17. Life Choices

I am not one to quote scripture, but I like this from the Gospel of Thomas (which is not part of the Bible):

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

I thought about that passage when my wife told me about one of her friends. It left me wondering: can you die from not living the life you want?

My wife met “Theresa” in graduate school. Theresa was petite and cute, as well as intelligent, warm, kind, and friendly. She was the eldest of three daughters, did well in her studies and was on a path to succeed as a professional and later as a wife and mother. Theresa also had an unexpected side: she shocked my wife with tales of torrid sex in stairwells and library stacks with a fellow student she was mad about.

Theresa’s father was a legal adviser to various committees in the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C. When Theresa finished her studies, her father helped her get a good job on Capitol Hill. It was a “good job” in the sense that working on Capitol Hill is prestigious, and competition for such a position is usually fierce. Normally, the position that Theresa landed would not go to someone with little legislative experience.

Because of her smarts, her diligence, and her easy-going way, Theresa did well at her job. Her salary met her needs. She made new friends. She rented an apartment within view of the Capitol. With D.C. being a lively city, Theresa had plenty of night clubs, museums, theaters, and restaurants to keep her entertained. She even resumed tap-dancing lessons, which she had not attended since she was a child.

My wife kept in touch with Theresa and visited her a couple of times. Theresa had encyclopedic knowledge of the D.C.-Virginia area and took my wife all over. Quite a few times, my wife had to stop her from being overly-generous with meals and drinks. To my wife, it seemed that her friend was doing very well for herself and had not lost her innate sweetness. Theresa was even seeing a young man, “Ralph,” who was very attentive and appreciative of her.

Yet, late at night, as the two friends relaxed before going to sleep, Theresa would reveal how she really felt about her life. Her work as a researcher on legislative bills on insurance matters bored her. She missed New York City and the friends she had made there as a student. It was clear to my wife that Theresa was in D.C. to please her father. She saw her family frequently since they lived close by in Virginia, but they were no substitute for the excitement and independence she craved. Although Theresa ate healthily, she suffered from occasional stomach discomfort.

Then there was her love life. Ralph had a good career, had attended a prestigious university, and was well-liked by Theresa’s family, particularly her father. But how she missed that young man from graduate school. Theresa had not seen him since moving to D.C., but she gathered any information she could about him from the alumni newsletters. Eventually, she learned that he had married and started a family.

Not long after that, my wife attended Theresa’s wedding. Ralph beamed, and Theresa showed her brave face. Within the year, she delivered a healthy baby boy who bore the names of the couple’s fathers. Whenever the friends spoke by telephone, my wife detected an underlying resignation in Theresa’s tone.

The last time my wife saw Theresa was in a hospital room. Theresa was pale and thinner than usual. No longer did she have her dark, curly locks; instead, a stocking-like covering enveloped her head. She was genuinely happy to see my wife. The friends spoke briefly because Theresa was soon too tired.

Theresa had found the lump while nursing the baby. Her doctors wanted to give her a medicine used for uterine cancer. The insurance company had balked, and Ralph was embroiled in a desperate fight to get his wife the experimental treatment.

Theresa died at the age of 34. Her son was not quite 2.

Santorini, Greece courtesy of “Anton”

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