The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the month “June, 2014”

The Martyr


I martyred myself for a cause and took some of the enemy with me.  In the end, however, I accomplished nothing except to bring more pain and grief and misunderstanding into the world. Alive, the cause seemed all-important, absolutely worth giving my life for.  I was promised my reward in the afterlife. But the only reward is understanding that what I did was no more useful to the advancement of my cause than a small coin is of use to monumental poverty.

I believed at the time my death would be useful. It would show the enemy that the power and might of our beliefs far exceeded theirs. Our deaths would prove that our determination would prevail; that we could not be stopped. We wanted to put fear into their hearts.

We accomplished nothing except to alienate ourselves further and make compromise impossible.

Of course, one cannot allow oneself or one’s people to be subjugated. This is something which must be fought at all costs. It is always the righteous fight. It is only the method which I now question.

But  subjugation and enslavement, in one form or another, is just the way of the human world.   This is a given in every age. Somewhere, there will always be those who are powerless against a stronger, more formidable oppressor.

I am not sure what it means. Maybe subjugation exists so that we may attain nobility by fighting against it; that we may dedicate our lives to something greater than ourselves; so our bravery and faith may be tested; so we might be a part of a history that bridges the ages.



Wow.  This one surprised me.  I had no idea where it was coming from or where it was going until the end.  

Lord of the Dance



I was Lord of the Dance. No. Not that one. I’m talking about the emotional dance that pulls people together in a tight embrace then sends them flying out, attached only by the clasp of a hand. Then back into a tango across the floor. Never too close for too long; never too far.

I knew how to lead, and the ladies followed, thrilled to the feeling of my arms safely around them; then momentarily frightened by the apparent loss of guidance. But I never lost control. They were always right where I wanted them; where I needed them to be.

Sometimes, I met a woman who tried to lead. It was an interesting challenge for a short time but I could never spend much time with her. For me, a good partner always trusted my moves, even if I sent her in a new direction, unprepared. A good partner went with the flow, the rhythm of the music. She never tried to turn a hustle into a waltz.

I had a few great partners in my time. You really have to hold on to them when you find them.




I feel a connection with each narrator. It’s as if I’m feeling their feelings and seeing the world through their eyes, while taking dictation. When I don’t know where to go next in a narrative, I just “go in” and ask for more information, and it comes immediately, and almost always as a surprise. I probably wouldn’t have chosen to be friends with of any of these narrators had I met them while they were alive, but I welcome them in now to tell me their stories.  

I’m noticing that I often get a few stories over the course of a day or two, all with the same kind of emotion or similar life situation or cause of death. A skeptic might claim this proves that the stories are coming from me – I’m thinking about a subject, and so I’m tapping that creative vein within myself. I can’t argue with that.

On the other hand, that’s not what it feels like.   It feels more as if I am inviting certain kinds of narrators to tell their stories because I find a subject interesting.

A skeptic might say, “She gets no specific details which could verify that any of these stories could be true. They’re too general. It proves nothing.” Can’t argue with that, either.

How it feels: I specifically ask for little or no identifying information.   This “project” is not about proving life after death. I believe, regardless of where these narrators are coming from, they having something worthwhile to say.   I want the focus to be on their messages, not on where the stories are coming from. (The narrators seem to agree, because they are playing by the rules.)   It does not feel as if I am making these up out of my own head, but if I am, they’re not coming from my conscious mind. It feels as if they were written by someone else.

I will say this: I am a very vain writer. I polish and take pride in every word. I love being quoted (as I am all over the place). I would never (and have never) claim another’s words as my own. It’s a matter of pride, not morals.   If I pass the words and ideas of others off as my own, eventually people will notice. That will cast doubt on the originality of my own words and ideas.    Furthermore, I write them exactly as they come to me. I don’t edit; I don’t polish; I don’t change. Occasionally, in rereading I will tweak a small word here or there or move a phrase, just to make things more clear, but they are pretty much verbatim.

