The difference is I didn’t lock the door.
The difference is I knew I wasn’t in a mind where I could make my best decisions. That, for a time, It was best to let others decide some things for me.
But Jym is dead now. He died alone. He didn’t have to.
It wasn’t much more than a year since Denise died. At home, from seizures associated with her MS. She had trouble affording her medication and rationed it. Then, when she needed the hospital, they were too busy with Covid patients, and told her not to come unless it was an emergency. Then it was, and the paramedics arrived too late. Jym was there. She died, but she didn’t die alone.
Jym drank a bit. But then he began drinking more. He stopped eating.
Jym was well over six feet tall. Look at his pictures from his younger days. Thor. When I met him, he was wearing a kilt, had long white hair, long white beard, and a long plaid kilt with high leather boots and a long-sleeve khaki twill button-down shirt. It turned out he knew many of the same people we did. He was the wacky neighbor any of us would be lucky to have but rarely appears outside of a sit-com. He was also kind, helpful, and had so many of the best stories. He was 59. Today, he is 62. He will always be 62.
Denise was so much shorter that it was hard to guess her height when next to Jym. Next to me, it was easier. Five foot tall, maybe. A Mohawk, she was proud to tell us. She matched Jym for kindness, and story for story. Jym gave us a painting of hers he thought we’d like. He was right.
A few months ago Jym wasn’t answering texts. He seemed in rough shape a few nights earlier. No answer at the door. His ex-wife came to the house. He didn’t answer. I called the police for a well-check. He told them to go away. They did. Even though he was on the floor. I called the paramedics. They broke the door in. He went to the hospital for nearly a month. Supposedly, he’d not be able to take care of himself and would need to go to a nursing home, starvation and alcohol had done such damage. But he recovered, came home, and even came over a few times to watch something on TV, to talk, bring us a Hanukkah present. But he always refused to join us for dinner. He never wanted food. He did ask us to pick up Gatorade and cat-food for him. We did.
He made his will. He told me about it. He didn’t want to stay. He told me all about that too. He also told me how he walked away from a bomber crash in 1943, England. He told me about being an American spy during WWII. He told me… so many things. I listened.
Then, last week, he didn’t tell me anything. He stopped texting me. He didn’t answer mine. Perhaps I should have banged on the door. Perhaps I should have called the paramedics again. But I think not. He wanted Denise or he wanted oblivion. If he couldn’t have the one, he’d take the other. I understood. I had been there. I couldn’t blame him.
And then he was gone.
I don’t know which he got.
But he didn’t have to die alone. Alone. The loneliness, I understand. Even in the midst of friends, loneliness.
And the difference between he and I is I didn’t lock my door.
The difference is I knew I didn’t know better.
The difference was fifteen minutes and a thought of my daughter.
The difference was a dance with my oldest friend’s daughter at her bat mitzvah the day I had planned to be my last.
The difference was a well-timed phone call from someone who somehow knew.
That he starved himself to death… I knew that wouldn’t work for me. The longest I had ever gone was eight days. People would notice. Sometimes it is better to care what others think. Sometimes.
Some years ago, a student wrote me a letter. I don’t know who it was. But, if they ever read this, please know how much you are appreciated. Please know you are appreciated more than any words can express. Please know I kept that letter. Please know that I heard you. I heard you. I heard everyone, even when it didn’t seem like I did. Even when I couldn’t respond. And I’m here. I’m here.
I appreciate everyone who stayed with me, even when our relationships changed over time. That you are still here. Thank you. That I am so surrounded by love, I will never be able to explain. Thank you. That I am still here – thank you. I am under no illusion I saved myself. I know better than that. The only thing I did was to know when my own inner-voice was not the one to listen to. And to not lock the door.