Surviving Death


Later, I noticed a few pillars that I doubted I had seen before. They were the sort of pillars that usually hold up temples. The only thing these pillars held up was some sheets. Those birds I'd seen before circled above. One group of birds swooped so close that I could smell their stink, hissing, "You say you're dead! We don't think so!"

I couldn't believe my ears; if you can call them ears.

A sheet said, very kindly, "Pay those floozies no heed. Of course you're dead."

I doubted this had happened.

Floozies doubted I was dead.

I doubted Larry's death.

I doubted my own death.

I sometimes thought this was purgatory, and everyone here was being punished for doubt.

Other times I thought that in life I had been a very unambitious person, but good, and this was heaven.

I was starting to think of giving up. It is hard to explain how difficult it is to keep on living after death. Half the time I didn't have the faintest idea how I did it.

I was completely exhausted.

I didn't know what to do. I had a few imaginary conversations with Larry; I asked questions; he remained a hologram; it is hard to explain. It was helpful, but limited; there were some things I really didn't want to know; so my questions were framed very indirectly; the answers were useless.

I hadn't yet accepted my death. I hadn't even accepted his. I still saw no disadvantage to denial. The four stages before death are: denial, anger, grief, acceptance. The four stages after death are: denial, denial, denial, denial. It's not like denial when you're living. It's all you have. Even so, I was perfectly ready to share my denial with Larry; he'd helped me so many times when we were both alive. So I was in denial for both of us.

I missed Larry, terribly.

I was very depressed; why not? How much worse could things get?

Some believe this is all part of some big cycle; I hope not. It might not be so bad to live again, but I would hate to die again; it was not fun. Once was enough. It hurt.

Being born was no picnic, either.

There were actually a few activities available. You occasionally could see movies. Reruns, actually. But my memory was missing; the endings always took me by surprise. That is the thing they never tell you about death. You never know what will happen next.

There was also a sort of rotating shelf, like a fake panel in an old library, and you could be leaning against something, air, usually, and then briefly be in an utterly unknown place. Once I found myself literally in an old library, which I am sure I had never seen before; I have to assume it came from someone's life. Then, whoosh, it was rocks and chalk again.

There was someone with a goatee who looked familiar, but he (or she) never seemed to speak; I thought she (or he) might be a hologram; I was starting to think I was one, myself. It wasn't that bad.

There were also sort of narrow cylinders, something like striped candy, which you sometimes saw boring down here, briefly. I believe these are meaningless moments from some living's life. These moments could flourish here somewhat longer than those rotating shelves, because they had no meaning; they were very fetching. Once the stripes were red, or what I took for red. It was so pleasant to see red that I spent what could have been years in that spot hoping for its return. I would have stood where I saw this for centuries, but there was absolutely no guarantee it would return here. You could stand in the same spot hoping something would return forever, literally forever, and it might never, literally never, return to the same spot. And when the dead say forever, and when the dead say never, you would have to suppose they mean it literally.

I felt I had been dead around thirty years.

I could have been dead for fifty years.

It could have been longer. By now, you could be dead, or the generation after yours could be dead. I wouldn't know. Generations after me and after you could be dead by now; I'd be the last to know. I think I'd know if the world ended, though.

One day, coming home from an afternoon's scouring, I saw about eight little blobs in a row.

I stopped to watch them for a while. They seemed to be practicing skills. They rose up in the air a few inches. Then they sank down.

You would have thought this was fairly elementary. It seemed like quite an accomplishment, to me.

They would disappear briefly. They were in a sort of fold.

I had the impression I'd seen them before, and of course that was more than likely.

I thought about the little dead when I did my chores; there were rocks to move; they kept collapsing; it really took forever; then, when work was done for the day, whatever that means when your days are already done, you still had to roll over. It seemed so pointless.

Were they a disease?

Why should I care? Nothing could hurt me now.

Whoever said that hadn't met those floozies.

The truth was, I didn't mind those floozies so much any more. I was very lonely. There were those little dead, and that individual with the goatee, and Imelda that once. I had the feeling there were centipedes, too; and I sometimes saw what I took for skins of snakes. And sheets. That was about it. Except for Larry, I'd seen no one I knew, and I thought it was possible he was a hologram, himself.

The little dead were in a row, about eight of them, practicing climbing stairs. They were very fetching.

I was rethinking various matters, for instance, I've come to consider the possibility that the time there is--and there is time--is finite, even after death. It seems to take forever. But forever happens simultaneously, like concurrent prison terms, because otherwise there wouldn't be time for it. And just as life is finite, lives are; the number of souls doesn't stretch on forever; but the numbers are certainly beyond our ability to count, and at those numbers, the difference between infinite and inconceivably big is really a matter of no substance whatever.

I was also having second thoughts about the body. Although I had lost my head when I saw Larry, I did seem to have one from time to time. But it could have been a hologram.

That would explain why I had briefly had one so effectively; it was a hologram; I didn't. Possibly I'd misunderstood how time worked here, and my initial impression that I had no body whatever was still to come.

Another possibility was that I'd lost the part of my mind that knew I didn't have a body; I wouldn't know; the part of my mind that would is missing, too.

It began to occur to me that Larry had changed my death, as he had changed my life. I had lost confidence. It was an improvement. I felt that whereas in the beginning I had had a great deal of certainty, now I was uncertain; I wasn't sure how time worked. There was time, but I wasn't sure how it worked. Because I wasn't sure how time worked, I thought it was possible that the part of my death where I had had so much certainty and given lectures hadn't happened yet. Half the time, I didn't know who was talking. The other half, I thought this wasn't happening; and I was starting to suspect that I was right.

