Friday, April 9, 2010

Fiction Friday

Fiction Friday is not going to become a regular commitment, alight? It just have a lot of stories. Don't come to expect one every Friday, or I'll go crazy.

I watch people die. You're thinking that I'm either in the medical profession or I have some kind of crazy death fetish. Both are untrue. The reality is far less dramatic, something no one would bother to make a TV show about. I'm a janitor at a nursing home. The story of how I landed such a glamorous job is nearly as dramatic as the job itself. When I was a senior in high school, I got a part time job, and I've been here ever since. That's how large portions of my life have been decided, just doing the same old same old thing. It's comfortable that way.
Since I began working here, 53 residents have died, and that's just when I've been on the clock. The first time, I was alarmed. I was seventeen, and I'd never seen an actual dead person before, let alone been there when someone died. I was the only one who even reacted, apart from the people who remarked “Another one bites the dust” and cracked jokes about it. I was sad, and I realized that I had felt some personal connection to them. We'd never met, but I'd cleaned their room and the halls where they had been. It was weird, realizing that I was a tiny, obscure part of someone's life, and now that someone was dead. Sure, there were other people who I had the same non-relationship with, but they weren't dead. They weren't dead yet, I realized. That was the moment when my own mortality hit me like a bag of bricks. Before that, death had always been known, but it was abstract and distant from my life. Other people died. Former presidents and famous people died, but people around me, real people, they were invincible.
And this awakened a whole new world of questions for me. If I could die, what would happen to me when I did die? Would I go to heaven? Would I come back? Would it just be nothingness? I don't think I slept at all that night. I was too consumed by this concept of death and the question of what would happen to me afterwards to do anything but think. I knew I didn't believe in the whole fire and brimstone version of hell that I had heard somewhere. I wasn't religious, and I didn't see a reason to become religious if that's what it had to offer. Still, the idea of nothingness, that was something I couldn't handle in the least. Maybe I'm afraid, or maybe I just have the inability to conceptualize what it would be like to not exist. I can't imagine nothingness. Lack of imagination, yes, that's my real problem.
There is this one guy, Walter, who always talks to me when I pass him in the hall. He usually tells me what's happening in TV shows or about the big drama going on between other residents.
“Aww, hello there. Funny seeing you again.”
“I'm here every day, Walter. What's new on the tube?” I'd always thought it was ridiculous when people refered to TV as the tube, but Walter started me on that phrase, and it stuck.
“Not a helluva lot. Too much of this reality show stuff. When did the general public” he put emphasis on those words “decide that they wanted to watch people eat bugs? Really now, makes me wonder what the world's coming to.”
I chuckle at his disapproval. “Walter, I've got a question for you.”
Before I finish speaking, he asks “Yeah? What kind of a question would that be?”
“It's a question for people who are much older and wiser than me. That's why I'm asking you.”
“I wouldn't consider myself wise, but we've got old covered, so ask away.”
“What happens to you when you die?”
He looked down wearily, and I realized that I shouldn't have asked it in that form. I expect him to ignore me and go back into his room. I start to turn away, and then he answers me. “Back when I was young and invincible, I didn't need anything. I didn't need a heaven or a hell or an afterlife of any kind. But now, as I've gotten older and seen people” he takes a deep breath “so many people leave this earth, I feel like I have to find something to believe in, you know? And so I looked into religions to see how they deal with the problem. And some of them have afterlives and such, all different kind of stuff.”
“I guess we all have different solutions.”
“And you know what I learned from all of that? I don't have a clue. None of us has a fucking clue at all, and it's not as though the dead are making much of an effort to tell us what it's like, are they?” He waved his hands at the last sentence.
“Thank you, Walter.” I whispered as I turned away, knowing exactly what would happen next.

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