On the Day I Die
by Deborah Marie Pulaski, as told to Claire Wolfe
This week I learned I’m dying. Of course I’ve always known, in the everyday, human sense, that I was going to die. But this week I learned I am going to die soon. In a year or so at most, I won’t be on this planet. No more breathing. No more Zinfandel or chocolate cake. No hugs. No sorrows. I won’t ever again have to worry whether there’s a run in my stocking when I go to a meeting with the boss, or whether I remembered to send a birthday card to my best friend’s husband.
It’s a peculiar thought, looking at my own death, so close. But you know, it isn’t a bad thought, all things considered.
I’m 53 years old. That isn’t old. I might have had another 30 years, if one little cell hadn’t decided to start mutating out of control a while back. But 53 is old enough to have lived a good life. It’s long enough to have become a full person, without all those “who am I’s” and “what do I want to do with my life’s” that make youth so over-rated.
It’s enough time to have loved-both in the frantic, desperate way of being young, and in the comfortable way of being an adult. That’s been an amazing, and a very happy, transition.
But I don’t want to talk about love. I want to talk about freedom.
Well, I guess that means I do want to talk about love. Because I love freedom more than I love anything. Really, more than I ever loved my husband. Even more than I love my kids–and I think they’ll understand and forgive me for saying so, even though that statement might require a little more explaining for strangers who might be reading this.
I have to say it again. I love freedom more than I love anything. More than I ever loved anything. And that’s what makes the thought of dying so bitter, and at the same time, so welcome.
I guess that idea is going to take some explaining, too. Claire, tell them about me. I’ve never been able to write, or even talk all that well about things that matter to me. So you tell people what kind of person I am. Make them understand.
I’ve always been a political junky. You know me. Like some women shop, I do politics. No, that isn’t putting it right. Not at all. I do politics…
I guess I’d better say I used to do politics…because I couldn’t stand still and let “them” take away our world. You know, the types who aren’t happy unless they’re running other people’s lives.
When I ran into a neighbor, co-worker or family member like that, I could just say, “Sayonara, Baby,” and avoid them. But the people who really got to me were the ones who wanted to make endless rules for the whole country, the whole world, and make everybody else obey them. Just obey, all the time. I swear, you know, that these people don’t even care what the particular rules are. They just like making and enforcing rules “because.” For the power. For the control. For their other powerful, controlling friends. So they can all feel important and be in charge.
So I always had to try to stop those people. But there wasn’t any stopping them. I found that out.
God, I wish I were a writer like you or a great orator or a wizard about the law or something like that. I wish I could have done something big during my life. But you know me, I was never anything but a little precinct worker, a drone, a little deputy voter registrar, doorbeller, meeting attender, envelope licker. One of those women you see in every campaign and every organization, never getting noticed and never particularly wanting to be. Just wanting to make the world freer– or at least keep a little bit of the world away from the people who want to make it less free.
It was really kind of stupid, looking back on it, because nearly all of the people who said they believed in freedom turned around and, once they got in office, acted exactly like the other guys. They didn’t really want less government and more freedom. They just wanted to be the ones in control.
But I just had to try, didn’t I? Anyway, I did try. Just about all my life.
That expression “just about all my life” has a different ring all of a sudden. It really has been just aboutall my life. Will be just about all my life.
I wanted freedom so much. I wanted it just so that I and my kids could live an ordinary life. Making a living. Paying our way. Doing what we wanted to do, within the bounds of polite behavior to our neighbors. Just to live, without being ordered around, threatened or tangled up in red tape every time we tried to do something. I didn’t have any spectacular ambitions. I just wanted to be let alone to live a peaceful life.
I have two daughters, you know. They’re both in their early 20s right now. The youngest one, Edyie, was always a dreamer. She had all the ideas and ambitions I didn’t dare to have. I remember, as a little kid, she swore she was going to go live on Venus someday. Then, when she learned Venus was really this awful place, she pouted for about two days, then switched to Mars. She figured we could colonize Mars.
