When Ella was thirteen, she realized she was going to die, and for a month she lay awake every night in terror, flat on her back afraid she might vomit, rigid, nodding and starting nearly jolting herself out of bed, finally she would fall asleep. Now she sleeps better but with no warning she is sometimes ambushed and paralyzed with terror of death … Looking around the car, she can see each of these faces in its casket, grey flesh limp, eyes fallen in, nightmare caverns of stiff nostrils black as pitch, sagging ears, slack cheeks drooping away from a wired jaw and permanently sealed, livid mouth … The opposite bench is empty, in the black pane of the window above it there’s a wan dewy frowse, Ella, and above all she can see that face in its casket, purple-black bruises make a wide ring around her eyes, her hair dry as hay, weirdly friable and clumsily gathered on the stiff cushion – “just fucking burn me” she says with cold lips sutured shut. In her mind’s eye she’s searing, melting and shriveling in the flames, locks of hair flap here and there in gusts of fiery wind – and that would be something like life, it would be a decision – as if she had set the fire – instead of that passive acquiescence to rot away in a wet hole.
I’ve had that exact kind of experience. I remember as a kid, maybe ten or eleven, something like that, I’m in the van looking out the window when the idea hits me that one day the sky and the trees will keep going, but I won’t, I’ll be dead. My mom, my brother, they’ll die too, but even then I realize I’ll probably die first. Everything will keep going, but I won’t. Then I start to think about everything that happened before I was born, how I didn’t exist and time kept going until I did. I remember being absolutely terrified for a few minutes. I remember that experience vividly. Long before the last year or two, before tasting it so many times, I’d thought about death and time and existence.
Sometimes, especially at the mall, I look around at everyone with their cellphones and shopping bags, I think to myself that we’ll all be dead. People who are so young and stylish, texting their friends and drinking chocolate lattes, they’re all going to lose everything that seems so important right now and they won’t exist. I think how some will grow old and die quietly. Some will get sick and die in hospital, slowly, they’ll know it’s coming. Then, of course, I think of myself dying, how it’ll probably be some kind of acute respiratory failure. At least for a few minutes I’ll know what’s happening and I won’t be brave about it. Everyone in the entire mall will be gone, but the world will keep going and that day at the Macy’s and the Starbucks won’t matter at all.
I’m definitely not obsessed, but I do think about these things. Sometimes, like Ella, I don’t sleep.8 comments
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