February 4, 2012

If I Could Be Sweet

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What is the issue?
A black comedy.

I was bored one day last week, so I got dressed, walked down Lansdowne to Bloor, got on the subway, read my book for six stops, alighted at St George, went upstairs to transfer to the University line, waited four minutes for the train to come, casually took a bow, and jumped right in front of it, to the horror of the most unfortunate strangers.

It was weird.

I thought I would be instantly smashed to pieces, but somehow the train went straight over me, and except for the noise, it didn’t hurt a bit. I was really just embarrassed. Everybody was screaming and freaking out and I didn’t know what to do, so to avoid the awkward situation, I decided I would just pretend to be dead. 

In the hospital, I was lying on a table and a couple of friends came in to ‘identify the body’, which was nice of them. They lifted the sheet up and  I opened my eyes and said, “Oh hi guys,” which scared them at first, but then they said, “Hey, what’s up?”

I made them promise not to tell anyone though, because I knew my insurance policy covered me for a flight home, if I was dead, and I really missed my family. It could be good for me, I thought, to indulge in some home comforts. 

I said I’d see my friends at the funeral, if they could afford to come. Then I was put into a box and taken on to a plane, where I was placed clumsily in the hold with the luggage and the cats in boxes. It wasn’t comfortable but I supposed that I was in no position to complain. It was free after all.

I arrived back in England without jet lag and was taken to my home town. The family was surprised to see me looking so well and wanted to cancel the funeral arrangements. I said it seemed like a waste of all that food, and of course I wanted to see who would show up and who would cry the loudest. I suspected it would be some wise guy who I never liked that much to begin with, but really I had no idea.

I chose an open casket because I wanted a good view of the mourners and I knew that some people would come just to see what I was wearing. I wanted a good view of them too. I was planning on resurrecting sometime between the service and the party.

However, when the day came, it turned out to be a sad affair, but it was for all the wrong reasons. Inexplicably, the thing took place in some village church that I’d never seen before. Some of the people who came, I didn’t recognize at all because they’d gotten bald or fat or both. All of the people who made speeches were the wrong people to make speeches. Someone read a passage from On The Road which implied I’d been a ‘mad one’ and a few of my college paintings were displayed around the church. Oh God, I thought. This really is going to be embarrassing. The whole thing was such a disappointing cliche.

But everyone was so sad by the end of it that I felt like an absolute douchebag. I decided maybe it would be better if I did just die. 

Then it got really awkward because my friend sung a song he’d written for the occasion and I wanted to cry too. That was pretty much the only sincere part of the event. I didn’t though. I just fell asleep because it had been such a busy week and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d gotten so much attention. I was exhausted.

Next thing I knew, I was being carried back down the aisle towards the cemetery and my friend from the hospital was whispering in my ear, “Hey! When are you going to wake up?”

Strange situation.

I was just about to tell her to forget all about it and bury me, when a song started playing over the speakers. Of all things, “The Sweet Escape” by Gwen Stefani featuring Akon.

“What is happening!?” I whispered back.

She was dancing. “You loved this song!”

“I’m still alive!”

“Are you?”

I was about to tell her what a ridiculous question that was, but I thought better of it. 

“Why are they playing this song? This is my funeral!”

“Well, what song did you want? You don’t generally get to choose these things.”

“I don’t know! If it has to be a Gwen Stefani song, you could have at least chosen something by No Doubt. ‘End It On This,’ or something.”

“Oh, does anyone know you liked that one?”

“Stop talking about me in the past tense!”

“Sorry. This is your funeral. It’s confusing. What song did you want?”

“I always sort of thought I’d get ‘Some Fantastic Place’ by Squeeze.”

“We talked about that. We decided it was inappropriate.”

“What? Why?”

“Well, that’s about a woman dying from cancer.”

“So?”

“Well, you jumped in front of a train because you were bored, and you’re not actually even dead.”

“Nobody knows that though! Do they?”

