dead man walking

My first year of uni­ver­si­ty was spent on the 15th floor of a res­i­dence on cam­pus, the same sum­mer Pearl Jam’s cov­er of Last Kiss became a radio sta­ple for over 35 con­sec­u­tive weeks. Unsurprisingly, it start­ed play­ing in the ele­va­tor when I was once mak­ing my way to the cafe­te­ria with a floor­mate, who winced upon hear­ing Vedder’s grave­ly voice and did her best to talk over it, explain­ing her dis­like of sad music.

I was tak­en aback. Depressing lyrics and minor chords were an enor­mous com­fort to me1. As the sole child of a dys­func­tion­al home, the only thing I could turn to when my par­ents start­ed rais­ing their voic­es at each oth­er was a set of head­phones and Discman, and I’d been hunt­ing for sad songs like a rav­en­ous stray ever since I was old enough to appre­ci­ate music.

The same became true of upset­ting movies with dif­fi­cult scenes. Moments of vio­lence, tragedy, and grief would leave me glued to the screen. I was fas­ci­nat­ed with the way peo­ple processed their pain (or did­n’t). War films were par­tic­u­lar­ly apt for this, as relent­less years of depres­sion caused me to relate to any sol­dier with a thou­sand yard stare. That glazed, expres­sion­less face spoke of a per­son who had long giv­en up on mak­ing sense of the count­less hor­rors and end­less suf­fer­ing they had gone through.

1000 yard stare

The lights are on, but nobody’s home.

Then it turned to live feed­ings and butch­ery. Real death. Lions chas­ing buf­fa­lo across the plains, over­pow­er­ing their prey, then casu­al­ly extract­ing organs with their teeth once sub­dued. Russet squid turn­ing pure white when their spines are sev­ered, lit­er­al­ly look­ing like a sheet is being drawn over their bod­ies. Fish imme­di­ate­ly going limp with prop­er ike­jime prac­tice.

For my mon­ey, snakes offer the most fas­ci­nat­ing of feed­ing behav­iours, with two dis­tinct meth­ods of neu­tral­iza­tion; an ani­mal may suf­fer the last moments aware of their life being squeezed out both ends, or sud­den­ly strick­en with ven­om and left to won­der what’s hap­pen­ing as the blood in their ner­vous sys­tem begins to con­geal and clot.

I could­n’t under­stand why J___ — who grew up in a fam­i­ly with gen­er­a­tions of hunt­ing cul­ture — would act so dis­gust­ed when I showed him videos of snap­ping tur­tles eat­ing mice, their bod­ies being ripped in half like wrap­pers of a can­dy bar, tor­sos still strug­gling to swim toward the sur­face with tiny organs trail­ing behind. For me, it was both a study of instinct and an explo­ration on the mean­ing of exis­tence.

But now I know that it was all a sign of how numb I had become, and that such fas­ci­na­tion was an attempt to wake myself up from my obses­sion with sui­cide. After so many years of depres­sion, I kept search­ing for an excuse to stay. And if a rea­son to keep liv­ing kept elud­ing me, I would do my best to find a rea­son to not die.

Death, in all it’s forms, is a nat­ur­al, every­day occur­rence. Being a pas­sive observ­er was a legal­ly and moral­ly just way for me to watch some­thing suf­fer in cru­el agony then pass away.

So when would the dev­il take me?

  1. I’ve come to under­stand how naive it is to think every­one enjoys that kind of mood. []

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