…and fade to black.
That’s a rap. Your life just ended.
So how did that work out for you?
(Wait a minute. What are you saying???)
Yeah, sorry about that. So did you ever wake up and actually smell that coffee? Did you seize that day? Did you kick some ass in this life? Did you clean up all those gnarly unresolved relationships?
No? Hmmm, that’s too bad. Because it would come totally out of left field like that. Exactly when you least expect it.
You know, like all those headlines you skim through on your iPad, while sipping that Starbucks latte and updating your Facebook status.
They make you sad for a very brief moment.
That terrible shooting at a Wendy’s in some distant state. The guy who got pushed onto the subway tracks in that other city. He was a father of three. God, that’s awful. That unexpected truck that overturned and crushed a family of six on a freeway somewhere across the country.
It’s always someone else isn’t it?
Until it’s not.
Maybe you’re standing there on the curb, waiting to cross the street, worrying about the rent, pissed off about your deadend job and your lonely existence, freaking out about how you’re going to make some shit happen to change your life, paralyzed by fear to make a move and wondering if that amazing chick you connected with on the bus yesterday is going to text you like she said.
You’re so caught up in your internal psychobabble that you instinctively start to walk across the street with all the other people.
Suddenly, you feel your pocket vibrate. You quickly fumble for the phone but your ring gets caught on your pocket. (Shit!!) You rip your pants thrusting your hand in there to yank the phone out in time.
You flip the phone over as fast as you can to read the text. Is it the hot chick? What does it say!? The glare from the sun makes it impossible to read the screen. (Dammit!!) You desperately try to shield the screen with your hand in an attempt to read it. Just then something distracts you.
Was that a scream?
(Hang on a minute…)
You suddenly realize you’re standing in the middle of the street. How did you get here? You look up. There’s no sound. People are looking at you in horror. They’re on the curb. You’re not.
You turn just in time to see that city bus barreling down on you. It’s all happening in slow motion. 20 feet away. 10 feet. You now see the look of panic on the driver’s face. Then…
The next thing you see is a swirling view from above of a body lying lifeless in the street and a crowd of people huddled around it. A police car pulls up and a cop swoops in to move everyone away and establish order. You can’t hear any of this.
An ambulance screams into view as the paramedics burst out and run to attend the body. They try to revive it. It remains lifeless. A child starts to cry.
Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself
Then a voice says, “It’s time to go.”
“Time to go? Go where?” you reply, confused.
“Away,” he says.
You realize suddenly there’s no more street scene. You’re on a small boat. The oar stabs at the misty river as the waters lap quietly against the side of the boat. You look up to see the oarsman. He’s not at all like in the pictures.
There’s no long robe. No sickle or pointy hood. Death looks more like an old rocker who couldn’t find a decent gig after his glory days and the hard luck that followed so he took this one. Probably saved him from ending up in…well, you know. He’s got long, gnarled grey hair. You can’t see his face.
‘God, I had so much I still wanted to say,’ you think to yourself.
“Then why didn’t you just say it?” he says, not looking back.
‘I didn’t say anything,’ you wonder, confused.
“You didn’t have to. It’s written on the work order.”
“The work order? What work order?”
“You were recalled.”
“Recalled? What the hell is that supposed to mean!? Like some fucking defective car!?”
“Hey pal, no need to get your panties all in a bundle. I’m just following orders. Your order got stamped.”
“Stamped? By who?” You’re visibly upset by this unfortunate turn of events except there’s no more you to speak of. Just your presence.
“Do you really need everything spelled out for you?” Death replies, not looking back.
“I can’t believe this.”
“You only get so many turns on the bike and then we have to make room for the new recruits.”
“But when was my big break supposed to come? I worked my whole life and they never threw me a solid.”
“I beg to differ. You were given plenty of opportunities in your lifetime.” He steers the boat into a thicker mist. A lonely fog horn blows off in the distance.
“Yeah, like when? I wrote and wrote. All my life. I had some good stories too. Nobody cared. No one wanted to publish me. I couldn’t get arrested. So I took this shitty copyediting gig.”
“How about that magazine offer?”
“What magazine? What offer?…Oh, you’re not talking about that National Geographic thing are you?”
“That’s bullshit! They weren’t even going to pay me. Wanted me to work for free.”
“You were unproven. They wanted to see what you were made of. Wanted to see if you could recreate the piece you sent them on a consistent basis. It was a test.”
This Is Only A Test
“A test!? How was I supposed to give up everything I had and move half way across the world for a test? No contract. No guarantee. Nothing!”
“God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.”
“That sounds familiar. Who said that?”
“Emerson. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind.”
No, he wasn’t afraid, you think.
“You would have written one piece for them and they would have loved it. They would have ultimately paid you for it too. Then they would have offered you a salary you never could have imagined. More than you ever made your whole life in that “shitty job.” Doing exactly the thing that you loved. You would have travelled all over the world. All expenses paid. It would have been a very good life.”
“I can’t believe that.”
“Yes, that was most of your problem in life. You didn’t believe. You didn’t believe that you were worthy of great success. Or that you were put there for a reason. Or that your work could matter. Not only matter, your writing was supposed to affect millions. You see, there are only so many slots down there on Earth. We don’t add any filler.”
