The day the inevitable happened was, surprisingly, warm and sunny. I’d always pictured it as forebodingly dark with a torrential downpour of historical—nay, biblical—proportions. Since I knew it was of course coming at some point, I suppose it was comforting to think of it as somehow dramatic or noteworthy. But this was just another day, and quite a lovely one at that. Go figure.
The feeling started to come on during my morning shave, took form in the shower, and slapped me upside the head over breakfast. As I said, I always knew it was in the offing, but even when you know something is looming it can still reach out and grab you with a jolt of unpredictability, like the old jack-in-the-box toy where you’d turn the lever knowing the obvious result and yet still get a mild start when that damned thing popped out. For many people, the abstract notion of “the apocalypse” is probably a bit like this, something that feels inevitable but is viewed amorphously—until the moment when it all goes down before your eyes. I guess having a general idea and seeing the real thing are two very different processes.
At first, I lapsed into a kind of denial about the whole affair. I could see the images and feel the emotions, yet even up until the predestined conclusion I didn’t look at the faces in my mind’s eye or choose to recall the names of any of the players. But while some of the details of the vision escaped me on this first recollection, it was not to remain that way as the memory sank deeper into my consciousness, becoming part of me, and thus rendering itself unavoidable.
I had, finally, remembered my own death.
Actually, it was a great relief in some ways, having nagged at me since I first realized that this inimitable ability of mine wasn’t going away any time soon. The hard part now would be living with this knowledge until the appointed moment arrived. Then again, at least as a writer it might make a halfway decent story, after all. [Yeah, I like this concept: man sees future and rejoices, then sees own death and … writes book? Nah, it’ll never sell. How about: man sees future, witnesses own death, tries to prevent it but winds up actually causing it, thereby proving the inevitability of things. Next stop, The Twilight Zone. Nah. Been there, done that.]
Okay, so I’d need to find another angle on this. Since writing was always my best (and only) therapy, this would have to be the way for me to work this out. Given the resounding “success” of my last attempt at being a “faction” (fact? fiction? neither?) writer—four waterlogged copies of a prophetic masterpiece, widely unread by millions, still in a box under my bed—it was only natural that I’d write a sequel. [Screenplay idea: take a mediocre story and do a hatchet job on it, then create a follow-up that’s even worse but promote the crap out of it anyway, laughing all the way to the bank—Hollywood here I come!] All I’d need now was a catchy title with marketability and off I’d go … with off being the operative word. Anyway, after much soul searching (an hour, at least) I came up with the beginnings of the tale.
Why not? You only live once—I mean, you only die once, even if you remember it over and over again. Geez, am I making this seem morbid and depressing? [It’ll never sell like that; then again, have you been watching TV or following politics at all these last few years?] It’s really kind of a cool story, actually—in fact, I can still even visualize the blurb on the back cover:
It was the end of days, it was the beginning of days. In a time when the voiceless sought a voice and the hopeless longed for hope, they rose above the fray to point the way toward a brighter day. Demonstrating that words can still move a nation and ideas are indestructible, this tale of adventure and romantic longing will warm your heart and challenge you to take action. When virtue is a sin and resistance a crime, this is the one book they’ll really want to burn! Now in paperback for the first time, by the acclaimed author of nothing you’ve ever heard of, comes the unforgettable sequel…
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. [Actually I don’t, but as the one writing this I can say that and sound convincing in my authorial omnipotence.] What happened next, though, was truly bizarre and profoundly disconcerting. It was (and this is hard to utter): Nothing. Literally nothing, as in emptiness, nonexistence, the end of the show you’ve been binge-watching, the moment just before the Big Bang, my present net worth. Nada.
Despite my legendary (and, I’ve been told, annoying) cynicism, I still held out some irrational hope that the next world would be something special—or at least would be more interesting than this one. Not quite heavenly, perhaps, but a place where some sort of meaning or purpose would be revealed, in which we would rejoin the great cosmic flux from whence we came and see the world as it really is beyond the confines of these limited human eyes.
No. Such. Luck.
The transition between the here and the ostensible there was blankly instantaneous, with no magical playback journey of life flashing before one’s eyes and the opportunity to hover over one’s funeral during the process of separating from the corporeal realm. It wasn’t like that; it wasn’t like anything. It was, like, nothing. Lights out. No stairway to heaven, nary a thing that glittered like gold. The periphery was simply an abyss.
So now you know why the memory was so painful to recall. It wasn’t the fact of dying—I mean, everyone does that, all the time and everywhere. It was the sudden cessation of the journey that got me, the stark loneliness and impossible finitude. I realized then that this was really what the fear of death was about: not over what comes next, or the painful transition in getting there, but the sense that there was no there there and that none of this life ever really mattered.
Remembering this before it happened—my gift, my curse—gave me a chance to unpack its implications for years before the appointed day would ultimately arrive. As I noted, it was a lovely day—or, I mean, it would be. I suppose this could have set off a cascade effect of despair and hopelessness, since I brought back to this realm the apparent knowledge that the next one was utterly nonexistent. This is all there ever was or will be, and there’s no grander purpose. Even now, it’s hard to accept this—even we nihilists believe that nothing has meaning.
Instead, I took this in the opposite direction. If meaning wasn’t to be revealed later, then it had to be made now if it is to exist at all. If the next phase was mere emptiness, then this one should be embraced to the fullest. If tomorrow never came, then we have only today to work it out and make it happen. Without a there, we just have a lot of here. The lack of some brave new world out there makes this cowardly old one even more special somehow.
And so on. From that day—the one when I remembered my own demise and crossed over the great divide to the land of “bed-death and beyond”—it was like a rebirth of sorts. I spent the time in the now, unfettered by the later, and wholly content to revel in the moment. This included the good, the bad, and the otherwise; indeed, even the bad was preferable to the void. The sort of uptight sterility of conscience that keeps people from pushing the envelope in exchange for the promise of ascendance held no sway—but this didn’t lead me to the straits of hedonism, either. No, quite the opposite. This world had meaning and the (nonexistent) next one didn’t, so what I did here was all that mattered. Do you see? It does matter. Entirely.
I could continue to wax about the revelations I enjoyed along the way, but that would be mere indulgence since your experience will no doubt differ greatly. All I can say, in the end, is that the liminal space between here and there, between now and then, is infinitesimally thin. The boundary isn’t something to be traversed slowly; it happens all at once. There’s nothing mystical about it; it’s simply as matter-of-fact as blinking. I had hoped to be able to report otherwise, and I have no desire to offend whatever worldview gives you comfort. I offer this future memory merely as a means of bringing the beyond into the before, in order to provide a nascent signpost in the distance, saying unequivocally: Road Ends Ahead.
You can thank me later for this. Well, actually, you can’t. So just thank me now, before the mundane finale.
Lemar Starland, shopping for headstone ideas