Pressing the Button

At death’s door, she revisits her life.

Posted Sep 02, 2017

DiverDave, CC 3.0
Source: DiverDave, CC 3.0

Here is the latest of my short-short stories that are composites of real-life events with psychological or practical implications.

“Thank God they gave me the button. I can get more morphine any time I need it, okay, any time I want it.

"I do wonder if they put a limiter on it. I’m sure they did. Damn. Why in the world would they limit me when I’m a goner anyway.

“Hmm. A goner. I never put it so bluntly. It’s over. My life is over. What was my life? What memories of it pop to mind without having to work at it? Those probably are the important ones anyway. I think I’ll take it from the beginning. What’s my earliest memory?

"Being in my crib and scared when my mother said she had to call the doctor. Then I saw that big needle.

 “The girls teasing me at school because I wasn’t pretty.

“I think I need another hit,” and she pushes the button.

 “Coloring. Then paint-by-number. Then a sketch pad for Christmas and it sat there for I don’t know, two, three years, and then all of a sudden, one day, I filled it up—In one day, every page with the same subject. I don’t even remember what it was: a doll, a self-portrait, a tree? I can’t believe I can’t remember.

“Not going to the prom. My parents were willing to pay but I said no because I knew they couldn’t afford the ticket let alone a prom dress I’d wear just once. I regret that. I had a nice boyfriend and maybe I’m over-romanticizing but I think it would have been a special night and a lovely memory.

“Majoring in business. I hate business. I hate profit. I knew that even back then but I wanted to be practical. Art? I didn’t have the guts and, okay, probably the talent.

“Being a grade-grubber. God, how many fun nights I gave up because I cared about getting an A rather than a B. Silly.

Smoking pot. Everyone was doing it. I was among the last to try it and it felt great. But the next day, I had trouble remembering things. So I got scared and never smoked again.

“My first job. I remember the first day. I was so eager to start. I was there on the dot but people wandered in late, then sat with their feet up reading the newspaper. I remember being shocked at that and when I asked for work to do, someone said, “Slow down. There’s no rush.” I hated that.

“My husband. Again I made the practical choice but the romance fizzled quickly and without that to smooth life's rough spots, we argued a lot and although we didn’t hate each other, we agreed that maybe there was something better for us. So we had a friendly divorce. I wanted to get married again but, and I can’t quite explain it, it never was quite right—the guy, me, the timing, I dunno.

“I need another hit.”

“My breast cancer scare. First they said it was cancer. Then they said it wasn’t. God! You can’t even trust that they’ll read a biopsy right?

“My retirement. I didn’t want a party. They’re so awkward for everyone. I just wrote a nice thank-you note to a few people. That’s a party I don’t regret passing up.

"This time, they got the cancer diagnosis right, damn it. Uuh, the chemo, the radiation. I’m not sure I would have done it again. Maybe it gave me a bit longer but the quality, uuh, especially during it and sometimes months after. And the last round—I knew I should have passed on that one. The oncologist hinted it probably wouldn’t be worth it but she sensed I wanted to try everything so she was perkier about it than she would have been. If I were to do it over, I would have explicitly told her how much I am and am not willing to endure for an extra few months.

“I need another hit.

“I want another.

“One more.

“I’ll bet the limiter is gonna kick in."

The takeaway

Walk through your life from your earliest memory. Now focus on the moving-forward question: “In light of all my memories, what do I want to do now?”

Dr. Nemko’s nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at