Life and Death

1953

 

I hate batteries. I do not like to use them. I do not like to buy them. I do not even like to touch them.

 

I do not remember how I learned about death. I don't know if it was casual or if there was something traumatic that I suppressed but in the spring of my fourth year, I began to worry about it. I was a kid that didn't mind changes but hated uncertainty. My parents were not particularly religious so when I asked about death, there was no myth to tell. They simple told me that no one knew what happened when you died. I asked them if you could wake up from death and they said no, when you died, you were gone. "Gone where?" "I don't know." I found that deeply distressing. I believed in Santa Claus but had no idea what happened when you died. I began to worry about dying. I didnít want to die. I wasn't at all sure I wanted to take that step without knowing what it actually implied. Our neighbors dog had been bitten by a rattlesnake that had crawled across the highway from the prairie to his yard. The dog had simply lay down and died. To me, he had simply disappeared in death. He was only a name the children spoke about in hushed tones.

 

Fearing rattlesnakes, I began to spend more and more time in my room until I refused to come out at all. That spring was a good year for snakes because our neighbor on the other side of us killed one as it was crawling on the ledge outside their sonís window.  A thin screen was all that was between him and death. I felt close to panic and that night, I woke up screaming. My father came in and asked me what the matter was. I told him I didn't want to die. He laughed softly and told me that I wouldn't have to die for a very long time. "But I don't want to die ever!" I began to howl. A look of concern came over his face. Finally he said that he knew of some doctors that could start your heart after it had stopped. It wasn't a lie exactly and he must have felt desperate.

 

Starting the heart was tantamount to bringing someone back to life wasn't it? I stopped crying. I asked him how they started a heart. He said they did it with electricity. I was amazed. I ventured out of my room, even went into the yard. I pondered what my father had said for several days. Apparently you could get re-charged, get more life. Just plug it in and feel younger. But what if I died and wasn't near a plug? My freedom was still curtailed. In the yard, I was careful to stay near the house, so that my father wouldn't have far to carry me to an electrical source. When I went to a friend's house I would say a silent incantation so that I wouldn't die on the way over, then we would have to play near an outlet. I hated long trips in the car. I would breathe shallowly, holding each breath as long as I could, minimizing all movement, keeping my heart beating as slowly and regularly as possible. It wasn't perfect.

 

When I was five, I got a robot for Christmas. When you turned it on, lights would flash in the brain case, the eyes would light up red, and it would roll on a robot course around the room. When it hit an obstacle, it turned and went the other way. I was impressed with that level of intelligence. It was almost as though it were alive. After playing with it for a long time, I asked my father how it worked. He told me it ran on electricity. Electricity! Just like me, it ran on electricity. But it did not appear to be plugged into an outlet. How did it work? My dad opened that back and showed me tow small cylinders called batteries. He told me they supplied electricity for the robot. It hit me like the eye opening slap of Sally Weiss. Here was a source of electricity that would allow me the freedom I longed for. I could go anywhere. I simply had to bring batteries.

 

The next day the robot stopped. I was puzzled. I asked my father what had happened. He told me that the batteries had run out. I suddenly couldn't catch my breath although I was panting. I felt dizzy, sick. Batteries could run out. There was clearly nothing right in the world. I vowed that if there was a god, I would hate him forever. I'm not sure if I fainted or just looked very sick but I remember ending up in my room with a thermometer in my mouth. When it was withdrawn, I asked my father if he would by me batteries. He said sure, pleased that I liked my robot present so much. The next day he brought home a set of new batteries. I took them into my room and put them on my shelf. He followed me and asked what I was doing.

 

"More," I said. "I need more." He looked puzzled. "I need more batteries," I explained. "I don't want to use them; I want to keep them, a lot of them so that I won't run out of electricity." He laughed and told me to go ahead and use them because they would wear out even if they sat on the shelf.  It would take longer but they would wear out just the same.

 

I hate batteries. I do not like to use them. I do not like to won them. I do not even like to touch them.

© Victor Young 2016