Tuesday, February 3, 2015

So Many Choices But Dying Ain't One

Even as a child who wanted to be an adult as soon as possible, I couldn't buy what adults said about children--that children didn't think they could die. I was afraid of dying all the time. The problem is I had no idea what I really feared about death. I thought I was afraid of being small and weak and stupid. I thought if I could be the opposite of those things I wouldn't be vulnerable. In short, I might live a long time, if not forever. And I was sort of right. Now I know the fuller reason I couldn't buy what adults were selling; I didn't have the currency. Wanting to be older and stronger didn't make me older and stronger. Instead, it made me seem even younger. I didn't know a good thing when I had it.

The minnow I caught in a net and took apart with some cousins at a family reunion didn't read as dead to any of us. We knew it was dead because our parents told us it was dead. But no one told us what dead really meant. It didn't mean the minnow was gone. The minnow was still there in front of us, wet on the dock. No, I see now what I couldn't see then. The minnow still existed, but its potential had vanished. We'd made a choice for the minnow in a way we never feared anyone would make a choice for us. We would keep on moving because nobody would stop us.

Which is what the adults had really been saying all along. Our options still seemed wide open. The walls were not yet closing in.

I fear death now in the same way I feared it as a child. I just have the experience, near 30, to understand the dread I've always carried. When I ride in a car or walk home late at night I project my worry into a possible future where the outcome of an innocent choice is a final scene out of my control. The fear is not really in dying or being dead. The fear is in not being myself anymore. Because I love myself. I take care of myself. And I'm not finished. I know when I die I'll still be here. Nothing leaves this universe. Those pieces just won't have my name and they won't be able to do whatever it is I still want to do.

So where is this coming from? It's coming from last Sunday when I rode back to Kansas City in a car speeding over black ice and worried about my unfinished second book and how if I made it home alive I'd finish it, and then from a couple months ago when I decided to check in on some of the writers I used to workshop stories with over email after college and found out one of the writers had died. And even further back two years when I read a beautiful novel and tried to track down the author to tell him how much his writing meant to me only to also arrive at his obituary. After that one I sat on the edge of my bed and wept. I don't cry a lot, but when I do, I weep. Josh was out of town. Not that it mattered. I was inconsolable.

Whenever I think I might die, I don't. Obvious, and yet. I have seizures. Seizures have been video game death for me. The screen goes black, and I return to play again. I can't help but think of it as practice. I'm still young. Not that young. My options shrink. Who I am and what I'll have time to do solidifies even as entropy approaches. Right now I'm in order. Later, though, I'll be the minnow on the dock. Stopped then scattered. No more choices.

Anyway, I wrote this short story and it went up at The Mondegreen last month. Soon, I'll start working on a cardigan a friend commissioned. She provided the yarn, which she dyed with indigo. This week, like last week, I'm working on new stories. You'll read them if an editor somewhere thinks you should read them, and even then, only if you choose to read them. Today I chose to stand at the living room window and watch a young man sit in his car and squeeze blackheads from the bridge of his nose before taking photos of himself with his phone.

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From the mouths of beasts.