I do think these stories are beautifully expressed so if I felt they were in my own words, I would be thrilled to take credit for them. But I feel absolutely no pride of ownership. I don’t feel as if I am creating these narrators. It feels very much as if they are coming to me. Claiming these stories as my own work feels like lying and plagiarism. I imagine if I did that, the narrators would get annoyed at me and stop coming.

 It feels as if I am merely a conduit. Perhaps they have chosen me because a) I made myself open to it, and b) as a writer with a profound life-long interest in human emotion, I am able to express their stories in a more compelling way than perhaps a non-writer could.

Death of a Child

momento mori child


I didn’t live long. I was not even three when I died. Plagued by health problem from before I was born, my time on Earth was full of doctors and hospitals and surgeries which only prolonged my suffering and postponed the inevitable.

I took it in stride. I didn’t know any better. Life, for me, was pain and discomfort.

It was worse for my parents. They worried constantly. They felt guilty and scared and depressed. My older brother suffered from neglect while my parents hovered over me, taking care of my every need; trying to give me as much joy and comfort as they could in what they knew would be my very short life.

It was a life I chose, but not for myself, for what lessons could a child of three learn about life except that it was full of pain and suffering? But this is hardly a unique lesson. Most humans learn it, in one form or another, in every lifetime.

No, I came for them, all of them. My parents, my brother, the sister who was born after I died and lived her life in my shadow and with my legacy; my grandparents whose pain was as acute as my parents’.

Their lessons were learned coming to grips with senseless loss and all its emotional manifestations.

I go to my mother sometimes and offer her my comfort. She seems to feel me, and finds peace in it. My father is more stoic. I know he sometimes (rarely) thinks about me and cries alone, away from everyone, but he composes himself quickly and continues to move through his day.

My brother was happy when I died but I don’t blame him. He was only five and needed love and attention that he wasn’t getting. There were so many, many nights when he went to sleep without seeing our mom and dad because they were at my bedside in the hospital. With me gone, he was the full focus of their attention.

Initially, he was happy for that. To him, I was nothing more than a broken toy, to be discarded. But my parents became over-protective and that soon stifled him, and dogged him, as well as the new baby who came a couple of years later.

I know they all still suffer from the emotional aftermath of my death, each in their own way, but they have also learned a lot – about themselves, about their strengths (both personal and as a family.) They are more compassionate to the suffering and pain of others. My parents’ marriage went through some rough times but ended up stronger for it.

I am grateful they have taken many positive lessons from my death, but I suppose even if they hadn’t, even if they’d broken up and fallen apart, there would have been lessons in that as well, although perhaps not understood until they, too, had passed on.

The Mane Attraction




Oh, my hair! It was a thing of beauty! When I walked down the street,   women wanted me, and men wanted to be me.   Full, black, glistening. As a teenaged boy, I spent hours in front of the mirror with a comb, jars of goop, and bottles of glop. My hair is what gave me my mojo and I took good care of it! The style changed over the years, as fashion dictated, but it remained nice and thick and dark and lustrous well into my 40’s. Inevitably, however, the gray began to creep. And then, triggering a mid-life crisis, the strands began to thin.

It took me a while to accept that I was going to be one of “those guys” — the bald ones – who I’d long pitied. It was as if I’d been bitch-slapped by Mother Nature. But what choice did I have? So I learned the ancient and sacred art of the comb-over. Using some manly hairspray (which I’m sure was no different from the stuff my wife used) I’d pull out the long, painstakingly-grown side-flap, tease it up in to a white cotton candy confection and swirl it around atop my almost-bald pate into something resembling (at a far distance, at least), a healthy head of hair.

This too, in its own way, was a sight to behold. Really, it was a masterpiece of theater and illusion, of misdirection and magic. Coiffed high and fluffy in the front, trimmed neatly around the ears and back, it was a variation of the same style I’d worn as a kid, back in the day when the ladies couldn’t keep their eyes off me.   And they still looked at me! Of course, I thought it was because I still had the mojo. I realize now, they were simply incredulous that a man could be so delusional.

