In the early 1970s, my mother pinned a picture cut from a magazine to the door of the basement room in which my older brothers had taken up residence. The advertisement depicted eight teenagers standing or sitting against a concrete wall. Above the photo appeared the words “Pick One to Die”. The caption cautioned “one out of eight children die of drug overdose”.
Over the years, that photo has haunted me. I did lose a brother to suicide [in 1997], and he did have a drug addiction. But the picture took on a different significance for me. The teens in the photo all looked unhappy, unclean, scruffy. Care-worn. I thought of those kids as my siblings and me, bandied about by life, surviving with various degrees of damage. Pick one to die. When the phone rang with the news of my brother’s death, I asked: Which one — and named two of my siblings. Funny — sad — ironic: I felt no surprise.
I sit with friends in coffee shops; restaurants; my front porch with its cathedral ceiling and gorgeous blooming plants. We share stories of triumphs and tribulations; frustrations and fantasies; bounties and burdens. One shares advice from another and I think, I told you the same thing and you dismissed me. One moans about a problem and I suppress the urge to mutter, you think you got it bad, I know six people with worse issues.
It’s not a competition.
I rise; I stumble; I fall. I step through rubble. I dip my gnarled feet in cool water. I sit in an ice cream shop alone, surrounded by families, couples, children, teens. Pick one to die. It was not me. I live. I sometimes wonder why, but I’m not complaining. I’m nearly sixty years old and I think I might be within a year or two of understanding how my journey took me here, of acceptance, of serenity. I close my eyes and surrender to the day.