EXCERPT: Dead is Better by Jo Perry

So in lieu of posting a review-ish post of Dead is Beautiful, I’m doing something better, namely, I’m shutting up. Instead, I’ve been given the first few pages of the first Charlie and Rose book — Dead is Better. Everything you really need to know about the series is here — the epigraphs, the humor, the tragedy, the mix of humor and tragedy, Charlie’s brutal honesty about himself, and Rose. I just re-read this post and had to fight the impulse to re-read the book. I just love this book.

Naturally, when corresponding with Perry this week about this post, I made sure to get the title wrong, because I’m a professional.

“Sometimes dead is better.”

––Stephen King, Pet Sematary

 

“Death is no more than passing from one room into another.

But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.”

––Helen Keller

 

1.

“When the first living thing existed, I was there waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished. I’ll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.”

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country

All I know is that I know. And I can’t stop knowing. There was no cinematic replay of my life, no white light, no luminous passage to a perpetual meadow populated by old friends and relatives––I didn’t float over my failing body as the life seeped out.

I couldn’t see a goddamn thing––my eyes were shut.

There was then––the team of EMTs working on me, one applying compressions to the disco beat of the Bee Gees’s “Stayin’ Alive,” and a small young woman with long, curly hair squeezing the breathing bag attached to a plastic tube they’d shoved down my throat. Then a tall young man with short black hair loads me onto a gurney.

That was that.

Bullet holes still interrupt my flesh. My sternum is cracked, my chest bruised yellow and purple from their efforts.

One thing about this place—it’s come as you were.

 

2.

“We do not need to grieve for the dead. Why should we grieve for them? They are now in a place where there is no more shadow, darkness, loneliness, isolation, or pain. They are home.”

John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

No Virgin Mary Blue sky. No combustible darkness.  Just a flash, a bang, and a fade-out that delivered me to this quiet place without midnight or noon, twilight or dawn.  This place, if it is a place—a beach without a sea, a desert without sand, an airless sky.

Did I mention the goddamn dog?

For the record, she wasn’t mine on the other side––which proves that error is built into the fabric of the universe—if that’s where we still are.

No ragged holes singe her gut, and she walks without a limp, but there’s a dirty rope around her neck that trails behind her too-thin body covered with long, reddish fur.  The first moment I saw her, I could tell––She’d been tethered long enough without water or food to die.

Well, she’s not hungry or thirsty now.

Is that peace?

 

3.

“Whatever can die is beautiful — more beautiful than a unicorn, who lives forever, and who is the most beautiful creature in the world. Do you understand me?”

Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn

In life I’d heard of dogs like her, cheap burglar alarms.  Solitary, lonely, they bark at passersby and garbage trucks from behind high fences in exchange for water and kibble when the people remember to feed and water them.

They bark out of fear.

And to remind themselves that they in fact exist.

Now that I think about it, I wasn’t much different. A nobody.  A man of no importance.

On the other side, being a nothing had advantages. People barely saw me and that made me free.  I moved among them like a shade, a cipher. And when they did acknowledge whoever they thought I was, they were often revealing, entertaining––overconfident, saying too much about spouses and ex-spouses and email passwords, and what the neighbor’s son really did in the garage, and about not really being married, or the time they shoplifted—confessing, boasting.

Being nothing– that’s my gift

 

4.

When you’re dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

 

In case you wondered, yes. When you’re dead, you can attend your own funeral. It’s not required, but I decided to go––time is unknowable here––to try to find out what happened.  And I thought the dog might like a change of scenery–or any scenery.

I want to look at certain people’s faces, especially my own.

Late morning at Mount Sinai, Hollywood Hills––which should be named Travel Town 2.0. The final resting place of thousands of corpses sits next door to Travel Town, a collection of non-traveling train cars frequented by babysitters, little boys and blinking coyotes who venture out at noon, when the picnickers and homeless eat their food.

The ferocious September heat and smog smudges LA’s edges and boundaries––until it doesn’t seem that different from this place, except that the dog and I are temperature-controlled––perpetually lukewarm, courtesy of Who or What we do not know.

The living––palpable, whole, shiny and fragrant with sweat and irritation––nothing’s worse than LA traffic on a Friday afternoon––remind me of those silvery-mirage-pools that form on the surfaces of overheated streets and then evaporate when you get close. Although it was I who lacks presence, they seem insubstantial, like flames, the men in suffocating dark suits and ties, and the women–especially my four exes––lotioned and gleaming, tucked and tanned, manicured and lap-banded, and holding wads of Kleenex in their diamond-ringed left hands to signify their former closeness to and recent repudiation of the deceased, who lay by himself in a plain wooden box up front.

The dog, whose rope I hold in my right hand, urges me forward, and then waits patiently while I look.

Jesus. Why is the casket open? I look like shit. I must have Mark’s wife “the decorator” to thank for this grotesque violation. Why didn’t they shut the box as is customary, especially here in a Jewish place. What were they trying to prove? That despite being shot to death I was still in some sense, intact?

Was I ever really the poor fuck who lived behind that face?  The neck and chin have been painted with peach make-up, and the too-pink lip-glossed mouth forced into a grimace that was, I guess, supposed to indicate post-mortal composure.  It must have taken three guys at least to wedge my fat ass into the narrow box.  I’m large.

Or I was.

I feel strangely light on my feet now. Want to lose sixty pounds in a hurry?

Die.

Read the rest in Dead is Better by Jo Perry — and the rest of the series: Dead is Best; Dead is Good; and the focus of this tour, the wonderful Dead is Beautiful. .

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

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