“That’s it!? I got one lousy chance and I blew it. That’s all you get in life?? One shot??? What kind of a lesson is that?
“One chance? Is that how you see it?” Slightly out of character now, Death starts to sound a little impatient.
“Oh really now? There were more? I gotta hear this.”
Don’t Rain On My Parade
“Sorry to rain on your death but you’re here because you exhausted your quota. We even threw in quite a few bonus opportunities but you still didn’t see the light.”
“Like, for example?”
“How about Mary, for starters?”
“Mary, the girl you met your first week in college? The one you spent three hours talking to outside that first party? The one who wrote to you on every break? She wrote you and called you for years after school. Ring a bell?”
“Yeah…Mary, of course. She would finish all my sentences for me before I even thought them. She was so easy to talk to. But we were just good friends.”
“That’s right. Just friends. You were too busy chasing the crazy ones. How about Carol? Remember her? The blonde? She was a real piece of work, huh?”
“Oh man, but what a body. Great ass on her.”
“Yeah, wasn’t she the one who threw all your guitars out the window when she saw you talking to another girl at a club? I’ll bet you thought that ass was worth it then after you were picking up all the pieces, huh?”
“Why did I always go for the nutjobs?”
“You thought normal was too boring. All that sexual passion you found in the crazy ones was also their undoing. Everything else was totally out of balance. Mary would have given you a lifetime of happiness. And a family too.”
How It Could Have Been
You are shown a vision of a home at Christmas time and three kids sitting around the tree playing with their toys. Then the view changes. You see yourself a little older, sitting next to Mary on the couch, next to a fireplace watching them and smiling warmly at each other.
“God, I’m such an asshole…But I thought we were talking about my career.”
“We’re talking about your life. But if you want to continue down that path. What ever happened with your music? Why did you never call that businessman you met on the plane?”
“Businessman? What are you talking about?”
“You met him on a business trip coming home from your “shitty job”.
“That guy?? What was I supposed to do with him?”
“You played him your music on the plane and he was very impressed. Do you remember that?”
“You hit it off immediately talking about all the big bands he loved and Sinatra too. You found out he was once a professional singer. Sang with Lionel Hampton. Didn’t you find that odd for a venture capitalist?”
“Yeah, I guess it was a bit weird. So..?”
“He was very impressed with your musical knowledge. That man ran a multi-billion dollar hedge fund. He was bored to tears in his work and loved music with a passion.
He was connected to every major movie studio in Hollywood and the biggest corporate brands on Earth. He could have made one phone call and placed your music in a second. Do you think that might have helped your career? He handed you his business card and told you to call him. Did you ever take him up on that?”
“No, but how was I supposed to know where that would lead? It’s not like he offered to do that for me. I mean how do you just call someone up like that?”
Death falls silent and continues rowing.
“I mean couldn’t you have at least given me a few more hints? Why did everything have to be such a fucking mystery?”
The silence continues until it becomes unbearable. You squirm with discomfort.
‘I had so many great stories in me. Great songs too. Why was I such a fucking coward? God, this sucks! This totally sucks. I can’t believe it ends this way.’ “How could I be so fucking stupid!!”
You begin to weep like a baby and would be holding your head in your hands except there is no head nor any hands. A deep sadness reaches to the pit of your soul.
What Would You Give To Have A Second Chance?
“God, I would give anything for one more shot. Anything. And I wouldn’t fuck it up either. I swear.
Finally a voice whispers, “Do you really mean that?”
“Who said that..? Yes, yes!! I meant that more than anything I ever said to you in my entire life on Earth. I would give anything for one more chance.
The silence that follows feels like an eternity. There is only darkness.
Finally, a voice echoes in your head.
Suddenly, your eyes open. You feel the cold, hard pavement under your body. You’re in pain. But the air filling up your lungs feels incredible. The sky above is an electric blue and the puffy white clouds pass by slowly as though watching over you.
The paramedics are staring down at you in disbelief. You look around for blood or scattered limbs but there’s nothing. Your phone lies just ouside your hand. You grab it instinctively. You look up at the cop.
“How did I…?”
“Don’t ask, buddy. You shouldn’t be here right now that’s all I can tell you. That bus had absolutely nowhere to go. Traffic was all jammed up on the other side of the street. But somehow, for reasons I can’t explain, he managed to avoid you and just grazed you, which knocked you down. You’re lucky to be alive pal.”
“Yes, I am lucky. I’m very lucky.”
The paramedics place the gurney under your body and wheel you to the ambulance. As the doors close and the sirens wail, you turn your phone over and miraculously it still works. You stare at the screen and then do a double take. You squint to read the text.
‘Hi, it’s Mary from college. Do you remember me? I ran into Dan Sykes, your old roommate and he gave me your number. I would so love to talk to you. Hope you’re well, Mary.’
You smile and close your eyes. Then you start to cry.
A voice whispers in your ear.
“One chance. Don’t fuck this up.”
How will you start living today?
P.S. I wrote this the other day. On the day I finished, actor, James Gandolfini, known to all as the beloved Tony Soprano, passed away at 51. He was on vacation in Rome. I’m sure he too believed he would be waking up today.
I too am 51. Makes you think.
Life is short. Don’t ever forget that. (but of course you will)
R.I.P. James. You will always be remembered for your awesome talent and your kind heart.