I originally wrote this for the website The Prose. To see the original post, click here.
People have started to think I’m strange. They look at me funny and avoid me in the streets. I can hardly blame them. I spend all my time with their dying loved ones writing notes to you, trying to express everything I can’t say to any of them. You are my solace. I find comfort in your letters that I have not found anywhere else.
Not everyone is upset with the time I spend with the dying. The families are unnerved, but the dying are grateful. The woman I am seated with now smiled when I spoke of you. She said that my stories helped her embrace the unknowable. Everyone thinks you are unknowable. We tell our children to write letters to the tooth fairy, to Santa, to the Easter Bunny, but no one has thought to write to you. You’re just too real, I guess. So you’re unknowable.
I certainly didn’t expect a response the first time I wrote you. Most people would’ve written to Heaven, I think. But I don’t know if such a place exists, and if it does, it certainly doesn’t touch this place, nor did it touch my mother. And I certainly wasn’t going to write to Hell. You remember how I asked you how my mom felt there in the end? If she died in peace and if she loved me? I feel so young just thinking about it. I was so naive then.
Then again, if I hadn’t been naive, I wouldn’t have written to you, so I’m grateful. I remember you said I was special. Most people don’t write to Death, you wrote, and those that do are angry, vengeful. I remember the stories you shared about the people who complained, who complained and railed against fate and life and fairness. I remember that you were impressed with the maturity with which I accepted your part in all of this.
In fact, I am more comfortable with you than with Life. You have said that you are just a part of Life. You told me to keep holding on, that my time wasn’t there yet, that I need to live. I thought you would understand. But perhaps, I do understand. You know everyone in the end except perhaps yourself. You will never die. You will never know what it’s like for your existence to end. Perhaps that is why you encourage me to continue.
Still, I took your advice and I asked the woman at whose bedside I’m writing you. She said that the one thing that she loved most about death was that it meant that she didn’t have to struggle with her body any more. She believes that after death, she’ll go to Heaven, where she’ll see her husband, her parents, and her stillborn son. You know that struck a familiar chord.
It was harder to ask the other question. She told me that the thing she loved most about life were the connections she made between people: just that day, she said, a young man here in the care facility who was having a terrible day. She told him to sit down, that she needed him to listen to her. She felt like that day, she had made someone else’s day better. That’s what she loved about life, she said: having those moments where you can help someone or have them help you.
She said that she wouldn’t have rather she died sooner or with her husband. She said that every day since her husband died, she had made a difference in someone’s life or had someone make a difference in hers, and sometimes both. She wouldn’t trade that for another day with a loved one, she said, even with the pain of the cancer slowly eating up her body.
I know why you wanted me to ask those questions. I know you want me to prolong this conversation as long as possible. But I want that moment to come when you take me to whatever follows this life. I fantasized taking this woman’s place. If she were to have another chance, another body to live in, she would make a difference in the world. That’s what she does, who she is. I fantasized that we could switch bodies, that I could give her more years.
Dark thoughts pop into my head when I’m not looking. When I’m on high places, I feel my body pulling me over the edge. I’m not afraid of heights like I tell my coworkers; I’m trying to stop my body from pulling me over the edge. Other times, I let my body get so close. I can almost feel the fall.
My knives help concentrate that feeling. It helps me control it; I can feel the desire to fall drain out of me with the beautiful red. I know now how to control the fall. That time you left the first note, you almost took me, you said. I’ve gotten better since then. Not because of the psychiatrist they made me see, but because of your note. And the ones we have exchanged since.
If we were to find each other in a bathroom again, would you take me now? Would you accept that it was my time? Haven’t I lived enough? Haven’t I lost enough? The only thing I look forward to are your notes. I wish that someone would fall ill and die so you can visit and leave another envelope with my name written in the fanciest cursive. I hate myself for wishing that on others.
I hate myself for wishing and wondering and fantasizing. I hate myself for not dying when I should have, for not leaving this world when my babies did. I hate myself for all the times I wished I could be different, move on, be okay and I hate myself for the days that I am okay. How can I ever be okay? My babies died. My love kills people. My mother, my father, my boyfriend, my husbands, and then my babies.
No one survives me except me.
But you understand that, don’t you?
You know everyone eventually. You just knew me longer than most.