The fire rages within the building, and alarms sound around me as I make my way, coughing into my sleeve, out into the street.
She’s still in there.
I couldn’t find her, the smoke had been too thick, and as I scan the street in front of the apartment that we share, that we shared, the dark premonition I’d had while staggering down the stairs is proven to be true. She hadn’t made her own way out, she is still somewhere within the building.
Maybe she’s passed out on the floor of our apartment, maybe in the hall, maybe she made it as far as the stairwell, but at some point the smoke in the air must’ve overcome her, because she never made it to the exit, and never will. Not under her own power, at least.
For a moment, I’m close to being overcome myself. The love I’ve felt for her in the years we’ve been together, the laughter and the tears of a lifetime, the infatuation I felt the moment I met her years before, infatuation I to this day haven’t gotten all the way over, nearly prove too strong, and I’m tempted to rush back inside. To find her. To bring her to safety.
But then I remember.
I remember the meetings we’d had with lawyers, after hearing the horror stories about the people in comas, hooked to machines that do their breathing for them, never to think again in a way anyone would understand the term, kept as vegetables for years, for decades, against their will long after “will” ceased to be a meaningful phrase with regard to them.
I remember the two of us, writing our living wills together, discussing what sort of care we’d want in the event that the worst should happen to either one of us.
And I remember how adamant she was, that no heroic measures be taken to revive her, or to prolong her life.
No heroic measures.
What measure, I wonder, could be more heroic than rushing back into a burning building to bring her, unconscious but alive, out into the safety of the street?
So I turn my back on the whole horrific scene, blink back tears and leave her behind to burn.
It’s difficult, to be sure. Doing it damn near kills me, but in my heart I know it’s the right thing to do.
It’s what she would have wanted, after all.
I won’t go back inside for her. And when the firefighters finally arrive, I’ll do my best to stop them from going in too.
It’s the least I can do to honor her wishes, and do justice to her memory…