When I was just a little kid, I had a game that I would play.
I would pretend what my house, and the people in it, would look like if I died.
I envisioned all my things put away into neat little cardboard boxes, stored underneath beds and in closets; I envisioned my parents holding each other on the couch in the living room, holding each other closer than they have done in years. Cigarettes dangling from mouths, glasses of clear alcohol clinking in the chilly, uncaring wind of a winter's day.
Sitting on a plastic lawn chair at a folding table in the garage, my dad would shuffle through a deck of cards by himself. There'd only be one light on.
My mom would lay down in her bed, the glow of late-night TV casting a beautifully sickening shadow over the room. No sound: just light, and the faint sensation of my dad's hand around her waist. It was trembling slightly, as if trying to contain something jumpy and hot.
I would lay in bed at night and see how long I could hold my breath. Put my face in my pillow, feel as though I was dead. Emotionless, no thoughts, only black. In the process of my morbid childhood fascination of the beyond I dredged and channeled every spirit that gathered around my energy. I even had a dream where I was floating above my bed, looking down on my body - still, not quivering, peaceful. Lost in dark, collapsing into myself like a twinkling paradox of inhabited space and presence.
As a child there were a lot of members of my family who died suddenly. I'm not at personal liberty to name them all, but there were quite a few in a rather short period - I was quickly educated on the nature of death. I could see the strain it put on my parents, especially my dad. My dad was the standing stone of our family, and by extension the pulpit which mom would lay down all her problems onto. Adding to it the fact that he was rather close with the people who died, his attempts to maintain his strength began to become more and more in vain. I could see his face crumble over time.
Growing up and manoeuvring through school was something of a hard time for me. Is it ever easy for anyone? Like most people I was a target for bullies. Most of my classmates were, too - and we all had our ways of coping.
I'm pretty sure you know what mine was.
I would hold my breath under my pillow after bedtime, where my parents couldn't see. As I grew to the point where I could take baths by myself I submerged my head and fought off the temptation to breath in a hearty gulp of water.
You see, I didn't want to die - there were so many things and feelings that I wanted to keep. I wanted to be loved, and cherished, and admired by my family and my friends, and I wanted to have active intelligence. I simply wanted to simulate death.
As I got older, I got more experimental and adventurous with my trailblazing. Going through middle school I would take something sharp and draw blood on my arm. Feeling the seams of my body burst and the lifejuice flow over like a burst dam gave me some vestige of inherent fulfillment and satisfaction. Pleasure, you may say, but not in any kind of sexual way.
I remember visiting a gun store once with my dad. His coworkers at the time were avid hunters and, wanting to be socially active in the workplace, wished to buy a rifle and join them. I remember seeing a locked glass case with the shimmering silver of a .44 Magnum revolver beckoning from inside. I remember resting my head on the glass and whispering bang to myself numerous times until my dad called out to me, saying that it was time to leave.
As high school went on I became more and more disillusioned with the wonders of life. I was harrassed by several students for being reclusive, isolated, etc. I was also reprimanded by several others for my lack of engagement, my unreliability, my disinterest in a better education and for general aloofness. These seem like the hallmarks of an average, moody teenager, right? That's what I was thankful for. To have someone find out about my interests would cast a gloomy shadow over my figure and I'd have to take pills for the rest of my life or something. Pills that would never actually work, undoubtedly.
The year I turned 17 was the year that I finally decided as my maximum life expectancy. Call it selfishness all you want, but owing to my own wallowing-in-despair I figured that things would never soar for me. My middle class roots and my unremarkability as a person ensured a mediocre future at best. Besides, the call of death was reverberating in my ears, its sweet embrace looming in the distance like a welcoming sunrise.
So, one morning, I took my dad's rifle, put it up to my chin, and fired.
The bullet went through my mouth and came out through the side of my head, nearly destroying my left ear. Brain damage at a barely legible minimum.
The hospital as I remember it was hazy. It was ethereal; I was moving, blanketed in a bright white nova, with hands from every which direction reaching out for me. I heard faint beeping, and I eventually blacked out.
