My original plan to checkout when I found myself outliving my dignity was to step in front of a train. Quick, mostly painless, and as long as I had a power chair, I could take care of it myself. It helps that most train engineers are hardened to the reality of suicide by train. Then, after a truly enjoyable conversation with my new friend Jessica, she suggested taking up skydiving at about 80 years of age. This story spun out of that suggestion.
The blackness of space spreads out on all sides while the Earth is a distant field of blues, whites, and tans. I teeter at the very edge of space, hanging from an ever-expanding envelope of helium. This is my not my first drop, but likely my last.
I take in the curve of Earths horizon, the thin layer of scattered clouds that separate me from my intended target. I love this moment of peace. Seeing the world from so far away. Hanging on the edge of space. The closest I will ever come to being among the stars.
The only sound, my breathing and the apparatus that aids it. Inhale, the click of a valve, exhale. Within my chest I feel the quickening of my heart in anticipation of activating the release. When I will begin my plummet towards Earth.
Slowly I bring my arm up and look at the display mounted to my suits forearm. The icon is green, all systems go, I double tap the icon, feel and hear the mechanical release followed by a moment of weightlessness.
I began these plummets after my seventy fifth birthday. It was shortly after my liver transplant. I was not worried about dignity then. Artificial organs were tried and true. My dignity would remain in intact. I started these long skydives because I noticed a different change. Something not quite right in my thinking.
I was forgetting things one should never forget.
My suit was feeding my vitals to the Department of Public Safety drones that loiter about near the surface. Letting them know that I am in no distress. My vital signs are as close to normal as someone who is arrowing towards the planet like an old yard dart, can be. As always, my artificial liver and heart functioning optimally.
What the suit doesn’t tell them is my brain isn’t right.
I look at the speed indicator. I am approaching the sound barrier. My head pointed toward the ground, hands close to my side, toes pointed. This is what it was all about for the last decade, the thrill, the speed, the freedom.
There is no sound of air whistling past my helmet, the air is till to thin. Only the rapidly climbing digits displayed on my visor, and the clouds hurtling towards me tell me I am auguring towards Earth at tremendous velocities.
Life is about living, and there is no life without dignity. That is the mantra I lived by since reading those old Michael Moorcock books as a kid. Medical science has dignity in the bag in today’s day and age. My artificial organs need no rejection drugs. They work better than the organic organs they replaced. Losing a limb no longer means a simple mindless prosthetic. Instead, it’s replaced with a fully functioning robotic limb that responds to the electrical impulses of the nerves left behind.
They can even repair the spinal column.
But they cannot fix the brain.
My speed indicator shows Mach 1.24, and shortly after I feel the press of atmosphere on my head and shoulders. Softly at first, the sound of air rushing past my helmet builds. The speed indicator starts counting down, as terminal velocity decreases with the thickening air.
The first people to drop from the edge of space pulled their chutes at about 18,000 feet, but not me. I applied for, and received a permit for HALO jumps over a decade ago. High Altitude, Low Opening, three or four times a year.
I needed the thrill, and I needed to fool the DPS drones that constantly watch for the stupid, the depressed, and those bent on harming others. The drones are there, my suit points them out to me, but by the time they realize my chute does not deploy, it will be too late.
I have Alzheimer’s. There is no official diagnosis, they would have pulled my permit. But a doctor friend of mine confirmed what I already suspected.
I hate forgetting the little things.
Modern medicine can fix so much, but it cannot fix the brain. I almost forgot to write an email to my kids. It took several reminders from my tablet to make sure it happened. I did not want them thinking they were to blame for my untimely death.
I hope they understand. I cannot live without my dignity. The dignity of taking care of myself. Remembering my grandchildren’s birthdays. Remembering to eat. Remembering to breath.
I took a pill at the onset of a cold last month, and it was gone the next day. But this…this they cannot fix.
At nine hundred meters, my chute will not open, and the DPS drones will race in to try and save me. They keep pinging my suit, making sure all systems are normal. And they are. But I keep my head pointed down, hands swept back, doing everything I can to achieve maximum velocity. The ground races towards me at close to ninety meters a second.
There is something I am forgetting. I am always forgetting, then a reminder pops up on my visor. Thank god for technology. Too bad it can’t fix the brain.
I check my wireless data signal. It is strong. Using a combination of eye movements and blinks I send the previously composed email to my children.
“Please understand,” I whisper as the DPS drones activate the alarms in my suit. They try and command my chute to open, but my suit ignores their commands.
I have learned a few tricks in my decades on this planet.
Out of my periphery, I see a couple of drones racing in. It’s going to be close. I will myself to go faster, pull my arms in tighter, make my back straighter.
Speed brakes pop on the one approaching from my eleven o’clock, broad robotic hands reach out to me, grab at my suit. I feel a tug, then something tears and the ground rushes up to meet me.