Thanatosis

candle

There is death everywhere, and I hate it. I hate having it follow me and sleep with me and breathe in my mouth. Death is a real thing, tangible, that people catch and never get over. Grownups laugh and talk about how you’re going through a phase, and it’s all horseshit because you know, as you never knew before, that you—personally—are going to die. You know this because death came to you at night when you were unawares. You were dreaming, or you’d just jacked off, and as your fantasies faded across your brain-screen a voice whispered, asking “Where were you before your birth?” Just like that all thoughts of some model chewing at your crotch vanish in the face of this deep well of backward running eternity, an eternity exclusive of you. As you peer down towards a bottom that isn’t there the same voice whispers, “And when you’re gone, what then?” Sweat covers you and night winds whistle in your ears as you comprehend eternity for the first time, and that voice, that crazy voice whispers, “You will be dead and it will be permanent, and that will be that. Nothing anyone can do about it. Nothing, period. So long, Jack.”

Suddenly you know how adults get so twisted. They forget, you see, what it was like the very first time they found out. Oh, they carry it with them a little while, and it scares the shit out of them, that hollow tickle at the base of the spine that flares when they let their guards down and leaves them trembling and weak. Finally they go a little crazy in self defense, and they push it behind them, forgetting it, but still it creeps back from time to time, insistent, and each time they have to go a little crazier to hold it at bay until finally they are thoroughly mad and they can’t think clearly at all which is why things are the way they are.

I sit in my room and I stew over this and no one—I mean no one—takes it seriously. But I am scared to death—that word again—and all the half-assed Dr. Phil philosophy in America isn’t going to make things any better.

Do you read me?

Nothing helps.

So I talk to my best friend, James, and he gets really serious for a while, but then he backs off, you know, like death is contagious instead of systemic. Systemic: affecting the entire body. It’s a great word that I learned in biology, the study of life. James isn’t interested in big words. He looks for any excuse to get away, watches me nervously with his wide eyes, mumbles frantically with his weak lips, until finally he puts me aside like a broken toy and disappears into his own peculiar madness, content to be like our folks, quietly nuts so he can pursue a career in systems analysis or some equally bogus thing that doesn’t count for diddley-squat.

I talk to my girlfriend. Not the brightest thing I’ve ever done. What a waste of organic tissue that bitch is. I forgot that girls are only fond of you if everything’s all right. I’m not really a boyfriend so much as part of her outfit, able to hang around so long as I go with her shoes. You see, the girls all have a system and in school they have to take turns dating all the guys who don’t actually ooze or something, so when the shit hits the fan the girl bails out all offended that this horrible thing had to happen on her turn, right? And you stand there numb as your friends begin to tell you how all the time you’ve been going with her and being good to her that she’s been doing it with some clown you hate who’s no damned good to anybody, and she never did anything for you and it makes you feel sick inside a little bit.

So then you get really weird, you know? And school sucks and so you get gloomy books to read and you shut up to everybody because they don’t care and why the hell should you treat them to your misery, right? They start pointing in your direction across the schoolyard and you can hear them whispering in the halls and you don’t care because all the time your mind is sorting them out and nudging them with its finger saying “you’re dead and you’re dead and you’re dead and you’re dead…” and you take some comfort in being part of all their funerals.

Yesterday Mom comes to my room and tells me the counselor from school called and said something seems to be bothering me. And now Mom is hinting that she’s been going through my room looking for drugs but she didn’t find any and if I am in that kind of trouble I should tell her and she will try to help. So I can’t believe it, and I tell her that as far as I know the only dope in my life is the occasional adult I have to answer to and she gets almighty pissed off and talks to me about coming down off my high horse and I grin and say, uh oh, more of that drug talk, and she goes positively spare and makes all manner of meaningless threats as well as real ones which don’t mean diddley-squat to me either and I just wish all these assholes would go away. At the end of all this she starts crying and acts all injured and I don’t have patience to take care of her and me both so I split and she hollers after me about talking to my dad which is almost terrifying if I cared, you know. He’s no prize, just sits there and talks about how I’m jerking her chain. “He’s always jerking your chain, Marge, when are you going to learn?” Like I’m some kind of course she’s taking that he’s already passed.

So now I go down to the school where they picked me as lead in this play for the drama club. Some mystery thing I read for and was good at and I was very excited about it for a while but now I think it’s so much crap. Before I go I stop in the garage for some stuff I put together and keep in an oversized gym bag and I been carrying this stuff around for days but I don’t dare leave it because you never know, you know?

And I go to the school and everybody’s in the drama room where there’s this little stage and they’ve been rehearsing and I forgot all about it and I’m not even sure why I’m here. And the drama teacher says, glad you could make it, superstar, like really sarcastic, and he calls a break and I go sit on the edge of the stage near this girl I’ve just noticed and I wait for the teacher to start some shit but he’s already preoccupied and I set my gym bag on the floor and start talking to this girl I’ve never talked to before but I always wanted to, and there’s no shyness—and I ask her—and I should mention she’s beautiful and that my heart feels swollen inside like I’ve really found something and her eyes are so intense they’re like movie eyes—and I ask her what she thinks of this shit and she’s confused a minute and says what the play and I say no the other play the one we never tried out for, life, and I say it real serious, for effect, but it’s not playing, it’s not playing, and I know it because I can see her the way she’s looking at me that I’m losing it like she knows I’m not real anymore, not together, not a part of her reality and then I know it, too, and I start crying and I sob hard and it’s tough to breathe and cry at once and I feel like Jesus Christ and I can’t stop and I’m only fourteen year’s old, and I don’t even know what I’m saying and the girl, the girl looks frightened and repelled and I think in the middle of all my passion how much I’d like to fuck her and that makes me laugh and then the drama coach is running over and I reach into my gym bag before he can get to me and take out the sawed-off that’s loaded and has been waiting there so handy and patient and right there in front of all of them I shoot off my fucking head and make sure as the last thing that I turn so as to get some of my blood on the bastards.

—Don Whittington

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