On a cold, rainy April day, I put a gun to my head and pulled the trigger. It wasn’t the way I wanted to die, but I had no choice, especially after losing my wife, whom I loved so dearly. It wasn’t a random act; I had carefully planned it as I spiraled downward into the depths of insanity and deep depression. It wasn’t pretty, but I was finally out of my misery, or so I thought at the time.
I had always wondered what it was like to die; perhaps it was like getting anesthesia before an operation, or perhaps it was like just closing your eyes and going to sleep, however it turned out to be quite different. Even now as I send this message across that invisible barrier separating life from death, it’s difficult to explain unless you’ve been there, and very few, if any, have returned to tell their story.
Some would like to tell you they have experienced “near death” and it often involves a bright light at the end of a tunnel and long-lost relatives dressed in flowing robes beckoning to join them. Don’t believe it; it’s nothing like that. Death is nothingness. How can you explain nothingness in any terms? Nothingness is nothing and that was my first impression of death. That was, until I felt something touch me, an invisible nothing touching a nothing me amidst a sea of nothingness.
I’m not sure if anybody gets an opportunity after they die to look back on their life and make amends. At this point in my death, I haven’t met any other dead people to ask them and, if I could, what language would we speak? If my entire life were a movie, would I be able to speed past the boring or unhappy times and slow it down to enjoy those pleasurable moments? I’m not too sure right now; all I know is that it’s running past me at a furious pace and sometimes I want to stop it right where it is.
Why I am even letting you know what death is like? After all, you’re a human too, and sooner or later you’ll follow behind me; everyone now alive will, in fact. I guess I’m trying to tell you that it hasn’t been that bad so far, and I would like to take you along with me as I explore my death. It might not be a pleasant journey, but having you along for company may make it easier for me to endure the rough times I know lay ahead. I guess I never thought about my behavior while I was alive, that is, as long as I never had to pay the consequences. However, now that I’m dead, I dread having to pay the long overdue assessments which I know will be demanded of me.
I’m sure that I will sooner or later have to explain myself to a higher power, so perhaps this is a good time to practice. I’m sure everyone has their demons; those little niggling thoughts that linger in the back of their minds. I know I did, however, I’m not sure I ever dealt with them and I hope I never have to. To say my childhood was normal may be a misstatement, but what is normal anyway? I truly loved my mother, but my father was never there for me. He was certainly a hard worker, but he could be very mean to me at times and my mother would always protect me.
Admittedly, I grew up a lonely child. I was the fourth of six children, however, my three older siblings died in infancy and that’s probably why my mother was so protective of me. My father and I always seemed to be in conflict; I was a stubborn child and I didn’t take well to discipline. However, my younger brother’s death when I was eleven seemed to change me from an outgoing youngster to a detached loner who was constantly in conflict with my teachers and my own stern father. It was a profound sense of loss I carried with me throughout my life. His death left me feeling powerless and I vowed to never feel that way again.
After my father suddenly died, when I was just fourteen, I felt as though a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I actually began doing better at school, however, I felt listless, lacking direction and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Not having a good father figure may have contributed greatly to my actions in my adult life as I tried to be a strong father figure. However, that was in my far distant future.
You have to understand that I always felt left out, as though I wasn’t a part of anything going on around me. It was as though I was sitting idly, watching the world pass me by, and it left me with a burning desire to show everyone that I could not only be a part of their petty worlds, but I could be someone better than them. I needed a cause and joining the military in my early twenties gave me an opportunity to not only fit in, it gave me a chance to excel in fulfilling my duties and gain the respect of those around me. It gave me an opportunity to show my country, and the entire world, that I had value. Of course, I was only one small part of the whole conflict, but it showed me that if I dedicated myself to excellence, I would be rewarded. It stirred a great nationalistic pride in me and I felt that I was now part of something larger, something bigger than life; I truly loved my country and I burned with a deep sense of patriotism.
Being part of the Army also empowered me. I could now be something larger than just me; I could be part of something powerful, something ominous, something successful. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way. I carried a bitterness deep within myself for the rest of my life and a desire to retaliate, to strike out at those who had punished my country and make them ultimately pay for their actions.
Little by little, I began to understand the heady, narcotic feelings of power. Some may aspire to a profession, some may aspire to other lofty goals, but I always aspired to have absolute power; power over people, power over nations, power over the entire world. I can’t begin to explain to you what it felt like to have complete and total power in the palms of my hands. Unless you have been there, you have no idea what an incredible feeling it is. It’s more fulfilling than love, sex, parenthood, wealth; it’s a drug, a drug I couldn’t get enough of. I was more powerful than God, believe me. A wave of my hand, a simple spoken phrase, a raising of one eyebrow threw my associates into panic in an attempt to follow my orders; I was infallible.