The thing the ladies don’t understand is that for a man, his hair is the source of his virility. That Samson and Delilah story didn’t come from nothing. A man will go to any lengths to conceal from the world his loss of power.

I had a buddy who wore a really awful toupee. The first time I saw him in it, I thought he was carrying his cat on his head.   I looked at him and thought, “You’re delusional, pal. Everyone knows it’s a rug!” At the same time, he was looked at me, thinking, “You’re delusional, pal. Everyone knows it’s a comb-over!”   Neither of us recognized in the other that same need: to defend our manhood; our youth, our sex appeal with whatever resources we had left to us.

I wore that magnificent pompadour until just about a week before I died, when I was too sick and too weak to take care of myself. My wife, bless her heart, made sure the funeral home did my hair just right for the viewing.

What does it mean? What is the lesson? I suppose I need to really work this through, because I feel as if I’m missing something really important here, but honestly, right now I can tell you this: of all the people and things and places I miss in life,   I miss my hair the most.


The Cripple

suffering frieze on blg


The pain was so deep and wide, for so long, I could barely think about anything else. I could not spare any compassion or sympathy for others. I could not learn any lessons except whatever things I might do to ease my suffering even slightly. With drugs, I was in a haze, couldn’t think rational thoughts, could barely move, but at least I didn’t have to think about the pain. I did try to avoid them in the beginning. I wanted to be in the world, even if it meant filtering everything through my wincing torment. But eventually, I just wanted the pain to stop, and if that meant perceiving the world through a narcotic haze, well, so be it. I could not sit comfortably. Walking was torture, even the few steps to and from my bed to the bathroom.

My body was deformed by my own choosing. I know this. But when I chose, the suffering was abstract. In the reality, in the forgetting, it was a torment which made me curse my life.


 My thoughts:

Even after months of receiving/writing these narratives, I am still wondering: it is possible to receive such stories from the dead (even if, in my own case, it turns out not to be so) or am I irrational to think such a thing is even possible?  

 Although I continue to resist facile, mystical explanations, I find the notions of communicating with the dead, of life after death, reincarnation, and metaphysics to be fascinating.   There is so much evidence “proving” this point of view, that as a spiritual belief, life after death actually seems more logical and reasonable than the notion of bleak eternal nothingness. In fact, while there is plenty of evidence and documentation of reincarnation dating back millennia, (ancient religious traditions, stories of previous lives with corroborated details, studies, books, past life regression, etc.), there is not a shred of evidence to prove bleak eternal nothingness (BEN).

 Those in the BEN camp often mock spiritual believers, holding themselves intellectually above them. As logical, scientific human beings, they believe only what can be confirmed by evidence. To them, anyone who believes otherwise is a fool. And yet – and here’s the delicious irony — it’s actually the BENnys whose theological beliefs are based faith alone. There is no evidence (and never can be) of their doctrine, because the negative cannot be proven. Without proof, their own beliefs are simply a matter of what feels right to them. Thus, they have no “moral right” to point fingers at the “gullibility” of the other camp..

 The more I read about these subjects, the more fascinated I become. Evidence of the spiritual realm is so overwhelming, even if 99% of what has been written can be debunked by known science, the remaining 1% still forms a huge heap of corroborative evidence.

 I have fallen down the rabbit hole, and the deeper I go, the less I want to come out.

 I do not think I’m a crackpot or a nut job, but I suppose that’s a matter of opinion, depending on whether you agree with me or not. But if not, please reread the previous paragraphs!

Ignored Intuition


forest floor

He murdered me. Stabbed me to death, alone in some dark place; a basement, I guess. My life was already a mess. I knew at the first hint of danger nobody would come looking for me. He held me there, a prisoner, for three days. That was a terror I hope never to live through again.

I wavered between wanting to die quickly (when it seemed obvious I wasn’t going to be able to escape) and defiance; showing a strong will and determination to get myself out of there. He seemed to enjoy manipulating my emotions like that. He would pretend to relax his vigilance to give me false hope, but in fact, he was in total control the entire time. This was his game. It was no fun for him when I was too passive.

