I was listening to a podcast today in which two men discussed, among other subjects, the state of being happy simply for the happiness of the person or people you love, even if that happiness was without you, or was despite you (not a negative type of “despite,” just a happiness that was fundamentally orthogonal to your existence), or was in a situation that traditionally is associated with jealousy. They were speaking specifically of a notion associated with the “polyamory movement,” the concept of Compersion: A feeling of joy when a loved one invests in and takes pleasure from another romantic or sexual relationship.
One of the speakers said that, while he thought he would have trouble ever feeling real “compersion,” he nevertheless thought that, if he were to learn that he was about to die, he would certainly want to know that his wife and children would be happy after he was gone, even if that meant knowing that his wife would marry someone else, as long as doing so would make her happy, and the new man would be a good stepfather for his children.
I felt a strange and disturbing pang when I heard this, because it seemed to me that his hypothetical scenario described my situation quite well…except, of course, for the fact that I haven’t died. I’m a sort of zombie version of that speaker’s contrafactual: dead but still wandering around, too stupid to realize that I’m no longer among the living. I do not grow or obtain new life; I merely continue.
I truly do want my family to be happy, though. All of them. And maybe they really all would be happier if they didn’t have to worry about some pathetic revenant who’s too stupid to know he’s no longer part of the world.
It’s a strange thing to find myself envious of a hypothetical, alternate version of myself—one who died, perhaps, of some relatively short-term illness or accident, after which all the other events in the lives of my former wife and my children played out exactly as they have in this reality. But I do feel that it would have been so much easier—for me, and probably for them—than the Nosferatu “life” I’m living. It’s all but unbearable to be the dead husband and father and yet still to be around to know it, to feel the chill and putrescence of one’s own dead flesh, to ache and yearn for the life one used to have, and that others have, but to know—despite not wanting to know—that it’s all gone forever, and to know oneself to be now merely a source of pain and worry for those who have made it clear that they are happier without an animated corpse in their lives.
What is one to do in such a situation? I’m really not the sort who believes in reincarnation, unfortunately, so I don’t expect to be revivified. It’s just not the way I’m built; it’s not in my nature. I had my life, my family, the people I loved the most in all the universe, but now that’s over. They’re gone—or, more precisely, I’m gone. I died some years ago, and somehow, I’m still upright. I suppose there are some who might admire the stubbornness of a cadaver who is unwilling, or unable, simply to accept reality and die, but personally, I find it a contemptible. Then again, I’ve never been my biggest fan.
In “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” Dumbledore says, “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love.” I think he was right. Death is, finally, nothing to be afraid of or to be pitied; it’s simply a state of oblivion. It’s the restored default, a return to the ground state—the deleted file, the song after it’s through being played, the dance after the dancers have left the floor. Life, on the other hand—especially the life of a walking corpse—can be a sheer cacophony, a lurching, drunkard’s walk.
What is one to do? Where is my answer, or at the very least, my release? Where is my Van Helsing, with cross and wooden stake, to end my career as an undead thing? I’m waiting.
In the book “Red Dragon,” Will Graham says of Hannibal Lecter, “He’s a monster. I think of him as one of those pitiful things that are born in hospitals from time to time. They feed it, and keep it warm, but they don’t put it on the machines and it dies. Lecter is the same way in his head, but he looks normal and nobody could tell.” Though I’m certainly neither a murderer nor a cannibal, I think I know what he means. I think I know how that feels.
I’m tired of being in pain, of knowing that I can never get back even a semblance of all that I’ve lost. I miss my children so much, but I have nothing to offer them. I even miss their mother as well, but I clearly have less than nothing to offer her. Every breath is a weariness.