I don’t know whether that’s realistic or not, but I always wanted to see Edyie get the chance to try if that’s what she wanted to do. I wanted her to have the chance to try anything her wild little imagination could dream up. Maybe she’d fail. But maybe she’d succeed. And isn’t that what keeps the human race moving? Edyie, impossible though she can be at times, is the kind of person who keeps the human race from sitting on its dead butt, getting nowhere.
But Edyie isn’t going to have the chance, unless something comes out of the blue to turn things around. Edyie’s never going to get to Mars. Heck, she isn’t even going to get a chance to build a little earthbound business because she’s too independent to jump through all the hoops the government requires.
Yeah, I can just see my Edyie filling out forms in triplicate, collecting taxes from her employees and begging for government licenses–NOT! She isn’t going to get a chance to make many personal choices-beyond what brand of soap or TV to buy– because our choices are being limited day by day, and everywhere you turn, you run into something illegal. Maybe even something that was legal yesterday, but is illegal today, thanks to some regulation nobody ever heard of. She just won’t put up with that–but I don’t know what she’ll do instead.
I used to dream, as I worked on all those campaigns, that someday I’d win back the right for Edyie to have the risky, but hope-filled future she craved. When I thought about dying, someday, it was with regret that I might not live to see Edyie go to Mars or to accomplish whatever other big thing she wanted to do.
But now I don’t have any of those regrets, because it isn’t going to happen.
Even three years ago, I wouldn’t have said that. I’d still have said, “Darnit, there’s hope. Freedom is just common sense. We’ll win.” But some of the things that have happened in the last couple of years make that all different. No, don’t say “things that have happened.” They didn’t just “happen.” People in government didthem to us. On purpose.
In the last couple of years, they finally did what they’d been moving toward for a long time. They passed the laws that just plain make us slaves. They did it, and hardly anybody’s even talking about it. That’s what amazes me.
For one thing, they passed a law that makes our driver’s licenses into national ID cards. They’re doing it right now, while we sit here talking.
A year or two after I’m gone, all you people who are left are all going to have to carry around cards with all your numbers and fingerprints and retinal scans and “personal data” coded on them. The law says so. You won’t be able to cash a check or get a passport without supplying your “biometric data” to the government or the bank. I thought it was some big conspiracy story when I first heard it. But it’s true and it’s happening. And where are all the people screaming to stop it?
And they’ve now got this database that everybody who gets a job gets put into. Some national database in some big stone building in Washington where they’ll know where everybody works, all the time. They said it was to track “deadbeat dads.” Yeah. Then why are they going to put Edyie and my other daughter Pat and everybody else into it? Since when are they, or you, or I “deadbeat dads”?
Along these same lines, they’ve even got what they call “pilot programs” to make people get permission from the federal government before they can get jobs. Employers in these “pilot programs” have to get scanners to let the federal government check people’s Social Security numbers before they can hire anybody.
Isn’t that just great? Some bureaucrat in the Social Security Administration or someplace gets to decide whether you can work or not.
And this other database. All your medical records are going to go into some other big, stone building in Washington. That’s going to be on line about the time I go, too. Any old bureaucrat who wants to look at them can see them. You can’t, of course. But they can.
All this stuff is real. It’s not in some novel about the future or in some right-wingy pamphlet. It’s in the law.It’s in America. Right now. They did it all in the last couple of years. Mostly by sneaking a paragraph or a page into bigger laws when nobody was looking.
And what’s all this about? Is it really to help “welfare moms” or to keep illegal immigrants from taking other people’s jobs? Oh, come on! This is about one thing. It’s about slavery.
They give you a citizen registration number shortly after birth. As soon as you get old enough to start moving around, doing things and making decisions on your own, they make sure that they’re in a position to know every move you make, to record every transaction, to examine your whole life’s record any time some bureaucrat gets curious. They not only want to know where youare at any given moment–where you’re working and living and banking-but to make sure you can’t work someplace if they don’t want you to.
And they even want to be able to check up on your health. That one seems especially silly. I mean, why should some bureaucrat in Washington give a hoot about how some woman’s pregnancy is going, or whether some man is boozing it up a bit more than he should? Or whether a middle-aged lady is dying of cancer or not? What business is it of theirs, and why should they even want to bother? But it makes sense when you realize what they’re really doing. After all, if you own animals, of course you want to make sure your property has got all its vaccinations, is producing healthy offspring, and isn’t being overfed or something.