“No, but still. It seemed disrespectful. Somebody suggested Taking Back Sunday, but I said that you’d grown out of that a long time ago.”

“What song was it? ‘Slowdance On The Inside?’ That could have been ok!”

“I think it was called, ‘What It Feels Like To Be A Ghost’?”

“Are you kidding me!?”

“No?”

“I never even liked that album! I was 19 when it was released. I was over them by then.”

“Oh.”

“And why didn’t anybody read out something that I’ve written? That would have been more appropriate, don’t you think?”

“Well, you’ve never published anything. Nobody really knows about any of it.”

“You do!”

“Well, I’ve been busy. I’ve got school and stuff… You don’t get to curate your own funeral. It’s just not how it works. You can do whatever you want when you’re alive, but this stuff is left up to everyone else. You don’t get to choose how you’re remembered.”

This was terrible news. I realized that if I was going to be buried there and then, I wasn’t going to be remembered at all. Sure, a few close friends would say things like,

“Remember that poem she wrote about doing things?” And for a while they would, but eventually it’d get lost in their computers and my blog would get taken off the internet and my clothes would go back to Value Village and nobody would really think about me at all, except people I went to school with who, when they were drunk, would say, “Remember that weirdo who jumped in front of a train?” and another one would reply, “Yeah, she was always a weirdo.”

But nobody else would realize I’d ever been alive in the first place! I had misjudged the situation very badly.

“Pssst”’ We were almost outside the church. I peeked out and saw the hole in the ground where I was supposed to be buried. “Pssst. I can’t do this. I can’t do this now! Can you do me a favor?”

My friend loved me but she was getting tired of all the drama.

“You jumped in front of a train. You wanted to die. Are you sure you don’t want to be buried now and be done with it?”

I started to panic.

“There’s a difference between wanting to die and wanting to be dead!” I said, a little too loudly. The song was still playing though and Akon was in full cry. Nobody noticed.

“I know that,” she said. “That’s why people get drunk.”

She had a point. Sometimes people do just need a break from the mundane notions of every day life. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop living.

“Listen!” I told her. “I need you to do me a favor. If you can distract everyone, I’ll get out of this coffin, go hide in the bathroom and you can bury the box without me in it. Then I’ll just move away, start a new life, delete my Facebook and everything… Nobody will have to know.”

“It doesn’t work like that, love!” 

She wasn’t exactly thrilled by my escape plan but I didn’t know if I could face revealing myself anymore. I felt like a prize idiot. 

“Do you think Gwen Stefani will make another solo record?” I asked.

“What?”

“Do you think she’ll make another solo album? I mean, I really liked the first one, had lots of good times with it. There were some really great tracks. ‘What You Waiting For’ is one of the best pop songs of the 21st century, in my opinion… but the second album, this was just about the only good song. Well, and ‘Early Winter.’ And ‘4 In The Morning’…” 

“What are you talking about?”

“And now No Doubt has gotten back together and I haven’t heard any of their new stuff, assuming they’ve got some, and she’s got at least one kid, and a fashion line, so I don’t know if she’ll ever do another one, she’s pretty old now too… What do you think?”

She was very stressed, and probably tired from carrying my coffin around too.  

“I have no idea. Shouldn’t you be thinking about whether or not you want to die?”
We were in the cemetery by this point.

“I’m thinking about whether or not I want to live.”

“Then why are you talking about Gwen Stefani?”

“I don’t know. I was just thinking about the possibilities.”

“What?”

“Well, I mean, if Gwen Stefani makes another solo record and I’m dead, I won’t get to hear it.”

“Is that it? Is that all you care about? You’re not even that much of a Gwen Stefani fan.”

“They’re playing her song at my funeral.”

“You just said you didn’t want them to!”

She was right. I wasn’t making any sense. I tried to think about why I’d tried to kill myself in the first place. Boredom didn’t seem like much of a reason. I could have just gotten a hobby or something instead. And besides, since all this had happened, I hadn’t been bored once. It had actually been quite exciting. 

