I’m not a social person. It’s not that I don’t like people, but I’ve had more than enough of them. All the same, I do sometimes miss hanging out with my cousin and her husband. We’d go to the movies, or out to dinner, or just hang out at their house. I’d bring my terrier over and let their dogs romp around with mine while we played Scrabble. Normal stuff like that.
These people are Christians, but in a gentle way, not heavy-handed at all about it. I can’t remember how we got onto the specific subject, but I do remember one night my cousin’s husband (who I’ll call Bill) told me his mother’s last words, which she uttered on her deathbed in the hospital. “She just sat up, after sitting there for twenty minutes or so with her eyes closed. Then she opened her eyes, shouted, ‘You tricked me!’ and fell back down onto the pillow and died.”
How’s that for an exit? It ranks up there with Goethe’s Mehr licht! (“More light!”) and possibly bests the apocryphal chestnuts from Oscar Wilde’s last day on Earth (one of which I remember was “Either that wallpaper goes, or I do.”)
“You tricked me.”
Naturally I asked my cousin Bill what she meant by that. And of course Bill had no answer. He wanted to know, too. And there is the chance that his mother didn’t even know what she meant, either. People aren’t exactly lucid in their final moments all the time, which is why wills get contested on that “sound of mind” clause more than occasionally. There’s even a book dedicated to parsing the subtext of one crazy man’s last words recorded by a police stenographer in the hopes that this rumrunner’s hospital bed ramblings might yield some interesting clues as to the inner workings of the Mob (they didn’t).
Regardless of whether or not Bill’s mom meant anything with her last words, they stick in my craw. I can’t stop thinking about them. And at my lowest moments I think that the words are tied to the betrayal of her own religiosity, which she bequeathed to her son. In this explanation of “You tricked me!” the mother, having dedicated her life to right-living and expecting an eternal reward, sees only a massive vacuum of black Lovecraftian antimatter or whatever void we all face as we slough off our mortal coils.
I know nothing about Bill’s mother (aside from her last words), but in this explanation, I see her as a woman who was perhaps a little hedonistic at heart, like perhaps most people. She wished to indulge in a fling with some sailor while her husband was at sea, but she knew the Commandments forbade it, and so she abstained. In the front of her mind she told herself she’d done the right thing. But maybe elsewhere there was a kernel of regret, budding in her brain, telling her to go ahead and do it, and after the fact that little budding seed kept nagging at her, and she kept fighting it down, tamping it with the recital of the mantra that was her moral code. “I can’t do this to my husband. I can’t betray God’s laws like this.”
But then, as she died, she saw this fellow who had every intention of tupping the hell out of her when she was young. And here he was on the other side, still young and strapping, waiting and winged in the eternal void, but unwilling to lift or embrace her, because she had shunned the pleasures of the flesh with him back when she’d been a mortal. She’d thought her decision the right one, the moral one at the time, but only realized now that it had been a mere act of cowardice masquerading as righteousness.
Sometimes I wonder if the point of life is to maximize pleasure and not only over some long term, but merely in the moment. Part of this refrain in my brain (and, to be frank, in my soul) is probably just a byproduct of the cynicism in which we all marinate. Postmodern America is a very ugly place, with a very short attention span and a collective Id that, rather than being checked or even examined, is fanned and enflamed and encouraged in its every indulgent impulse. It wouldn’t take a prude to look around here (at least at the intersubjective world of pop culture) and see that something is horribly out of tilt.
But there is still a part of me that thinks that these mundane and material pleasures are all that is to be had, and since it’s all going to collapse soon (perhaps due to the icecaps melting, or some bespoke superbug manufactured in the makeshift lab that is some man’s garage), I might as well get mine, too, damnit, while the getting is good.
And since I’m not very attractive or rich, pleasure for me would naturally mean gorging on food.
I’ve lost sixty pounds over the course of the last year (probably more), and would like to keep losing weight. And yes, it feels good to walk around without carrying around that shifting burden of rubbery flesh that clung to me like a polyester suit to a sweaty preacher, but there are still times when I think of giving up and stuffing my face. And in those moments, even though the dissipation, the wallowing in fatitude (sic) is just a figment of my imagination, I still feel a kind of ecstasy that borders on the sinful just thinking about it.
I want to eat an entire pepperoni pizza with the lights off and the blinds drawn, using only my mouth, with my hands tied behind my back like the fat kid in the pie-eating contest in Stand By Me.
I want to use a spoon that practically has the dimensions of a soup ladle to dislodge chunks of chocolate chip from their frozen moorings in mounds of mint ice cream, gripping the pint with my other hand all slippery with condensation.
I want to eat twelve chicken wings, tilt the Styrofoam carryout box in which they came so that all the remaining hot sauce juices pour into the far corner of the container, and then I want to drink that mixture of chicken skin fat, marrow, and spicy broth like Bacchus quaffing the blood of his cult from a grapevine.
Yes, I’m a pig, but I’m a pig who’s denying himself a rut in the mud for reasons I can’t quite fathom. The “why?” question lays heavily upon my chest, growing ironically ever heavier as I myself continue to torture myself losing weight.
To what end am I losing weight? I have no spouse or kids for whom I need to extend my lifespan, or to whom my presence means anything. I have a dog, but considering that she probably only has five years left (at most), I could cast myself into an abyss of marathon takeout Chinese sessions while popping Percocet in a La-Z Boy on full recline from now until the last of her little canine heart palpitations and she would still beat me to the boneyard.
So why not just give in? For fear of having my porcine behind prodded with the Devil’s pitchfork if I were to succumb to the Schweinerei of gluttony I fantasized about a handful of paragraphs ago?
I guess I’m saying, I don’t want to die and realize that I deprived myself of some pleasure for reasons I’ll forget or that will be rendered inconsequential when I pass over to the other side. Yes, the pleasures which I’m denying myself are small, and they are pleasures with consequences, punishment that are more prosaic than pitchforks, waiting for me should I indulge in the transitory and chimerical joys of pigging out.
Before I burn in Hell, there’s the matter of heartburn with which I need to contend.
But regardless of burning in heart or burning in Hell, I would still have that moment, that second of glorious sinful bliss of backsliding that might be worth a millennium of teetotaler’s smug satisfaction. Charles Baudelaire spoke of that instant of ecstasy in exchange for an eternity of fire (though he was probably aiming his ken much higher, to some god’s ichor or at least some good opium, and not a cheeseburger).
The thing is, though, should I feel deceived in my final moments as an ex-fat man, at least I will not be shouting to the void, “You tricked me!”
My deception will have been self-imposed. So if I die (or rather when I die, since it’s a given that I’m going to die), give me a mirror to scream at, a reflection of myself which I can insult. And have someone there (police stenographer or layperson) to record my last words.
Maybe they’ll be funny.
Maybe they’ll be sad, or at least otherwise memorable.
And maybe they’ll be “More!” though unlike Goethe I’m probably apt to be asking for more Snickers or Coke. Screw the “Licht.” A fat man feels better in the dark.