Looking back on it now, I realize that power corrupts even the most well-intentioned people. It’s the Lorelei sitting high on her perch tempting the sailor to defy her allure. I remember learning in school about numerous tyrants in past history, powerful men, all of whom were seduced and then devoured by their overwhelming desire for power. I never counted myself in their company; all I ever wanted to do was to make my country, my people, and my closest friends feel good about themselves. Believe me, it was always well-intentioned, although now that I look back on it, I may have been a bit misguided. Perhaps it was an attempt to make up for the way my father treated me, but I may never know.
I’m going to have to interrupt my soliloquy; something is tugging at me, pulling me forward. Maybe this is what I have been waiting for; a chance to tell my story, be judged and then rest in peace. I’ll try to explain it as best I can, although I’m not sure I can find the words at this moment. I’m so excited.
Suddenly, as though a great curtain has been pulled back, my nothingness world has been transformed into a bright, airy place, but I can’t see anything. I’m aware that I am somewhere important, but the light is blinding my vision. I can hear low murmuring surrounding me as though there are souls nearby who have yet to reveal themselves. My excitement has now turned to puzzlement, and it soon turns to fear. Where am I? Why am I here and who are those souls?
A voice. “Please step forward.” I’m perplexed. Step forward? I will myself to move forward and I find myself standing in front of a large, alabaster desk, almost like an altar. Slowly, I begin to make out dim shapes sitting behind the desk. I strain to make out who they are and what they are. And, finally, they come into view. There are twelve angels (well I guess they are angels, having never seen one before), six on one side and six on the other, flanking a pure, white light in the middle. My dear mother used to tell me I had a guardian angel watching over me, but I never believed her. Angels, I thought, are just the figment of fervid religious people’s imagination; they didn’t really exist. But here they are, all looking down at me from their lofty perch behind the alabaster desk and suddenly I feel very small, very insignificant, and very frightened.
As I begin to watch the drama unfold, I can see they are closely examining entries on a long sheet of paper that is being slowly unrolled from a large scroll. They’re pointing excitedly as each new entry is revealed and I can tell by the looks on their faces that what they’re seeing isn’t pleasing them. It’s difficult to give you any time reference for how long I remained standing there, but forever may be a good place to start. Is this my Judgment Day? As I tremble, my mind is flashing back through my entire life. What can they be reading that’s upsetting them so? And then I realize what I’m watching isn’t being seen through my eyes, but through the eyes of an outsider; someone who only records the truth. It’s now, as the truth is slowly being revealed to me, I realize why they are so agitated.
As the scroll continues its endless revelations, a large curtain behind the angels is slowly opening to reveal a seemingly endless sea of faces: men, women, children! If I have to guess, there must be at least ten thousand, maybe more. I’m staring at them now, trying to figure out who they are, but they seem to be faceless, anonymous, but a low moaning is starting to slowly build as another curtain opens, then another, another and another until there is an ocean of anonymous faces stretching out to infinity. There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, and the moaning is becoming a roar; a roar of indignation I try to block out of my mind, but I can’t. I’m overwhelmed by incalculable, shadowy, anonymous faces, their moaning now building to a crescendo, a collective scream of sorts. I try to shrink down to a singularity to escape their wrath, but I can’t. What is happening?
Suddenly, the bright light surrounded by angels begins to slowly dim and I can barely make out the form of someone, or something, sitting there. It’s more a presence than a form. The bright light begins to pulse and I can feel its power as the overwhelming crescendo of protesting voices begins to roll back like a tsunami, retreating from the shore as the curtains close, one by one, and it fascinates me how well this drama is being choreographed. It reminds me of the good times, the happy times, the powerful times, the events I choreographed. The smile that begins to cross my nothing face quickly turns to a nothing frown as a booming voice suddenly announces, “Please state your name.”
I am filled with trepidation and a feeling of doom as I gather up the courage to reply. Suddenly, my mother is standing next to me. She gently places her hand on my shoulder and whispers into my ear, “Be a good boy, Adolf, and tell them your name.”
Philip Sherman Mygatt writes short stories, poetry, children’s books, and full-length fictional novels including the best-selling Holocaust Survivor novel, INNOCENCE LOST – A CHILDHOOD STOLEN available on Amazon and on Kindle. This is his first feature on the Fictional Café.