One day, walking home from the movies, I saw the little dead again, skipping around. They were just lines in a circle, no middle. Transparent blobs, really. They plopped. I watched for a long time.

They were so very fetching--the way wore their hats, the way they sipped their tea. The way they practiced skills. They rose, they fell.

Were they souls?

Was this what it was all about? It is hard to believe, when you see these little dead, and you think about all the fights there have been over souls, that this is what the fighting could have been about. Perhaps what they were really fighting about was not the soul at all, since we are nothing but souls now, and no one fights. Perhaps they were fighting about the body. Without the body, there's not so much to fight for.

When you think of all the energy that has gone into saving souls, it is really very touching that anyone could care so much about something so insubstantial. We roll over, we watch movies. When you've been around souls for this long, if souls is what these are, you begin to appreciate the floozies; they have a little spunk.

The little dead were joining together. Evidently they were going on group tours. I began to think of going with them. They joined in a little line, rather like a spirochete--were they a disease?

It occurred to me that without disease, meaning could not exist. It was a stupid idea, but I was dead.

I decided to sign up for some group tours myself. The group did resemble a spirochete, but what did I have to lose? I was dead already. I had to sign my name like this: "slug."

Since the dead come from everywhere, we have to speak in some sort of universal language, like pidgin or DOS; slug. The little dead had thought it up; it was very limited; they weren't that bright. Here is the way the little dead talk: "He's slug," or, "He's not that slug." It means something like "cool." It is also the universal first name; we are all on first-name basis here.

"Hey! Slug." I'm not sure what that means; I'm not that quick, myself; I'm dead. Speak for yourself. Quite a lot of dead took this for badinage and were most impressed.

I made quite an impression among the dead; it was easy; most of the dead made no impression whatever; my punctuation grew careless; no one cared; even at this, mine was better than average

It isn't as egotistical as it sounds; we weren't ourselves; we got mixed up. A lot of portions of various dead trailed around.

"Hey! Is that your head?" Sometimes our conversations were theological, sometimes practical. "Is this your chaff?" "Do you believe in the Oversoul?" "Are these socks yours, with the darned soles?" "Hey! Is this your wheat?" "Is that your skull?" There was a lot of camaraderie and group depression; why not?

I had signed up for the group depression tour; the list was eaten.

Everyone who had a body exchanged looks: floozies!

Floozies! I tried to keep an open mind; they took it as a crash pad; feathers everywhere; their crude makeup, their cheap dyes. And the stink of them.

Still, there was something about them; their bone structure; and they had such marvelous costume sense. Idiots, of course. We all were.

We didn't exactly merge. We were mixed up. We weren't ourselves. It didn't mean that much to us; we were dead. When you come here and look me up, you won't even recognize me half the time. Believe me, you won't know the difference.

The sheets were some sort of religious ikons; the floozies were their companions. They seemed to keep constant company. You saw one, you saw the other, invariably.

The tours mean a lot because there is everything to tour. Everything. Everything. But the journey is what we enjoy, not the sights when we get there.

There are no sights. We never get there.

The part of life that is like death is the journey. The part of life that is not like death is the arrival. I miss arrival.

The part of my brain that used to miss is missing now. But I have to suppose I miss arrival. Meaning, too. Terribly.

I wouldn't presume to tell the living how to live their lives, although no one but us know better how short life is, since we have a basis of comparison, but I would say, bear this in mind. Meaning is something you can't take with you. Enjoy it now.

We traveled as a group, but it wasn't exactly merging; we could always unmerge, not exactly at will, but with a little notice. You can't just pull out, because others are dependent on you. But only for that project. It's more a kind of collective. We don't merge. We're part of something. The fact is, it wouldn't even have been fun alone; going in that wiggly line, that spirochete, was where the fun was. I don't even remember where we were going. We got so silly. We just fooled around.

They speak of two bodies sharing one soul; I was starting to wonder if it was the other way around; in other words, each body was composed of hundreds, even thousands of souls, some of which could presumably scrape off during contact with another body and be joined to it.

The little dead were very excited. They were going on a new tour. They had gone everywhere. Now they were going to be a new person, the Oversoul. I joined them, though I felt a little different from the rest; I think I was older; and less naive; but it looked like fun. And I didn't like to let them down; I could help them.

We packed a few things. We were very excited. It was most diverting. We often fell apart. We were like a transparent pomegranate. Delicious! Glistening! It was most amusing. OWOWOWOW. We're all going to be a new person, the Oversoul. They weren't that bright.

"I'm in the scales! The antennae! I'm in the spleen!" They were very excited and proud. They were going to be a new person. That person would be Larry.

And suddenly I went dead; I was paralyzed with indecision; should I go or not? They were heading for the past. They didn't know the difference, there was no stopping them; they weren't that bright. Larry was younger than me. So I was already born. So I wouldn't be myself. But I would change my life. Ha, ha. Whatever that meant; I wouldn't know; I'm dead.

In the end I stayed behind.

It was very quiet for a while. They had been a darling group. I bade them farewell. I wouldn't miss them. I barely knew one from the other.

I just didn't feel like going through it again.

The little dead were circling back to improve their angle. They were chattering away. The scales! The antennae! The larynx!I felt a little guilty. I might have been able to help Larry if I'd been born again as him.

It just wasn't me.

"No time!" the little dead cried. "No time!" They were so very fetching. They kept circling around, chattering. I don't know what came over me. I wasn't myself. I just took a deep breath and jumped.

Hey! This hurts! This hurts!


I would never do this again!



But I was wrong.

"It's a boy!" As if that mattered. Ouch! Hey, quit! Wah! Wah! Wah! This was as bad as dying.

Wrong there, too. Dying was worse.