Ed. note: I've been attending an open mic night, You're Going to Die: Music, Prose and Everything Goes, who's theme is your friend and mine: death. With the editorial power of Alison P. Hunter (Yes) I shared this piece last night:
The other morning while jogging up a street so familiar to me it’s just background noise, a kamikaze squirrel lunged into road, certain to intersect with an oncoming car. My brain did brain magic, and for the next nanosecond I connected this moment to vaguely related memories and thoughts: the shriveled up mouse carcass I once saw baked into the sidewalk. The time I imagined my dad’s future coffin foam in my Thanksgiving mashed potatoes. The fact that I might have something in common with a suicidal squirrel.
Right, about that. I’ve developed a mantra at my job. Well, it’s either a mantra or a tic, but mantra sounds more peppy than “suicidal ideation.” Here’s what I repeat to myself at least eleven times a day: I wish I was dead.
There are a few things weird about this obsessive thought. For one, it’s grammatically incorrect (and I’m a copywriter). Also, I have a good job, the kind where every flavor of La Croix is available and people post funny gifs on Slack non-stop. But weirder still is that I trend toward the opposite of actually wanting to die: I’m one of those thanataphobics — someone who is afraid of death. I’m not afraid in that “golly I hope it doesn’t happen to me soon” way. I’m afraid in that “holy fucknuggets, sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night in a full blown panic attack saying no no no no no fuck no and without thought I’m out of bed and my heart’s exploding and all I know is at some point I won’t have to feel this kind of fear again because someday I will be dead and that’s actually worse than this shit that keeps me from getting a good night’s sleep” kind of way. Maybe you can relate?
My mantra has the pleasant side effect of that heart-exploding feeling while I’m at the office, followed by a flashback from a recurring nightmare I used to have as a toddler, and I wonder if that flashback is actually a flash-forward, a cinematic premonition to what I’ll see when I die, and then I’m cold from the inside out, and then I’m everything and nothing, and fuck, we all become nothing — and then, someone Slacks me a picture of cat using his front paws to type really really really fast and I’m me again, wondering if this cat gif is really what life is all about, and I start to wish I was dead again.
Anyway, back to the squirrel. He’s hit, causing me to gream - that’s a gasp and a scream at the same time - and even though I don’t want to see a dead squirrel, I stop running and look behind me. And...I don’t see a dead squirrel.
No, what I see is a squirrel whose who’s left side has been obliterated, but has his right side still intact. He flops like boiling fur on the asphalt. I queasily imagine crushing his neck with my sneaker to “put him out of his misery.” But, and I know this is crazy, I can’t help but think maybe thrashing is better. Maybe it’s better than not having anything, even misery. And maybe that’s what’s actually weird about all of this. That between wanting to die, and being afraid to die, is flopping around, being alive.