It’s just like a modern-day farmer, keeping track of his cows or pigs on his computer. You want to know they’re healthy and whether they’re producing as much as they can for you. So you track them. Track everything about them. They belong to you, after all. If you’re a kindly, efficient farmer, of course you want to watch over your livestock.
There’ve been a lot of bad laws passed in my lifetime, Claire. Sometimes I thought, “This is just the worst, the worst. It can’t get any more horrible than this.” But these laws, that authorized all this tracking, are really the final thing. They’re the declaration that the people in Washington own us. That’s all. They’re plain and simply saying we’re their property.
There are going to be a lot more bad laws, yeah. Really bad ones that will follow these and will be possible because of these. But before this, the bad laws were passed against free people.
After this, the laws are passed to control slaves.
Neither of my girls has children yet. Like every mother, I always wanted them to get going and do it, you know. I wanted my grandbabies! Now! Believe me, I had to bite my lip a lot to keep from nagging them about it, like some mothers do. But to be absolutely honest, now I wish neither one of them would have children. I don’t think Edyie will. We’ve talked about this. She’s a lot like me in some ways, and I think she won’t bring a child into a country like this one is becoming.
Now my other daughter–we always called her Practical Patty–probably will have children someday. I’ve kind of given Patty short shrift in talking about all this.
She was the sort of daughter who never gave any trouble and was more interested in doing well in band and glee club than in thinking about all the “heavy” things. Her big dreams were just of having a nice little job someday, then getting married to a decent sort of guy, having a nice house and, yeah, children. So all this won’t affect Patty as much as it will Edyie, or as much as it would have affected me if I’d have lived to see it all come to fruition. To Patty’s mind, it isn’t “sensible” to worry about things like this.
So Patty will have children, and I can only hope that at least their lives will be comfortable, if they can’t be free. Maybe they’ll be well-fed, well-cared-for little citizens. And maybe I should hope they turn out to be the kind of people who don’t think or question too much. Because if they’re the other kind–like me or Edyie–their lives will be miserable.
The next step, you know, after getting ownership of your slaves or cows is to cull out the ones that don’t fit the mold…that make trouble, or that don’t produce the way you want them to. If you aren’t nice the Social Security Administration can just “lose” your records, or the health care people can just fiddle your medical history around so you look like a mental case. Then they can “help” you to death. So I guess for that reason, I should hope those grandbabies I won’t live to see are quiet, obedient sheep.
But damnit, if there are grandbabies, I hope they’ll be as stubborn and freethinking as their Aunt Edyie, and that they’ll find a better way of fighting for freedom than their Grandma Deb ever could.
Let their lives be worth something deep and true, not just the “worth” of good livestock or laborers. If they fight, maybe they won’t live happily or long. But if they have to live at all, I hope those little kids live bravely, in spite of all the odds against them. The poor souls.
Do you remember the hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross”? It’s been on my mind a lot since I got the verdict. When I was little, I thought it was such a beautiful song. I knew it was partly about dying, and about being at peace in dying because of the singer’s beliefs, but I didn’t completely understand it.
There was this line, “Till my trophies at last I lay down.” I knew it meant “when I die.” But since I didn’t have any “trophies” and couldn’t figure out what giving up awards had to do with dying, I put my own little girl interpretation on it. I figured the word had to be “trophis,” and that it was some fancy, adult word meaning “body.”
Well, Claire, I’ll tell you. In a year or so, when I lay this middle-aged “trophis” down for the last time, I won’t have any regrets for myself. On the day I die, I’ll be able to say I’ve done all I could. I tried, even though most of what I did turned out to be misguided and ineffective. And even though I’d try something different-and a lot less “nice”–if I could do it over again, I won’t regret leaving the world the politicians just created. I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to live in it.
But my grandbabies will be born as slaves. And oh God, I regret that. And I regret not being around to protect them.
© 1997 Deborah Marie Pulaski and Claire Wolfe. Permission to reprint for non-commercial purposes freely granted, as long as the article is reprinted in full and is accompanied by this copyright statement.