Drat! I’m dead. I was rounding the corner of my street and then just BOOM it happened. We don’t have sidewalks in my neighborhood in LA, so I was walking around a big SUV parked right by the hedge - the same hedge the selfish neighbor erected to give herself privacy, while compromising the safety of everyone else who has to use the intersection. But I digress.
So I was walking to the CVS to get some Flaming Hot Cheetos, and when I came to that corner, I was blindsided by a Cadillac limousine belonging to a different neighbor who runs a shady limo business out of his house. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened. The last thing I remember is the shocked face of the limo driver watching me fly through the air towards a big olive tree, headfirst. Then the lights went out.
When the lights came back on, I was in a forest of olive trees. It’s easy to walk through a forest without shoes when you weigh nothing. It was a satisfying sensation, really, to move without any pain or difficulty. If I had survived, I doubt I would have ever walked again. My neck vertebrae made a crunching sound. That’s really the last sound I heard. In the forest, there’s no sound other than the noises I make. I can whistle and I can talk. I’ve never really been able to sing.
Oh my god, how rude of me! I’m Agnes Blatt, and I’m dead. I live...I lived in the San Fernando Valley in Van Nuys. What else can I tell you? We lived in a ranch style home. I had a little brother who disliked me for no particular reason. My parents were proud of me, but they didn’t say it out loud. I can’t see them, by the way, in case you’re wondering. I don’t know if some people turn into ghosts and can haunt their families or whomever, but I didn’t draw that straw. I got the olive forest. Weird.
Here’s some more weird stuff about being dead: you can bring your phone, but it’s really only good for telling time. There’s no signal. I spent a while playing solitaire and then saw the battery was at less than 50% so I turned it off. I need the flashlight in case it gets dark. I'm wearing the same sloppy clothes I wore on my way to the drug store, but no shoes. I think they came off before the lights went out. Sweatpants and a Van Nuys High t-shirt are my uniform in the afterlife.
I suppose you want to know a little bit more about who I am. I’m young, so I’m not really sure who I was becoming. I was an honors student at Van Nuys High with a scholarship to Columbia University in New York. Now that’s off the table. I loved linguistics, which I had to take at Valley College because VN High didn’t offer it. I learned that words are magic. Literally. Before everyone could read, the illiterate believed the literate were magical beings, using signs and sorcery to commit words to stone or parchment. Reading the words, like a poem or an epitaph or whatever, was a magic spell. I kid you not. That’s what they teach you in linguistics.
I didn’t have any hardships other than this recent accident. I sailed through school, acing tests and essays. It was easy for me, like breathing. I couldn’t throw a ball to save my life, but then I wasn’t smart in my body that way. I was smart in my brain. I admired the football players who gracefully flew through the air to catch a ball and land face first, uninjured and unharmed. They didn’t admire me back. I wasn’t ugly, but I was a typical dork. Like most dorks, I had a gay stoner friend, Tom, and a hippy stoner friend, Pamela, but I didn’t smoke weed, so I wasn’t as cool. And I liked boys, like Tom did, but he was cool for being a gender traitor and I was just lame. I say gender traitor ironically, as in the Handmaid’s Tale but obviously he wasn’t a traitor of any kind. He was just a nice homophile teen who enjoyed talking to smart nerd girls.
Other students grow really attached to their friends. You see them linked up arm in arm, laughing and enjoying being a Valley girl. In the Valley, the Mexican girls don’t mix with the Armenian girls, but both groups are friends with black girls because they’re super stylish. Nobody’s very friendly with the Asians so they stick to themselves. Now that I’m dead, I can say all this racist stuff, and nobody will care. But really, the point I was making is that I felt only the slightest attachment, like a worn-out piece of velcro, to Pamela and Tom. I am sure they’re crying their eyes out right now, but they’ll forget me in a year. I didn’t leave a big chemtrail of emotional bonds behind me. Even my parents were indifferent. I liked it that way. I guess I don’t trust people. I had silent crushes on inappropriate boys at school. None of them noticed me. When I say inappropriate, I mean like Jerry Vitolo, a running back with a letter jacket, life of the party. I never got invited to those parties because I was just Agnes Blatt, a nobody with a scholarship to Columbia. Van Nuys High is a lot rougher than it was when Jeff Spiccoli and Danny Zucco went there. The teachers carry pepper spray in their purses. So, I got wonderful grades, but the teachers didn’t really want to chat to a threatening nerd like me.
If they had the internet in this olive grove, I would be able to do some research on life after death. Right now, I’m struggling to remember a book I read eons ago when I was like eight called “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” by Sogyal Rinpoche. I remember being really impressed how carefully the Tibetans had traced the path through the afterlife on the way to the next phase. I recall there being a period after death when they don’t disturb the body and say prayers over it so that the person wandering in the empty space would have a voice to follow. I don’t hear any voices. Nobody’s praying for me. This sucks!!
* * *
Okay, so I tried to stop and sit down and without even realizing it, I was walking again. WTF? If I had a physical body, I would have collapsed by now, but this endless march forward through a maze of trees is harsh! My mind is tired. Hmm, I wonder if this is a mind or a soul? Well, probably both.
I like tried to walk straight into a tree to see what would happen and it was like that OK GO! treadmill video. My feet just wouldn’t step in the right spot to allow me to smack into a tree. If it didn’t make me queasy, I think I would try to keep going through the trees because it’s at least a challenge to break up the monotony. You know, I have no stomach so feeling queasy isn’t really such a terrible thing. I’m not gonna hurl. I just tried to climb a tree and the branches turned to powder, which clouded my vision for a minute. When I looked up, the branches were back in their original spot.
I’m so sick of this wandering. What if this is it? What if after you die, you’re all alone with no companions and nowhere to go except a forest of the very trees that killed you? Why couldn’t I have at least died at a flea market? It would be so much more interesting. But then again, if I died by a vintage manual typewriter falling from a high shelf in one of the stalls, I’d just end up wandering through an endless forest of QWERTY keyboards, ribbon, ink and sticky keys.
No, this is fine, I guess. I wonder how much time has passed on Earth. Am I on Earth? Has it been six months or six seconds? The forest is cloudy. The light source, presumably the sun but maybe something more supernatural, is pale at best. There’s no rain to water the trees, and no river.
Okay what was that? I just heard a murmur or a sob. I think maybe Tom or Pamela is crying over me. No wait. It’s a prayer. Pamela is really into Wicca - I think she’s chanting the Isis song. Tom is with her. I hear them both.
“Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Inanna - We all come from the goddess, and to her we shall return like a drop of rain flowing to the ocean.”
Holy shit that felt good. If you’re reading this, remember to pray for your loved ones. We hear you!