Most death choice is absence of forethought, or a not knowing, passive, not a choice at all. Living is an active choice we make every day. Get up. Eat food.
The gray zone is vast and fuzzy between death choice and life choice. Drinking wine is a death choice some days. Some days, it’s a life choice.
I made a life choice before my little one screamed and stiffened and wanted the nurse and me to stop pressing her tiny body to the table and poking her with needles. Mama chose wine afterward.
Grandma is ninety-five. There’s no arguing with ninety-five. She’s alive and chooses wine every day at five.
My sister is not alive. There’s no arguing with ashes in an urn with tidbits of shin bone. I asked her in a dream if she made a death choice or a life choice. Did she want to live or die? Did she drink to live, or did she drink to die. She said it’s complicated and then my alarm went off.
Occasionally, drinks were cut and dry. Not dry, like, Ooh, this is not sweet. Very dry. Not in the sophisticated sense, dry. The life-or-death sense, cut and dry. Avoid death by delirium tremens cut and dry. An Absolut miniature purchase at the liquor store where a guy peed outside his pickup-truck door was a life choice some days.
The morality men in dark blue uniforms seized my sister, took her to the healing place to obtain a do-no-harm doctor’s permission to cage her.
I wanted to get her medical clearance so she could go to a sobering center and morph into a butterfly. It’s possible. They might huddle in a chrysalis state and then decide to change and do and be and exist and live and maybe even fly.
She hung up on me.
The cops with guns didn’t let her hang up.
Which was the death choice, and which was the life choice?
Was caging my sister a death choice? I should decide. Because there are funded pilot projects at offices for keeping sisters out of jail so they can sober up, clean up, and make life choices. Maybe I’d apply.
I’m not sure if the police killed my sister, or if my sister killed my sister.
Or if I killed my sister.
My helping benders never amounted to much.
There was one time, there was more life. I rallied, pushed, demanded. She said no, I don’t want to go. I said yes, you’re coming. You will be part of this life. You will gather, commune, show your face, give thanks.
It might have been too much, like how physical exertion that builds one person’s body is a deterioration for someone with chronic fatigue syndrome. Stark finitude. A run through the neighborhood will be fiery joints later, and probably shaves off minutes of life, but they got to run down the block and see tulips.
My sister got to see a baby and her grandma and her mom and her sister and her cousins. Then, as if all that life and love suctioned her strength, she flew back and fell back into a comfort zone of not living, with people making death choices. Death swoops in quick in those situations.
I probably didn’t squeeze the last drops of life out of my sister because I got her to Thanksgiving.
I did not actively choose to cage her, though, and supply her with easels and roses, paintbrushes and acrylics, brie and grapes and crackers, a surround sound all around sublime listening experience and endless blank canvases, then throw away the key.
Anna Carvlin is a public health advocate, yoga instructor, writer, and aspiring fiddler. She lives with her family in Chicago.