Excerpt: 'The Last Goodnights'

Then he looked straight at me. "But I'll need you on board, to help me."

A question was implied, but we both knew what the answer would be. I nodded and said, "You got it."

I didn't register much of what he said right after that, because I was still having trouble processing the whole strange scene. Here we were, my father and I, sitting in his bedroom, calmly talking about his committing suicide. With me "onboard," whatever that meant.

What it meant, I soon learned, was more than I had ever imagined. And then some.

Six weeks earlier, Jolly had phoned me at my home in Seattle from his office at UCLA. "I have some bad news, Johnny," he said.

I stopped stirring the soup I had on the stove. My first thought flashed on my mother: K had been declining, with a variety of ailments, for a few years now. Had she taken an unexpected turn for the worse? Or was Jolly just being overdramatic about something else, something relatively innocuous? He often did that.

"What is it?" I asked warily, hoping he wouldn't confirm my fear about K.

"Well," he said, taking a deep breath before continuing, "I had a pain in my hip that I thought was just my arthritis kicking up. I tried to ignore it, but when it got to the point where I needed a cane to get around, I thought I'd better get it looked at."

I was relieved that the bad news wasn't about K, but suddenly realized that it must be extraordinarily bad news about Jolly, because he never talked openly about his own health problems. Never.

"The radiologist took an X-ray of my hip but didn't like what he saw on the film, so he did a full-body bone scan." My stomach sank as I instantly imagined the worst.

"When he put the scan film up on the box, it took me about ten seconds to register what I saw. There were metastases throughout my skeleton. Cancer everywhere. I realized I was looking at a death sentence."

He paused, but I couldn't speak. I was too surprised, completely unprepared for this. He'd been just fine, last I'd heard, and now he was about to die?

He continued, almost casually, "The radiologist said he thought I had about six months to live. I think that's optimistic. I'd say it's closer to four."

I stood there frozen, the phone jammed against my ear. I couldn't believe it. This wasn't possible. Jolly had always been extraordinarily healthy and strong. Hell, he still had more hair than I did. And even though he'd been overweight for many years, he'd never seemed unhealthy—just incredibly big, powerful, sturdy.

Part of what stunned me, surely, was the suddenness of it all, and hearing it over the phone, instead of in person. The soup I'd been making started to boil over on the stove, but I couldn't move. I waited for Jolly to say something else, but the phone was quiet.

I didn't know what to say, so I just blathered the first things that came to mind.

"Jeez, Dad, I'm really sorry. Are you in a lot of pain? What happens next?"

"Well," he said, then sighed heavily, "I'm not in much pain. Not yet. Typically, the next step would be to start a regimen of chemotherapy and radiation, but I'm not sure I want to subject myself to that. I'm going to get additional information over the next few days, and then start making decisions."

Dozens of thoughts jumped through my head, but I tried to focus and concentrate on practical matters. I started to pace, the long phone cord whipping back and forth in my wake.

"What about Mom?" I asked. "How is she holding up?"

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