Category Archives: death

Pencils Down

I don’t remember much from the time my mother fell suddenly, gravely ill a few years ago. I don’t know if my brain, sensing imminent meltdown, scrapped the majority of the unpleasant details, or rather if the predictable monotony of tiled hospital hallways, harsh lights and rows of uncomfortable wooden chairs simply lent itself to melding events into one long, indistinguishable haze. Either way, the days did indeed bleed into what now seems a single, ageless track of sunlight from horizon to horizon. One of the few individual events I can recall is sitting at my parents’ kitchen table, feeling detached from everything around me, idly fingering random scraps of paper that my mother had allowed to accumulate on her “desk.” One piece lay separate from the rest–either from earning some elevated rank in the hierarchy of chores, or ostracized by the distasteful quality of its nature–its edges curling in as if to protect my mother’s perfect, swooping script. The note said, “Bleach tub handles.”

It struck me then–as it does again now as a friend’s father lay on an operating table, his life teetering on the edge of devastation–the potential absurdity of a final note such as that. There was my mother, mostly dead, struggling for what little life she had left in her body, and the final message she left to us all was that the fucking shower knobs had some mildew. While I can smile at it now, I can assure you at the time those words made me confused, angry, sad and horrified. But now, after having gained a bit of distance from the situation, I’m starting to think it wouldn’t have been such a final goodbye. For her, anyway.

We go through lives with the expectation of reaching very old age. We live our lives drowning in a sea of tomorrows, of laters, of getting-around-to-its. For those of us who will dodge sudden death, we will weave a tapestry of our existence for as long as we can, until someone comes along and says our work is nearly finished and soon it will be time to put it down forever. Once those words reach our ears, we’ll look back at the long, interlocking threads of our lives and begin to knot off the frayed edges. But for every one loose end secured, a thousand more will catch in the breeze, mocking our attempts to seize them. Reading all the classics, learning how to surf, eating escargot just once–those once trivial wishes, made monumental with the approaching end, will never come to fruition, and so our tapestry will remain ragged, undone. And the worst is, we will be fully aware of this. We will look at our amalgamation of lazy days (the very ones we are already apathetically conscious of) and wish to have filled them with greater things, thread-knotting things, tapestry-finishing things. We know this just as we know most of our little monkey brains will acknowledge the truth of this, and continue sleeping in, slacking off and ignoring the Jeopardy countdown song playing in the background. It is a disheartening thought.

In contrast, take my mother. Fine, talking one minute, on the floor the next. Her list of tomorrows was still–to her, anyway–full of potential, stretched interminably in front of her. Those damn shower handles would be tackled at some point, as well as all the other things she’d planned to do. Had she died then, she would have left her tapestry balled on the floor, frayed and unfinished, and she would have given exactly two shits. The rest of us would have stared at that stupid little piece of paper, trying to glean some sort of mystical, hidden message from its dearth of letters, but she would have slipped away thinking everything was still in place to be finished before the big finale. And that almost seems the kinder path, kinder, at least, than being handed a ticking alarm clock and sent away to do the best one can with the remaining hours.

After reading the note that day, I almost went into the bathroom to clean those knobs, to bleach the fuck out of them so when she got home it would be taken care of. I didn’t. A spell hung over that scrap of yellow paper with its official green lines and red margins. It felt in that moment that if I set screwdriver to those knobs, if I squirted one ounce of Tilex, the thread holding her to the planet would snap and that frayed remnant would be the one to finish off the raw edge left undone by that piece of paper. I put the note back on the table, just where I had found it, and went to go see if my dad needed anything. Spell or not, my mother did recover–against the most tremendous of odds–and those fucking knobs finally got their comeuppance.

***********

To my dear, dear friend, I send out well-wishes and healing thoughts for your dad. May his tapestry continue to grow by yards and miles in the years to come.

Advertisements

"To Sleep, Perchance to Dream…"


My mortal coil is a Slinky. It starts at my feet and winds up and up, so tightly wrapped around me that it would take a great deal of doing to shuffle it off. It’s not that I fear the state of death, or what lies beyond, because when I reach that point it will no longer matter. The afterlife will do what it wills — be it roasting my sinning butt in an eternal all-you-can-eat Avery barbeque, or allowing me to pass into floaty happiness as a tiny part of the greater One. And even if there is no sense beyond that which the living body provides, it still won’t matter to me once I’m dead. After all, the insensate form has no means by which to mourn itself. No, I worry more about the single second right before all goes blank (or all is revealed) when I’ll recognize that one moment as the last for me — at least the last as I currently recognize moments.

I’ve been plagued the entirety of my adult life with what I call my Hamlet complex; my considerable concern with becoming whatever it is I will become in the end. Equaling this is my concern for being myself until the end of time.

I guess what I’m saying is, I fear eternity.

The idea of never-ending sameness strikes a chord of horror within me. As much as I don’t relish the idea of being dead forever, I sure as hell don’t want to be alive forever. If I had the choice, I think I’d prefer to be dead a while, then wake up and live a while, going back and forth in that manner until time itself passes into oblivion. I’ve considered the hope of reincarnation, but the thought of not recalling who I am at this very moment bothers me (then again, if I’ve already reincarnated into this particular life, the process hasn’t done much to me in the way of trauma). I suppose it all goes back to that instant when I die. At that moment, when I’m still Avery, I suspect relinquishing my memories to become another person entirely would be an unwelcome idea. But, once I’d crossed over (or up, or down, or whatever direction I’m to take) it might not seem like such a bad deal.

These issues — as with countless writers before me — have wound their way into my book, snaking around the storyline much as my mortal Slinky coil has encompassed me. I’ve flung death onto pages of text, infusing this novel with themes of mortality and resurrection. Mirroring my trepidation of a future without change, Resonance spends some time in a version of the Norse Hel, a icy wasteland that stretches without variation into eternity. My necromancers speak of a cycle of life, death and rebirth — but also with options for those who choose not to inhabit a living shell again. There’s no punishment or consequence, only personal choice. The dead are allowed to select how they want their afterlife to play out. They’re given back their freewill — something ultimately taken from them at birth when they were not consulted about the matter of their eventual demise. And so, I’ve gone on, attempting to placate myself with my own fancies, soothing my inner uncertainties within my characters’ spirituality.

Has this exercise in self-trickery lessened my Hamlet complex? Not really. But, at least I’ve made some use of useless qualms. We writers are lucky; we have the will and ability to forge entire worlds of our own choosing. We can create people, and then pass onto them the hopes we don’t dare hold for ourselves. We are granted the range to give vent to our frustrations and fears, and then to conceal them all under the pretty guise of art. Do you know what the best part is? It’s cheaper than therapy.

******************
6:47pm

I was given a link to this video by my friend X, who is, as always, ever sensitive to my fits of despair: