When you lose a bunch of people from a young age, it takes a toll on you. It affects your life in ways that you never would have imagined. You acquire coping mechanisms that disgust you.
The survivor’s guilt is very real. You constantly feel like you aren’t doing enough with the life you still have. You wonder why you are still here, when they had so much more potential to make something out of themselves. You compare your what is to their could’ve been. You are unreasonably angry at every old person still breathing; at every junkie who boastingly recalls how many chances Death has given back to them.
While other people have first kisses, concerts, or homecoming games, deaths become benchmarks in your high school life. Measurements; A system of timekeeping. “Ah, I remember that. It happened after so-and-so was hit by that car, but before so-and-so killed themselves, so that means I was 17.”
You begin to look at your niece and nephew, and pray that they make it to 15. You take too many pictures, just in case they don’t. You prepare ways to console family members and future friends, if tragedy decides to strike. You convert your grief into lessons and Band-Aids, and set them aside in the case of future losses suffered by others. You prepare yourself to be the one to patch up their wounds and assist in their healing process in ways that you wish someone had done for you.
You fear getting too close to people, because the impending threat of guns, ropes, needles, people not paying attention while behind the wheel, and fucking flaming toilet seats falling from the sky are too real for you. The Grim Reaper has made a hobby out of snatching people away from you in unexpected ways, so you begin to love people in the form of potential eulogies. You are constantly planning what to say at their inevitable funerals.
In the midst of otherwise pleasant visits and fits of uncontrollable laughter, you think to yourself, I’m going to tell people about this at your funeral. I’m going to make sure you are remembered for this moment, right now. You gage your love for other people by how many stories you want to tell at their service. Or, you wonder what, if anything, they will say at yours.
You tell people you hate to share your bed, due to a breach of personal space, when in reality, it’s because you have seen too many dead bodies. You have developed a habit of staying up long past your company just to watch them sleep, and put your hand near their face to check and make sure that they are still breathing; Making sure they are only sleeping. You thank God that they are only sleeping. You don’t tell them that you weren’t actually trying to cuddle… you were merely checking for a pulse.
When you finally doze off yourself, you dream of drinking milkshakes with dead kids in your high school parking lot. You dream of driving around foreign neighborhoods with a dead friend, and him telling you, “This is where you will go when you die.” You fight the unreasonable urge to go there prematurely, just to finish conversations that you never got to have. You hate yourself for admitting the urge even exists, no matter how subtle or infrequent, after everything.
You keep going. You keep writing.
You know that as long as you are alive, a piece of them is, too.