I realized that more than anything, I was just tired. I was tired of getting up every day and brushing my teeth and putting on clothes and going about my business, filling up the hours of the day until it got dark, when I’d start to unwind and maybe drink a glass of wine or a can of beer and write something to make somebody think about something and get into bed and lie there feeling dissatisfied for a while until I fell asleep, woke up and did it all again. It was all pretty tiring stuff.

“Time to make up your mind,” she told me.

A crowd had gathered around the burial plot. I could see that we were at the top of a hill and the views of the countryside surrounding the churchyard were pretty fantastic. This wouldn’t be such a bad place to spend eternity, I thought. Maybe this is the right decision for me. Maybe I’m just causing these people more harm than good.

Maybe they’ll be better off without me. Maybe it doesn’t matter if Gwen Stefani makes another record. 

I really wasn’t sure.

They started to lower me into the ground and I caught a moment of eye contact with my friend. She gave me a ‘last look’ and I realized I felt ok with it. It was time to go. 

I’d heard that there is a great sense of peace just before a person dies and it seemed like it was true. I felt nothing except weightlessness, acceptance and forgiveness. I took a deep, last breath and prepared for my fate. I was drifting off into the realms of semi-consciousness when I heard my friend speak again.

“I’d like to read something, if that’s ok… something of hers. Something that she wrote. I think she would have liked me to do that for her.”

She’s come good, I thought. She understands how important this is to me. I was so happy. She was going to take care of my legacy. I would be remembered. I would make a difference.

What a chore to be unforgettable
too forgivable for any one’s own good
Non, je ne regrette rien — huh?
Well, hey, maybe…

“Oh my God,” I screamed, bolting upright. “What are you doing? That’s not finished! What the hell are you doing!?” She was reading from a poem I’d been writing about my broken heart. It wasn’t ready. She knew it wasn’t ready. 

I felt wild. I stood up in the grave and roared at her. I don’t even know what I said or where she was. I was so angry, I just howled and threw my arms in the air and kicked the side of my own coffin. 

Collectively, the crowd gasped. Then they stared at me in a stunned silence. All of them standing up around the grave, and me in the wooden box, six feet below them. I felt minuscule. It was outrageous. I was back from the dead. I was ridiculous. I searched her out in fury and rage. I couldn’t believe she had done this to me. She had meant what she had said about not being able to choose how you’re remembered. I was going to choose. I still had the chance to choose. 

Our eyes met. I could have killed her. 

None of this made sense to me anymore. We held the gaze for almost a minute. My blood boiled and boiled. My fists were clenched. I wondered if maybe I had been killed by the train after all. Surely this wasn’t real. Surely none of this could have been reality.

Then for a while, nothing happened except the passing of time. My anger peaked and slowly I started to make some order out of the chaos. I felt the blood flow out of my face, and around my body and I started breathing again. Suddenly I understood that she had saved me. She’d pulled me back. 

I looked around at everything and I started laughing. 

Her face broke into a smile, then she winked. We were both laughing.

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t understand why anybody was there. What were they thinking? What was I doing? I tried to control my laughter. I smiled politely and hoisted myself out of the ground. The moment dragged on forever. It was so stupid. Nobody else moved. I was cackling like a witch. The whole thing was ludicrous. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so alive.

Finally, I stood up at ground level and still nobody spoke, they just stared at me as though they’d seen a ghost. I think that was my favorite part. I nodded to them and smiled again. I realized it was all sort of perfect. “Thank you for coming,” I told them before I turned away, and ran off into the fields.

She came running with me, down the hill. It wasn’t finished. I wasn’t finished. I definitely wasn’t finished. “SWEET ESCAPE!” I yelled out, running faster than I’d ever run before in my whole life. 

Sweet escape. TC mark

LK Shaw

She lives mostly in jazz standards and writes mostly in Toronto.

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