Why am I telling you this? I don’t know. Maybe it’s something you’ll find interesting. No one alive really understands what it’s like to be dead, right? I’ve been dead since 1984, though you wouldn’t know it to look at me. That would make me one of the older ghosts on Earth, except there’s really no such thing as ghosts. Most of us quit hanging around once we get a clue, but I wanted to be a writer so I couldn’t very well leave, could I? Anyway, I’m kind of an expert now.
November 11, 1984 is really an arbitrary date. It’s not when I died, I have no idea when that happened. I call it my birthday but it’s just a date I picked because I like it. After you’re dead, that’s the most important kind of date. It’s the day where everything that matters starts mattering. It’s the day you’re talking about when you say, “If I had it to do over…” but there’s the thing. You can’t have it to do over.
I wouldn’t do anything differently anyway. None of us would. We always like to say we would have tried harder in school, or we’d never have slept with that one jerk, but that’s not how it works. I certainly wouldn’t kill myself again, right? Of course I would. I’d be presented with exactly the same circumstances, think exactly the same thoughts, and make exactly the same decision. Funny thing is, we do get to do that, but you can’t tell the difference between the first time and the second because they happen simultaneously.
So, what’s it like to be dead? In a word? Scattered – but before I get to that, I’d like to talk a little about what it’s not like.
First off, my eternal soul did not go to Heaven. Obviously. I didn’t go anyplace. Would a raindrop still be a raindrop after it falls into the ocean? I just stopped. I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from believing in Heaven. In fact, I encourage it. There’s just no such place. To be more accurate, there are no places at all; or rather there is one place. Whichever you like. At any rate, I have no eternal reward, nothing is perfect, and there are no singing angels.
I know some of you had the immediate thought, “Well obviously, she went to Hell because she killed herself.” Don’t be silly. If this is eternal damnation, then raspberries on it. No places means no places, and besides, I’m having fun. No one is punishing me. I punished myself for a little while, but I got over that because it wasn’t fun. So there’s no wailing or gnashing of teeth and you can forget about Limbo or whatever too. I’m just dead. It’s not complicated.
Bodies are places, ergo I do not have one. That includes souls or astral bodies or whatever you want to call them. Dead is dead. It’s very difficult to collect myself enough to even feel like I have one, so mostly I don’t bother. I used to think I still had one. I’m one of those people who loves to stare in the mirror. After I died, it took me the longest time to realize it wasn’t my reflection I was staring at anymore, only my memory of it.
Finally, I don’t get to look down on my friends and family from “above” or anything like that. I’m sorry about that. I hear lots of people say things like, “Your sister’s watching over us from Heaven now, Sweetie,” and yeah, no. I can’t even remember their names. I call my memories of the most important person in my life Jessica, but the last time I saw her, she said her name was Rae. I don’t even know my name. Dead people don’t really have names. I am not named Anne. I am Anne. There’s a difference.
So that’s some things being dead is not.
Now, what do I mean by scattered? Just that. Perhaps a fitting metaphor would be to have my ashes spread on the wind. I’m afraid, however, that I’m a little more scattered than that. Most of the time I feel very much like I’m in a constant state of fluctuation. My presence or focus bounces all over in such a way that space is meaningless. My identity is a fleeting thing and I think that’s why I still love staring in the mirror so much. It composes me.
Time is equally irrelevant. Being born in 1984 would make me twenty-eight right now, but that’s not right. My age is in a constant state of fluctuation as well. I’m usually about seventeen when I’m writing, and coincidentally, also when I’m looking in the mirror (not necessarily the upside you might think). I find myself at age five sometimes, and once I was at least eighty-five, but I’m pretty sure when I died I was only twenty and I never seem to grow past it.
The worst part about being dead, the worst part for me anyway, is the memories I don’t have. I really love being Anne, but there are just some things she never did and you can’t remember things you didn’t do. Take sex for example. I don’t have any memories of it. I can imagine it now, but it’s not the same. I do remember being raped once, which I hardly count. The closest my memories come to something I would count are the times I played around experimenting with my friends, mostly kisses. I do love those memories, but it would be nice if I had some others.
The best part about being dead? It’s kind of a toss-up but I’m going to go with freedom; not freedom from pain, or sorrow, or guilt. Sure, it’s your choice whether you experience those things, but they are really a choice in life too. The freedom death offers is to be someone else. Not everyone else, mind you. It has to be people whose privacy is not compromised by your presence, people who want you be there. Usually, that means they’re dead too, but not always.
Really if you stop and think about it, the best part of being dead is really the same as the worst, isn’t it? Best and worst aren’t really what’s important. What’s important is that the memories you make are what you get to take with you and so my experience in death is as uniquely my own as my experience in life was. You get to be dead too someday, but you can never be dead like me. If I could add one piece of advice to all of this? Make memories you’d like to keep.
© 2013 Anne Schilde