Here are the responses -- mine and those of the friends who were good enough to join me -- to my Facebook Writing Assignment, "Deathbed Confession."
Wool on the Barbed Wire
You look familiar. You're not mine by blood. I never had my own children. Are you brother's daughter, my little string bean? My brother's daugter's daughter? It doesn't matter. I always thought blood-ties were over-rated anyway. It's nice of you to sit with me. That's enough to make you mine.
I want to tell you that I was born in the country, that I always thought of myself as a good, shy girl. Even when I was naked in nightclubs hustling strangers for cash, even when men shouted at me over the music, "What, YOU? Shy?"
Yes, I was always shy. I was born that way. I stayed that way my whole life. I learned to act in whatever way the circumstances demanded of me but I was always the person I was born to be. That's the first thing I want you to know.
When I was still young I left home and moved to the city. I learned how to make men fall in love with me so I could eat -- sometimes for a long time, sometimes just for the length of a song. I can't teach you how to do it. It's like learning to fly in dreams. You keep falling until you learn how to fall without hitting the ground.
Sometimes I fell in love, too, and when I did I always left part of myself behind, the way a sheep leaves it's wool on the barbed wire as it squeezes through. I was warned that this was a bad idea, and one day there would nothing left of me. This turned out to be incorrect. What's left of me is here in this bed, dying. The things I left behind me, whether they were found and kept and woven into something warm or whether they just blew away like dust, that's what will remain of me when I am dead.
All my life I had a dream. I called it by the names of cities and ambitions and lovers. I followed it down halls and towards horizons. It had a voice like a beautiful girl. It sang me to sleep in cold rooms at dawn.
Sometimes I thought my dream was called "being free." Other times I thought it's name was "being safe." Some days to stop it's piping voice I told myself there was no freedom and no safety, but it kept singing.
I never reached it. I never held it in my hand. I was always behind, following and now I know if I'd caught it would have stopped singing. It still sings, and so I still have something to follow.
Listen. If my advice means anything to you, I'd say don't avoid pain. Pain taught me some of my best lessons. Don't fall in love with pain either. After all, it's just a sensation. You could probably learn as much from joy or love, and if you're still listening I suggest you learn how. That's what I plan on doing, next time round.
The Magical Aura of Things I've Seen Firsthand
I guess it’s time for me to pass any final words on to you all. Since our family tree seems to be of the bonsai variety, it’s worth an attempt to preserve our dwindling family’s collective wisdom. Unfortunately, I can barely tell you anything about my ancestors and I suspect your generation will fare no better. Although I’m inclined to tell you about walking uphill both ways to school in the snow and my $1.60/hr first job, I suspect the world you’re inheriting will be much worse than anything I can exaggerate about surviving. When I was your age, a gallon of leaded gas was 74 cents, I could see two movies at the drive-in for $1 and my first apartment was $120/month. You’ll likely run out of gas, water, food, jobs and affordable places to live. We chose to mortgage your generation to maintain ours for longer than it made sense and I’m truly sorry for that.
Way back in 2009, I saw a movie about a man who lived for 15,000 years. He had witnessed many pivotal historical events and had over 20 degrees. Still, he found that he had little wisdom to pass on to the folks he was leaving behind. This seemed quite strange to me at first, but he explained that his educational degrees were often worthless 10 years after he earned them. It was impossible for any person to maintain his knowledge in a wide variety of subjects as the rate of change had been geometric for way too many decades. Keep in mind that every couple of years, mankind produces more data than the sum total of the previous 5000 years. There is little I can teach you that will be relevant next year, much less in twenty. No doubt, our greatest technical thinkers of today will all seem quaint and even naive, perhaps even in their own lifetimes. Brace yourself to never stop learning. It’s the only way you’ll survive.
Similarly, historical events are molded after the fact to make the memories more precious or otherwise marketable to the masses. The real stories are seldom as interesting or profound and who am I to try and deflate the magical aura of things I’ve seen firsthand. Go create your own history.
Better and Better
by some guy on Facebook
I know now, during my life, that I was always changing how I remembered who I was and what I accomplished in the past. Consequently seemed things just kept getting better and better for me until this dying part came up.
