The summer progressed as usual—lawn mowing, trips to the prosthetist, fulfilling book orders, completing research and layout on another book and, yes, another repair to the Jidosha—a burned-out headlight. The next day, on our way home from the post office, I purchased a replacement at the local auto parts store.
When I returned to the car with it, Mike questioned me. "What’d they do, sell you a whole new headlight?"
"Yes. The guy said that’s what I’d need—he looked it up."
"All you needed was a new bulb. So how do you do this one, just pull out the old one and push in the new?
"I don’t know … however the repair manual we bought with the car says to do it. Should be simple enough."
"Good luck." His sarcasm accompanied a grin so smug I wanted to pie him in the face. No pie being available, I simply swallowed my annoyance, grabbed the repair manual from the back of the car, and headed to the kitchen to fix lunch.
We ate in silence, watching the noon news on TV. When Mike dozed off in his recliner, I rinsed off our dishes and took the repair manual to the carports to learn how to replace the headlight.
Much to my dismay, the manual instructed that the grille must first be removed. Uff Da! No wonder the dealerships charge so much for repairs! I searched for the tools I’d need in Mike’s toolbox, found a rag in case I needed to wipe my hands, sat on the carport floor at the front of our little wagon with the repair manual next to me, held open at the Headlight Replacement pages by the weight of a crescent wrench, and began.
Thirty minutes later the grille was out, but only after ooffing, uffing, and cussing on my part. Rivulets of hard labor ran down my face, offsetting the thrill of accomplishment.
I was comparing the headlight connections to the illustrated instructions when Mike came rolling out into the carports. He stopped behind the car. I heard his cigarette lighter click, followed by a slow exhale out the carport entry. Evidently he had no clue that I was sitting at the other end of our vehicle until I ooff’d and uff’d again, attempting to unplug the headlight case.
"Goin’ okay?" He rolled his chair toward me. "Good God! Why the hell did you take out the grille?"
"Because that’s what the instructions said to do."
"Bull. You must’ve read them wrong. You don’t have to remove a grille to change a headlight! Never heard of such a thing."
"Well, that’s what it showed to do!" I was doing fine, I thought, until he came out to criticize, supervise, or whatever.
"Hand me that book," he said, pointing to the manual. "You’re making it all worse."
I complied, without comment. As he looked the manual over, my thoughts wandered back to 1966, to that California hospital where the doctor told me to "remember it’s the situation he’s upset with, not you."
Easier said than done, Doc, I thought. Between the summer’s heat, my overworked muscles and the added load of physical stress and responsibility heaped upon me, I finally gave up.
"I can’t take it anymore, Mike. I give up." I wiped sweat from my forehead with my shirt sleeve.
"Can’t take what?" He glared. "Me? Or this mess you’ve just made?"
"Everything," I said. Suddenly a wave of calmness washed over me. I could end this. I knew where his handguns were. I knew they were loaded. And I knew how to do it, thanks to Mike’s impeccable training along the way. I blurted out, "Why don’t I just go into the house and kill myself!"
"Go ahead," he said.
I glared at him. "Okay."
For months now I had seen absolutely nothing to live for but more misery. I threw my wipe rag onto the floor and stomped into the house, fully intending to end it all.
As I knelt to pull out the lockbox where his pistols were kept, Mike’s long-ago words resurfaced …"Suicide is a coward’s way out."
God, help me. I’m at my wits’ end, I prayed.
My conscience answered: You’ll be in trouble in the after-life. You’ll deeply hurt others who love you besides Mike, especially that little dog of yours. Don’t act out of spite or frustration or exhaustion … you know better.
I shoved the lockbox back into place. Thank you, God.