars and take insane amount of drugs for the thrill or high. Is that what you're saying I should do?"
    "No, you idiot. I'm not telling you to become a criminal or junkie. I'm saying skydiving is the biggest thrill you could possibly experience. I'm saying you should live your life with that drive, with that feeling, with that sense of unexplainable fear that comes with taking risks." He was sitting forward, not straight up, leaning towards me at an increasingly acute angle. His puffed out his cheeks, which were now fully flushed from the excited memories. "Look, the first time I went skydiving, I was a little over twenty. I just graduated college, gotten a job, and was engaged to a very lovely girl. Things were great, except I was insecure about everything. I thought where I had graduated from wasn't the best college on Earth. I thought my job was mundane and probably unstable. I was scared of committing the rest of my life with another person. And now, I was dared by some good-for-nothing friends to take this big leap where anything could go wrong and kill me. I tried to do anything I could to get out of it, but they forced me into the little helicopter and strapped me to a parachute. They teased me until I walked to the open exit and stared down. Remember what I told you about skydiving? All those things happened to me. I stopped thinking and I stopped hearing and I jumped. And while I was speeding down, y'know what happened? It hit me. It hit me faster than I was hitting the air on my way down. Y'know what hit me?" He actually paused and looked at me. "Fear."
    "Fear?" I only repeated.
    "Yeah, my fear of death. I got so scared that I was going to die that very second that I made with a deal with myself. If I somehow survived this mess, then I would never hold a doubt in my soul again. I would quit complaining about college. I would go to work and if I didn't like it, get a new job. I would marry that girl and stick with her until her death or mine. And after that, things were clear. I pulled the cord, the parachuted billowed open, and I floated down back to my new life."
    He grinned, leaning back, satisfied with his story. I looked at him before a smile threatened my own lips.
    "You know what?"
    "What?"
    "I get it."
    "Good. Guess you're not a slow kid after all." He laughed vivaciously, his cheeks a crimson glory red, his arms still skinny, but not so pale or blue anymore. "Go on, kid, get out of here. I gotta play another joke on Mira, anyway."

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A Lesson on Living

Created: Jul 31, 2010

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