This is an essay wrapped in a short story, published in March 2019 by Moon Magazine. In my opinion, important life choices should not be determined by anyone except the person making the choice. Assisi Terminal was first formed way back when after seeing the movie Soylent Green. There’s this scene near the end with Edward G. Robinson and he decides to go to… Wait, that would be a spoiler. Read it and then go watch the movie.
Please help support Moon Magazine by buying their latest anthology: Out Of This World, best short stories 2013-2019 (Kindle and paperback versions are both available). You’ll find Assisi Terminal included in this collection.
by DL Shirey
The hardest part was choosing the music, until this email, anyway. This isn’t a suicide note in the usual sense. Yes, I’m still going to kill myself, but it’s not like it will be a surprise to anyone, especially not you. Nothing’s changed since we said our goodbyes at the airport.
The reason I’m writing is because of this stick-thin young woman across from me. She’s a talker; comes on to anyone that takes a seat near her. Say hello back and it’s Welcome to Blabberfest. Doesn’t take long until she drives the person away with her incessant chatter. And because it’s such a small waiting room, there’s always another unlucky soul sitting down. More blah blah blah, leukemia this, weeks-to-live that. So I’m writing to you on my phone, because: A) nose-in-phone is the universal symbol for Don’t Bother Me; B) hopefully, Skinny will see I’m otherwise engaged and strike up conversations elsewhere; and C) a phone is the only thing you’re allowed to bring with you to Assisi Terminal.
So, back to the music. Seemed like I spent the better part of last month trying to decide. I mean, one song from thousands I’ve enjoyed over the years? Then I remembered Duo des Fleurs, hearing those two angelic voices behind some TV commercial. Normally, I’d listen to anything other than opera, but just thinking about the aria gives me chills. Those two perfect voices interweave, hesitate, entwine again and eventually soar. The women sing like a pair of Sirens luring sailors to shore. It’s the most beautiful music I could find to fill four and a half minutes.
According to Assisi Terminal, you need at least four minutes, perhaps a bit more. For as many people as they’ve processed—what’s it been, a couple years now—you’d think they’d have the timing down to the exact second. I mean, I would love it if those two angels ended their song on that last exquisite harmony and, poof, I’m gone. No empty silence, just that lingering note when I fade to black. That would be perfection. But Assisi claims body chemistry, weight and health can all affect the duration of the session; they promise ‘on or about four minutes,’ so I can only hope the timing works out. I’m still a pretty big guy despite the weight loss.
Something bad is happening inside me. I don’t know what it is. Don’t want to identify it. I shouldn’t have to tell you there’s been no doctors’ visits; that would be me becoming a hypochondriac like my old man. Avoidochondriac is more like it. I mean, really, what I’m doing is so totally opposite of what my father did, isn’t it? Dad was so convinced he had bone cancer that he researched each and every symptom to justify his conclusion. Went to the doctor constantly, but never got the diagnosis he expected. The doctors always came back with the same conclusion: nothing specific, simply old age. For Dad, that was no diagnosis, meaning: A) he didn’t get the proper test; B) the doctor wasn’t enough of a specialist to find the real cause; C) each visit added another prescription so that his body chemistry was so completely screwed that there was no way to accurately measure what was going on. Give Dad total credit for that last one, he was taking drugs to fight the side effects for the interaction of the other drugs he was already taking.
No, I’m nothing like my father. If anything, I resist knowing. I’m highly aware of my aches and pains—who isn’t—but I go out of my way to avoid what they might mean. The last thing I’d do is search the Internet for symptoms to see the list of diseases with which they are associated. And no doctors’ visits. Soon as the doctor names it, I would start imagining symptoms and attributing them to My Disease. Worse, there would be a recommended treatment: biopsies to fingerprint it, machines to pinpoint its exact location, scalpels to cut it from adjoining tissue, chemicals and irradiation to burn any remnant from existence, and drugs to help me recover from its annihilation.
Then there’s that whole caretaker thing. We’ve been over it a hundred times: I don’t want you watching me diminish, that look on your face, cleaning up after me.
And relying on being manhandled by a stranger? Not in this lifetime.
I know talking about this makes you angry, that for my own selfish reasons I’m here, probably years before I need to be. I understand why you left me two months before my appointment here. You said it was because you didn’t want to count the hours between my boarding the ferry and my death. I’m sure that’s true, but I think I know you well enough to guess that part of your decision to leave was for me to experience being by myself. For me to be alone knowing there was someone I loved just out of reach.
And it almost worked. I’d think about your eyes and the loving way you look at me. I probably picked up the phone a dozen times. Then I’d think about your eyes and how sad they would be standing bedside as my nursemaid, no longer my sweetheart. And the truth is, you’d be counting down the hours then, too: long, slow, painful hours. That’s why I decided to move up this appointment 30 days.
I know this will catch you by surprise, but now you won’t have hours to count. You’ll grieve either way, and for that I’m sorry. I hope you know I didn’t take any part of this lightly. Leaving you is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m just thankful there’s a place like this to go. The decision is hard—should be hard—but it’s a blessing that the act of taking your own life is easy.
Thank goodness for Assisi Terminal and the unpronounceable island-nation that runs it. Everyone has been so nice here, dressed in their floral prints and yellow shorts. Like the brochure says, it’s nonreligious and nonjudgmental, and anyone who is still lucid gets an umbrella drink while they wait. You don’t even need to change into sandals, just: A) bring your phone; B) cue up a tune on your music player; C) fill your photo library with the pictures you want to see while the music is playing.
After you left I read this funny article about a guy in this very waiting room who sent a panicky email to his wife because he didn’t know how to remove photos from his phone. He had all these random snaps of bumper stickers, food he’d eaten and meaningless selfies; not the images one wants to see when they turn off the lights. Mine? Warm, sunset vistas. Cityscapes at night, with all those bright lights and bustling streets. You, in unguarded moments, wherever in the world we were traveling. I purposely didn’t play the aria when I was editing the montage; I wanted to experience that music and those pictures together once. A world premier, one night only. Just for me.
That’s what I don’t understand about the protests. Why do they care about what others choose for themselves? All those aerial photos you see on the news are true. The island is hounded by sanctimonious busybodies in boats who string their LET GOD TAKE YOU WHEN HE’S READY banners for us to see. As if Divine intervention hadn’t already been requested. Don’t those people realize that unanswered prayers are part of the itinerary that leads to Assisi Terminal? God is past due when you choose to end your own suffering. If He has something to say about it afterward, that’s not of this world. And, frankly, I’d prefer to hash it out with the Lord after the fact rather than try to have a rational conversation with any of those boat people.
Anyway, they just called the name of that emaciated chatterbox. You wouldn’t believe the look of relief on the faces of people around me. They’re glad for the silence, but have enough empathy for the poor woman to know she was handling it the best she could, dealing with the choices made. She just had to talk-it-to-death before she went to face it. I understand. That’s why I’ll finish this email, even though the excuse for writing it is gone. I can see her now, being escorted to one of the private rooms. She’s talking a mile a minute to the young gal in the Hawaiian shirt and yellow shorts. The attendant is offering Skinny a choice of pill, syringe or patch. Think I’ll go patch. Reminds me of the ones you always wore to keep from getting seasick. Just another ocean cruise, serenaded by angels this time, and no more hours to count.
That’s it. My phone will be mailed back home within the week. Password is Love&Kisses (note the caps). If you want to open Maps, there will be a pin-drop where my ashes will be spread. We went there once and you said it was such a serene place, you wouldn’t mind staying there forever. Maybe I’ll see you there.