By the end of the second day, I was too weak to fight. I drifted in and out of consciousness. He gave me just enough relief to prevent me from dying too quickly. That’s why he took me in the first place.

When I finally expired, after he’d taken all the pleasure he could from my body and my pain, he just dumped me in a woods, barely bothering to bury me. Nobody would look for me there. Nobody would look for me at all.

He got back into his car and drove towards home, stopping in a small store to buy himself some snacks and beer. He was calm and relaxed. Nothing about his demeanor said “I have just murdered someone, and I enjoyed it.”

I watched him, knowing he would get away with it, willing his car to crash but not having the power to make it happen.

I follow him still. I try to cause him whatever discomfort I can but he seems oblivious. His need to torture and kill is so loud, it drowns out any subtle voice or message.

Instead, I try to warn other women away from him. I have succeeded in a few instances. I gave them “the willies” – made them feel anxious and uncomfortable around him, enough so they wouldn’t go home with him. But not all of them listened. Some felt the hair on their necks stand on end but ignored the sign because they needed the money too badly. Or, like him, something louder (or whatever drugs or drink they used to quiet it) made them immune to their inner voice. If they had followed their intuition in the first place, their lives probably would be on a different track.

This was not how I’d expected it to end for me. It wasn’t the lesson I’d set out to learn, but I strayed off my path early on, and soon there was no redemption for me. So many missed opportunities; so many lost chances. It might all have turned out differently.

So, I try now to save others from the same fate. Do they hear me? I don’t always know; can’t always tell but I keep at it as a kind of penance.

The Innocent Prisoner

prison Denver-DUI-Lawyers1


First let me say, I was innocent and I never stopped saying so until the very end. Of course, nobody believed me. Eventually, not even myself. That’s just the way it was. They weren’t going to take me at my word. I was hardly the only one proclaiming innocence in that place! Some of the men in there had worked so hard to convince others of their blamelessness, they eventually believed it themselves. I guess it was the only way they could come to terms with what they’d done.

But I had done nothing wrong. At least not anything worthy of a life (and death) in prison.

I don’t even know if I was wrongly identified or if the police and prosecutors were too lazy or overwhelmed to bother looking for the real guy. And who was I to them, anyway? If I hadn’t done that particular crime, surely I had done another for which I’d not been caught. And if I hadn’t done another, certainly, eventually I would. Any which way they looked at it, they were doing society a favor.

I was put in too young, too poor, too stupid to even know what kind of life I’d missed. Maybe they were right. Maybe, eventually, if left on my own, I would have committed a crime to land me in jail. It’s not as if I had a lot of options.

So that was my life. Endless petty dramas. Insane acts of violence. Cruelty for the pure pleasure of it. Vengeance and spite. Tiny hopes, inevitably shattered. Lessons no man should have to learn.

After a while, even though I still proclaimed my innocence, I forgot to care that I’d been wrongly imprisoned. Prison was the only world I knew. I hadn’t functioned very well outside before I was arrested, but I was savvy enough to know there was no way I could function out there after so many years behind bars.   I had no clue how to live in freedom. We all talked tough about what we would do on the outside, what we eat, who we could fuck, how great our lives would be if and when we ever got out, but guys like me? We were more scared of being released than of dying in jail.  We just didn’t know the territory out there.

Eventually, unlike the others who self-denied their own guilt, I began to self-deny my own innocence. All the detailed stories they told at my trial; the way they said I’d done it; hell, maybe I really had. I could barely remember anymore what was true and what wasn’t. Maybe I was just like those other guys who had absolutely done the crime, and had absolutely convinced themselves they hadn’t.   Maybe my memories were playing tricks on me.

But anyway, what did it matter? After a while, you just abandon any hope of justice and just accept injustice as your lot.   I suppose it’s one of the lessons we all have to learn eventually, but there sure  seems to be a lot of people learning it all at the same time, living that same pain over and over.

