On the Day I Die
by Deborah Marie Pulaski, as told to Claire Wolfe
This week I learned Iím dying. Of course Iíve always known, in the everyday, human
sense, that I was going to die. But this week I learned I am going to die soon.
In a year or so at most, I wonít be on this planet. No more breathing. No more
Zinfandel or chocolate cake. No hugs. No sorrows. I wonít ever again have to worry
whether thereís a run in my stocking when I go to a meeting with the boss, or whether
I remembered to send a birthday card to my best friendís husband.
Itís a peculiar thought, looking at my own death, so close. But you know, it isnít
a bad thought, all things considered.
Iím 53 years old. That isnít old. I might have had another 30 years, if one little
cell hadnít decided to start mutating out of control a while back. But 53 is old
enough to have lived a good life. Itís long enough to have become a full person,
without all those "who am Iís" and "what do I want to do with my lifeís" that make
youth so over-rated.
Itís enough time to have loved-both in the frantic, desperate way of being young,
and in the comfortable way of being an adult. Thatís been an amazing, and a very
But I donít want to talk about love. I want to talk about freedom.
Well, I guess that means I do want to talk about love. Because I love freedom
more than I love anything. Really, more than I ever loved my husband. Even more than
I love my kids--and I think theyíll understand and forgive me for saying so, even
though that statement might require a little more explaining for strangers who might
be reading this.
I have to say it again. I love freedom more than I love anything. More than I ever
loved anything. And thatís what makes the thought of dying so bitter, and at the
same time, so welcome.
I guess that idea is going to take some explaining, too. Claire, tell them about me.
Iíve never been able to write, or even talk all that well about things that matter
to me. So you tell people what kind of person I am. Make them understand.
Iíve always been a political junky. You know me. Like some women shop, I do politics.
No, that isnít putting it right. Not at all. I do politics...
I guess Iíd better say I used to do politics...because I couldnít stand still and
let "them" take away our world. You know, the types who arenít happy unless theyíre
running other peopleís lives.
When I ran into a neighbor, co-worker or family member like that, I could just say,
"Sayonara, Baby," and avoid them. But the people who really got to me were the ones
who wanted to make endless rules for the whole country, the whole world, and make
everybody else obey them. Just obey, all the time. I swear, you know, that these
people donít even care what the particular rules are. They just like making and
enforcing rules "because." For the power. For the control. For their other powerful,
controlling friends. So they can all feel important and be in charge.
So I always had to try to stop those people. But there wasnít any stopping them.
I found that out.
God, I wish I were a writer like you or a great orator or a wizard about the law
or something like that. I wish I could have done something big during my life.
But you know me, I was never anything but a little precinct worker, a drone, a
little deputy voter registrar, doorbeller, meeting attender, envelope licker.
One of those women you see in every campaign and every organization, never getting
noticed and never particularly wanting to be. Just wanting to make the world freer--
or at least keep a little bit of the world away from the people who want to make it
It was really kind of stupid, looking back on it, because nearly all of the people
who said they believed in freedom turned around and, once they got in office,
acted exactly like the other guys. They didnít really want less government and
more freedom. They just wanted to be the ones in control.
But I just had to try, didnít I? Anyway, I did try. Just about all my life.
That expression "just about all my life" has a different ring all of a sudden.
It really has been just about all my life. Will be just about all my life.
I wanted freedom so much. I wanted it just so that I and my kids could live an
ordinary life. Making a living. Paying our way. Doing what we wanted to do,
within the bounds of polite behavior to our neighbors. Just to live, without
being ordered around, threatened or tangled up in red tape every time we tried
to do something. I didnít have any spectacular ambitions. I just wanted to be
let alone to live a peaceful life.
I have two daughters, you know. Theyíre both in their early 20s right now. The youngest
one, Edyie, was always a dreamer. She had all the ideas and ambitions I didnít dare
to have. I remember, as a little kid, she swore she was going to go live on Venus
someday. Then, when she learned Venus was really this awful place, she pouted for
about two days, then switched to Mars. She figured we could colonize Mars.
I donít know whether thatís realistic or not, but I always wanted to see Edyie get
the chance to try if thatís what she wanted to do. I wanted her to have the
chance to try anything her wild little imagination could dream up. Maybe sheíd fail.
