Death goes on

The first post I ever saw from “Youngest Oldest Cat Lady” was the one she timed to go up after she killed herself.

She was just beyond my online ecosystem. People I followed, followed her. But I didn’t. Her words found me though. After we lost her.  

An Instagram pic. Two cute kittens. And this caption:

“Hello all,

Thank you for the years of support and a wonderful life you’ve given me. I don’t want anyone to take this as a sign to quit. I have been struggling for so long. I am so sorry I was not strong enough to continue. This battle is over for me. And with that, I am at peace. Please, take care of each other.

This is a scheduled post.

April 9, 2023.”

Instagram immediately followed up like a pesky sales rep. “Want to view all 9,084 comments?”

Like fuck, Instagram. Give me one fucking second to process what I just read. Jesus.

The woman is fucking dead.

“This is a scheduled post” stalked my thoughts. I kept wondering if anyone considered that this is how people would eventually use that feature when they created it. Was this the first one she wrote? Or had she scheduled hundreds of these over the years only to delete them before they went live? What was she thinking about when she typed it out? Why didn’t she give us time to save her? Why do I, someone who never even followed her, feel entitled to have had time to save her in the first place?

Ashley Morrison.

Youngest Oldest Cat Lady was Ashley Morrison.

She had 250,000 followers on Instagram. She rescued kittens. She couldn’t be rescued.

If I didn’t meet her after she’d already died, I would have wanted her life. Ashley. April 6, 2023. 31 years old.

Just as I got really good at pushing my soaking wet grief over her death out of my brain, Heather Armstrong killed herself.

Dooce. The original blogger. The one I wanted to be when I grew up. The woman who’s writing style still influences my work. Dead. And nobody could save her either. Heather. May 9, 2023. 47 years old.

Again, I wasn’t one of her followers. I had intentionally unfollowed her last year after she posted an anti-trans rant. But I spent most of my 20s wanting to be her. Praying for her life.

What does it mean when the people you want to be kill themselves? Is this the fate of the anxious, blonde-haired women? Are we destined for self-inflicted death?

I’ve been twirling around suicide preferences in my brain for nearly three decades. In the 90’s, I’d lay in my twin bed, crying about how horribly acidic my teen emotions felt, wondering if an entire bottle of ibuprofen would kill me.

Eventually, at 29, I got sick and started having chronic pain, so my potential methods got more realistic. I saw on Kevin Spacey’s House of Cards that sitting in a warm bath with some aspirin in your system is the best way to slit your wrists — so that was usually my favorite fantasy.

But when my physical pain was ignored for long enough and I went days without sleep, I got more chaotic with my contemplations. Laying in the hallway, feeling fully in hell, I decided swallowing the bottle of Drano that was just sitting on the bathroom floor would be best. Or, while driving to work in excruciating, clawing, knife stabbing pain, I thought slamming my car head-on, full speed, into a concrete wall was better.

I think a lot about why I never did it. I like to pretend it’s because I wouldn’t want to do that to the handful of people who’d probably be upset if I did. But I have no idea if that’s the real reason. Maybe the real reason is a mix of reasons. I finally found a doctor who took my pain seriously. I convinced myself good things would still happen to me. And I never was very good at following through on my big ideas.

Am I eventually going to kill myself anyway though? Why would I assume I’m any different than they are? Ashely. Heather. If anything, they were lightning bolts better at life than me – and it still wasn’t enough. 

What about their pets? Ashley obviously had cats. I think Heather had a dog? Do the animals understand why their people are gone? Did they tell them goodbye?

What was their last day like? Did they do their laundry? Pay their electric bill? Run the dishwasher? When was the last time they bought groceries? And what were they thinking about when they died? Is it stupid to want to believe that two overachievers were actually hoping they’d fail? That they both just desperately wanted help?

Obviously, for Ashley, it wasn’t an impulsive decision. She prepared a scheduled Instagram post like she was setting up an out-of-office message. Was there anything anyone could have done to save her? To save Heather? And if nothing could stop them, what will stop me?

Looking back, rationally, I know it was good I never killed myself. So much has happened. So many miraculous experiences, loves, joys, and days of overflowing happiness.

But what’s ahead? I’m unemployed, uninsured, and tired. There’s no help coming. Everyone counts on me to figure it out.

Back in college I was editor-in-chief of the college newspaper. We planned a trip to Chicago for a journalism conference and we were set to meet at the train station at 6 am to go to the city. But I overslept. My alarm never went off and I woke up at 5:50 am. I lived across the street from the train station, but I had not packed the night before. I grabbed a couple items of clothing and ran out the door. I made it. When I arrived, out of breath, I asked everyone why nobody had called to see where I was? The general consensus: “You’re responsible. We assumed you would get here. And look! You did!”

Sure. But getting a phone call at 5:30 am sure would have helped.

See. It’s a metaphor. Get it? You understand? Everyone assumes I don’t need help because I never need help. And then they’re proven right when I make it to the train station on time. They were correct! Very smart! I didn’t need help!

Still kinda want it though.

I’m self-aware and self-absorbed enough to know that the last couple of years have been pretty fucked up for me. COVID started in 2020, and by the end of the year two of my old friends had been killed by it. First Jason. Sept. 20, 2020. 38 years old. Then Bronson. Dec. 1, 2022. 44 years old.

Well, technically Jason was liver failure. But I blame COVID. I think he had it. Even heavy drinkers don’t have liver failure at 38 years old without an underlying condition.

I lost my breath processing those deaths and then COVID killed my dad too. Dave. Feb. 23, 2022. 67 years old.

A couple months later my aunt died. It wasn’t COVID this time, but it was sudden. And she was too young. Perforated ulcer. Jean. April 28, 2022. 59 years old.  

Then, in June 2022 I got laid off. Gave 11 years of my life to a company and when they let me go their main concern was making sure I mailed back my cheap Dell laptop.

I don’t even remember the rest of the summer. And the fall of 2022 was a blur. I look back at posts I made on social media during those months, and I don’t remember writing them.

And then. In December 2022, my sister’s dad was hospitalized. Paperwork said “WITH covid, not FROM covid. But covid didn’t give a fuck as long he died, which he did. Gladstone. Dec. 24, 2022. Just 7 days after his 69th birthday.

I wasn’t close with him. And to be honest, I wasn’t very close with my own dad either. But deaths have a way of soaking through everyone around them. Like black gasoline sludge that can’t be bleached cleaned. It’s the fucking finality of it all. It doesn’t matter if you were close with someone. It doesn’t even matter if you only ever saw their Instagram page after they died. It’s still fucking shit. It’s still fucking awful.

Once they’re gone, the unanswered questions become permanent lore. Infecting our minds until one day, we die too. That’s really the fuck of it all. We all die. And time insists on thriving anyway. Eventually, we’re forgotten, and none of this mattered. If only constantly contemplating that counted as healthy long-term thinking.

I spent all morning working on this essay. Then I opened my email. Another death. My former publisher. Chris. Melanoma. May 23, 2023. 58 years old.

To paraphrase the Beatles.

Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, death goes on, bra,
La-la how their death goes on.

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