From what I heard, I had actually died in the ER. I tried to recall the period in which I essentially ceased to exist, but I couldn't. It was like when you go to sleep but you don't dream, and then when you wake up there's this big gap. The only sensation I could distinctly remember - or perhaps duplicate the best I could - was my disembodied consciousness levitating in a cloud of nothing. Nowhere. Nohow. It was as though my umbilical cord had been cut inside the womb and I was left to linger inside a cocoon of security.
To be honest, it felt good.
I felt glad to be alive - I'll admit that - but the whole experience rattled me. In a positive way, of course.
My only regret was that, in the process, my parents found me out. Sort of - I was, along with painkillers and a weak blood thickener, they had me on antidepressants and mood changers too. Uppers.
They worked, to my dismay. Of course, I couldn't really feel dismay through the disconnected, intangible wash of drugs flowing through my system. I wasn't in a constant state of joy, mind you - but I felt no need to try to emulate the dead.
I started getting really forgetful, though. I guess that's what a bullet to the head will do to you. As a result of my suicide attempt I lost all natural hearing in my left ear, so the medical technicians had to insert a cochlear implant into the half+stump that remained.
Apparently what I did deeply affected my parents, so much so that a few weeks after my release from the hospital they announced that they were going on a vacation.
This scared me. Why, you ask?
Because I couldn't remember where they were going.
Minutes after they left I struggled to recant where they said they were going off to. I was sure that they had told me before.
After this I took my brain damage a lot more seriously. Instead of small things like where I put certain objects or the date of the day, this was important. Important to a person like me, at least. It was after a while that I realized something else: I couldn't remember when they said they would be back. Now I had no idea where they went or how long they would be there, and I couldn't rely on a solid phone call because my parents barely use their cell phones for anything except flaunting material wealth in a kind of self-securing way that aging couples do.
Now, I like alone time as much as the other guy, but I got kind of anxious. My parents were my backbone; with them, I had a place to live and clothes to wear and food to eat. Without them back after a while, I could lose the house. Where would I go then? I wouldn't have to return to school until next semester, so I was somewhat confident they'd be back before then.
At least, that's what I told myself.
It was one day that I decided to go and get some food with the money I had saved up. I walked right out the door - and then forgot what I was doing outside and promptly walked back in. This cycle continued until I realized that I was unable to leave my house. Physically. I started to get scared. I chalked it up to my head - this was the only real place that was familiar, and recovering from brain damage is a delicate process. So, I decided to call and order in food - only the line was dead. No matter what number I tried. A pang of terror struck me in the chest like the punch of the Grim Reaper himself. Weak, bony yet effective in its efforts to sway. I tried to keep a level head, but I ended up losing myself and cried in the bathroom for several hours. I felt powerless. I felt as though as I wasn't even living my own life.
After that, my life began to spiral out of my control. I began to have time skips - times where weeks would feel like days, hours like seconds, etc. After about two months without any sign of my parents, I started to suffer from crippling bouts of hopelessness. I could barely sleep at night; I began to believe my mind was playing tricks on me - making me hear the sounds of motion and life, mostly through my left ear. In the daytime, my eyes would fall upon my bed for a split second, and I could almost see the impression of a body laying there. I would do a double take and this illusion would vanish. Shadows would skim along walls at night and I could see flailing phantoms lurk around corners and make creaks in the floorboards.
After about three months or so, these little 'hauntings' would escalate into bigger things. I could make out a full-fledged conversation between two adults downstairs, but I would somehow forget immediately afterwards. I could hear kids playing in the yard and when I ventured down to check I would forget why I came down there in the first place and go back upstairs. I got really desperate.
After four months, I felt a major shift in the climate of the house. I became fixated on the idea that whatever was haunting me - I was convinced it wasn't just me anymore - had become aware of my presence. I would hear clattering and kinesis and as I descended the stairs the noises stopped. I would move objects, throw things on the floor, scream, and the invisible things that surrounded me tucked themselves into my blind spot and I could sense real, genuine fear hanging in the air.