The Sunshine of Your Understanding
To my two glorious daughters:
Well, it's that time, I guess. The sand has almost passed through the hourglass. The candle is burning to a nub and is nearly quenched. The cereal box is starting to pour out just that sugary powder. The metaphors are becoming painfully strained. And girls, I don't need to tell you, this cancer is out of control. I'm in terrible pain. My only consolation these days is popsicles and palliative care. And your visits too, of course, my angels; that is, when I'm awake for them. I always rather preferred a bottle of Pinot Noir, but holy shit, I'm in the major leagues now, let's give it up for these narcotics...
Now is the time for simplicity. Now is the time for coming clean. Now is the time for you to know what you should know about your Dad.
Two things you already know: that I've loved you with all my heart, every day, and that you've always made me proud. Yes, these things you know, because I told you as often as possible, in my own bashful way. What you ceased believing at some point, and what your mother and I succeeded at (re-)convincing you of only after great effort -- is that you were, both of you, conceived in love, despite our divorce when you were at the tender ages of 14 and 10. You went through some years of shock and anger, but by the time you went off to college, you seemed to have cast aside the indignity of seeing your parents go their separate ways. At one time I thought we would never be forgiven. Now I bask in the sunshine of your understanding.
In the haze of my recollections, I die with no need to make apologies for my life. I enjoyed, often intensely, some of its thrills (love, sex, artistic accomplishment, sport), and also experienced some of its agonies (unexpected death, personal rejection, artistic blockage, loss of love). I regret not having taken more risks -- not because I wanted to "make my mark," but simply because the unlived life is not worth examining.
I helped when my help seemed useful. I acknolwedged my good fortune and gave to others, anonymously more often than not; whether or not I was generous in the big picture, who can say? But I gave. I avoided conflict, maybe too much in some people's opinion, but always in the spirit of "Live and let live." I managed my addictions with such care and dedication that you probably didn't even know them as such. But addictions they were -- private addictions for a (mostly) private man. In the big scheme of things, barely noteworthy.
Epitaphs are for egoists. I have no delusions about my mortality or my insignificance. You are mine, and I am yours. Enjoy this life, obey your spirit, and be grateful for your life in whatever way you see fit. That's all that matters. I will love you always.
Anonymous Internet Friend
This is my confession. I was always a lonely person, desperate for affection. When I was young, I got married to a girl that I found broken and vulnerable, and I sucked her in with half-truths and outright lies, just so I wouldn't be alone. But I treated her like gold, for all that, as I always treated anyone who showed me kindness.
Eventually, she left me. And she did terrible, terrible things to me when she did.
And then I met my second wife. I told her the truth about who I was, and she liked me anyhow, and I wooed her with dedication and an unswerving will that has seen me through all the bad times, and gotten me many things that I wanted in life.
But I didn't love her, even though I told her I did. I just didn't want to be alone.
It only occurred to me some years later that, at some point, I had fallen in love with her. I even knew when it clinched home. She'd had an epileptic seizure, about two years into our relationship. I remember finding her on the floor. Her breathing was so shallow that I thought she was dead.
It felt like my world was ending.
And that, I think, is when my love for her turned like the tumblers in a lock and clicked into place.
I never told her. I never will.
Good Songs on the Tongue
by Vader on Ice
I know you people. Your names are like good songs on the tongue. The doctor said… Well… I told the doctor to fuck himself. I been telling people that forever. People not in the room. Some in the dirt. Some sailing. Some looking into someone else’s eyes. I’ll tell you a trick. Anyone who says they know what you need is selling you a lie. All you ever need is a moment. In a storm, you need…
Your mothers and fathers were good. I maybe made them too hard. That’s why they cry at some movies. They only feel in the dark. They are blind and dumb in the heart. I always said I’d do it different than my old man. First thing I did was put his name on the boy. Like he did with me.
So. It’s very important you listen to me when I tell you to forget everything I ever told you. I’m the guy whose favorite song is from Hootie. I know you don’t know who that is. Was it great music? A lot of people hated them because a lot of people liked them. Do I remember the words?
Let her cry. Let the tears roll down her face. And if the sun comes up tomorrow…