I do not own any part of The West Wing.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is supposedly written by Jed Bartlet right after Abu el Banat. It is his reaction to that day which I always felt was a very hard day for this President.
END OF NOTES
Personal Diary of Josiah Edward Bartlet
I wanted this day. I had it planned. At least, my head had it planned. Who knew the world wouldn't consult me before it delivered one that would stay with me forever for reasons I'm not happy about. In my mind, my daughters would all be here on time, regaling me with how much they love me. The world would decide that peace was the order of the day and my staff wouldn't be reminding that I'm going to die more likely sooner than later. This is going off on a tangent, something I'm very good at doing.
Liz and Doug arrived on time. She is the one daughter I raised who learned to tell time and adhere to schedules, so I wasn't surprised. My lovely Annie, Liz's firstborn, was left home because of a body piercing her father didn't like. She pierced her eyebrow and while I'm not thrilled about it, it would have been fine for her to show up looking like a 14 year old girl. Anyhow, they did bring my grandson Gus, named for his other grandfather Augustus Westin. I know I may be partial, but Josiah is a much better name for the kid to grow up with. Gus is perfect for teasing. Josiah has some trouble, but Joe is pretty tame. Another tangent.
Gus is the first male born into my family since I married by beautiful Abbey. I had three daughters and a granddaughter before our family was blessed with a little boy. I wasn't even sure I'd know how to relate to him. Athletics is his father's realm, certainly not mine. Doug was close to being a professional ball player. Me? I kept the team's stats. Enviable, don't you think?
Now, I can deal with little girls' tantrums. I saw enough of them but Gus was having a set of his own that interrupted everything. He had a mighty paroxysm just before the tree-lighting. My littlest girl, my Zoey, stepped in and all went well. Gus, on the other hand, ate early and was put to bed by the nanny. A major disappointment for me.
In the Oval, I had to deal with three major problems. One had to do with American missionaries proselytizing in the Sudan. Two of 21 were guilty. I didn't know that when I demanded the Sudanese apologize. I ended up bribing the girls out. So, we looked like the good guys by freeing our "innocent young women" instead of like ugly Americans able to buy their way out of any situation. I don't like that. What I did, blaming the Sudanese, was completely wrong but in my job being wrong, doing wrong is often what the masses think is right. I hate when I have to ditch my sense of right and wrong and just do what some people want. I hate it.
The second issue was quite different. Doug, my daughter's idiot husband, was going to run for Representative to the Federal Congress. My endorsement would clinch the nomination for him and, quite possibly, the race itself. Doug has some good qualities. However, he is not an exciting intellect with an overpowering desire to serve his country. He'd rather bask in the celebrity of being a Congressman and that includes being the son-in-law of a President. He brought his wants to Josh Lyman who brought it to Leo McGarry and me. The Democratic Party didn't want Doug. When I offered to talk to Doug, Leo suggested that I not do it. Doug went to Josh. Let Josh handle it. Stupidly, I agreed. Not having to deal with Doug felt good at that moment. Not very forward thinking for a Nobel Prize winner.
The third problem was vastly different. A doctor in Oregon was arrested for legally prescribing medication to help a patient end his own life. Assisted suicide is legal in Oregon and as the representatives of the Federal Government, we had no right to interfere. I, personally, am against Assisted Suicide as I hold to the position of my faith, of my Catholicism. Life is only to be terminated by God. Again, I am elected to maintain Federal law. In my position as President of the United States, in regard to Assisted Suicide, I cannot negate any state's right to allow it. It would never be my choice but that wasn't the situation. Oregon's residents voted to allow it. That is their right.
The trouble came when my Attorney General decided to prosecute the doctor. He was starting to publicize his position by contacting newspapers in his home state. Seems he wants to be Governor there and thought this would be a great issue to start his run. Now I had to decide whether to condemn his actions or go along with them. The decision was easy. I would not go along with him despite my personal position. One of my staff, my Communications Director Toby Ziegler met with me to discuss why I should not say anything. Turns out that 20% of people asking for help in committing suicide are my people, people with multiple sclerosis. That's the largest subgroup in those wanting Assisted Suicide. He said that the questions coming from the press would not be about the doctor in Oregon. The questions would be about my death and whether my wife, my doctor wife, was stashing vials of illegal drugs in the nightstand with syringes ready to put me out of my misery. He stated that he didn't think we were ready for that public a conversation. The idea that our very private, soul-wrenching beliefs would stay private was dying. Now I saw that even my death didn't belong to me any longer. The hollowness in my lungs actually hurt. I know Toby saw my fears and he ran off leaving me alone to ponder this new threat to my personal living.
The conversation hit me like none other I have had regarding my potential death from MS. My condition was thrown into my face in a way that even the censure didn't affect me. Now, it was mandatory that I face things in an entire new way. I know Abbey feels Assisted Suicide is justifiable. I know that if I am severely debilitated, it would make her life much easier if I committed suicide. I can't go against my faith to that extent. It is God's job to tell me when I need to pop out.
Late afternoon, it was time for Gus and me to light the official White House Christmas tree. Turns out he was having another tantrum. Got to admit that boy is passionate and stubborn. Abbey says he's just like me. I'm not sure whether that's a compliment or not. I lean toward not.
