On Death in Life: Grappling our Anxious Relationship with Passing

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Guest Writer: Alex Blank; London, United Kingdom

*The following content contains sensitive material and mentionings of suicide.

…. is dead.

There is something wrong here. There is something wrong with assigning an attribute to a lifeless figure. More than that, there is something wrong with death in the form of an adjective, it suggests that said entity is still burdened by the restriction of characterization. What are they characterized by, exactly, other than the state of being not-here anymore? Of being the other, the somewhere else, the uncomfortably foreign? Isn’t it enough that every person has to battle adjectives throughout their entire lives? Hell knows I do.

***

‘Chris Cornell is dead.’

            I wore a Soundgarden t-shirt that day, for no particular reason, without knowing about what happened. I heard those words from my English teacher, after handing her my essay. That was how I found out.

            It was the day of mine and dad’s weekly dinner. We went to an Italian restaurant, and I had pasta. It was the only thing I had to eat that day. Diet by death became a nice inverse to life, as I’ve always expected for it to conclude in the opposite manner. Having an eating disorder and a slight fixation around alliteration adds even more spark to the gradual decay of flesh.

                        CHRIS CORNELL IS DEAD AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH MYSELF is what I threw in the virtual ether on the following evening. I haven’t had any friends (or so I liked to tell everyone around me), all I had were dead musicians, except for him. He embodied the possibility of a future scenario, not just a dimmed, suicidal dream of one.

            I signed up for a music course that summer, which became my personal tribute. I sang “The Day I Tried to Live,”“Fell on Black Days”and more, I was given the title of Chris Cornell without a penis, by someone I had a crush on, no less. I stole the baton when no one was looking, I invaded his privilege of greatness.

            And now we’re here. In a new country, a new city, a new room without a particular view. A newfound independence, a dead dream (here we go, another death, another adjective), and, in the middle of the whirlwind, there’s me, trying to make sense of things.

            I barely ever sing for real anymore, it’s become more of a private affair as of late, while I turned towards a more silent form of screaming. I started exploiting words and exposing adjectives, safely cuddled up in my own mind.                       

            Everything must come full circle, and so did I. A year and a half into the future, I was faced with the Cornell tribute concert in Los Angeles. I looked at all the more or less familiar faces and voices - Miley Cyrus from my childhood, Taylor Momsen from my girlhood, Foo Fighters from my adolescence, Metallica from reallytried-but-can’t-stand’em, all of them having had the right to infiltrate Cornell’s spirit. That was the day a part of me wilted as well. I tried to live, and I tried to keep him as a reminder, but there’s no life in his death. There’s not enough space for my life in his death.

***

‘Snoopy is dead.’

            The nine-year-old me bore the power of naming him, and thus establishing him as a definable entity of the outside world.

            He was always smiling. With his eyes, illuminating in their blackness, lighting up like a diamond in a coal mine. With his legs, always trying to catch up with everyone and everything, always chasing life like it was the most scrumptious bone he has ever laid his eyes on. With his tail, short and spiky, barely moving but always on the move.

            He was the kind of friend that was always there. I didn’t have to be the one who brightened him up, all I needed was to live in the same reality as he did. That’s all we need in our lives, to spike ourselves with external energies, and choose the ones we want to experience further. All of it adds up to our own reality, enriching and enlivening it, with its light.

            I remember making angels in the snow, snow as white as his skin. I remember having to face sunrise in order to please him, infuriating as it was sometimes. I remember—

            ‘Snoopy is not well.’Those four words, I’ve heard them many times before. He always got into trouble, he was too careless not to, but this time those words felt different, they belonged to a reality of their own.

            Each reality is comprised of memory, and all the newness is taught how to live by the strongest pieces of memory. I will withstand losing friends and places, and lifestyles and habits and jobs, I can even lose memory itself. But there are certain constants that are the backbone of one’s consciousness. Everyone needs those, they are the ones enabling us to walk or breathe without thinking twice, which gives us the privilege of taking our world for granted. And now the puzzle is scorched, the sunlight is drenched in my blood. 

            (or his blood? I don’t know how that works, my fingers make it up as my soul goes along —that is the secret of writing)

            I’m afraid. I’ve never lost a constant before. I’ve lost many things, cried many a puddle over them, but I’ve always believed in my own immortality through the control and stability of my background, or at least the parts of it I chose to retain.

            I was not-here for the next few days. In the midst of discovering Charles Baudelaire, purging in purgatory, studying psychology in my spare time and trying to write something substantial, I missed time and time missed me. I gained dog time, which is probably the reason why battling bad habits for five days outstretched itself (and its consequences) into a month. That’s all he gave me. His spacious illusion of time. The transient glow of substantiality, serving as a cover for the fact that reality is not real.

*** 

‘Virginia is dead.’

            That was a text I got from my mom. It was the first thing I read that day.

            A certified bookworm, I believe that Firsts are important. The first thing you read on a particular day should be a good one. I usually start my day with pacing around my room and reading a book (I’ve learned to ignore the vertigo). On that February morning, few days after my twentieth birthday, the first thing I read was yet another senseless, paradoxical description of someone as d e a d.

            Another death by suicide.

            Burial by binging, grave by gluttony. I do not cope well with deaths.     

            I did not know her very well, so instead of being affected by herpassing, I used it to recollect visions of my own comings and goings within my own little deaths.

            I love confrontation. I love blasting music inwards, shrinking myself into a little ball, at a street full of tailored bowling pins imitating people, but instead of hitting them, I avoid them, like I’m in a labyrinth of lava. Sadly, it does not recapture childish play.

            I hate confrontation. I hate people asking me how I’m doing, I hate throwing the dice right into their faces, deciding upon which answer I’m gonna use this time.

            ‘How are you doing?’

            A girl I know has just killed herself, and it reminded me of how I almost killed myself that one time, and how it was a big deal to me, but I still had to re-take a test the next day, and I studied for it with pills in my stomach, but all I got was a stomachache, because I didn’t really want to die, I just wanted to see how it was to die, and then I had to greet faces and ignore other faces, and look up and down at the right moments, and tilt my head at the right angles, and —I don’t know how I am.

            The thing is, I really want to want to live.

            I just don’t quite know how to achieve that.

            But I’m getting there.

            I am not noteworthy because I tried to kill myself.

            But maybe I am noteworthy regardless. 

***

Life progresses whether you want it or not. Life progresses even faster when faced with deaths, as if terrified of its impending finale. Each death made me die a little, but it also unveiled life, bit by bit. Who else has to die for me to discover life’s secrets, its absolutes?

            I’ve learned that everything is transient. I’ve learned that living as a ghost of music’s past is no way to live. I’ve learned to get a grip and move past my suicidal ideations that may not be here anymore, and that’s okay. My role in this world feels much smaller now, and I always thought this change in perspective would make me feel smaller, but I feel - finally - tangible. Multi-dimensional. I’ve always bruised easily, but now I await each hit with daylight brushed over my face, with an exhilaration only available to those who are newly born;

or dead

or reborn.

About Alex Blank:

Restricted by the unfinished past and the overrated future, Alex is filling her present with walks around London and tricking time. She's still searching for the core of her art, currently fascinated by the derealization’s on the subway, the irritating serenity of pigeons on the sidewalk, and, inevitably, time.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255