Credit: Sarah Lachise, Unsplash

To Have Lost

Two men are talking in private.

Kyle: Remember how I went to the bar with Jen and Lisa the other day?

Sam: Yeah.

Kyle: Well, it was like, the whole time I thought I was getting signals from them, you know? I mean we’ve been friends since high school, but at the same time I haven’t seen them in a while and — who knows?

Sam: You thought they were into you?

Kyle: Well Lisa’s just a flirty drunk, I guess. But I could have sworn Jen was trying. That night. That’s weird, right?

Sam: Not at all. We’re men. We love to think girls are into us. Makes it easier to justify what we do to them.

Kyle: Wait…what?

Sam: Well, like, if you’re into a girl, if you want to get with her…anything you do, you’ll imagine she likes. And that way, no matter what you do, you’ll imagine there was a desire — a request — for you to do it.

Kyle: It can’t be that simple.

Sam shrugs.

And then they both went on with their lives.

I read the Stanford rape-victim’s letter to her attacker in my girlfriend’s bed. She was still asleep. I was groggy, so I succumbed to that horribly human hunger for tragedy.

I was tired, so I looked at my phone.

I skimmed through the SEO-conscious prelude. All the fury furled within the subtext — crouched in anticipation of release — a deeply personal rage leashed up by APA-style.

“…received a 6-month sentence from the judge, who said he couldn’t in good conscience ‘destroy this boy’s future’,” they wrote.

The letter itself — I didn’t anticipate it holding my attention for longer than a few minutes. I didn’t know exactly what it would say — the details. The perspective. I would not pretend to empathize. Through my eyes, these tragedies should not be seen. Through my words, this story should not be told. It is not mine. But still, I know it. After all, it’s an old one. Heart-wrenchingly told ad nauseum by an inchoate generation of victims just beginning to understand the great breadth of their shared suffering. Knowing isolation, long steeped, can still be banished by keyboards and glowing screens. I knew it would be horrific. I knew I would feel all those ‘appropriate’ emotions — disgust, rage, despair, desire, fear. But I knew that I knew these things, and so I assumed I would be satiated after several paragraphs and move on.

I stayed with it, though. Perhaps the lust for misery is greater than the waning attention span of modernity.

I was curious, so I stayed and watched.”

The world will care about these moments, for a time. And they’ll care about these great paradigms — these entrenched cycles of rape and destruction — for an age. Of this I have no doubt. But to care is not to act. And I refer not to the privatized actions of individuals — even those with the great courage to stand within the crowd and shout, “Remember! Look at yourselves!” I refer to the long glacier-moves of nations and cultures. The Jungian drives toward progress and prevention. These are not forthcoming. Society will not stand in the way of the disease it carries. It’s a bit of a closed loop — as one asking the host of a puppeteering parasite to self-administer the antigen.

I read the news about Orlando in bed — alone. I was groggy, so I succumbed to that horribly human hunger for tragedy.

How lucky are we, I thought, that we can look at fifty dead and say, “Wow. So many.”

I think of all the other violently departed. Dozens and hundreds on evenings shorter than Orlando. I wonder if their names do not matter. I wonder if their deaths serve no politics. I wonder if this makes them more human.

I pray to never die violently. I pray to never die for the imposition of ideas. I pray to never be a martyr. I pray to never die a victim. I pray to never die a statistic.

I think about a curve. A sin function — where the crest is the fear and the trough is the choice. I think about the frequency of this wavelength.

Death runs athwart the amplitude, carrying on, with a merry pip in His step. He slingshots around the orbit of Syria, catching the jetsam of wars within wars. He swan-dives beneath the tides of Myanmar, inhaling the fevered breath of forgotten genocide. He pours into the sieve of the Philippines, reveling in the triumph of sanctioned terror. He dribbles from the lips of tyrants, newly forged in the fast-filling maw, entrenched and buoyed all-at-once by the grubbing fingers of populism.

I wonder if we might judge the potency of Death. I believe that there might be some new function drawn — some formula for determination.

I mean, think about it. The girls who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire had scarcely nine stories to fall. Those names on the 9/11 memorial near my house — they had 110. Over one-thousand feet of introspection. Laid out like one grand tape-measure winding back up to the final thudded death-knell. Great tumbling kernels. Crackling flesh and curled toes — all careening toward the inevitable release of all their lives’ potential energy. Does this make their suffering greater than those young women who, over one hundred years ago, chose between the fire and the fall?

Death is not a moment. He begins and He ends. The meat of him — the body of death — this is what we leave behind when we go. This is the weight of our passing. The circumstance and the sound.

How does Death take stock? In the footsteps of a gunman stalking through a nightclub bathroom? In chugged drinks at a frat party? In bullets sold and airstrikes ordered? In the power we surrender, in the power we crave? In the number of twisted faces passed on the way down? In shrapnel? Or in sutures?

I think about the wrongs we’ve wrought.

I think about Emily Dickinson. And the debt we owe her. For the stoppage of Death, at least for a moment.

I think about pronouns. And how we use them. And how the specter of our end is always, has always, will always, be: “He.”

This does not require any further thought.