If there is one thing, I am certain of, it’s that death, is the only thing that is certain. Some people say death and taxes but as we are witnessing, if and when the economic structure falls to ashes it would then succumb to its own death no? Death wins again.
Death first greeted me on my parents couch when I was five. I lay, nestled between my mother’s legs, my right ear on her pregnant womb. I loved falling asleep to the movement of the life growing within her. No blanket wrapped me in such warmth. My father came through the door interrupting our afternoon nap and Death followed.
"My mother is dead." The rest is a blur. I never got to say goodbye to Nana. My memory of her is faint.
The next time death knocked; it was not gentle. Ethan, in his twenties, looked up to my father and came to our house often to have long talks. He was the first person of color I met in this life. Death stole he and the girl he held close one cold night. They were found in the middle of the woods, in Ethan’s dad’s car. My father cried once again.
Then Death reared its head more deliberately. I was a freshman in high school. The boy who sat behind me in homeroom slipped me a note. He was sad, very sad. He confessed on looseleaf paper, that he was going to kill himself. My stomach hollowed out. I sought the advice of my parents who, I believed at that time, knew everything. They sent me to the guidance counselor's office with the evidence. He scoffed. “He always does this. It’s nothing to worry about.” Shortly after, I transferred schools, far from the unsympathetic guidance counselor and the troubled seventeen-year-old author of the fatal note. One morning commute, Death drove with my father and I in the car. She sat in the back seat and waited for her announcement. My father turned down the radio so say the same boy who had given me the note, took a shotgun to his mouth. My body went numb.
The following year Death found it amusing to take a beloved member of the community, someone who I considered a mentor. She snatched him during a Memorial Day parade. Mr. Boyle’s float came loose and careened down a hill into the woods. I cried for days. He was the reason I wanted to tell stories. He meant the world to me and so many others.
Senior year, Death crashed into our classroom and stole two of our best students, leaving two others as dangling participles in its dance. The feelings within me leading up to incident were inexplicable, as if time became slow moving. Our class finished the second performance of our senior play. Most of us celebrated at an after party. It was there, at five in the morning. the phone rang. It was my father. Once again, death left him in tears. He sobbed, dropping the phone after blurting, “there’s been an accident.”
My mother retrieved the line, explaining in detail what happened. I hung up. Every sleeping party goer was now awake. The phone rang again and again and again. The TV displayed large photos of our friends extracted by Death. Someone vomited next to me.
It was this instance when Death opened the door and showed me that there was more to it than void, silence and absence. Death met me in the graveyard. She allowed me to see that one of my deceased classmates was very much alive. Frightened, I ran as fast as I could to my car. I'd try to forget this moment, but Death would remind me at every turn, she wanted me to dance; not too close, but close enough that I could her when she called or inhaled the scent of Marlboro Red’s when no one near me had a cigarette lit. She marked me.
Over time, I learned so many things about death. It’s the phone call at five o’clock in the morning that rips you sleep and ejects you into chaos. It's a shapeshifter and always employed.
My Grandmother would greet death in her eighties. It would be the first time I delivered a eulogy and also asked Death why she was so cruel to someone so fragile. Soon after a colleague would meet his tragic demise after making a really positive life transition. I cursed death a loud and to myself for months after.
9-11 made me think that Death was being pompous and arrogant. In the aftermath, I denounced everything sacred and holy and only saw death as a wicked, firm reality.
Then it came for me, like a trickster in a routine surgery gone sideways. Waking up in recovery, unable to speak, a nurse revealed medical staff intubated me when I stopped breathing mid hernia repair. Disbelief, and pain fought for my attention. There was no white light or recollection of me hovering over my body on the operating table. Instead, Death stalked me on the subway, while I was at work and even kept me up till wee hours of the night to speak to me. For quite some time, Death made me feel as if I was certifiably, mentally ill and I, beaten down, wholeheartedly believed I was.
Everywhere I went, Death followed, peering around every corner no matter where I was or whom I was with. She kneeled on my chest while I slept and chased lovers out the door. I was indeed a hostage only to be freed by confirmation in a phone call to a professional medium, "yes, sweetheart, you see the dead and other life beyond the veil."
By the time I reached 30, the number of people I knew who were deceased increased by multiples of three. Each person’s demise was inherently unique. The only common thread was a consuming darkness that ruined one’s future hopes and kept grief alive.
With every loss, a ghost was gained. With every ghost, Death granted me a little more access, showing me life from beyond the threshold. Remnants of life infiltrated my 3D reality in colors, smells, and symbols but mostly in the lighter shadows of the human form that once was.
When my beloved psychotherapist past, Death boasted her suicide from the realm of social media like a sociopath.
When my former boss walked on, I considered for the first time what it would be like to have a really good funeral, the kind that would dazzle event goers for months post celebration. Her sendoff was beyond incredible. Lenny Kravitz sang.
Soon enough I realized there was nothing more I could do other than surrender to her constant wooing. Death in fact, was courting me all along. I just couldn’t see the love affair happening right before my eyes. So, I choked my pride vowing that I'd move forward her it in a more accepting manner.
But just like me, in every previous long-term relationship, I got sick of death’s cooing, wooing and such. I needed some space. A lot more of it. In the past, whiskey helped alleviate crowded head space and took away the pain in my heart from grieving clients. I was less haunted when I pursued a buzz until Death caught wind of it, tracked me in the shadows and ambushed me with strangers through the layers.
She was relentless. Death didn’t want my body, my soul or me for its own, not yet. It was more perverse. To appease my her, I waved the white flag. It wouldn’t however be without conditions. My terms were simple. Don’t bother me in the shower, during sex, while I'm eating or on the toilet. Leave my family and my daughter alone for at least a good dozen or two years. And if and when my number was up, take me in my sleep. With all the pain this son of a bitch has inflicted upon me, I was owed at least that.
Mortality and loss slip an envelope into my mailbox every day. The dying smile at me and I silence their loquacious loved one's tears just beyond a finish line they can’t see.
Destruction, extinction and oblivion yell at me through media headlines. Loss knows no boundaries and tugs at the coattails of life. In December of 2019, Death visited again. This time disoriented. Something big was about to happen. There was too much information. I could hardly take notes on everything she said. "Get your will in order. Learn about what happens to the body postmortem. Find out what happens in the funeral industry and how your corpse can fit into earths evolution." Then boom! The most recent plague came, and the curtains of Death grew exponentially. Doors to the afterlife opened everywhere. Portals were hard to miss.
And I wasn't unscathed in this event. She compelled me deep into my own body and it's magic and mystery alone for weeks on end. Her heaviness never left my side, still hasn't after all this time.
Last night, she whispered, "Time to peek behind the curtains again. Much has happened!"
So, we have legitimized our business relationship now with an updated contract. Death and I are in this, not to win it – but for the long haul. I'm ironing out details on my end for the living that come forward. We'll be more graceful; she is doing her thing and me helping to pick up the pieces and more oftentimes ghosts. I have learned so much now. There is no more judgment.
Death and I have signed the dotted line.