Just Live by Matt Tavernier

Escape. That was the one word that made me get me out of bed each day. The one word I’d whisper into my sleeve as I walked down the school halls, hiding my face in fear of another black eye. The one word I’d constantly repeat at home when my family would treat me like an outcast again. Every night when the moon would shine through the window I felt as though I’d finally escaped life’s hardships. It reminded me that there are things beyond my comprehension, but gorgeous nonetheless. Unfortunately, the one thing I could not escape from was the confines bound upon my own mind. This world has brainwashed me, locking away my true philosophy on life and its meaning. Freedom is a choice they say, that you can accomplish whatever you put your mind to. As much I want this to be true, people just don’t understand that this world has been stripped bare of choice and real human interaction. We’re nothing more than ants, mindlessly bouncing our antennas off one another with nothing really human required of us. Stop. Go. Drive here. Walk there. All action dictated on our survival, but no one will truly experience life if you follow a predestined path. In order to really survive, one must weave their own. Discussions of life, death, and meaning have long been forgotten, while discussions of money, relationships, and politics have taken their place. I want real human moments. I want to see you. I want you to see me. I didn’t do it because of the bullies or my family’s neglect, but because I’m not ready for this world, and it’s not ready for me. That’s the real reason why I did it. The real reason why I killed myself. There was a time when death was a menacing force that I never wanted to experience. I was threatened by the sheer power it held in the palm of its hand. How it had control over so many lives. But I now realize how transcending it really is. It’s not something I should be afraid of, it’s something that I must welcome. Try and imagine what it would be like to go to sleep and never wake up. Death is simply an eternal dream, fueled by inner desires that even I didn’t know I possessed. It brought me here, to this seemingly endless cavern. Beautiful really, in its own unique way. The soothing bluish tint cast upon the walls, the sound of a waterfall far off in the distance, the odd rock formations stretching up toward the ceiling were all things that eased my worried mind into a state of bliss. I’ve never felt this kind of happiness before, this sensation of joy and tranquility. Something deep inside of me felt guilty though, ashamed even, but I decided to ignore it. It didn’t matter to me anymore. Nothing did. 

Suddenly a bright light flickered to life in front of me. I watched it grow larger and larger until it blocked my view of the cavern. I couldn’t complain, however, for it was the moon, as bright and beautiful as ever. It’s cold yet calming radiance wrapped itself around me. I stared at the craters carved into the celestial rock, realizing just how lucky I am to experience such a sight. This is what I’ve always dreamed of. I’ve done it. I’ve finally escaped. As I gawked at the beauty of the moon, I felt a strange feeling in my feet. Pins and needles began to run up and down my legs. I looked down to see the rock I was standing on slowly inching its way up my ankles. I then felt the excruciating pain of jagged rocks stabbing into the soles of my feet. The rock slowly engulfed my legs, causing them to turn numb and paralyzed. Red mist started oozing from the walls, covering the ground in thick crimson fog. I stared down at my hands to see blood pouring out from underneath my fingernails. A familiar itch began to form on my left arm. I hesitantly looked to find that the scar on my wrist was bleeding. It surprisingly didn’t hurt, but I know all too well what it feels like. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, a deafening crack pierced through the air. Letters were being etched into the face of the moon, spelling out two words that will forever haunt me: Too Young. The red fog casually rose up from the floor, slowly enveloping the moon until the text was gone. I hung my head in defeat. “I’m sorry,” I said, not really sure who or what I was talking to. “This—this wasn’t supposed to be like this. I was supposed to be happy for once.” But something told me that this wasn’t my fault. How could it be? This had to be the universe’s idea of some sick joke. I wasn’t sad anymore, I was angry. “You know what . . . no! I’m not sorry!” I screamed. “You wanna punish me, then go ahead! Be like everyone else! It’s what I deserve right? Right!?” As if on cue the moon split in half, revealing a tall man draped from head to toe in dark robes. Perched upon his shoulder was a crow, whose beady purple eyes seemed to glare directly into my soul. The man swiftly floated toward me, his ripped cloak trailing in his wake. He reached out a bony hand and put his index finger on my forehead. My eyes began to droop and the last thing I remember before passing out, was the sound of the crow’s screech resonating in my ears. ◈ ◈ ◈ I woke up staring at the cloudless blue sky. Trees of all shapes and sizes towered over me, as squirrels and other woodland creatures scurried between them. I felt warm, like a blanket was wrapped tightly around my body. I sat up, clutching my head in pain. The delightful smell of evergreen filled my nostrils, helping my migraine ease into a light ache. “I was wondering when you’d finally wake up.” The man who I’d seen only moments ago, was crouched over a fire. He looked pretty much the same, only this time there was an owl resting on his shoulder. “Where am I? What’s happening? Who—who are you?” I asked all at once. The man walked over to a pile of logs and picked one off the top. He wandered back to the fire and threw it on as if he’d done it a thousand times before. “All the time in the world and you still rush for answers.” His voice was dark and deep, yet oddly calm and nurturing. I could listen to him talk for hours. “Are you not pleased with what I made you. This is your happy place after all,” he said, gesturing to the forest. “And as for who I am, well, that should be quite obvious by now.” I did know who he was, I just didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t really want to believe any of this actually. “You’re Death,” I clarified. “In the flesh.” He bowed, revealing a bony arm from under his cloak. “Well, mostly anyway.” Death held out his hand and without even moving a muscle willed three tree stumps to place themselves around the campfire. He took a seat on one and the owl flew off his shoulder and landed on the stump farthest away from him, leaving one more right in the middle. “Don’t be afraid, I don’t bite. But Minerva here,” Death said, nodding to the owl. “I can’t promise you anything.” I timidly meandered my way over and sat on the tree stump between Death and Minerva. I stared at the campfire, admiring its expert craftsmanship. Campfires always did put a smile on my face, and I have a feeling Death knew this somehow. 