Maybe we need to experience it again and again because each time around, we miss the fundamental lesson. Maybe we have to experience it for a thousand lifetimes before we understand that injustice is a basic element of the human condition. And maybe, only then, in absolute irony, we will no longer need to suffer any more lifetimes of injustice.

Jack of All Trades

jack of all trades


“How hard could it be?” was my motto through life. I figured if one person could do it, in theory any person was capable of doing it, including me. And so I tried many things, curious to see how far I could go; how much I could excel.

I was not blind to the fact that much of what others accomplished was a result of years of training and practice and hard work. I didn’t expect that I could simply decide to tame lions or do brain surgery or win a world class boxing match against the reigning champ   The people who did those things devoted their lives to becoming experts. But my point is, I never looked at those people and thought, “Oh, I could never do that!”   Rather, I’d think, “If I really wanted to do that; if I were willing to put in the time, I could probably do the same.”

Of course, the reason you devote your life to such things is because you enjoy it and it interests you. Or because you’re good at it and that brings you satisfaction. Or, sometimes because you have no other options. Or any combination of those.

I had zero interest in becoming a lion tamer or brain surgeon or boxer, but I did pursue many other interests, some to excellence, some to mere competence. And some, I found I had no natural affinity for, and decided that I wasn’t willing to invest the energy to become good. But, I have to say honestly, I was far better at many things than most people are at one. I was a happy dabbler.

When I died, some people lamented that I’d never really done anything with my life; that I’d “wasted” my talents. I was never at the top of any career or profession. I’d never had much money. I wasn’t famous. I’d hadn’t won any awards.     I was the kind of person they called a “Jack of all trades, master of none.”   They meant that as a bad thing, but I never took it like that.

If I’d settled on one path early in life, and worked at it until I was The Best (or at least one of the best) in my chosen field, I certainly would have been more successful in life by most human standards but I would have had to sacrifice the constant joy of new discovery. I would not have had the time or freedom or mental energy to throw my whole heart into whatever caught my fancy. I would not have owned my possessions; my possessions would have owned me. There is a reason they are called the “trappings” of success.

Maybe another time, I will choose one thing and run with it, but I don’t think I have any regrets about not doing it this time. Others might have seen my life as wasted, but I see a life spend in freedom, following my own heart.


Dress Up




I can still smell the sweet, musty scent of old perfume clinging to her elegant clothes; the tickley feeling of her long fur coat brushing against my face; her fine, leather high-heel shoes lined up neatly in the shoe rack. My mother’s closet. It was the place I hid when I needed to feel safe. When I was very young, and my parents fought, downstairs, I would run up to my parents’ room and slip into the closet, pulling the door closed behind me.  I kept a flashlight hidden in the back. Sometimes, I turned it on. Sometimes, I sat in the dark. When I was in grade school, and the kids at school bullied me or called me names, when I felt myself weird and disconnected, that’s where I ran.   It was my secure, perfect little world, where every color and smell and texture was familiar and reminded me of unconditional love.

It was a finite place yet it contained infinite peace. The sounds of the world outside were muffled by tightly packed garments of silk, linen and wool. If my parents were shouting, I couldn’t make out the words. If I fell asleep, when I woke up, I couldn’t tell if it was day or night. I might have been sleeping for an hour or for years, and this too seemed mystical and magical to me, because there was always the possibility that I’d been asleep so long that when I emerged, everything would be completely different.

When I got a bit older, of course, that pleasure was no longer available to me. It was OK for a small boy to hide in the closet, but not at all appropriate for a thirteen year old. Which is not to say I outgrew the need or desire for it. I was just more afraid of being humiliated, especially by my father.

In order to recreate that feeling as best I could, I would sneak one of my mother’s silk shirts or casual dresses — something with her scent on it — or perhaps a pair of her shoes, and I would keep them near my bed. At night, I would pull them beside me, and they helped me fall asleep.

One day, when I was about 14, I put on her shirt, just to feel it against my skin, and I become sexually aroused.   This confused me and made me feel ashamed and yet, excited me in such a primal way.