But maybe sheíd succeed. And isnít that what keeps the human race moving? Edyie,
impossible though she can be at times, is the kind of person who keeps the human
race from sitting on its dead butt, getting nowhere.
But Edyie isnít going to have the chance, unless something comes out of the blue to
turn things around. Edyieís never going to get to Mars. Heck, she isnít even going
to get a chance to build a little earthbound business because sheís too independent
to jump through all the hoops the government requires.
Yeah, I can just see my Edyie filling out forms in triplicate, collecting taxes
from her employees and begging for government licenses--NOT! She isnít going to
get a chance to make many personal choices-beyond what brand of soap or TV to buy--
because our choices are being limited day by day, and everywhere you turn, you
run into something illegal. Maybe even something that was legal yesterday, but
is illegal today, thanks to some regulation nobody ever heard of. She just wonít
put up with that--but I donít know what sheíll do instead.
I used to dream, as I worked on all those campaigns, that someday Iíd win back
the right for Edyie to have the risky, but hope-filled future she craved. When I
thought about dying, someday, it was with regret that I might not live to see Edyie
go to Mars or to accomplish whatever other big thing she wanted to do.
But now I donít have any of those regrets, because it isnít going to happen.
Even three years ago, I wouldnít have said that. Iíd still have said, "Darnit,
thereís hope. Freedom is just common sense. Weíll win." But some of the things
that have happened in the last couple of years make that all different. No, donít
say "things that have happened." They didnít just "happen." People in government
did them to us. On purpose.
In the last couple of years, they finally did what theyíd been moving toward for a
long time. They passed the laws that just plain make us slaves. They did it, and
hardly anybodyís even talking about it. Thatís what amazes me.
For one thing, they passed a law that makes our driverís licenses into national
ID cards. Theyíre doing it right now, while we sit here talking.
A year or two after Iím gone, all you people who are left are all going to have to
carry around cards with all your numbers and fingerprints and retinal scans and
"personal data" coded on them. The law says so. You wonít be able to cash a check
or get a passport without supplying your "biometric data" to the government or the
bank. I thought it was some big conspiracy story when I first heard it. But itís
true and itís happening. And where are all the people screaming to stop it?
And theyíve now got this database that everybody who gets a job gets put into.
Some national database in some big stone building in Washington where theyíll know
where everybody works, all the time. They said it was to track "deadbeat dads."
Yeah. Then why are they going to put Edyie and my other daughter Pat and everybody
else into it? Since when are they, or you, or I "deadbeat dads"?
Along these same lines, theyíve even got what they call "pilot programs" to make
people get permission from the federal government before they can get jobs.
Employers in these "pilot programs" have to get scanners to let the federal
government check peopleís Social Security numbers before they can hire anybody.
Isnít that just great? Some bureaucrat in the Social Security Administration or
someplace gets to decide whether you can work or not.
And this other database. All your medical records are going to go into some other
big, stone building in Washington. Thatís going to be on line about the time I go,
too. Any old bureaucrat who wants to look at them can see them. You canít, of
course. But they can.
All this stuff is real. Itís not in some novel about the future or in some
right-wingy pamphlet. Itís in the law. Itís in America. Right now. They did
it all in the last couple of years. Mostly by sneaking a paragraph or a page into
bigger laws when nobody was looking.
And whatís all this about? Is it really to help "welfare moms" or to keep illegal
immigrants from taking other peopleís jobs? Oh, come on! This is about one thing.
Itís about slavery.
They give you a citizen registration number shortly after birth. As soon as you
get old enough to start moving around, doing things and making decisions on your
own, they make sure that theyíre in a position to know every move you make, to
record every transaction, to examine your whole lifeís record any time some
bureaucrat gets curious. They not only want to know where you are at
any given moment--where youíre working and living and banking-but to make sure you
canít work someplace if they donít want you to.
And they even want to be able to check up on your health. That one seems especially
silly. I mean, why should some bureaucrat in Washington give a hoot about how some
womanís pregnancy is going, or whether some man is boozing it up a bit more than he
should? Or whether a middle-aged lady is dying of cancer or not? What business is
it of theirs, and why should they even want to bother? But it makes sense when you
realize what theyíre really doing. After all, if you own animals, of course you
want to make sure your property has got all its vaccinations, is producing healthy
offspring, and isnít being overfed or something.
