If I die young
Bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song
The first time I heard this song was in the car. I was rather sleepy, and the only thought I had was “If I die young? How morbid.”
The second time I really listened, and I started thinking about death. I don’t want to die. I have so much left to do. I don’t know what comes next, so I don’t fear it – I’ll figure that out when I get there – but I fear leaving. I’m not ready.
The third time I heard this song I thought about the bit toward the end where she says, “Penny for your thoughts – oh no; I’ll sell them for a dollar. They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner.” A while ago Squiggle and I had a conversation about just that: she remarked on how unreasonable it really is that a person’s words carry so much more weight once they’re dead. If this person’s opinions matter so much to you, you should have been paying attention already. I realize that there are emotional reasons – guilt, sorrow, etc. – for taking a person’s words to heart when you suddenly lose them. But I resolved that if a person was important to me, I was going to listen to their advice while they were still around to give it. I hope I manage to stand by that.
Squiggle once told me that one of the saddest things about death, to her, was being forgotten. If she could, she said, she’d be immortal, so that none of her friends would ever be forgotten. At the time I answered that I don’t need to be remembered by my name, my face, or even my actions; I just want to leave my mark in people’s lives, make them happier somehow, teach them something. That way whenever they follow through on that lesson, whenever they pass it on to someone else, however long it lasts – I won’t be completely gone.
It’s still true. I still want to remain in the world through good deeds that people do for each other. If I get to have a legacy, I want that to be it.
But if I die now – if I die young – then all my friends, my family, everyone I know will move on with life without me. I won’t be forgotten, but I’ll be gone. I’ll fade away, until I’m just a story people tell their kids, and not even a very long story. I didn’t expect that to bother me, but it does. I don’t want to be gone. I haven’t had “just enough time”. I’m still here, I still have so much to do, to see, to learn. I don’t want to leave the people I love.
The fourth time I heard this song, I thought about how, when it comes to death (and most other things), my life has been pretty sheltered. Not very many people I know have died, and most of them I wasn’t too close to and hadn’t seen in a while anyway. None of them were young, either – except one.
I tell people he was my cousin, because it’s simpler, but he wasn’t actually. I have a friend in Brazil whom I’ve known pretty much my entire life. Her mother and mine are best friends; her grandparents and mine are best friends; our great-grandparents used to go to each other’s houses for tea. He was her cousin, her uncle’s son. My sister, my friend and I spent nearly every waking moment of every summer together, but I never played much with him. I didn’t really see him much at all. All I do remember is him laughing and beating me at everything. I was a year younger than he and very competitive, and if he weren’t there I’d have been the oldest. It infuriated me that he always won, and that he sometimes cheated to do so, and that he laughed at me; but that laughter is what I best remember, and the reason I did actually like him even when I was busy being righteously indignant. He was fun – he was hilarious – and he was, sort of, family.
I hadn’t seen him for two years when, one spring, he put a gun to his head and shot himself. I’ve tried to understand how that laughing face could be so tormented that he would do such a thing, but I can’t hold the two pictures in my head together. I guess two years is a long time.
I was fourteen. I cried so much. I don’t remember much of it – my mind has erased a lot of the memories – but I remember lying on the couch in the living room with the door closed, my face stuffed into a pillow as I bawled as silently as I possibly could, because if my parents heard they would only be upset and there was nothing they could do. This happened… quite a few times. It hurt so much, and for once I didn’t even have the words to say why it hurt. It just did, even though I barely knew him, even though he probably hadn’t even spared me a second thought since the last time we’d seen each other, even though of all the people he meant to hurt, I wasn’t even on the list.
I thought that was why he’d done it – to hurt his parents. He shot himself right after a fight with them. I have to admit I never thought about it too much beyond that – I think because I couldn’t comprehend a burden so great that death would sound like a good idea. Not for a fifteen-year-old kid. Not someone real, someone I knew, someone whose dad had played hide-and-seek with my mom when they were little. What could possibly be happening to him that was so awful?
To this day I don’t know. I doubt I ever will. At the time, though, the effect of all this was that I hated him, and that my vague disapproval of suicide turned to avid loathing. For many years, that was how things stood.
Now I have a friend whose life is so horrible that she has, multiple times, considered ending it. At first she told me that she had, in the past tense, wanted to kill herself. But slowly, before my very eyes, it got worse, and there was nothing I could do. She said once – in writing, to our whole group of friends – that she wanted to die, “and if you will hate me for that, then you are not good friends because this isn’t living. So why live?”
It felt like she’d stabbed me through the heart. Because in a way, she was absolutely right. Hating her would be selfish. I still don’t want her to die, but this forced me to think about why. I know why it’s important to me that she live. Why is it important to her?
She still has so much time. There’s still so much to do, and so much time to do it in. The world is huge, and life is long. If she ends her life now, her whole life will have been full of pain. If she waits – if she gives herself time, and fights on – she can fill it with joy. Maybe she’s right when she says that the wounds inside her will never go away, that the scars will never leave her. Maybe they won’t. But scars heal. She may never be the same, but that doesn’t mean she’ll never be happy.
That’s the best I can do. I don’t know enough to say why living is worth it for someone who doesn’t feel that way themselves. I’m not wise enough, I’m not old enough – I don’t know.
I used to worry that when someone walked out the door – my mother, my sister, my father, whoever – they might never come back. I didn’t have any logical reason for this worry, and I don’t have a Freudian excuse. I don’t remember when it started plaguing me, the terrible knowledge that anyone can die, at any moment in time. Life isn’t a story: people don’t just die at the most intense parts of the narration. Somewhere along the way this must have hit home for me, and suddenly every time my mother went out for groceries a spike of panic would lance through me.
I was never magically cured of this. I just learned to suppress the feeling, to tell myself that I was being silly. Besides, there’s nothing I can do. If a meteor falls on my mother while she’s buying broccoli, then that’ll be that. I learned to deal with my fear so well that I’d almost forgotten about it altogether.
When I moved back from Denmark, I was morbidly afraid that the plane would fall. Then I was morbidly afraid that Europe would be struck by the apocalypse and all my friends would die while I was over here. Then I calmed down, got over it, and moved on. Until Midnight said she wanted to kill herself. If she died, if I just turned off the computer one day and never heard from her again–
There were days when I nearly screamed with the panic, the frustration, the terror of knowing that I was too far away and there was nothing I could do and no matter what I said I wasn’t helping. There were days when I’d log off of facebook and curl up on the floor, shaking with fear and quiet sobs, praying that she’d still be there the next time I logged on. At one point she told Flip that she wanted to take a break from Mao, from us, from our group, and I nearly lost it. I’d been dreading for weeks that she might just not be there one day, and here she said she was going to do exactly that. She wouldn’t be dead, so it wouldn’t be permanent, but still I pretty much went crazy when I saw she’d deactivated her facebook account. She hadn’t even said goodbye! A short while later she reactivated it, and we had the biggest fight we’d ever had – the only real fight we’ve ever had. At the end of it she swore she wouldn’t ever do that to me, that she’d never just vanish like that.
She’s promised that she won’t kill herself. She’s said a few times that there were moments when she wanted to, when she was so close, but she didn’t. She stayed. She says she won’t do it. I have to believe her, I have to, because if I don’t–
I have to.
I do. She promised. She’ll stay. I don’t know what strength it is she finds to keep living when she wants so much not to, but I’m glad she has it.