I received a letter from an old friend the other day. She and I have known each other since the 50’s. She usually writes a couple of times a year – long, long letters, and I usually reply with equally long, long letters. I was surprised when she answered my latest letter in very short order – three weeks instead of three or four months.
She started out okay, writing about her kids, grandchildren, husband…but then she got into things I wrote in my last letter to her. I had written wittingly about the comforts of my surroundings here in a hospital setting, compliments of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons Medical Center – at a daily cost to them of $365 a day – with all the amenities, three meals daily, plus the cost of medicines, radiation and chemotherapy; a fitting place for a bank robber of my status. Something that would force some people to sell their homes and deplete their life-long savings to pay for. I said, “Thank God I’m here and not on the street, or back in the Philippines.” I was being flippant, just kidding. I have an incurable disease and am dying; she should have realized I was kidding. (Most times I have to make light or joke about my situation, to prevent myself from crying, which I do often after the lights go out and I’m alone in my cell thinking about my loved ones.) She chastised me for my flippant attitude, about wasting my life, scaring people by shoving guns in their faces and not showing any remorse for the decadent life I’ve led. She couldn’t understand it. “You weren’t that way when we were kids. You had feelings. Whatever happened to you, Patrick?” What happened to me, indeed! Life happened to me, I wanted to answer. Some people are happy with the status quo; one wife (no girlfriends), a couple of children, a modest house in the suberbs, a nine to five job…I had all of those, but didn’t want to go home after my nine to five job. I wanted to go out with the boys for a beer, then to a fancy restaurant, then go to the horse racing track (with a good looking blonde on my arm). I wanted a home in the mountains and to screw all the pretty girls in town… and I couldn’t afford any of those things earning a few hundred dollars a month. I didn’t have the education nor the intelligence to get and do all of those things honestly, so I chose a different path: crime. Well, I almost succeeded. I accumulated enough cash to purchase a mansion on a mountain atop an island in the Philippines and made a pretty good stab at screwing all the pretty girls in my path, while avoiding a nine to five job since the early 70’s. But, I lost my freedom, my family and many old friends. I don’t think that was a good trade off.
Now, at age 64, all of that good living has come back to haunt me. I have a terminal disease (lung cancer), brain cancer, etc, etc. But, I’m not in pain. I’m able to read and write and enjoy life. I just don’t know which of the two lives would have been the better for me to live. She also wrote: “In your letter, you wrote that I’ve been lucky in my life, with a great husband, a big house, lots of money, healthy children…You couldn’t have been more wrong Patrick. My husband and I went through many years of tough times; had a home we loved foreclosed on us; had serious personal problems; argued constantly about how to raise our four children; had health problems – including some mental ones. Life was never easy for me. Many times I thought about divorce. Reading about you in magazines and newspapers, and watching TV programs about you, I often day-dreamed about being your gun-moll; and there were days, I believe, had you shown up on my doorstep, I might have joined you…”
Her thoughts about that possibility had me digging up an editorial written by John F. Kennedy Jr. in ‘George Magazine’. During the times when troubles befell his family: one cousin was charged with rape, another had overdosed on heroin and another accused of having sex with his kid’s 16 year old babysitter, he wrote: “I’ve learned a lot about temptation lately. But that doesn’t make me desire any less. If anything, to be reminded of all the possible perils of succumbing to what’s forbidden only makes it more alluring. The more we live a life governed by conventional norms of proper behaviour, and the nicer and more responsible we force ourselves to be, the further we drift from the essence of our true self – one that’s ruled by passion and instinct. Give in to your deepest longings and become an outcast; conform utterly and endure a potentially dispiriting, suffocating life. They have stepped outside the well-trodden path … In doing so, they make us feel … tempted to do the same.”