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The Obituary


ISSUE:  Spring 2018

Illustration by Lauren Nassef

When reporting on suicide, the CDC advises against including the suicide method or overly positive descriptions of the deceased for fear of causing contagion. 

Which gave Reporter Jane a problem in reporting on how her dad did what he did. She can’t mention the means, so readers will be left to wonder:

Was it a gun? A rope? A razor? Pills? Poison? A train? A hair-dryer? 

And (according to the CDC), the mildly suicidal among them will begin to salivate.

Starvation? Inflammation? Suffocation? Tailpipe down the throat? Rocks in the pocket, head in the oven, was it something he held in his hand? Was it cool, was it heavy, was it sharp, did it shake? Or was there no object at all, just sneakers, a leap.

Would there be some way to hint at the spectacular nature of his departure? How sci-fi and fantastical it was? If she were to drop some clue like, say, “He took his exit from this world in a truly bizarre fashion,” what would they picture?

A beehive? An industrial vat? A guillotine… powered by a Rube Goldberg Machine? Perhaps they’d picture piranhas or trapeze or bears? A majestic last sleigh ride onto thinning ice!? Did he, what…hug a leper? Snuggle a python? Can’t say. Can’t say. 

So! She will start with his mustache. Safe enough, right? Just a few hundred bristles of hair. White and friendly like Captain Kangaroo. Full. Push brooms everywhere—across wooden floors, across linoleum, across tile—made her smile. He was a dendrochronologist, a counter of tree rings, an obsolete science made useful again when it was realized that in tree rings you could catch history. He’d climb up the mountains in Nevada to where the thousands-year-old bristlecone pines gathered, and delicately extract cores—like a surgeon, careful not to injure his gnarled and piney old patient—patting its trunk, maybe even kissing its bark, whispering perhaps, and breathing steady as he slid it out. And later, in the lines on those cores, where they swelled or darkened, he could see evidence of floods or droughts or fires, tall tales confirmed or refuted by those lines, suggesting that time was perhaps not as relative as Einstein thought but concrete, at least here on Earth, and catchable in its trees.

But is that too much? Will people read into dendrochronology too much of his gentleness? His love of the world? Will they feel in their chests admiration? Admiration, according to the CDC, is a dangerous substance. Sheer admiration, the CDC has found, can kill. The more beloved the deceased, the stronger the chance of copycats. There have been Studies. It has been Shown.

So she will keep all that inside. She’ll say simply that he was a dendrochronologist and not define it so it seems horrible and dull. A dendrochronologist born in Connecticut (who admires Connecticut? No one!). He leaves behind a wife and three daughters.

Can she speak a bit about his fathering? Perhaps. He was a fabulous father, he let them eat sugar cereal only once a year on what he called Candy Day. And on that day they were allowed to eat…ONLY SUGAR. Oh, you think you’re gonna put MILK in those Lucky Charms, hunny? Think again, it’s gotta be CHOCOLATE milk on Candy Day! His theory was they’d get so ill, they’d never want sugar again—he was a scientist, did she mention that?—but it never worked. Every year he tried it again, tweaking a variable here—more Skittles—or a variable there—no water allowed!—but it never worked. Just rainbow-colored vomit and whining through their sugar crashes to ask how long it was till next year’s Candy Day. He begged them to come grocery shopping with him because he, for some reason, seemed to actually enjoy their presence, bobbling alongside his cart. He made them kites and forts. He let them play with fire. He cut his own jean shorts. But as she eked into her twenties, she noticed a quiet. They knew less what to do with one another. Had he only worked for little kids? Was he a dad only for little girls? He was awkward around them in later years, ecstatic at first to see them… then nothing to say.

Should she focus on that? The quiet. His dark streak? How one night as she was reaching into the refrigerator for the glass jug of milk, having just been told in a serious tone by her mom that Katie’s mom had taken a bunch of pills and tried to kill herself, as she was reaching in, her hand just grasping the cool glass indents of the jug, her father had whispered over the refrigerator door that he could understand the impulse—the steam of his whisper, the steam from the refrigerator, cold and white, swirling together on her face—and how since that moment she had been left wondering how. 

She always pictured him using a gun, though she could never imagine him procuring one, would he, what, don a leather jacket and John Travolta into a gun shop? Nah. He’d get too nervous, feel bad about participating in the economy of firearms. She wondered if it would be a leap. From that bridge near their house over a surprisingly mighty waterfall for suburbia. She did not like to think of him falling. Poetic as she can get it would never seem like flight. Even if he wanted it, his body couldn’t have wanted it, and would have resisted, all the way down, would have flailed against his desires and pumped his meat full of fear chemicals, blanching his entire body with toxins, which cannot be a good way to cross over, even if the only “over” into which he was crossing was the ground, because her plan had always been to plant a tree over his grave and she worried about what kind of fertilizer fear-blanched flesh would make and how heartbreaking that would be to plant a tree and have it grow nothing! 

Well, it was not a leap, anyway. And she was grateful for that, though his flesh is likely too charred now to grow trees. 

How can she make no mention of his death? How he chose to do it? Perhaps she could safely say that it involved science… though readers might assume he used one of the more predictable branches. Physics (letting gravity do his bidding), or chemistry (relying on the oxidizing effects of chemicals to melt any cellular resolve), or math (the trusty trigonometry of a hanging). No one will assume meteorology. The harnessing of Earth’s most mythic force, the one you wouldn’t believe, the one you’d put alongside unicorns and dragons if you hadn’t seen it so many damn times in your life, ripping apart the summer sky. Does he get nothing for going out like that? No fricking pat on the back for carrying their 1980s beach umbrella up to the top of a mountain, past his quiet giants, where the mountain is bald and a man must be brave?

No, she is a good journalist. Obedient. She follows Rules & Recommendations. She cares about saving lives. So she will keep all that inside. His fathering. His breathtaking departure from this world. Even his goddamn mustache because trapped between those bristles is too much evidence of his sweetness. For who walks around the world with a joke smeared across his face? A man committed to giving, that’s who. For a mustache is a gift to a setting: It slurps the darkness out of the room.

So, no, she won’t focus on his mustache. His goofy streak or selfless streak. She won’t focus on whatever streak it was that once made him jump to the floor in fake convulsions at the feet of an old lady in a passing wheelchair, screaming “Hey, slow down!”—as if to insinuate he’d been hit by her, as if to insinuate she still had enough vitality left to knock him over. She won’t focus on how that old woman’s face was reanimated back into a schoolgirl’s, bashful, flirted with, seen. She won’t focus on her worry that even his last act was meant to be some kind of gift, an attempt to let them know that even after all those silent years he could still make magic for them.

She will keep all that inside. And in doing so, she will save lives. And in doing so, she will kill him again. She will say, simply:

He was a father and a husband.

Nope. To know there is progeny and spouse walking the Earth is to know there are beings walking the Earth in pain, which, according to the CDC may be even more enticing than admiration. Knowing that you will cause pain.

He was a man, and on Tuesday he committed suicide.

Though she knows her editor will not allow her to use the word “commit” because it implies it was a sin. And her media outlet is not in the business of judging. But isn’t it a sin? To those in his wake? To those whose Earth he has now cursed—for every goddamn grocery store is now haunted by his ghost, deciding, on second thought, to retract his invitation for them to stroll the aisles with him. The linoleum no longer friendly. Push brooms everywhere a curse.

Sigh.

She is nothing if not obedient. 

He was a man. And now, by the estimation of this reporter, he is not.  

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