For many years I’ve been telling anyone who would listen: “I wanta die like Leroy Nichols.”
And then I have to explain who he was, and how he died. Leroy died the way that almost everyone wants to go…before they become just a memory. Or worse, a drooling doofus. People wanta die quickly, and with very little pain. That’s no surprise, eh?
I’ve told lots of people about Leroy’s death. I don’t know how many I’ve told…probably over 100 folks. Nobody has a story to tell just like Leroy’s, but lots of people knew someone who died suddenly.
I don’t know how long ago I started talking with others about the way he died. These were typically upbeat, and not in the least bit morbid, conversations. Really.
I’m not even sure how long ago his heart failed him. I’m sure it was at least 10, or maybe even 15, years ago. He did it the right way though.
The version in mind for me varies a bit from Leroy’s, but first the background.
Who was Leroy? He was the brother of two of my aunts by marriage. He had two sisters, Doris and Charlotte. My Mom had brothers named Sterl and Joe. Sterl married Doris; Joe married Charlotte; i.e. my Mom’s brothers married Leroy’s sisters.
I had other connections to Leroy. He taught high school math at Farmington HS. My brother and sister graduated from there and I student taught in the math department a very long time ago. Unfortunately, for eight weeks I was assigned to a control freak named Mr. Ragland. I’m sure it would have been a much better experience (for me and for the kids in the classes) if Leroy had been my mentor. He was a good teacher, far better than the ragman.
He also attended a church for awhile that my Dad started. I was married in that little Baptist church, but I only lived in that town a short time during its existence. I doubt that Leroy and I were there at the same service a dozen times.
How did he die? Stopped at the first traffic light in town, waiting for the light to change. The light turned green and Leroy was turning white.
My version varies from his and is driven by wherever I’m living. The primary difference is where I’d like to be when my heart stops, but it is always in a car and at an intersection. A busy intersection.
My current fantasy takes place at the corner of South Campbell and Republic Road. Friday at about 4:30 in the afternoon. I’m the third car back, stopped at the light after watching a couple of cretins go through on red…
The car stereo is cranked up to something a bit raucous. Maybe it’s Kings of Leon singing “Revelry.” (Somehow it seems fitting that I should be listening to some preacher’s kids rocking on when the time comes….)
The traffic light changes. The cars in front and beside me take off. My little Corolla is frozen in place with Caleb Followill belting out “So the time we shared it was precious to me, All the while I was dreaming of revelry, Dreaming of revelry….”
The cars behind me start honking. Springfield is the buckle of the bible belt but that doesn’t keep the Baptists following me from spewing hate and screaming profanities as they miss the light because my foreign car has them blocked.
People are honking and screaming about my rock-and-roll, and about my corolla not rolling. They are pissed off.
Finally someone gets out of their car and comes up to mine. The CD is on to another KOL song: “I just wanted to know if I could go home, Been rambling in day after day, And everyone says I don’t know. So don’t knock it…”
But the angry people at the busy intersection aren’t paying any attention to the music whatsoever. They’re mad as they approach my car. “Why the hell aren’t you moving that piece of crap?!? You hippies and your loud music!!”
As soon as they get to my car their emotions go from anger to guilt. I’m already turning gray. I’m a goner. Slam, bam, dead.
“I was screaming and cussing the poor old fella, and he was dying right there in front of me. Oh, that poor, poor man…”
People pissed off, then feeling awful. It makes me laugh to think about it. Literally. (Will I be laughing afterwards? That’s a thought or two for another time…)
A quick, painless death. No lingering illness. No huge outlay for healthcare month after month after month. No family and friends watching me wither and die. And on top of it I get to jerk some people’s chains, play with their emotions…and give them a story of their own. Perfect.
Only one person got cranky when I told him my fatalistic fantasy, which only recently got more specific regarding the music playing. Every-time I’ve told it, including telling it to Leroy’s sisters (my two aunts), it’s always been me in the car, with the sound system cranked up on a Friday afternoon at a busy intersection in the town where I was getting my mail.
This perpetually angry man’s reply to my death dream: “Nobody gets to decide how they’re going to die!!” As usual, facts escape and don’t matter to this guy. Someone commits suicide every 13 minutes in the US. It’s the 10th leading cause of death in the country. Over 40,000 people a year in America decide how they’re going to die; over half of them using a gun.
While I’ve been sharing this fantasy with people for years I honestly have never thought about death all that much. But a recent rare hospital stay because of pulmonary embolisms of unknown origin does make one think a bit.
What I think is this. It came too early for Leroy. And Leroy got lucky.