Itís just like a modern-day farmer, keeping track of his cows or pigs on his
computer. You want to know theyíre healthy and whether theyíre producing as much
as they can for you. So you track them. Track everything about them. They belong
to you, after all. If youíre a kindly, efficient farmer, of course you want to
watch over your livestock.
Thereíve been a lot of bad laws passed in my lifetime, Claire. Sometimes I thought,
"This is just the worst, the worst. It canít get any more horrible than this."
But these laws, that authorized all this tracking, are really the final thing.
Theyíre the declaration that the people in Washington own us. Thatís all. Theyíre
plain and simply saying weíre their property.
There are going to be a lot more bad laws, yeah. Really bad ones that will follow
these and will be possible because of these. But before this, the bad laws were
passed against free people.
After this, the laws are passed to control slaves.
Neither of my girls has children yet. Like every mother, I always wanted them to
get going and do it, you know. I wanted my grandbabies! Now! Believe me, I had
to bite my lip a lot to keep from nagging them about it, like some mothers do.
But to be absolutely honest, now I wish neither one of them would have children.
I donít think Edyie will. Weíve talked about this. Sheís a lot like me in some
ways, and I think she wonít bring a child into a country like this one is becoming.
Now my other daughter--we always called her Practical Patty--probably will have
children someday. Iíve kind of given Patty short shrift in talking about all
She was the sort of daughter who never gave any trouble and was more interested
in doing well in band and glee club than in thinking about all the "heavy" things.
Her big dreams were just of having a nice little job someday, then getting married
to a decent sort of guy, having a nice house and, yeah, children. So all this wonít
affect Patty as much as it will Edyie, or as much as it would have affected me if Iíd
have lived to see it all come to fruition. To Pattyís mind, it isnít "sensible" to
worry about things like this.
So Patty will have children, and I can only hope that at least their lives will be
comfortable, if they canít be free. Maybe theyíll be well-fed, well-cared-for
little citizens. And maybe I should hope they turn out to be the kind of people
who donít think or question too much. Because if theyíre the other kind--like me
or Edyie--their lives will be miserable.
The next step, you know, after getting ownership of your slaves or cows is to cull
out the ones that donít fit the mold...that make trouble, or that donít produce
the way you want them to. If you arenít nice the Social Security Administration
can just "lose" your records, or the health care people can just fiddle your medical
history around so you look like a mental case. Then they can "help" you to death.
So I guess for that reason, I should hope those grandbabies I wonít live to see are
quiet, obedient sheep.
But damnit, if there are grandbabies, I hope theyíll be as stubborn and freethinking
as their Aunt Edyie, and that theyíll find a better way of fighting for freedom than
their Grandma Deb ever could.
Let their lives be worth something deep and true, not just the "worth" of good
livestock or laborers. If they fight, maybe they wonít live happily or long.
But if they have to live at all, I hope those little kids live bravely, in spite
of all the odds against them. The poor souls.
Do you remember the hymn, "The Old Rugged Cross"? Itís been on my mind a lot since
I got the verdict. When I was little, I thought it was such a beautiful song. I
knew it was partly about dying, and about being at peace in dying because of the
singerís beliefs, but I didnít completely understand it.
There was this line, "Till my trophies at last I lay down." I knew it meant "when I
die." But since I didnít have any "trophies" and couldnít figure out what giving
up awards had to do with dying, I put my own little girl interpretation on it.
I figured the word had to be "trophis," and that it was some fancy, adult word
Well, Claire, Iíll tell you. In a year or so, when I lay this middle-aged "trophis"
down for the last time, I wonít have any regrets for myself. On the day I die,
Iíll be able to say Iíve done all I could. I tried, even though most of what I
did turned out to be misguided and ineffective. And even though Iíd try something
different-and a lot less "nice"--if I could do it over again, I wonít regret leaving
the world the politicians just created. I donít want to see it. I donít want to
live in it.
But my grandbabies will be born as slaves. And oh God, I regret that. And I regret
not being around to protect them.
© 1997 Deborah Marie Pulaski and Claire Wolfe. Permission to reprint for non-commercial
purposes freely granted, as long as the article is reprinted in full and is
accompanied by this copyright statement.