The More Things Change...
Suicide wasn't anything at all like I had expected.
I had figured that, most likely, it would be like nothing. Literally nothing. Just the end. No awareness, no memory, no lingering energy or consciousness or soul of any kind.
I never expected to go to heaven, or hell, or anything remotely close to any other afterlife I had ever heard of, so I wasn't at all surprised about their absence. I would have been a lot more surprised if anything like that had turned out to be true.
I remember notions of possibly becoming somehow part of the universe. At one with everything. Maybe some kind vast cosmic consciousness along with every other sentient creature who had ever inhabited the universe.
Or, part of me used to wonder, maybe some kind of reincarnation would happen. I'd come back as an ant, or a frog, or a buffalo, or even a human being again, this time maybe even one that wasn't horribly screwed up.
Mostly though, I just expected to be dead.
What I didn't expect was an utter lack of anything worthwhile to watch on TV.
Really, who would? I didn't even expect there to be a TV. Never mind a shower, a bed, a toilet, a kitchen with a stove and a fridge, and a three bedroom fully furnished house to go with all of that. None of my imaginings or wonderings could have prepared me for this.
It was boring. That was the worst part of it. There was nothing to do. At first, I figured I was in some post-suicide hallucination, some dream created by the last few firing synapses of my dying brain. Then I figured maybe I survived, and was so hopped up on IV drugs at the hospital my brain was making up all kinds of shit. But no, that couldn't be. It didn't add up.
The first few days I just wandered around, wondering when the owners were going to show up and ask why the hell I was squatting in their house. Of course, the lack of doors to the outside anywhere in the house made me wonder how the theorized owners would actually get in. The windows of the house weren't any help either. None of them opened. One time, about a month back, I threw one of the kitchen chairs at one, just to see. Then I threw the rest of the chairs, all of the dishes, the little table from the hallway, the TV, and finally I even dragged the fridge over to the window and knocked it over hard against the glass.
What a shock. Nothing. Not even a scratch.
I went to bed and the next morning was convinced I had just dreamed up all of that since everything was back where it was supposed to be. So I did it again. The next morning, same thing, all back in order. I figured maybe the third time was the charm, so I did it again. This time I managed to actually throw the big armchair from the living room at the window. I hurt my back when I did this. I wasn't surprised the next morning when everything was back where it was supposed to be, but I was mildly surprised that my back still hurt. It took a week to feel better.
Of course, early on, after a week or two of trying to figure out what the hell was happening, I tried to kill myself again. At least I think I did. It's hard to know really. That's what's so weird. I'd think up some effective way to do it using the bathroom cleaners, or some clothesline I found in the laundry room, or by eating the can of ant-killer. But every time I actually started to move, to put the plan into action, I'd wake up in bed the next morning. Just like that.
In a weird way, that almost made sense. After all, if I was dead, how could I kill myself?
It took about a month, or maybe slightly more, I wasn't counting the days back then, before I picked up the phone and tried calling anyone. I know that sounds awfully strange. I don't really understand it myself. I had stared at the thing, hanging there on the kitchen wall, a thousand times, but I had never had the nerve to pick it up.
I guess it was because it all seemed so surreal. I mean, here I was. I felt alive. I felt, well, normal. As normal as I ever got anyway, for a fucked up gay suicidal fifteen year old boy. And the house was so ordinary, and, at the same time, so utterly bizarre.
It was like it was warped out of a late seventies or early eighties rural acreage. Old tube TV in a plastic cabinet with fake wood grain, curvy fridge, the telephone on the wall was bright yellow, kinda rectangular but with rounded edges, and actually had a round dial instead of buttons, just like at my great-grandma's place. The handset was attached to the base with a curly cord, just like those old phones you see on TV sometimes. The stereo in the living room was encased in this big wooden cabinet. I didn't even know it was a stereo for the longest time, until one day I realized the lid lifted up, and I opened it, and saw the radio dial, a bunch of other controls, and the turntable. No CD player, and the radio was AM/FM, no satellite reception.
There was no computer in the whole house, and believe me, I looked hard. No video games either. The TV had exactly four channels that worked. And the shows that were always on were things I had barely heard of through my parents, stuff like “Hawaii Five-O,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “The Mod Squad,” and “All In The Family.” Weird shit, lemme tell you. And I thought “CSI: Miami” was bad.
So one day I picked up the phone. I put the receiver to my ear and heard a dial tone and eventually got up enough nerve to dial, yes dial, a number. My number. Home. My parents. I got a recording saying the number wasn't in service, and then remembered that maybe it was long distance and put the “1” in front of it. No recording this time. I just heard it ring and ring and ring until I finally hung up. Of course, I tried every other number I knew, including Ricardo's Pizza. No answer anywhere. And no answering machines or voice-mail either.
I tried dialing zero for the operator and the 9-1-1 emergency services, but still got no answer.
What was the point of having the phone if there was nobody to connect to?
I dialed numbers at random for a day and half, just for shits and giggles. Though I don't know why tears were running down my cheeks if it was just for shits and giggles. No answer. Anywhere. Except that one time when it rang twice and there was a click like someone picked up, then it went to a dial tone. I tried and tried for an hour to figure out what number I had dialed to get this, but never did figure it out.
I didn't try numbers any more.
The radio had given me hope originally, back in that first few days. I figured the DJ would have to eventually give a station identification, a city, the time, temperature, and all that. Maybe a clue.
