The only thing more hopeless than choking on a peanut butter cracker alone in my apartment was the realization that I was choking on a peanut butter cracker alone in my apartment.
Contrary to how I’ve imagined myself behaving in an emergency, I panicked. While I had accepted the fact I was going to die, I knew that I had precious little time to prepare my apartment for those that would find my body.
Do I make the bed? Empty the dishwasher?
My throat closed and my eyes watered, but from the floor all I noticed were collections of wine corks and unpaid bills. I rolled on my back and all I saw were dusty corners and smudged windowpanes. From my knees I spied a hamper too full and a refrigerator too empty.
How would they think I lived when I died?
The choking stopped as I was straightening my bookshelf, but the concern lingered. I realized that living alone past a certain age required the acceptance of some rather gruesome realities, chief among them being that I may very well choke on a peanut butter cracker and die at any moment. While that would be unfortunate, more unfortunate would be that no one would find my body for a few days, thus adding unnecessary embarrassment to my untimely demise.
It might be time to stop living alone, if only so that someone will scream when they discover my corpse. That’s all anybody can hope for, right? All we can expect from living alone is the sigh of an overworked detective as he pulls away his cigarette long enough to say, “Found him in the bathroom.”
While I’ve never heard wedding vows mention corpse discovery as a motivating factor behind their betrothal, I have to believe that it’s one of the unspoken perks of marriage, much like split utilities and the option of throwing your spouse in front of a burglar.
The alternative would be getting some sort of pet, ideally one that’s been on the news for having dialed the police to save its owner. I’d opt for a dog, an animal that signals your desire for a loyal companion; instead of a cat, an animal that signals you’re one missed episode of Dateline away from an exhaust fume sauna. But pets, like prostitutes, are expensive and eventually need to be buried in your yard.
One evening, not too long after the choking incident, I was flipping around on the TV and came across a commercial for Life Alert, the medical alert system specifically designed to protect senior citizens during a home health emergency. Their original tagline – “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” – had evolved into:
“Thanks to Life Alert, you can live alone without ever being alone.”
I sat cross legged, inches from the screen. Live alone without ever being alone? How did they reach inside my brain? Sure, the device was marketed exclusively to the elderly, but something about knowing help was as easy as mashing down one button (instead of going through the trouble of hitting three) was oddly comforting. Online dating websites offered a mere chance of salvation – this gave me a guarantee!
“You didn’t call them, did you?”
My mom didn’t seem as excited about my news.
“Of course I called them. They’re sending a pamphlet!”
(sigh) “This is silly. If you’re in trouble, why don’t you just go across the hall and knock on your neighbor’s door?”
“I don’t want to talk to that freak.”
“Even when you’re dying?”
I pictured what I would do if someone pounded on my door in need of help. A few months ago someone unexpectedly knocked on my door and my entire world imploded. I put the TV on mute and for some reason slid off the couch onto the floor, lying very still.
It was a woman, which meant she was clearly lost.
“Hello? I know someone is in there, I heard the TV on.”
“That doesn’t mean I have to come out!”
My reasoning did little to convince the woman that the apartment was vacant.
“There’s water leaking through the ceiling into my place. Were your kids taking a bath or something?”
Her assumption I had a family flattered me, though the absence of naked children would ironically be a problem if she somehow happened to gain entry. Assuming I needed to look more parental, I went to the bedroom and put on a shirt and tie before opening the door.
“Nope, no kids to bathe. Sorry.”
I straightened my tie and smiled, the word “sorry” hanging in the air between us.
“Okay, well I called the super so I might be knocking again later.”
I slowly shut the door, leaving her confused as to whether that had been a farewell, or a challenge.
While no one has knocked on my door since, I imagine it will be her that the reporters interview when my body is discovered years from now by Life Alert responders – bed made and dishwasher emptied, floors scrubbed and corners dusted – just me and a half-eaten peanut butter cracker. And maybe a cat.