As I said, I never outgrew the need for the closet so I found another way to hide in it: by wearing women’s clothing.

There was so much shame involved in this, it colored everything else I did in my life. I hid this deep, important part of myself from everyone, including my wife. I lived in fear that my humiliation would be discovered. The mocking voices of my childhood classmates accusing me of being weird never left my head. Obviously, they were right. I was weird.

I tried so hard to control my need, but the more I resisted, the more obsessed and stressed I became. The more stressed I became, the more I needed it. It was a cycle I could never break.   And every time I went back to it, after being “good” for a while, I was filled both with relief and a deep-sense of self-loathing.

This was the core of my life. The rest of it doesn’t matter. Not my job nor my family nor any hobby or interest. They existed outside of me. I played my roles well and nobody ever suspected, I hid myself that perfectly.

My entire life was all about what and how and when I could do it again; about balancing my need with my terror at being unmasked as a pervert. My entire life was a lie. I hid the most important part of myself from everyone and in doing so, sacrificed any hope that anyone would love me for who I truly was.

My life was a never-ending cycle of self-loathing, fear, determination to change, failure, collapse.   I suppose the only way to have broken that cycle was to accept myself as I was, for who I was.   It didn’t matter if nobody else loved me; more important, I needed to love myself. This is something, I never managed to do. Perhaps if I’d been brave enough to share my secret, I could have found acceptance, but I could not. The shame was too deep. It was a part of my DNA.

It was a secret I took to my grave.

Way to Go




Sometimes, when you are hurting, you just want to be with someone who loves you. You don’t necessarily have to say or hear those words, because even unspoken; it’s understood. Sometimes, when you are sad and confused; flailing, near drowning, in a stormy ocean, you need an anchor; someone to keep you from drifting out to sea. You can put on a brave face to the world, but sometimes it’s nice to have someone to hold you when you fall apart, away from judgment.

I had a lot of close acquaintances in my life — people I laughed with when times were good — but there were not too many who took my confession. I protected my fragility well. Not too many breached my walls.

I grew older, one by one, they started to die, leaving a landscape pocked with gaping chasms of loneliness. Gone were those precious few humans whose souls resonated with mine; who knew where the shattered pieces fit.

Soon, there was nobody left who knew me; nobody left who could look me in the eye and see clear down to my soul. I was old and alone. I wasn’t sick, but at such an age, infirmity can overtake you in the blink of an eye – a bad fall; a cold that becomes pneumonia; a stroke; the wear and tear of time on the body and then the final straw that snaps the back. I lived in dread of that day coming upon me. I would end up alone in some awful place where they put old people to die, surrounded by strangers who would take care of my body while ignoring my heart.

I couldn’t let that happen to myself.

There was nobody left who cared enough to warrant a note or a goodbye. Most would just see a sad end to an old person who had nothing left to live for.

But that’s not really how it was. Not exactly.

I didn’t kill myself because I had nothing to live for. I killed myself because I wanted to leave before I lost control of my own story. I didn’t want to lose my autonomy. That would have been worse than death.

Once the death spiral began, there would be no pulling out. Worse, there would be nobody who would save me from the horrible end. There was nobody left who loved me enough to pull the plug, disconnect the tubes; nobody to slip me too much morphine so I could go in peace.   No, I’d have to ride it out, counting the minutes until it would all be over.

That is not a way to die. This is one of the greatest tragedies of modern man, but if you took a survey among the living, it wouldn’t even make the list.

Only a handful of people were at the funeral. Some relatives were there out of respect (respect for what, I have no idea). A couple of good-time pals from the old days (who weren’t looking too great, themselves) Some hired religious figure, who’d never met me, to say a few blessings.

If I’d had pills, I would have used them, but in the end, I did it with gas. I wasn’t brave enough for violence. I just wanted to go to sleep and not wake up. I was serene and sure. In those last hours, and just until I lost consciousness, I really missed my dearest friends. But this time, it was tempered with the joy of knowing I would soon be with them all again.

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