When I was young like, younger than ten, I would lay awake at night and watch the shadows of trees in my skylight, made by the moon or passing cars. I would methodically count the time passed between each set of headlights, and it only occurred to me recently that I didn’t sleep much as a child. And, when I did sleep, I would have vivid nightmares – many I remembered well into my twenties. If I didn’t have nightmares, I would sleepwalk, waking up in weird positions, or fully dressed in the clothes I laid out the night before.
I recalled, in these times, obsessing over death. I would lay awake, eyes glued to the ceiling, with tears rolling steady and silent down past my temples while my heart ran marathons in my chest. I would have these complex manifestations in my mind of my own death, seeing my headstone accompanied by the stereotypical lightning and rain. I would then literally panic myself to sleep, where I would most likely have another nightmare. I wouldn’t dare bring any of this up to my parents for the fear of being sent away somewhere, and I lived with this highly irrational, yet very real fear, until I watched my own mother die when I was 20 years old.
It took me to realize then, that many things in this world exist far more terrifying than death. My mom’s death, obviously tragic, was unexpectedly anti-climactic. And that, not to be morbid, was what I ultimately anticipated. I woke up next to her on the morning she died, watched her silent, comatose chest rise and fall, and rise and fall, and then cease entirely. There were no angels, no heavenly music, no soul leaving the mouth, no Hollywood-style anything. All that remained was silence, and a shell. After, of course, was the rush of doctors and nurses, condolences and floral arrangements, funeral and cremation. All so final. That time was when I truly realized death was not something to fear. I spent more than half my life up until September 26, 2011 afraid of the most basic thing, when I should have feared the actual absence of my mom.
Being told by a Whitecoat that “she can’t hear you anymore” was terrifying. To learn, at 20, that your mother wouldn’t tell you a story, say that she loved you, or at the very least, call you an “asshole,” is scarier than death. The act of unlearning to speed dial “mom,” or as I would call it, “6-6-6,” on my key pad was unbelievably difficult, especially when she was the first voice I would hear almost everyday of my life.
“Isn’t it funny that your speed dial is 6-6-6? Like the devil? I think that’s funny.”
Without looking up from her daily crossword puzzle, cigarette smoke billowing from under her chin as if she was, in fact, on fire, she continued to scribble.
“You’re an asshole.”
I smiled. She wrote her word out, finally ashed her cigarette, and looked up at me. She smiled back.