The diagnosis was quick and simple, lung cancer. Charlie swayed his head and let out a half laugh half sigh. The doctor just sat there on his metal stool waiting for his patient to acknowledge what he had just said in some way or the other.
“Mr. Woodley, you’re only sixty-three years old, and there’s a very good chance, with the right treatment plan, we can get this under control and maybe even thoroughly knock the cancer into submission.”
Charlie lifted his head and fixed his look at the doctor. His eyes gave no clue as to how he was taking the news.
“I noticed in your chart,” The doctor continued, “that you’re a smoker. Says here you smoke purportedly a pack a day, is this true?”
“Ya, I’ve been smokn’ since I was thirteen. We started early back in those days.”
“Well, we’ll have to get you off that particular habit starting today. There are a couple of options to choose from that will require a little less effort from you to accomplish this.”
Charlie let a small smile cross his face, “Well doc; I’m gonna have to think this whole situation through for a day or so before I can decide on what’s best.”
“I understand Mr. Woodley but keep in mind that the quicker we can start treatment the better the possible outcome and you should understand that this will not get better on its own and the cancer will spread to the point where it will certainly take your life.” He then handed Charlie his card and told him to call as soon as he came to a decision.
After the doctor had left his room, Charlie stood and ambled across the floor and grabbed his disheveled wool coat and pulled it on. Leaving the room and walking down the hospital’s antiseptic halls he glanced through some open doors and saw people lying in beds with tubes running from machines to different parts of their broken and dying bodies. Flowers sitting on side tables and loved ones standing around with forced smiles on their worried faces, Charlie shook his head.
Reaching his truck, he slid into the driver’s seat and cranked the engine. While letting the engine warm a little, he watched as the morning traffic passed by. People were driving cars they could probably barely afford, going to jobs they almost certainly despised and living their lives in the hunt for happiness. Moreover, in that pursuit they surely did the things that made them happy, things they enjoyed and that gave them pleasure. After all, what kind of a life is a life where you could not do what you enjoyed? With that thought in his mind, he pulled out into the traffic and headed home.
On his way, he made a detour down Main Street and noticed how the facades of the buildings had changed over the past forty years. Businesses had come and gone, trees were removed, and parking meters had sprouted up in their spot. Even Cedars Café, the place where he and his wife had had their first date, was now a McDonalds. Disgraceful, he thought to himself.
Pulling into the driveway, he slipped out of his truck and walked up the small staircase and onto the front porch. Standing at the door, he cleared his thoughts and walked in.
“How’d it go? What’d they tell you?” Elizabeth asked.
“Lung cancer,” he said.
Elizabeth’s eyes welled up, and she stepped forward to hug him. Stepping back, she looked into his eyes but could not quite tell what was going on in his mind.
“The doc wants me to start treatment right away and that I need to stop smoking.” He took his coat off and hung it on the wooden peg next to the door. Turning back around to face his wife, “You know I love you honey, and I will start the treatments if you want me to, but I will not stop smoking.”
“That’s crazy Charlie! Those things are obviously killing you, and you don’t want to stop?”
He thought for a moment and rubbed his chin. “A life without being able to do what I want to do is no life that I want to live, and it’s a life you don’t want to share with me.” Even as the words came out, he knew how selfish they would sound to Elizabeth, but he hoped she would understand. To his surprise, a smile spread across her face.
“Stubborn to the last, I hope you know how much I love you dear and in a strange way I understand your choice, I’d much rather spend what time we have left with a husband that is content and happy than with one that is dejected and angry.”
With that said, they both walked out onto the front porch with their coffee and sat in the two rocking chairs. Charlie leaned back and stretched his legs. Pulling a cigarette from his shirt pocket, he placed it between his lips and lit the end. Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly to watch the smoke curl and dissolve into the air he looked over at his wife and smiled while she smiled back.
“Oh, honey you have such a strange kind of coura…ehm, em, uh, honey. Somethings wrong.”
Charlie watched in horror as his beloved wife of over four decades tightened up and slumped forward collapsing on the worn wooden porch planks,
“Elizabeth? Elizabeth?” he was anxiously shouting.
Reaching closer to her motionless body he felt for a pulse and felt nothing; nothing was left.
He raised his head to the sky just in time to see the last bit of smoke coiling into the empty air.