And other answers to questions you didn’t ask.
“What do you think happens after we die?” — Alfred Afraid
We’re probably forced to watch re-runs of our own lives in an empty classroom on an old-fashioned TV with antennae and tin foil. We see all the mistakes we made played out over and over again. After a while it gets really funny. We will think to ourselves, “I’m still really happy I completely thwarted that relationship.” This goes on and on forever. It is kind of like those rubber rooms they send teachers too when they’ve freaked out on a kid. They wait forever to be fired thinking “Is today the day?” Except today is never the day. You just keep waking up. You just keep getting to screw around with your phone.
I’m still not completely convinced that most dead people aren’t just hiding. That makes way more sense. The idea that everybody automatically dies at the end of their life is kind of crazy and boring at the same time. I know that Mary, Jesus’s mother, was assumed into heaven. Like heaven sent down an invisible elevator and just kind of let her go all the way to the top floor without passing Go or collecting $200. Maybe more people get that kind of treatment? Like quiet people no one really knows who haven’t bothered anybody? They just get sent directly all the way to the top floor?
I understand why some people do die. You just would never be able to shut them up otherwise. No one would ever get a word in edgewise. Imagine a room filled with all the biggest male egos ever invented, all of them insistently mansplaining at the top of their lungs all the time. No one would want to listen to that podcast. Hitler, Mao, The Joker from Batman, Stalin, Trump, Robin Williams, Darth Vader, that “Yo Quiero” dog from the Taco Bell commercials. All of them constantly yapping, blah blah blah. You’d yearn for death to take you away to a quiet, dark, endlessly paralyzing cave of nothingness.
Life is hard. Plagues, war, famine, bad episodes of ‘Twin Peaks.” We humans have endured them all. My pants are way over there, so I’ve been walking around my apartment naked all day. It’s been quite an ordeal. It does not make me yearn for the milky silence death must provide. I fear death like I fear success. Any change in the status quo means certain doom. Probably. I may never find out. This cool guy Justin I once knew from one of the bookstores I worked at had a tattoo that said “Fail Better.” That is possibly a Beckett quote? Or a William Gaddis one? Or your mom said it, I can’t remember. Memory is the first to go on the way to being dead. And it’s kind of a relief. Remembering everything all the time is such a burden. I want to get a tattoo that says “Fail Worse.” But tattoos are hard for me; I get so fainty. And they hurt!
If people are dissatisfied with what comes after death, we’re hearing very few complaints. Most of them come from little children who have died and come back and write books about the experience. They generally follow an irresistible light to a wonderful place in which joy is palpable like the humid noontime air. And for some reason because they miss their dog or something they turn back. They watch themselves in the hospital room from high above. Then they come back, write a book, make millions and someday probably wish they’d stayed in the light. Humans are not built for comfort and success. We yearn for struggle. To rise and fall. And resist forever all the things we should jump directly into. Like gluten. We should be so filled with gluten all the time. Oh, well.
Many people use death as a simmering warning. People want to accomplish X, Y and Z before they croak. But death comes whenever, either too early or too late, and signifies very little. If someone did construct this reality, they must not have been very good at writing endings. Endings are hard to write. Not as hard as titles, but pretty hard. A writer just keeps thinking the next best line might just be around the corner. And then the next corner. And then we run out of corners.
Most people would rather die than have to give a speech in public. That seems weird. No one really listens to speeches all that much. And if speeches are short no one gets all that bothered. Dying, on the other hand, seems pretty permanent. I guess it’s possible that some people know they’re on their second or third trip through the human sausage maker. You’d think they’d know what’s going on.
If no one knows what happens after we die, and no dead people are complaining all that loudly, I guess we will just have to be patient and wait to find out. I hope it’s like the movie Wings of Desire where I become an angel and watch people in libraries all day. And maybe get to meet Peter Falk. I fell asleep during that movie. But it looked good in black and white. And I like those long winter coats. But even lying perfectly still under ground without breathing might be fun for a while. I’ll be dead a long time. The thing that worries me the most is missing new episodes of ‘Twin Peaks.’ Which will most likely be awful. But I’m alive and you’ve got to spend the time doing something.
We shouldn’t worry about death. But we all will. Like I irrationally worry about my penis just suddenly falling off and rolling around in the middle of the street. I worry about this a lot. There’s nothing you can do. Either your penis will fall off for no reason in the street or it won’t. Either we all die or we’re just really good at hiding. Only time will tell. Or you can buy me a bunch of beers and I’ll draw it out for you on a napkin. Either way, don’t worry. Worrying is worse than dying.
Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City, NJ and works in a bookstore.