Ernest Fucking Shackleton. That’s who a man wants to be. A leader of men on a romantic and desperate voyage in an age when the world wasn’t all worn-ass out yet, still a few mysteries left. And when the ship gets crushed in the ice and every man jack of them knows the jig is bloody well up, it’s goddamn Ernie who takes a fucking rowboat across the Antarctic Sea, hauls his ass over the rock-and-ice razor of Patagonia and gets back in time to sail every scurvyed one of them home to Jolly Ole in time for tea and crumpets with the missus, and for the rest of their days not a one of those bastards would ever raise a glass without the name of Ernest Fucking Shackleton on their lips.
It’s turned out to be what you figured. Maybe you didn’t know the fancy-ass medical name for it, the whateverickyoma, but what you figured was bad and that’s what the doc told you. Bad. And you half listened as he went on about the options – chemo, drugs, radiation. And in your head you crunched the numbers – survival rates, deductibles, co-pays. You figured in the margin for the HMO crap, because you’d been the guy who figured that in the first place, what the firm would save if your flipped over to this HMO thing on account of they were gonna push back on some of this medical bullshit, start reining in that double-digit sinkhole of benefit expenses that was beating the fuck out of partner draws each year. I mean Jesus, you already gave these fuckers jobs, right? What were you? Their freakin’ mother? Except you gotta remember so far as the HMO is concerned you are just one of those fuckers too, and those geeks at the HMO, they were gonna push back just as hard on you. Harder probably, when they got a gander at the price tag this whateverickyoma shit was gonna rack up.
There’s hope, the doc was saying. Something about hope. But you knew a sunk cost when you smelled one, and this one smelled like six figures and change. And for what? To spend maybe nine months getting pieces of you cut out, getting poison shot up your veins, getting strapped to a table for the Hiroshima treatment, you’re hair failing out, your skin getting that month-old lunchmeat look to it, and your only conscious thought the last week or so being can you push the button on the morphine gadget fast enough to keep you from tearing out your own throat – that is if the HMO pukes decide to pop for the morphine gadget instead of a bottle of Tylenol. Who wants to wait around for that bus?
The wife took it OK. You were a couple decades past the hearts-and-flowers bullshit anyway, so it’s not like you were expecting much. Funny how she sat forward a bit when you got to the finances, though. You wanna think, after thirty years, you’re not just an ATM, but what the hell. So you run through it. You were gonna miss out on the real gravy years, but they’d have to cash out your partnership, so there was that and the insurance and your portfolio – that had taken a kick in the balls a couple years back, but you rode the bounce right, had it pretty much back where it was. Be a close thing, you got Mike already off at Princeton, med school starting next year. Katie, she was starting Yale come fall, then she was talking law school. That six figures and change of HMO squeezings, you take that out of the pot, things were gonna get a little thin.
So you leave it in the pot. Not like you were a guy who was afraid of a hard decision. Sleep, you said to the doc. Always had a little trouble with it, stress from the job and shit, and with this on top of it, if he could give you something to help you sleep. So you had a bottle of pills, a bottle of Glenfiddich, oughta do the trick. Thought of Shackleton again. Seems they found his hootch, been buried under the ice all these years and somebody’d gone and dug it up. Be nice to have a bottle of that for the festivities, a final little something, proper send off.
Katie’s picture there on the corner of your desk. Good looking kid, only one that still seemed to really need you at all. Mike, hell, he’d come out of the womb an adult, been perfect at anything he’d ever done. Guess you’d had your years when he was a kid, taken that Canada trip, fishing up at Great Slave. But Katie. Even now sometimes she’d still walk into your study, warp her arms around your neck, kiss you on top of the head. Even now sometimes, you’d maybe be catching the Packers on the tube, she’d curl up on the couch next to you, watch the game. And you’d spoiled her some probably, mostly because she was the only one who seemed to actually appreciate it, the way she’d light up when you brought her home something nice, how happy she’d get if you were out at the mall and she’d see something and you’d sneak in and buy it while she was texting someone on her phone. How hard she’d had to work for the grades compared to Mike, how much it had meant to her when she got in at Yale. You didn’t want her losing that. Any of that.
You open the bottles, the little plastic one, the big glass one, a handful of the pills, a couple good swallows of scotch, the rest of the pills, some more of the scotch, everything going a little hazy now. That fast, huh? Katie’s picture fading. Maybe you were Shackleton after all, sailing off on an ocean of booze. Hold on baby. Daddy’s going for help.