|"If we all did the things we are capable of
doing, we would literally
astound ourselves." -- Thomas Edison
How many times a day do you have the opportunity to kill someone?
Hah. Dozens, if you're like most people. The pedestrian you 'didn't see' when you turned the corner: just a tap on the gas would do it. Your co-worker walking down the stairs a step ahead of you: a quick shove and no one would ever know. Your drunken wife decides to take a bath: pour her another drink, watch until she begins to drowse in the warm water, and gently slip her under. How many 'accidental' deaths are really murder?
Killing is so much easier than they make it sound. In books, or on television, the plot is always very complicated and detailed...don't they realize that the more complicated you make it, the easier it is to catch you? Serial killers in the movies are the worst, I think. Doing it the same way every time, leaving a signature, mailing taunting letters to the police. Why would anyone do that? They always get caught. Well, almost always.
Look, I remember my fourth birthday. I'd come down with a horrible cold -- fever, chills, stuffy head, cough -- and my mother stayed home that day to take care of me. She read to me from my birthday books while my little sister Megan played on the floor next to my bed. For lunch, Mama offered to make me a strawberry milkshake, my favorite thing in the whole world.
"I'll leave Megan here to keep you company, Billy," she said, "Just keep an eye on her for me, OK sweetie?" Then she kissed me on the forehead and went downstairs to make my treat.
As soon as I heard the blender in the kitchen below my room, I threw back the covers, hopped out of bed, and tiptoed to the top of the stairs. We had a sturdy baby proof gate there, to keep Megan and me safe upstairs. Mama didn't know I'd learned to work the latch months before. I quietly unlatched the gate and let it slide backwards. Then I shuffled quickly back to the door of my room, grabbed Megan's collar, and slid her on her tummy down the polished hardwood hallway. She giggled all the way to the top of the staircase, until I swung her out over the first step and let the momentum of her slide and my push carry her down the stairs. Then I hurried back to bed. A few minutes later my mother started to scream.
You see? You can't plan perfect opportunities like that. You have to watch for chances, and take them when they come along.
I was twelve when my grandmother died. I stopped to see her almost every day on my way home from school, and she always had a plate of cookies or cake and milk ready for me. We'd watch afternoon cartoons on channel 12 for an hour or so before I headed home to do my homework and my chores. Grandma Lucille was my favorite person in the world.
She was a diabetic, and everyone in the family knew that we had to watch her carefully for symptoms. At the first sign of paleness, trembling, sweating, or faintness, we were to get some honey or apple juice into her immediately. One afternoon in March I was sitting in front of the television eating warm chocolate chip cookies when Grandma started to shake. I knew instantly what I needed to do. I ran down the hall to the bathroom and got her insulin kit. I brought it out to the living room where she had fainted in her old brown easy chair, prepared a syringe, lifted her shirt, and injected it into her stomach. I dropped the syringe next to her chair, put my cookie plate and milk glass into the sink, and went home.
Aunt Penny found her the next morning. The coroner told my father that she had been in insulin shock, and in her confusion she had injected more insulin rather than eating the sugar she needed.
These things just happen. I still miss my grandmother, but I just couldn't pass up that chance.
Roy Mills, my best friend through high school and college, understood that too. He once found himself on a Scout hike with Wayne Wertz. Wayne was a pudgy, clumsy kid who had the bare minimum of badges -- he couldn't do anything. Luckily, Roy was paired with Wayne for a long and fairly strenuous hike up at Smith Rock. Naturally, due to Wayne, they fell pretty far behind the rest of the group. Roy would have hiked with Wayne all day without complaint, until Wayne stepped on a loose rock and twisted his ankle. He yelled, and when Roy stopped to help him he noticed that Wayne was crouching far to close to the edge of the trail. All it took was a nudge.
Roy was a class act. I admired his simplicity. When he was a senior in high school, his dad came home drunk one night, parked his car in the garage, and passed out in the driver's seat. Now Roy could have tried some silly business with the exhaust pipe, closing the garage door and starting the car. He could have tried to wake his dad up and get him to down some more beer and a handful of his mom's Valium. Even I might have tried helping Mr. Mills into the house and into a warm bath. But not Roy. No, Roy was brilliant. He lit one of his dad's cigarettes, dropped it onto the upholstered seat, and went back upstairs to his room to watch Leno. By the time the smoke alarms in the house started to go off...well, you understand. Classic. Simple. That was Roy.
I sometimes wonder if the climbing trip we took to Rainier was meant to end differently. When I got back to the base with the rescue team, I noticed that the rope was fraying. If he hadn't slipped when he did, would it have been me? I remember his grin as he dangled there in mid-air, his broken left arm hanging useless as he gripped my hands with his right.
"Gotta do whatcha gotta do, Bro..." he said. I knew he was right, and I knew what he'd do if the situation were reversed. Roy was the best friend I ever had. I let go.
Winston Churchill said "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." I try to take every opportunity that comes my way. I guess that makes me an optimist.