Thursday, July 18, 2013

On Dying Alone, and Other Amusements

"Did he have any last words?"
My week sans wife and children ends in a couple of days.

I haven't burned down the house — there's still time! — but also I haven't completed every job I assigned myself.

Being in a suddenly quiet house always takes a little bit of adjustment, like when I come home from work and it's feels like I've stepped into a furnace because no one’s been around with the AC on all day.

The heat is part of the reason, besides my inherent laziness, why I haven’t completed as many (mostly outdoor) chores as I’d have liked, and it’s also what’s been causing me periodic panic attacks.

I have a heart condition of some sort — a murmur, I think. My cardiologist says my heart sometimes skips a beat, and it's nothing to worry about. But occasionally I can feel something in my chest that the non-cardiologists would call "weird" or "not right," like the muscle is pumping extra hard or out of synch. I never feel any pain in my arm, or see spots, or taste pennies, or whatever other symptoms of heart attack / stroke / cholera / et cetera are supposed to manifest, so I don’t worry too much about it.

But the heat wave has either affected my heart more, or it's made me more aware of its eccentricities, especially at night. And when I go to bed, alone, in an empty dark house, and I can feel my heart doing whatever it wants to do, while I'm in that half-awake state that combined with the darkness and loneliness results in magnified, often exaggerated thoughts, I worry.

I worry that I won't wake up.

Granted, dying in one's sleep (my own, not someone else's) is probably one of the best ways to go; much better than, say, being buried alive inside a coffin containing a tarantula, but I don't want to be worrying at all about my passing until after I blow the candles out of my robot cake on my 117th birthday.

Sometimes I'm gripped with that dying-in-my-sleep fear even when the wife and kids are around, but there's some odd comfort knowing that, although the incident would cause quite a distressful morning, it's preferable to be discovered immediately rather than rotting on the bed for a few days while the wife is wondering why I'm not at the airport yet.

Because I tend to focus on things that just compound my anxieties, I seem to always recall famous people who died somewhat sadly and quite alone. My "favorites" include:

Not to be confused with Minnesota Fats.
Tennessee Williams. I first read The Glass Menagerie in college, and though I'd read other works with downbeat endings, such as Ethan Frome or Death of a Salesman (that one kind of telegraphs the ending), I remember being really depressed with the events of the drama. But anyway, about Tennessee's death:
The medical examiner's report indicated that he choked to death on the cap from a bottle of eye drops he frequently used, further indicating that his use of drugs and alcohol may have contributed to his death by suppressing his gag reflex. 
The eye drop cap theory has been disputed. But he did die, alone, at the Hotel Elysée in Manhattan, which is not a bad place to die, as far as hotels go.

This is how William Holden died in Sunset Boulevard:
face-down in a swimming pool, also (almost) alone.
William Holden. Not as well-known to people under 50 (60?) as other actors from his era, but William Holden was one of the go-to leading men to portray your standard male character (often with a touch of doomed melancholy) during the 1940s through the 1970s.

According to Wikipedia, this is publicity shot is
from 1954, meaning he's only 36. Back then,
men were men, and they aged horribly.
He was in a vast number of films, many of which you've possibly seen without realizing you were watching A William Holden Film because his subtle performance was usually overshadowed by his co-stars, who had louder/meatier roles in those movies:
  • Sunset Boulevard (he was nominated for Best Actor this was Gloria Swanson's show)
  • Stalag 17 (he won Best Oscar, but I haven't seen this film yet so I can't comment on it in order to prove my point)
  • The Towering Inferno (I didn't see this either, but this was one of those ensemble-disaster pictures from the 1970s)
  • Network (Peter Finch was memorably mad as hell during the triumph of Faye Dunaway's career)
  • The Omen (uh...Satan stole the show?)
But anyway. There are plenty of sources that get into the lurid details, but the basics are this:
According to the Los Angeles County Coroner's autopsy report, Holden was alone and intoxicated in his apartment in Santa Monica, California, on November 12, 1981, when he slipped on a rug, severely lacerated his forehead on a teak bedside table, and bled to death. Evidence suggests he was conscious for at least half an hour after the fall. It is probable that he may not have realized the severity of the injury and did not summon aid, or was unable to call for help. His body was found four days later.
How would you like to die? ALONE AND INTOXICATED?

That's how I've been all week, except (so far) for the dying. Let's hope I last a couple more days!

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