“You said this was my happy place, how do you know? Even I don’t know what my happy place is.” Death put his hand on mine. I expected it to feel cold and dead, but instead it was rather soft and comforting. All my worries and fears seemed to melt away instantly. “When I pulled you out of that horrid place, I had a look into your mind. I experienced what your life was like, what drove you to do what you did. But most importantly, I saw your deepest desires. I normally don’t do such a thing, but you were in need of my help. So as you slept I created this, to ease your troubled mind, after what you saw. “And what did I see exactly?” I asked angrily. “What was that place?” “The inner workings of your mind, or dare I say, your depression. You wanted to feel happy, and perhaps you were for a brief moment. But I’m afraid that feeling cannot last forever, and your depressed emotions will always follow you no matter where you go. You saw how horrible it was. Imagine what it would have turned into if I didn’t save you.” His explanation hit me like a ton of bricks. I always thought killing myself would end my suffering, but doing so only made it worse. I blamed the universe for doing this to me when I should really blame myself. “I’m sorry Death. It’s all my fault. I just thought killing myself would be easier, that I’d finally be able to be happy. But I guess I deserve it,” I whimpered. “Just, please don’t take me back there, I can’t bear to live in it.” I lied my head against his arm. A tear ran down my face and onto his cloak. “Please don’t go. I can’t be alone, not anymore.” Death gently rested his hand on my head. Neither of us spoke a word. The only thing that broke the silence was the crackling of the fire and Minerva’s ruffling feathers. After a couple minutes Death finally said, “You know, most people are afraid of me, and for good reason. I’m not good, but I’m not exactly bad either. Life and death are one and the same. Polar opposites that coexist and work in tangent with one another. Everyone sees me as the embodiment of Death, but wouldn’t that mean I’m also the embodiment of Life? You aren’t afraid of me because you know that I do this to bring balance to the universe. I don’t enjoy it, but it must be done. There are times, however, when I don’t always have to follow the rules. And this is one of those times. I’m giving you a second chance.” 

At first, I was confused, but then I realized what he was proposing. He intended to bring me back to life. “I don’t understand. Why would you do that?” “Because it was too soon,” he explained. “When I looked into your mind, I also had a glimpse into your future, or at least, what would have been your future. I saw the love and support of your mother and father. I saw a career you’ve always dreamt of. I saw a woman with whom you’ll start a family with. You are destined for great things. Your path may look dark now, but that’s only because you haven’t found the torch that will light the way. The universe will rearrange itself to fit your picture of reality, but in order for that to happen you must first find what reality best fits you.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Death, the Grim Reaper himself, is allowing me to right my wrongs, to mend my broken soul. Death put his arm out and Minerva flew back to it. He put his hand over the fire and it instantly extinguished into a cloud of smoke and embers. My heart sank when he began to walk away, but I knew that he couldn’t stay with me forever. But there was one more thing I had to ask him before he left. “Death,” I said, stopping him in his tracks. “How do I live in the world, when I’m afraid of what’s to come? I’m afraid of being alone, I’m afraid of being too different from everyone else, I’m afraid—” “You’re afraid that your legacy will just be a name carved on a rock, that nobody will want to visit.” Death turned to me. I stared at the empty void where his face would have been. I could have sworn that I saw a slight glimmer of light emanating from the deep confines of his hood. “I find that many dread the future because it is one step closer to the inevitable,” Death continued. “But it is not the future that they are afraid of, it’s the uncertainty. Do not be ashamed though, there have many that I have brought to the afterlife that share that same fear. Many…too many.” His words had a hint of desperation within them. It was at that point that I realized just how sad he must be; to watch the people he so obviously cares for cowering in fear. All because of the mystery that surrounds death itself. 

“To live is simple,” Death said with that same desolate tone. “Do not look to the future or the past for the answers, but in the present. When you dance, do not think that you must go from one end of the room to another. Just dance. Just live, and you will soon find all the answers that you seek.” Death walked backward into the forest, the bottom of his shawl ripping apart from all the exposed twigs on the ground. “Thank you,” I said, wiping my eyes. “Do not simply utter those words to me, live by them. If you truly wish to thank me, just live.” And with that Death turned into the forest with a faint swoosh of his robes. I watched as two large skeletal wings grew from his back. He soared off into the sky with Minerva in tow. Even though I knew he couldn’t see me, I still waved goodbye. The wisdom he imparted will forever be ingrained into my mind, and I intend to teach others the true meaning of life. Who would have thought that Death was the one that gave me purpose. I closed my eyes and the horrible sound of my alarm clock rang in my ears. The springy irritable mattress I’ve grown to despise conformed around my body. I was back, and I loved it.