After suffering an unimaginably tragic loss, Mortimer Posts begins dying a 36-year death that takes him from the jungles of Vietnam to the mean streets of Los Angeles. Only in the bitter end does he discover a reason to continue living.
Mortimer Post is the quintessential product of late-'60's middle America. He is a college-bound physics major from a good family, engaged to his high-school sweetheart, and is at the forefront of his version of the American dream. Then, in twelve short minutes, he faces a loss so devastating it marks the end of his living and the beginning of his dying. But as the opening sentence suggests, some deaths take longer than others. Mortimer's takes a lifetime to complete; a lifetime best described not as a series of unfortunate events, but a series of unbearable tragedies.
Spanning four of America's most significant decades, The Dying of Mortimer Post takes the reader from the protagonist's coming of age in the Pocono Mountains to the massacre of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai. After the searing end of his military career, the reader accompanies Mortimer on a nationwide quest for understanding and healing. On this journey of discovery, he finds both happiness and sorrow in the backwoods of rural Mississippi, then a much darker side of himself on the unforgiving streets of south central Los Angeles. Only when he has lost everything and is finally ready for the release of death, does Mortimer discover that he already has the one thing he's spent a lifetime seeking, and with it, the chance to finally live again.
At once exciting, poignant, and disturbing, The Dying of Mortimer Post reveals the innermost of the title character in an almost Gump-like manner as he struggles to make sense of a senseless world. A true epic, it is part love story, part war chronicle, part police saga, and all tragedy, but more than anything, is a tale of redemption in a world where the very concept has ceased to exist.
Inglewood, CA, Wednesday November 12th, 2003
Some deaths, I have learned, are slower than others. Mine is such a death, and I have been dying it since August 13th, 1967.
It was the height of the Summer of Love, when music was good, and times were bad. Our country was then in the throes of violent change, but the nationís turmoil had not affected me yet, and I was happy beyond words. And then the world stood still for twelve minutes, and when it began revolving again, I was dying a death that would last thirty-six years, three months, and one day. From that day to this.
It was in Ithaca, New York that I began my dying, and the road I have followed since has taken me to many terrible places; places I would rather forget. Forgetting, of course, is impossible. That long and arduous road has now brought me to my final destination; the bathroom of a tiny house in Inglewood, California. It was a road I was never meant to travel, but I now know we donít control our fate, our fate controls us.
I cannot say that I am tired of living, for I only really lived for the first seventeen years of my life. Rather, I am tired of dying, and I am ready now to be done with it. After all, it has been nearly four decades. Glancing at the clock, I see that it is already past one in the afternoon. The time has come.
Without further rumination, I remove my clothes, lie down in the empty bathtub, and place the barrel of my Smith and Wesson Chiefís Special .38 caliber backup revolver in my mouth. I would have preferred to end my life with my actual duty weapon, the same one I was issued in 1974 when I joined the Los Angeles Police Department, but they stripped me of it along with my badge and ID the day before yesterday.
I pull the hammer back, and here I pause for a moment. I have always imagined doing this quickly, without the slightest hesitation, but for some reason I do not. I am but a synapse away from my goal, but here is the brief hesitation upon which I had not planned, eight, or perhaps even ten seconds in duration. They are extremelyóimmeasurablyósignificant seconds.
I wonder in this interlude what will become of my things. I suppose everything I have will go to my daughter Deborah, though I havenít seen her in thirteen years. I donít even know if Deborah is married, let alone if she has any children. Perhaps I am a grandfather, as I like to think I am. If that is indeed the case, maybe she will give it all to them, which would make me feel like a good grandfather.
I think of the coming weeks and months, and the significance they would have held for me. I am five days short of my fifty-fourth birthday, and in three months, I would have retired from the LAPD after a thirty-year career. They were not very good years, and they certainly did not end well.
I take a final moment to contemplate the last thirty minutes; my last thirty minutes. I picked up the morning Times and saw myself on the front page of the Local News section, and thatís what began the final countdown. How old I look in the picture! Iím not really bad-looking for a man of nearly fifty-four years. Not at all unlike my father actually, but with a significant paunch which he lacked. I hide it well, I think, at least as seen from a thousand feet up by means of a gyro-controlled telephoto camera mounted in a news helicopter orbiting above my crime scene. I thank God that from this angle nothing below my gunbelt is visible, for even with the dark uniform, the urine stain on the front of my pants would surely be discernable. So there is appreciation for the small things, even in the final moments.
After reading the Timesí humiliating account of my final day of duty, I downed a glass of scotch and sat there for perhaps twenty minutes contemplating my options. Option, to be more specific, for there was really only one. It just took me that long to come to the final conclusion. So I rose steadily to my feet, poured myself another two fingers, and ambled to the bathtub, the altar Iíve chosen to receive my lifeís blood.
Iíve been drinking, yes, but I am not drunk. Iíve been drinking for so many years, it takes quite a lot to get me really drunk, a condition, I might add, which I despise, and one in which Iím happy to say I rarely find myself.
I have always been a neat person, careful of my appearance and somewhat fastidious about being tidy. Case in point, after stripping for my suicide, I hung my jeans in the closet and deposited the rest of my clothes in the hamper in the tiny bathroom. I admit I briefly considered leaving them in a heap on the floor in a final act of rebellion, but I could not bring myself to do it. I even closed the cheap plastic sliding shower doors that are designed to resemble expensive glass but fall far short of their goal, so that there will be less of a mess for some unfortunate soul to clean up.
And now my ten seconds of reflection are over, and it is time to get on with it. The webbing between my thumb and my index finger tightens on the trigger, and as I begin to squeeze, the doorbell rings.
The noise startles me, because I have not heard it in months. Nobody ever comes over. If the police department needs me for another interview regarding my internal affairs case, they page me on the cell phone they have issued to me solely for this purpose. My father is dead, my mother, imprisoned in her own brain by Alzheimerís, thinks Iím dead, I have no siblings, and the last time I heard from my ex-wife was six or seven years ago. I have already mentioned the lack of contact with my daughter, and I have no friends, so nobody ever calls me and nobody ever comes over. Hence the sound is so strange.
I suppose that it is for these reasons that my hands relax their tensing, and the trigger does not loose the hammer with its patiently waiting firing pin. My hand is stayed, not because I have chickened out, but rather due to an intense curiosity as to who might be calling.
Wryly, I think that if it is a salesman or a Jehovahís Witness, I should inform the errant soul just what his interruption has delayed me from doing, but I wonít burden even a stranger with that information. It is no longer in my nature to inflict intentional misery upon any man undeserving of it, and although I have done so many times in the decades since I began my dying, it was never something I was comfortable with. But I donít even like to think of the time when my actions caused pain and suffering to others, not even before I take my own life. Truly, I think, I really was a nice guy. If someone should say at my funeral, ďHe was a nice guy,Ē he would neither be exaggerating nor lying.
Slightly irritated at myself for the delay, I get up and throw a robe on to answer the door, and get the shock of what will now be my somewhat extended life.
I would have been far less surprised if it was God Himself standing on my porch.
Itís called the northern lightsÖ