I didn’t think I’d live to be 18. This was around the time I was in middle school, and I was starting to realize that I was gay, and that I should be going to hell for that. And I thought that I was going to die, and then go to hell. I didn’t know how I would die, it could be accidental, self-inflicted, anything really. But I was not gonna make it to adulthood.
It’s odd to me that I felt that way, because I’m constantly confronted with stories of many people who are younger than me that die. I think about death so differently now, but then again, I always did. I was a kid growing up, listening to my friends talk about their crushes and their fights with their parents or whatever, and I was there wondering if I was good enough to go to heaven if I died. I grew up knowing that if I had died before the time I “came of age,” in the spiritual sense, I would go to heaven on a technicality; if my parents were “saved,” then I am saved too, since I wouldn’t have the capacity to make the decision to be saved until I was older.
I had sometimes hoped that I would die before I got baptized. That way, I’d have a straight shot to heaven. Kind of rough stuff to think about when you’re 10, I guess. But it provided a very strong sense of security. No matter what would happen to me, I’d exist in a spiritual plane that would have nothing to do with this current world that I was struggling in.
I started to wonder what it would be like if there wasn’t a God. What would death be like then? I wondered if some essence of mine would simply float and hover around the world. Not like a ghost, not even like matter, just this intangible non-existing presence. I wondered if I would be able to see everyone I knew, and see how they would react to my death. I thought a lot about how people would feel if I died. I wondered if I would be able to feel how they felt, in some way.
I wanted to live forever, because part of me knew that I wouldn’t live for too long. I wanted to see the world change. I wanted to see how humans recategorized themselves after another millennia. I wanted to see the sun die out and the stars implode and the end of time as we know it. It made me feel bigger and smaller than my life to feel that way. Because I’m constantly being told that my Blackness makes me a target for death at almost every instant. So what if I lived long enough to see everyone die, no matter what identities they had?
I thought about what that would be like then, to see everyone die. To outlive people I know and care about. I already did to a certain extent. That feels weird.
There are these stages for dealing with death or trauma: anger, denial, etc. I went to a lot of funerals as a kid, and I rarely went through any of those stages. I always cried though. And I was always told that the people who passed away were in heaven. Crying is natural, but I didn’t have to because they made it through this world, and they’re now with God. I thought about who would be at my funeral, and what they would do to console someone who was crying over me. To be honest, I don’t think there would be much consoling in the way that I’ve set up my friend groups and social life. I don’t think I have anyone in my life who would tell someone that I’m up in heaven.
Do I care that maybe people wouldn’t say that about me? I guess it makes me confused then. Because if there is no heaven, and there is no hell, and there might be an end, but it’s not really an end, it’s only a beginning, or maybe my presence will be felt by other people, but I don’t exist, then what is death? And even when I say that I am “fine with death,” what does that even mean? I’m fine not existing, even though I’ll still exist in the minds and hearts of others, or I may be in some other spiritual world? Or maybe I become nothing, a type of nothing that I can’t even think of the words for to describe it, because it is just nothing?
The problem is that the way my life has turned out, I want to be everything. I want to do everything. And to want to be and to do everything and know that at any point I can turn into nothing scares me more than anything else in the whole world.