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