After half a year I was slipping into what you could outright term 'insanity', although no matter how hard I tried to kill myself I couldn't find the motivation or the conviction to do it. It was though I was trapped in my own private prison. I began to attend to a diary in which I would scribble nonsense and ramblings and I would call out the forces of the further and the unknown and pleaded for death (or at least peace, because death seemed like a far-out possibility).
I was getting hopeless.
To pass the time, I would play my old childhood game. I would sit there and close my eyes and imagine all my old sports memorabilia and my old shirts filling whatever dark space they filled with my scent. I thought about my parents - my sweet parents - and how they would feel.
Then, I thought about how I would feel about it. Of course, I wouldn't really feel anything at all - but, more than that, I wondered if there was anything after it. Okay, there's life, yeah. Then you die, and then... what?
Of course, I shouldn't be expecting much in the way of preoccupation considering all things must come to a stop in the end. Then again, there isn't really an end, is there? Time moves on, the Earth moves on.
One night I was awoken by a beam of otherworldly persecution putting me in its crosshairs. I worked my way out of bed - slowly - and, without hesitation, asked "Hello?"
"Hello?" a voice answered back. Obviously, it had not heard my preceding query.
"Hello?" I asked again, firmer this time.
"Is there anyone in this room with us?"
I couldn't see it, but I felt a form in the room with me that was almost... human.
"Yes," I replied.
"Who are you? Do you know your name?"
I searched for one, but... I couldn't find one. I began to silently panic. Have I actually forgotten my own name? Am I that far gone?
Then, my question was answered.
"Do you remember how you died?"
I've come to terms with it. I've made my peace with death. Sure, maybe not what I was expecting, but... you know. It's become obvious that another family has made my home theirs. They're becoming clearer now. I like to watch their youngest daughter prance around in the yard with glee and happiness. I can see the color and the heart and the soul and the passion for life in her face.
I don't intend to be the stereotype of a ghost and scare everybody. In fact, I wish to be the opposite: I wish I could act as a faux guardian angel, watching over this family and the families that live here in the future. Nonetheless, however, I'm restrained to this house and my presence as a ghost. I don't know what system is established here or what religion turned out to be right, and I'm not sure what'll happen to me after this house is torn down and forgotten. I don't know; I really don't know anything. I don't know if it's just me here or if everyone else gets a second life and I don't know if or when I'll see anybody.
I really don't know anything.
I wish I could say that my dying fulfilled my expectations, but it didn't. It's not like the thoughtless, formless state of nonexistence I thought it'd be, but it's undoubtedly more tranquil and serene than my everyday life. I get a lot of time to myself.
I've started to train myself to fly, you know. All it takes is a little push - once you're free from the constraints of life you can really do whatever you want within the limits you put upon yourself. I wanted to fly and I did. Hanging there, suspended several feet above the floor on a wire thin enough to braid through air. I'm not sure what else I can do, but so far I've begun to see the transcendental aspect of my captivity here. Who knows! Maybe I can achieve enlightenment, ha ha.
You know, in conclusion, this isn't as bad as people say it is. I wanted to go on the record and say this before all is lost; you see, I've began to forget everything. Everyone I've ever met, everything I've ever done... it's all drifting away. The sunny days, drifting. My parents, drifting. The rifle, drifting. I don't even care to look in a mirror anymore because I know I'll forget that, because in the end I'm just this consciousness, this independent body searching for something.
That's what life is, I guess. Searching... it's a constant search. In that sense, the dead are no different from the living.
Don't worry, I only have one last word left.
I would advise you - at all costs - to enjoy life as best you can. Life is a wondrous, orgasmic, amazing journey. It's hard to believe I forgot that once. Death, even though I don't mind it much, is not a substitute for life. It is simply a continuation, the epilogue that once wants to read.
Oh, and one more thing.
"How are you typing this?"
What, have you ever seen a ghost use a computer before?