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Fade to white is the first entry in this series.

My current partner is very insistent on this: “Don’t play anything like Amazing Grace or How Great Thou Art or I will zombie-burst from the coffin and attack all of you. Also, don’t play any of that kind of music just to see if I’ll do it.”

I picture all our friends, various shotguns and crossbows pointed at the body, living out the favorite part of whatever post apocalyptic fantasy.

“Anything at the graveside?”

“Yakety Sack.” He explains a project: have the headstone made in advance into a coffee table. He dies fighting alien invasions one hundred years from now but probably cancer.

“With the wind that blows the dress off the girl in thigh-highs?”

“You’d really arrange that?”

I shrug. “I’ll ask a grad student.”


My best friend’s opinion, as is the case with many things that society imbues with needless importance, is that he doesn’t care. I explain funerals and last wishes are for the living.

“Seriously,” I say. “We both know it’ll be a Folger’s can into the Pacific while we play Mahavishnu Orchestra. But what do you want?”

“Spread my ashes from an airship in the lower atmosphere. People will breathe me in for centuries. I might even cause cancer.” Privately, I think: my best friend will make the sunset so beautiful, a nice shade of Bladerunner orange.


I suppose this is a normal reaction, to learn the final wishes of friends after death of someone who did not articulate theirs. Girlfriend In A Coma is stuck in my head for days. I am still not able to focus on school like I wanted to. Somehow every question at work was about death with dignity laws. I’ve filed mine: DNR, comfort care only if specific conditions are met, mostly relating to level of consciousness and mental facility.

We all keep expecting a call, an email. Status update maybe. You can’t really be dead, you were only 36. Some of us have even said we were sorry this way, your various profiles-turned-memorial.

I’ve talked to your sister. The hospital did manage to unearth her contact information and your mother’s. You fought the encephalopathy as I suspected you would, but it was difficult to speak. Not even your brilliant hacker brain could elude the ammonia. You coded again. Your sister held the phone to your ear and I said goodbye. Many of us called. They painted your nails, fixed your hair, added makeup. You forgave them and the next day you died. They knew nothing of the drinking and your mother has spent the last decade’s worth of birthdays, holidays, crying. She wondered why you never called.

I don’t know what to say or how to think. There is no book for this, no guidance I can find, for the death of the would-be spouse from years ago. I remember so much good. But I have trouble now, untangling you from your addiction, the last few years of begging to leave while you held threats of suicide over my head, the isolation from friends who guessed there might be a problem, who knew I was unhappy. Trapped in the wrong body, you had trouble looking at mirrors and raged against gender roles you did not want any part of. Your father—also an alcoholic—put a bullet in his brain much earlier and I couldn’t see you were doing the same. Our image of alcoholic is a specific one, rarely aligned with reality. Alcoholics didn’t have decent jobs. Alcoholics didn’t lobby Senators for the trans community. Alcoholics didn’t animate, Photoshop, code, solve problems, write policy, restore film, speak to classes. You never hit me—the gold standard of abuse in my immediate family—and so I stayed.

And yet, in spite of all that, the hyperbolic things we say about ex-partners, I didn’t want this to be the end for you. They’re going to have your wake in a bar, you know? This is a weird, angry laughter to negotiate. Your sister doesn’t understand this either, doesn’t get why nobody senses the inappropriateness of this. I suppose there is nothing else to do in that town.  

I suggested spreading your ashes somewhere warm. We’d talked about this before and I explained I was not going to lug you around and keep you in bookcases for the cat to knock over. Born in Texas, you hated stupid mountain town winters. Maybe they’ll take you back to Corpus Christi.

Originally posted to science of staying awake on Wed Jan 23, 2013 at 11:37 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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