I recently had a girls’ night out with four friends, one of whom was in town from the west coast. One of the girls had brought a camera, and a few photos were taken. They looked great on the digital, but when she sent them to us, and I opened mine on the computer, there was one shot of me that…well, it kind of shocked me. Because of the flash, and the darkness of the bar, my very pale skin stood out in the photo. And I saw something I hadn’t expected – the early signs of aging skin. I hadn’t truly seen it myself when looking in the mirror at home. I suppose this was a true case of shedding some light on an issue. (Yes, that's it, but I kept the photo small so no one else would see what I saw.)
Now, it didn’t look horrible, but it was clear that the skin on my face, neck, and upper chest was rougher, not to mention more wrinkled, than the rest of my body, from years of exposure to the sun. All this time, I’ve always worn a good sunscreen when I knew I’d have to be out in the sun for any length of time (I don’t tan – I freckle, burn, or blister – there are no other choices), but not on a daily basis. And that daily basis had taken its toll. I need one of those microdermabrasion processes, to take the top layer off and start over again. They make home kits, but as sensitive as my skin is, I’d probably do permanent damage – I really should see a skin expert. Something else to save money for.
The thing is, this isn’t all about the visual, the looks. Although yes, that meant something to me. I mean, I do have a bit of a complex about my looks that tends to lead to me telling myself things like ‘who am I to set my standards so high’ in seeking a dominant – I mean, look at me. But that’s another post entirely.
This was something else – looking older reminded me that I get older every day. And aging leads to death. And that is something that I have a very hard time with. I am agnostic, really – I have no sincere belief an afterlife of any kind, and that makes death final. And the thought of ceasing to exist, in any conscious form, well…it terrifies the fucking hell out of me. Enough so that when it does come into my mind, I have myself a mini, itty bitty little panic attack. It hits me full force, the finality of it, and my breath quickens, my heart beats, the savage beast awakens…and then it ends, goes away. And I go on with life.
One might think that these thoughts come with age, that I’ve hit ‘middle age’ and my mortality has become more of a reality. But that would be an erroneous assumption.
I remember being in about the third grade or so, standing at the sink doing dishes (yes, I was my mother’s maid, even at that age…I did it all…hell, I was even required to massage her feet with lotion in the evening…which really made me her service submissive, didn’t it…probably why, to this day, I hate the scent of the lotion she used, still uses…and hate the whole foot worship part of submission…I should make that a hard limit, I think).
Digression aside, there I was doing the dishes, and this thought, unbidden, entered my head – what is it like to die? And as I stood there, I stopped washing, deep in the thought, and began to feel that feeling I still get today – a dizziness washed over me, I felt as though I were floating just above the ground – outside of myself, and looking down at the me washing dishes at the sink, my heartbeat rapid and hard in my chest. My mother entered the room then, and I began to come down, and I asked her that very question: what is it like to die? And she laughed it off, and said, of course, ‘no one knows till it’s their turn.’ Called me silly, and other things, as she tended to do. I think that making me feel stupid was her life’s goal, and she succeeded marvelously. Yes, it is perhaps not surprising that I will not allow a female dominant to top me in this thing called bdsm.
And then, I go back even further, to a much younger me. We had traveled by train to Tennessee (from the west coast) for my mother’s father’s funeral. I must have been about five, as the man I called ‘daddy’ was no longer in the picture, and the second father, the wicked, evil man who loved nothing more than to fuck people over and beat the shit out of them, had not yet entered.
My mother, grandmother, and everyone else were using the term ‘passed away’ just as liberally as the word ‘die’ during our visit, to describe what had happened to grandpa. And it wasn’t said in any particular manner, just a fact. They were deeply religious, in a southern, nondenominational, but strict kind of way. Death was considered a blessing in most cases, so I hadn’t heard anything (that I recall anyway) that would make me particularly fearful of death.
We were in a five and dime store, shopping – me, my mother, grandma, aunt Linda – and I began to feel a bit faint. I found my mom, whose subsequent offhand comment ‘you might just be feeling like you’re going to pass out, you haven’t had anything to eat,’ followed by a command to sit down in a corner and stay out of the way, had interesting effects. Beyond the idea that a five year old was stuck wandering around a store on an empty tummy, well…think…to a five year old…how similar the terms ‘passed away’ and ‘passed out’ are. And imagine what thoughts formed in my child’s mind. Yes, I thought I was dying, and shockingly, no one around me seemed to care. I sat, and that feeling hit me – floating, quickened heart beat, the feeling of being outside of my body and looking down upon myself – sitting there in the corner of the store, people milling about around me, ignoring me. And then I came back to myself, and I began to cry. My mother asked why, and I sobbed ‘I don’t want to die.’ The word scramble was explained to me, and there ensued a general discussion among the adults, who all managed to laugh at me for my confusion and make me feel quite small indeed. I had been fucking terrified beyond belief...and they laughed at me.
I’m not going to delve into a philosophical discussion of death, not here and now, and probably not ever, as that would keep the thought in my mind and make me crazy. And I don’t have those little panic attacks at the though of death all the time, just occasionally. I don’t share them with my friends, I deal with it internally. If I can sit and think about it for several minutes, I can actually convince myself that when I am dead, I obviously won't consciously 'know' it, and therefore shouldn't fear it. But still, I have every intention of living just as long as I can possibly eek out this existence we call life. I hope to hell that at 46, I am only at my halfway point. I have no intentions of going anytime soon.