In 3 days, it would be my turn. I would turn 50 years old. 50 orbits around the sun, completed. It was time. 3 days. All the time I needed, all the time I could ask for.
I packed my gun in the bottom of my bag. Made certain the fragmenting rounds were in it. I knew how to use it, what to do with it, as my father had known, and his father. I got dressed, and joined my wife for breakfast. We spoke of what was to come. “You know I only have 3 days, right?”
“You’re going to the gardens, right? To stay there? To see the flowers?”
I nodded. She’d made waffles. Blueberries all through them. My favorite, and she knew it. My favorite brand of soda to drink, no milk, no coffee. “Hope you like your meal, dear.”
“It’s perfect.” I smiled. “You’ll send Tommy after the car?”
“Yes. It’s all settled.”
“I wish Becky was older. Already moved out. Would make it easier on her, I think.”
My wife of 24 years nodded. “I’ll join you in a couple of years, you know.”
It was my turn to nod, “I know. I hope they’re good years for you.”
“They will be. At least I’ll have all my memories.”
I finished eating, visited the bathroom one more time, and got my bag. I kissed the love of my life on my way out. That was, I think the hardest part, saying good-bye to her. Even knowing the day was coming for my entire life didn’t make that any easier. Knowing I would never see her smile again. Never hold her again. “Dad told me this would be the toughest part, you know.”
“A wise man, your father.” She held me a bit tighter. “Why do I never want to let you go?” I let her hold me for as long as she wished. Knowing she would let me go. Knowing this was her last gift to me. “Remember me, OK? Promise me. Promise me you’ll remember me, and wait for me.”
“I will, dear. You know I will.”
Those were the last words I spoke to her.
The drive to the botanical garden was quiet. I never turned on the radio, or any music. Instead, I listened to the world. The sound of the wind, the songs of birds, the laughter of children, the honking of horns in traffic. All of it. I’d never noticed how beautiful it was. Never noticed how much a gift daily life was.
The drive was uneventful. Quiet, even. The young man, still a boy, really, who let me through the gate, nodded. “I’ll let them know you’ve arrived. No one will disturb you.”
It all started a thousand years ago. It’s all there in the history books. How the world couldn’t support all of us. There were too many people. There was not enough water. Not enough air. Not enough metals, minerals, plants, animals. Not enough of anything. Tens of thousands of us starved every day. Tens of thousands of us fought in wars, every day. Old men shot children, boys and girls, to protect their own children. Murder was the only way to get a job. Someone had to die for an opening to become available. There were too many people.
It was the same with our religions. Every one of them claimed to be the only true faith. Claimed their god was the only god. There were entire parts of the world left in ruins, the ground radioactive, the air toxic to breathe, where religions had tried to kill each other. No one could go there. No one could live there. Even after a thousand years, thousands of square miles of land, all over the surface of our world, were still so deadly, not even bacteria lived there. And bacteria could live anywhere. Even inside volcanoes, where they thrived on the noxious gases, and temperatures that would melt rock, and incinerate a person so thoroughly, not even their bones would remain.
Our religions had killed parts of our world. No one would ever live there again. It would be 100,000 years, maybe much longer than that, before those parts of the planet healed.
Faced with our own extinction, we finally woke up, as a people. We finally stopped fighting. We’d learned there was no winning. That winning meant destroying everyone else, and everything else.
So, we changed. It started with the old men, really. They knew. They knew they were the problem. So, they wrote new laws. Then, they followed those laws. And all the old men, every last one of them, over the age of 50, shot themselves.
The women did the same.
Now, after a thousand years, it’s our way of life. It’s how we care for our world. For our children. For the life that remains here. We move on. We die. At 50 years old. It has limited the population, or at least the rate of growth. There are always jobs for our children when they become adults. No one starves anymore. Hunger on our world is gone. So is poverty.
We nearly lost our world, nearly destroyed it, and ourselves, before we learned. All life is priceless. All life is to be valued. All life is to be protected. Not use my life. Not just my families life. But the lives of those I have never known. The lives of the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea. They all matter.
It was three days until I turned 50. I stood in an ocean of roses. Deep, velvet red, pure, innocent white. And countless other colors. I’d always loved roses. They’d always brought peace to my soul. Calm to my life.
That’s why I stayed there, among them, until the sun set. And why no one came to get me after the garden closed.
My body will be here when the sun rises in the morning. But I won’t be. For the good of our world, the good of my children, the good of the roses. I’ll reach into my bag, beneath the light of the stars, sometime tonight. And I’ll get my gun.
And before the sun rises, I’ll do what I must. To make this world a better place for everyone.
Sunday, 06 May 2018