The old saw suggesting writers kill their darlings can lead to any amount of debate over variation and attribution, but in the end, you can’t pen for a living without some beloved passages being unceremoniously dispatched to the ether by an editor somewhere. And yes, we’re misappropriating said saw for the moment to suggest a writer’s revenge—an assignment only for editors, to write in restricted word count on death.
Stevie Beisswanger, Associate Editor
Death and beauty were themes strangely interwoven through my teenage years. My mom married Don the taxidermist, and my first love would become his one apprentice. I used to watch him salt the hides—scrape away life’s residues.
Taxidermy is a curious art. The smell of death and the chemical covering of it grew constant. I became accustomed to piles of deer in the driveway, their suspended carcasses split open for all to see.
I never once accompanied a hunt; I had a distaste for creature keepsakes, that king-of-the-jungle complex. Their fake, lifeless eyes did little to inspire me, yet a certain beauty presented itself in their faces and fashioned hides—traces of former grace.
The loss of my young cousin was the first to feel undeserved. His casket revealed an unfamiliar face. His skin was cold, like clay. I felt for certain he’d gone somewhere else. Though I never cared to guess where.
At age 14, I stumbled upon past life hypnosis and its mystical healing powers. I gorged on studies and techniques, and soon began practicing on my friends. Regardless of whether what they experienced was real, their tales were fascinating; Something numinous lingered there, where they traveled.
In college I found familiarity in Plato’s accounts of Socrates, as he awaited and welcomed death row… If death begets nothingness, eternity is unbeknownst. If death brings transcendence, I would surely welcome the journey, while denying any road map. I’d rather death be open-ended—that my superstitions remain humble and uncertain.
After a quarter century of living, I feel death impending—the inevitability of significant loss. I have yet to be weathered by a bitterness in wake, or to face my own mortality. (I’m counting on a few more years of illusory invincibility.)
My only faith is in infinity—not in the trend of girls wearing the symbol on T-shirts or necklaces, but more like what drew me to M. C. Escher’s art work, his hands drawing hands drawing hands. I am only certain of the double loop of life and death, of polar ties and the crossroads of changing seasons. I don’t presume to know the meaning of life and death. My fragmented consciousness can only skim the sciences behind our being.
Steven Schultz, Editor-in-Chief
Reaper Be Damned
Even as a child I never really approved of death and its petty, greedy hatred of limitlessness. In my 20s I would sometimes dare the reaper, but that only left me a hangover of stupid, colorful stories and survivor’s guilt.
In my mid-30s, I was sick for a year, and there were tests for things that could have been awful, but there was also an enhanced appreciation of everything. As health returned, however, the banalities of life’s hot-diggity switch game again overtook whatever focus I had gained.
In my 40s, I would lose my father at age 69, though both his parents had lived into their 90s. About a year before, he’d tried a surgery and chemo, but the lung cancer proved inexorable. He didn’t need to work, but he chose to continue. He also decided on a few things he wanted to do before dying—he kept it simple. If you casually asked him how he was doing, he would change the subject and ask you the same.
While my dad was stoic about dying, he allowed my stepmom to drag him to a parade of specialists; he felt awful for her. We all endured my brother trying to take charge of things, or my step-sister trying to spin everything positive—my father’s patience with all of this was sublime. My takeaway at that point: our deaths are not personal, they are about how we remain in those that we leave behind.
In my 50s now, and having adult children, I still think there is a large amount of truth in that. Conversely, I can’t reconcile the reaper having authority to end playtime at his or her own damn will, the motherf*cker; I do take that pretty damn personally. But then, I haven’t a clue how I’ll feel when my time comes.
Johnny Beaver, Associate Editor
My sister was in a car accident that killed her back in 2003. There’s not much I don’t remember about that day, or the following several weeks. Lots of food, the mind trying to feel better again only to be sucked back down into the understanding that this was real, it had happened. We had a party instead of a funeral; I didn’t attend. I haven’t grieved that hard over anything since. Was it because it was her, or because it was my first time?
A couple of years ago my grandfather died of Alzheimer’s, having long since become somebody else, reduced to a nigh speechless shell of a person—a shell that ironically also become part of the family. At the time of his death, I wasn’t sure who I remembered more… him as he was in the past, or as he was right then. A bit later another grandfather died, who I barely knew; I can remember feeling disturbed at my lack of reaction.
Last November, an ex-girlfriend I had been very close to lay down on some train tracks in Orlando and let herself be run over. She was a brilliant artist in possession of a one-of-a-kind creative mind, a mind torn apart by schizophrenia and drug abuse. In these sorts of situations people often question whether they could have done anything or not. I know that my personal answer here is no, but it doesn’t help.
Within the last few weeks, a distant cousin’s two-year-old drowned in their pool.
I was asked to write about death, and it seems my experience is just a series of events. I don’t feel like I have any insight or philosophical treasure to share. I don’t believe in the comfort of an afterlife. The only silver lining seems to be the fact that we are designed to eventually move on, and that one doesn’t have to forget to do so. I know I won’t ever take that for granted.