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“We’ll know for the first time,
If we’re evil or divine.”
The Last In Line
I am the last of my line. Strictly speaking, that is not entirely true. My brother and I are the last of our line. He and I are both unmarried and childless, and not likely to correct that deficiency. My sister has children and grandchildren. But they, of course, don’t carry the name. Nor do I expect they feel much connection to their mother’s maiden name or who held it beyond their aunt, uncle and grandmother. When my brother and I meet our end, so will the last of our name, and that particular line on the family tree.
I have no desire for immortality, in the purest definition of the word. Why would anyone want to actually live forever? Sure, it would be cool to be around for the next great re-interpretation of rock and roll, if space tourism ever becomes economically viable, or if the Republicans stop denying climate change. But I don’t have that kind of retirement funds and I don’t care to work, literally, forever. Similarly, I can’t fathom those whose desire for immortality manifests itself in that impure definition—fear of death. It’s not as though I’m anxious to die anytime soon, or that I would be ok with a painful and/or frightful death. But people die, the world keeps spinning, and life goes on.
It is in that respect, the life going on, that I am jealous of my sister. She knows her life will go on forever in her children and grandchildren. The only real immortality lies with those who will remember you when you are gone. And if no one will remember you after you die, or worse, if no one wants to remember you, then you don’t just die. It’s as if you were never even here.
I know a great deal about Mom’s life: from her childhood pets that her mother didn’t like in the house, to her first husband who spirited her, and his mistress, off to live in Rome within weeks of their wedding, to how my father was so unlike her first husband in that when my father said he was going out for smokes, he invariably came back in the normal amount of time it should take one to get smokes, rather than ending up across state lines in jail. I know so much about my mother’s life for one particular reason. I asked. I know almost nothing of my father’s life for one reason. He never gave me any reason to want to ask. And that, I regret.
It wasn’t until after his death that I started to want to know, to ask. But there were few to ask, and certainly not Dad. The grave is silent. Even in life, though, he was only slightly more forthcoming than the grave. Few, if anyone, ever really knew him. Many who knew him didn’t like him very much. Myself included. Some hated him.
My father buried his own father in an unmarked grave. My grandfather’s worldly possessions at the time of his death amounted to a total of $7.23 in assorted cash and coin, a check for $7.76, a couple of rings, a tie clasp, a billfold, a change purse and personal papers. He died alone and was found only when someone smelled the decaying corpse in his rented room.
I’m not saying that will happen to me, but I’m also sure it’s not completely outside the realm of possibility. I’m nearly 50, and given the hearty, immigrant, dirt-farmer ancestors from which I sprang, I’ll likely live to be close to 100, barring a bus accident. Who’ll be there in 50 years, except my dog and the inevitable 12 cats, to mourn my passing? To remember my life? To see my mortal remains laid to rest in the manner I would wish? To inherit and cherish my favorite books, my grandmother’s rings and linens, my journals and the makeshift scrap-book/diary that I started to write down my own poems in when I was 11?
If I don’t tell the world that I was here, the day will surely come when the world will never know I was here. Just as surely as the world has already largely forgotten that my father and his father were ever here. Maybe I’m giving my ancestors and myself too much credit. Maybe the world doesn’t give a rat’s ass that I ever existed. Or that my grandfather, in his unmarked grave, ever existed. By all accounts, he was an asshole.
But I give a rat’s ass. No life should be so inconsequential as to end in an unmarked, unmourned, grave. Good man or bad man. Drunkard or teetotaler. Doting daddy or absent sperm donor. Evil or divine.
I am the last in line left to tell their stories, and through them, my own.