Nope. Oh sure, there were DJ's. But they pattered on about nothing, except the music they were playing and completely random shit and then played more music. I couldn't figure that out either. No station had any genre that I could identify. They all played everything, randomly, mixed up.
I mean, I once heard Beethoven's fifth symphony immediately followed by AC/DC's “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” immediately followed by soft jazz and then followed by country. And then some commercials for laundry soap, hair products, a car, and a travel agent.
Made for interesting mood music, let me tell you.
Outside the windows the view wasn't much help. It never changed, except for night and day. Every day was sunny, with small patches of clouds. Every night was clear. No rain. Ever. Yet the trees and grass stayed green. The view from the front windows opened onto a very large landscaped lawn with a tire swing hanging from an oak, and a few lawn chairs around a fire-pit. The lawn chairs were those old style ones with the plastic webbing. A gravel road played out about a quarter mile to a paved road out in front. I had never seen a single car go by.
No other buildings could be seen anywhere. Across the paved road were just trees. Out back, the view was a smaller grassy yard, encircled by a large hedge. Large enough that nothing could be seen over it. There was a lone picnic table in the middle of the yard.
Nothing ever changed. I had been here weeks, more than a month, and nothing ever changed. I was convinced I was nuts. Stark raving mad. Crazy.
That's why it was so noticeable when things did start to change.
One morning I came into the kitchen and opened the fridge to take out some bacon and eggs. Even the contents of the fridge didn't change much. Every morning, no matter what I ate the day before, it was full again. Mostly with the same stuff but with some variety thrown in, like a full chicken one day, maybe some ground beef or pork chops the next day.
Anyway, I put the egg carton on the counter and reached back into the fridge for the bacon when I stopped cold.
My eyes looked up at the counter. To the egg carton, and the appliance directly behind it.
A microwave oven.
I stood up and stared. Part of me was elated. I had so missed a microwave. I had to learn to cook the hard way without one. Another part of me was dumbfounded. This place was not supposed to change. I had figured out that much.
I opened the door of the microwave and the light came on. I found a glass from the cupboard, filled it with water, put it in the microwave and started it. A couple of minutes later I had proof that it worked.
It didn't match the décor at all. It was a modern sleek white unit. Digital display and smooth buttons. Everything else remained decades in the past. Its very incongruity made it stand out like crazy.
After standing there for ten minutes trying to fit this change into my post-death worldview, I eventually shrugged and made breakfast.
After I ate I washed the dishes. No dishwasher. I used to leave the dishes dirty and piled in the sink. The next day they would always be reset back to clean and in the cupboard. Now, I washed them. Partly to give myself something to do and to kill a bit of the endless time here, but partly, strangely enough, because I liked the feeling of satisfaction I got from washing, drying, and putting them away and looking at the clean kitchen.
I know. Weird.
Anyway, after I washed up I wandered into the living room. I had been intending to take down the next book from the huge bookshelf against one wall and read it. The books were placed there in alphabetical order by author, fiction and non-fiction mixed. I was onto the “C's” by this time, and had learned to slow my reading considerably. I wanted the books to last.
The large flat panel television in the place of the old-fashioned tube model was hard to miss.
It seemed my little abode-after-death was being modernized.
Of course I turned it on. I whooped in glee at the presence of a remote control on the coffee table. I flicked through the channels. Now there were over a hundred. Nice. Of course, twenty minutes later I realized some things never really changed. There was still nothing worth watching. Though the shows seemed to have been modernized along with the TV. So I turned it off, grabbed my book, a compendium of sixteenth and seventeenth century amateur poetry compiled by a Mr. C. Clark, and sat down. I didn't start reading though. Instead, I thought.
I was good at that. Or at least used to be. Maybe the only thing I was good at back in my excuse for a life.
Why had it changed? How had it changed? It was unsettling. I was almost used to this place. Though there was always the distant gnawing of fear that I'd have an eternity to be bored until the point of mental breakdown, probably a few weeks after I read the only book on the shelf by an author with a name that started with 'Z'.
Eventually, having reached absolutely no conclusions due to utter lack of any evidence or clues, I settled down to read some rather bad poetry. I still read every word though. Slowly.
The next morning the modernization process had continued. In place of the white curvy fridge with the freezer behind the fridge door was a sleek, square, stainless steel model. Double side by side doors, ice maker and water dispenser built in. Nice. The ice container inside the freezer compartment was full. I knew, from the time my parents bought one, that it takes two or three days after plugging it in for the first time for the ice maker to fill up this container. Yet it was full, like it had always been here. Even down to the dust underneath the fridge.
The stove was newer too. A nice gas range with a fancy self cleaning convection oven. Digital readout. Almost made me want to get out those cookbooks again and try a few new recipes.
The phone was now a black cordless model, not that different from the one at my parents' place back when I was alive. It even had Caller ID.
The furniture was still the same though. Still weird pastel colors and floral prints.
The biggest and most exciting new addition though, by far, was the laptop computer sitting on the desk in the corner of the dining room. My heart beating fast, I opened it up and pressed the power button. Nothing happened. Either the battery was dead or it was broken. I couldn't find a power cord anywhere to plug it in. Damn afterlife was just teasing me now. I left it alone in disappointment and got down a couple of cookbooks to try my hand at something new and time consuming to cook. It turns out I kinda liked cooking. Who knew?
Nothing much else changed for a few days. I was into the D's on the bookshelf now. I had settled down into bed for the night, and was looking forward to reading a mystery novel by Thomas Darling tomorrow.
I was just drifting off to sleep when the phone started ringing in the kitchen, waking me up rather suddenly.