To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
Gregory had not always been an organized person. He lived most of his life in a haphazard desultory way, never sure of what came next. When his wife told him, “I can’t live like this any more,” left for California with the twins and moved in with the lawyer she had met online, he realized he had to get his shit together.
He went to seminars and read piles of books. He listened to podcasts and hired a personal organizer. He decluttered. He downsized and organized, planned and simplified. Most important of all, he made up routines.
By setting up routines he eliminated personal choice in what he did. It was a way to battle back against his natural tendency to chaos. If he could put reality into a series of carefully thought out and designed checklists he could keep disaster at bay. Gregory decided he wanted life to be smooth and planned – all risk and decision eliminated.
His personal organizer gave him a series of printed forms that fit into a binder which covered every possible aspect of every day. She helped him brainstorm, fill out the checklists, then edit and extend them until every hour of every day was planned out ahead of time and he didn’t have to decide what to do next – it was all in black and white. He discovered that once he had settled on a routine he didn’t have to look at the paper any more. It was seared into his memory and after a few days it ripened into an irreversible habit.
The alarm on Gregory’s phone beeped at six AM and after one and only one tapping of the snooze he hopped out of bed to begin his morning routine. He drank the ice water he had placed in an insulated steel tumbler on his nightstand the night before. He moved to the tatami mat next to his bed and did a short series of stretches with a foam roller. He checked the clothes that he had chosen before he went to bed and laid them out on the bed. Then it was into the bathroom. He pushed the electric shaver around on his face and then flossed. He started the water in the shower to allow it to warm up as he brushed his teeth. Then into the shower.
In the old days, he would luxuriate under the hot water, leaning against the tile as the warmth poured over him, enjoying the feel of the droplets against his skin. Thoughts of the day before, the day coming up, and strange random memories from far in his past would joust in his mind for a few split seconds of attention. His wife would get angry because he would waste so much time in the shower and use up all the hot water. Not any more. He washed himself quickly and efficiently, using a minimum of time and cleaning products.
Stepping out, he dried himself with a clean towel hung on a hook. Then he used a small hand towel kept by the mirror to clear a spot in the fogged glass so he could groom his hair with the comb kept in the holder right at hand. A stick of deodorant came out of a handy drawer – it was the only item in there – and he was done in the bathroom
He stepped naked back into his bedroom and sat in a chair he had placed next to the spot where he had laid out his outfit for the day. He had only one task left before he could get dressed and head out for the day.
Next to the chair was a small, sturdy table with a lacquered wooden box and a kitchen timer. The box had a combination lock built in and he moved the numbers to the proper setting. He twisted the timer to seven minutes and opened the heavy lid of the wooden box. Gregory lifted a Glock 19 9mm pistol out of the box, slid a full magazine into the gun, then pulled back on the slide – charging a shell into the firing chamber. He thumbed the safety so that the gun was ready to fire.
Gregory reversed the gun, stuck his thumb into the trigger guard, and then slid the barrel into his mouth. He closed his eyes and sat there, still, listening to the ticking of the kitchen timer. He felt the steel of the barrel between his teeth and ran his tongue around the opening at the end. He tasted the oily residue on the Glock and smelled the slight smoky odor left over from the last time he took the gun to the range. He breathed in through his nose and out through his wedged-open mouth, feeling his breath pass between his lips and the body of the gun.
His mind went to the decision he had to make, the one he made each day. Hamlet had said it best, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Two columns appeared in his mind – the endless stream of checklists to navigate or the dark splotch of blood against his bedroom wall. The “strings and arrows,” or “that sleep of death.” Sitting there, clean and naked, with the Glock in his mouth, he could think clearly and dispassionately as he summed up the columns in his mind. Some days the decision was a close one.
But today, the timer gave off its little “ding,” and Gregory removed the Glock from his mouth. He turned the safety, removed the magazine, cleared the round and pushed it back into the cartridge. It wasn’t Saturday, so he didn’t clean the gun but simply wiped the saliva off with a cloth and replaced the gun, magazine, and cloth back in the wooden case, closed the lid, and randomized the numbers. Gregory put on the clothes that he had set out and walked through the door into another day.