Death and Social Media
A person passed away. He was eight years younger than me. He had lots of friends, but I wasn’t one of them. I had only met him once, and I suppose the meeting wasn’t too impressive. It also wasn’t unimpressive. We played opposite each other in a single scene of a short film, in which I pretended to be annoyed by his presence in my apartment. I wasn’t annoyed in actuality, though.
He was kind, and a little quiet. He was very good looking and possessed a silent authority for being so. He struck me as the type of person who didn’t need to say much, perhaps because he was accustomed to being listened to regardless. There’s a certain kind of glazed-over expression that works only on the devilishly handsome, and if you’re tall and symmetrical, a contentless expression transmutes into a sort of mesmeric mysteriousness that might otherwise get perceived as dull, or even dim. Not him. He was one of the lucky few. We became friends on Facebook, but never once interacted.
He smoked between shots and sort of fumbled with the cigarette. Is there any reason a twenty-two-year-old needs to smoke? I think he was taking it up because actors are supposed to. It’s a thing they do. Did he like it, though? Did he actually like it? Did he want to seem older than he was? More impressive?
His father posted a heartfelt message, and friends posted pictures and condolences. No, I thought. Not him. I met him! He was so young. I couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t meant to know he had died, and I certainly wasn’t meant to know what his parents and peers thought about it, but I couldn’t look away, and I couldn’t stop. It was like the pit in my stomach over his passing was a magnet drawing my cursor towards the next comment, and the next, and the next. I stopped on the last thing he had typed publicly: hahaha, thanks.
Death is a tablecloth being yanked out from under the plates and glasses – and when it’s someone you know, but not intimately, everything is left the same, almost. Something new and almost imperceptible makes a home in your mind. You’re left with a quiet voice telling you that circumstances can change, and circumstances do change, whether you’d like them to or not. A sliver of the universe can slip away almost undetected, and there’s no getting it back.
Death used to be visually and viscerally unavoidable. Widowers wore black, diseases swept through towns and villages like hurricanes, and our ancestors used to carry, bury, and burn their loved ones in communal rituals. Now, we’ve lost contact with death in a way our ancestors never could.
Hahaha, thanks. There he was, utterly and inanely human. Someone had liked his haircut, and he had replied, and it was as simple as that. He didn’t know it’d be the last thing he’d write. It was carefree and unassuming and normal. It is also normal for someone to die. This is normal. We come, we speak some gibberish, we go. Had I really forgotten this?
I fight the urge to glorify someone just for being dead. Death adds a dark glimmer over our otherwise menial lives. I’m not sure I ever would have thought of this person ever again if I hadn’t happened to scroll by the news. I wouldn’t have wondered why he smoked or considered the impact his facial structure had on his personality. Now, his death is a thing I can ‘like’, or ‘heart.’
I must have subtly thought that having a social media presence would make me impervious to death. I turned to my own pages and skimmed the contents. It’s not me, there. Not even close. I wouldn’t even dare call it a window – it’s too lazily curated to be anything other than a mess of small shouts into the void and restless videos that I posted in hopes of… well, what? Getting people to like me? Find me impressive? I suppose I’m sort of fumbling with the cigarette, and presumably, it could be the very last thing I do.
I was ashamed for peering in at first. Then, the small voice that had nestled inside asked when I had last seen a widow dressed in black, or watched a loved one turn to ashes before heading out to sea. Was I feeling uncomfortable for sneaking in on a private internet memorial? Or was this a brief, sharp reminder of the unpredictable yet inevitable outcome of my experience as a human?
Perhaps I should have looked at his page longer, or harder. Perhaps I should be reminded, constantly, as we all once were, that this fades, regardless of how many pictures I have to prove that I’m alive, or how heedlessly I might reply to someone who compliments my new haircut.
Someday, someone will scroll through my profiles, and read my normal, half-hearted comments, and wonder if I actually liked it.
Did I actually like it?