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Life, Interrupted

by Charles C. Cole

Today, in certain “civilized” countries, upon conviction, if you take a life — and I don’t mean accidentally or in battle — the prevailing governmental philosophy strongly recommends you reconcile the grievous loss by forfeiting your own life, often publicly and usually with a certain degree of formality and finality. Order must be maintained.

I have no problem with blind justice theoretically, with qualifications: “an eye for an eye” sounds like a good place to stop.

In my sophisticated nation, the laws around capital punishment are pretty black-and-white, to the point that there is a total absence of gray, if I may be so bold. I “murdered” another human once, someone attractive and charismatic, with a global profile. He dashed across the street when he forgot his wallet just as I was speeding along, recklessly inattentive but not impaired. If you believe the journalists, he’d been sleeping with my wife at the time, but I didn’t know that with any certainty until the trial.

Without consideration of any mitigating circumstances, that is, ignoring my long history of carefully abiding by all city ordinances, always paying my taxes on time and getting good grades in school, Lady Justice commanded that for such a serious infraction, “The convicted shall repay the family and the state with twenty deaths.”

I don’t mean twenty years in prison, which would have been severe enough. I wish I only meant twenty years in prison. No, I mean twenty individual deaths — of me. The Law deemed that the most effective way to discourage people from taking a life was by experiencing the taking of life first-hand, on the receiving end, again and again.

So, through some misdirected medical heroism, every time that I’ve died by order of the state, a simple chemical injection that stopped my heart, after I was certified genuinely expired, the National Medical Board brought me back. That’s right, “to face the bitter, premature end once again, ad infinitum,” or so say the human rights groups.

Just so I won’t take the event for granted, or even prepare myself, seeing as it isn’t that painful on a conscious level and it isn’t permanent, the authorities have never told me when I’m to be pulled away. The “performances” can be a year apart or merely months, depending on how much recovery time is deemed optimal after the last full-body trauma. It may be just my perception, but there seem to be more during an election year.

There are always witnesses: the family of my victim, VIP guests, legal students, medical students, ethics students. It’s not official without an audience. And photos. And documentation.

The doctor has me on anti-depressants. The warden insists I exercise daily. Ironic that killing myself, or even attempting to, is against the law.

You might be thinking, “Lucky duck! Quit complaining. You’ve got ex post facto immortality. They always reanimate you, don’t they?”

Please understand that the twentieth execution will be my last. A low-level clerk is probably keeping a tally, counting down to my final public demise, like a famous band’s farewell performance. I don’t have immortality; I have twenty lives like the proverbial cat with nine lives. Not twenty lives, but twenty deaths. Then I can “move forward.”

I think there are more complications than the authorities admit. For one, my memory is permanently tattered regarding my childhood. I don’t remember such things as relatives’ names, significant dates, personal accomplishments.

Reanimation, it seems, is not a perfect science. The tips of my fingers and toes are numb. I’m cold all the time. Food doesn’t taste as good as it once did. My tongue feels thicker, clumsier; I slur a few of my words (e.g., “yushed” instead of “you should”). I’m tired all the time, and breathing takes a concentrated effort.

I’ve heard of near-death experiences, but the experience doesn’t apply to me. I’ve never seen a white light or been visited by long-deceased loved ones. When I’m revived, I’m like a bear stirring after months in hibernation: tight, sore muscles, and everything’s a little loud, a little much. The compassionate prison medical authorities keep me in the dim light of solitary for a week after they discharge me from the infirmary, to help me adjust to being alive again.

My wife wants a divorce. She doesn’t visit. My lawyer says she’s planning on getting a friendly judge to declare her a widow, without my consent, the instant they kill me next time.

I take solace in the popular notion that my situation, and relentless TV coverage, has helped tame society in a fashion. I’m told strikingly low murder statistics are something to brag about locally.

A world-famous musician has heard about me and wants to visit. Some documentary filmmaker is raising money to tell my story. The attention is heartwarming, but if I’m helping keep crime off the streets, I don’t want to complain too loud. I don’t wish to change the system; I just want time off for good behavior: a permanent rest. I think I’ve earned it.

I’ve lost count of my executions and I’m afraid to ask my jailers, afraid the number will be a lot lower than by my hopeful reckoning. I’m sorry for the life I took, contrary to my prison-inmate glibness above. I’m guilty. I never denied it. I was raised ignorant of the fragility of human existence and how one loss can impact others (parents, children, even social policies). I’m more aware now than I ever was, more aware than anyone else alive, because I’ve died more than anyone else alive.

I support world peace and putting an end to global hunger. Unfortunately, these are not easy matters to resolve. But my situation is a little simpler. Next time they unplug me from the grid of humanity, somebody please be sympathetic to my cause and just put me away. People will remember long after I’m gone, and my story can still help promote civility. And justice will be served, an eye for an eye. Can’t get simpler than that.

Copyright © 2014 by Charles C. Cole

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