To die means to let go of uncertainty. The uncertainty of not knowing what there is to know about death.
What is there to know?
I have never had a stable relationship with the unknown. Thoughts of dying sent me into a panic attack at the Newark Airport after a 2010 vacation to the Florida Keys. A storm delayed our flight two hours, then cancelled it. Cancelled my chance of returning home. Stranded. Hyperventilating in the back seat of a rental car father drove six hours home. The chorus of my sisters’ laughter didn’t quite harmonize with my ragged notes. In 2012 the fear transformed into too cold rain during a boat ride the last week my family would ever go to the lake house on Cayuga. Shivering under the covers as my pulse remained elevated. Mother tried to calm the shaking with comfort. A comforter. But I wasn’t cold. Fifth grade science class focused on death from a cellular level. An Osmosis Jones educational film that educated me on the contraction of anthrax from eating a hardboiled egg manhandled by a chimpanzee. Every surface became a chimpanzee.
Teetering on suicidal thoughts for 19 years, weighted uncertainty saved me from being the lower level of the seesaw.
Swinging in the breeze until the moment felt right to jump. But I didn’t jump off that bridge on that trail over that waterfall. I don’t think I was going to jump.
What if I did?
That question was why I was holding onto the metal. Metal monkey bars transfer the sun into my palms, reminding me of the coldness in that chain fence. Warmth juxtaposes cold. I love laying on the cat-hair covered carpet that makes my skin itch during winter months where polyester fibers seem to be the only material willing to absorb fragmented rays of sunshine.
I’d miss the warmth of sunshine. An equilibrium on the scale of crematorium to cellular decomposition.
Certainly, it would be too hot in a crematorium. Becoming ash means becoming hellfire hot. Hellfire is much too hot. Not sunshine during winters on the suspicious stained rug that was once several shades lighter and never will be again.
I certainly imagine it cold six feet under once bare bone is exposed, like the bareness of stepping out of the shower without a towel and the window is cracked to let out the moisture but allows the breeze to seep in. Seeping like the moisture of melted ice into the carpet after the dog is let inside after being outside in the snow.
What is there to know?
How to draw a smiley face on the fogged mirror because you remembered to close the window this time.
Kelly Proctor is an undergraduate student at Ithaca College, majoring in writing with a minor in English. She focuses much of her work on mental health and hopes to discover a greater platform for outreach.
Wilson was the kind of guy who was always talking about how he was going to survive the apocalypse, and the more you talked to him, the more you kinda believed it, too. He was ex-Navy, a die-hard survivalist, way older than the rest of us (by which I mean at least 25), covered in tattoos, and he stood out as existing a level above it all. No matter how many times the managers wrote him up—for being late or breaking radio etiquette or being out of uniform—they couldn’t faze him. I mean, he was a real adult—what could a manager at a shitty amusement park do that was gonna affect him? It was like a superpower, and the rest of us went in awe of him.
Wilson was the one who got us banned from riding our bikes on the clock when he got hit by a bus riding from employee parking to clock-in (apocalypse #1). Miraculously, he walked away with no more than a broken wrist.
Later that same month, when his friend and fellow supervisor Brody unexpectedly went into cardiac arrest in the middle of the day (apocalypse #2), Wilson was one of the first to arrive on scene, having sprinted across four sections when the call went out over the radio. He was the one who did chest compressions—cast, broken wrist and all—keeping Brody’s heart pumping till EMS got there.
The first time I spoke to him it was to ask him to help me get my combination lock unjammed. He did, but not before he spat out his Orange Crush, doubled over laughing for a solid minute, and informed me between chortles that I had the speaking voice of a cartoon mouse. I didn’t talk around Wilson for at least a month after that.
There was no one better to be a lifeguard instructor, though—little apocalypses were always happening in his mind, too, and when I was his lead he’d ask questions like What would you do if this balcony collapsed on top of all those swimmers? Who would you notify first? How would you direct first responders? And we’d talk about first aid for mass casualty incidents and how to divide labor and how to set up a makeshift care station on the deck, and somehow I’d feel like I was a part of something bigger and more important than I had been before.
I guess I knew Misty (apocalypse #3) for a few years before I processed her. I hated being her lead, because she didn’t really need one—she’d been a supervisor summer after summer for eight years at that point, and her sections ran like a well-oiled machine. I didn’t like feeling superfluous, but I did like watching Misty. She was fierce and determined and completely self-sufficient.
She was the reason I started speaking around Wilson again. One day when I was sitting on the benches below the clock-in station they came in together. She sent Wilson up the stairs alone and sat down next to me and told me she wanted to hear my voice. She laughed, but not at my voice. She told me Wilson was an idiot who just liked giving me a hard time, and if I needed a ride they could take me wherever I needed to go. Wilson came back down the stairs and she stuck her tongue out at him, and I felt a strange contentedness, like they were a fire that I could sit by and be warmed.
One day it rained everybody out of the park and Misty sat at a picnic table with me and while the shitty tin roof produced a constant tattoo of raindrops told me about the four kittens she and Wilson had adopted, and how they would scale up the sides of the bed with their tiny claws at all hours of the night, and how Wilson would grab them by the scruff of the neck and throw them back down, and how she would yell at him for doing it.
Misty’s was the only funeral I’d ever been to. I sat in a back row next to some other work people and watched as her sister broke down and her mother sobbed and Misty’s face smiled down at me from the picture of her on the screen and I felt like I had lost something incalculably precious, but I couldn’t explain how I’d had it in the first place.
Wilson wasn’t there.
I scoured the internet for news about the shooting, but what I found told me nothing I didn’t already know. An “unidentified male” had been taken to Central Texas Medical Center and released after treatment for “minor injuries.”
Everyone had their own version of what had happened, their own opinion of who was to blame. Misty’s family held that it was all Wilson’s fault—even though he was never arrested, never charged, and her death was later ruled a suicide. It didn’t matter, though—a much more serious verdict had been solidified already in the court of public opinion. A few months later, the managers would fire him on some pretense, and Wilson would move to Florida and out of my life.
I got to see him one last time before he left. Two months after the shooting, he walked back into work and showed me his newest tattoo: a heart that said MISTY, enveloping the pink, raw skin of the half-healed bullet wound in his calf.
Liz Ramirez is a graduate student currently finishing a master’s degree in English at Texas A&M University, where she studies abolition literature, representations of chronic illness, creative writing, and creative nonfiction. This past April, her poem “et tu” was published in OyeDrum Magazine’s Volume IV.