I left the Oval to have dinner with my family. Between all the conversations I needed to have regarding all the problems of the day, I was either there alone or with two daughters and a wife or with a wife and one daughter minus another daughter and her husband. Too much confusion and that didn't help.
Liz was in her room folding up Gus's clothes. I picked a book up from the floor and tried to talk to Liz about Doug and his request. She didn't want to listen to me. I even told her that she was better qualified to be in Congress than Doug. That's when she verbalized what she had hinted at a few times before. Our family life didn't revolve around family. It revolved around me and my ambitions. She didn't want her children to be a part of her entourage - her word. Ever get kicked by a mule? I felt it when I realized she considered herself part of an entourage. The other girls probably felt the same way. Entourage is not a word you want your children to use when talking about you. My needs, Abbey's needs were dominant. I'm not sure that's true, but it felt like it when Liz dismissed me.
So, this day, in which I anticipated the celebration of Christmas with my children and grandchildren, turned into a day of moral dilemmas for which there were no good answers. The questions themselves tested my belief in moral absolutes. That tripped over into me questioning many of my decisions in the past. Too many times I had decided who should live or die. Simon Cruz, Shareef, both men were killed at my command. Earlier that day I blamed a country for a crime that we actually committed. I blew off my son-in-law. How could I maintain that there were moral absolutes when I disregarded them at whim? Then there was Liz. My daughter, my dear child, my firstborn felt like she was not a family priority. She was second to my ambitions, my needs, even Abbey's wants.
Dinner with the family seemed to either explode or implode. In any case, it wasn't Dickens' Christmas Carol ending I wanted. It's interesting that the more my mind filled with questions and contradictions and hopes and fears and sheer terror at times; all that was going on when I felt the most empty I'd experienced since Zoey's kidnapping. I never thought I'd feel that empty again. Even that made me feel empty.
Before going back to the dinner table I went to the bedroom to hang up my coat. I didn't want any more formality on this night. I rolled up my sleeves and entered the room set up for the most formal of family dinners. No one was there. No one.
I sat there, hungry, and tested the fruit basket. It was real and the apples looked especially good. I started cutting one up and Abbey same in. That's when I found out that Ellie had arrived and that all three girls were watching the carolers in the lobby. I mentioned that I was disappointed that Gus didn't want to light the Christmas tree with me when all the press was around. Abbey said he didn't want to do it because he didn't know why all those people were there. Gus thought it would be just him and me.
Then I asked Abbey the question I feared for most of the day. We were talking about my wanting to gather a committee to discuss Assisted Suicide. I told her that personally my mind hadn't changed and my death would probably be ugly. I don't know how I got the courage, but I asked her, "Will you be there?" It seemed like it took forever for her to answer me. I heard my heart beat faster and harder. The day was culminating in finding out Abbey had to think to find an answer. With a very non-committal sound in her voice, she said, "Yeah." Not even yes, but yeah. Emptiness dug its nails into me. She stood up to leave and I very quietly said her name. She stopped, leaned over and kissed my forehead. It was something she'd done so often that it was just part of our relationship. It was counted on. It was us being us and it told me that she would be there, holding my hand, singing my favorite songs and not letting be alone. She put a crack in that emptiness and finally there was hope. On her way out, she suggested I see Gus, that he was still awake.
I stopped at our rooms again and picked up my baseball jacket. Then saw Gus. He was supposed to be sleeping but he was playing some kind of game on a tablet designed for little kids. He ran into my arms even before I had a chance to say his name. For the first time that day, someone greeted me with no agenda on his mind. He was seeing his Grandpa and it made him happy.
My lesson was learned. The day I had planned would not have been memorable. It wasn't a personal day. It was the holiday of a President and whoever the President was, it wouldn't have mattered. Gus is what mattered right now. He was very young and might not even remember Grandpa if I died in the next year or so. I'd be the man he'd read about in history class when he got to high school. He was my priority. If no one knew about us being together at that moment at least I knew. It wasn't a photo op. It wasn't the President. I was Grandpa and he was going to have my exclusive attention.
It felt like we were keeping a great secret but with my help he got his boots on. We giggled when I started putting them on the wrong feet. He caught the error and laughed at his silly grandpa. He hugged me and started saying the Pledge of Allegiance and automatically his right hand went over his heart. That's how he knew which side was his right side. I thought that learning right from left using the Pledge was a wonderful thing.
We walked outside to the tree. The lawn was now empty of everyone and the sound in the air was the sound of snow crunching beneath our feet. No reporters yapping about the number of lights on the tree or what Zoey was wearing. No secret service in sight, though I knew they were there somewhere. It was Gus and his Grandpa. We really didn't talk. He was intent on getting to that tree. Admittedly, so was I. He put his hand on the switch and when I said, "Okay," he flipped the lights off. Then on. Then off and he smiled. Then on and the grin got bigger. I prayed to God that somehow Gus would remember this time together. I also prayed that I'd be alive when he turned five.
It wasn't the day I wanted. Turned out to be the day I needed. I learned a lot considering almost everything going wrong. It didn't make me a better President. Quite simply, it made me a better man.