Today is August, 12. On August, 12 I will die.
The only problem is I don’t know what year. On May, 4 my Mom will die. And on February, 7 my Dad. December, 16 for my new baby brother.
We have these days marked in our calendars with big red X’s. Everyone does. We call them deathdays. Like birthdays, but less happy, and certainly no singing.
For centuries people have tried to prevent dying on their deathday. Some lock themselves in their houses, wrapped in blankets and praying. When friends and family come to check on them the next day, well, they’re dead. Their heart stopped. Or their lungs forgot how to breathe. Once a man was eaten to death by his dog, which he had forgotten to feed. No one can escape it.
My Mom used to say we shouldn’t be afraid of our deathday, that we should live life as normal.
“Think about it like this honey, 364 days of risk free living. 364 days to do whatever you want.”
“But what about August, 12?” I would ask, hands trembling as my mind traveled through the months to that one damned day. Saying the date outloud was enough to give me a heart attack, not one that could kill me of course.
“Screw August, 12!” She yelled at 5 year-old me. “On August, 12 I want you to stand in the middle of your room and scream, ‘Come get me if you dare!’ Scream and scream until your throat is raw. And when you’re done laugh. Laugh like you just won a million dollars. You show Death that you’re not afraid, and He’ll leave you alone.”
So for the next 12 years I’ve stood in the middle of my room on August, 12 and screamed and laughed at Death until I was sure He had gone.
Then I go downstairs and eat my deathday cake. No other family has “deathday cakes”. Only us. My Dad came up with this idea.
“If you’re going to die today, you might as well eat some damn cake.” He told 1 year-old me. Then he had shoved chocolate ganache in between my chattering teeth.
Did you know that about 1,000 years ago, people didn’t know their deathdays? They just wandered around aimlessly, never knowing if today was the day. My Mom says we’re lucky to know. She says that knowing eliminates the fear.
But she’s wrong. Everyday someone dies. Everyday someone wakes and and they think, this could be the year. They continue the day in constant terror, jumping at every noise, avoiding fire, electricity, and people.
Even as their day approaches, they are consumed by fear. They try to pack life into the few days before. They propose to that partner, they gorge on junk food, they get that tattoo. And when their deathday has passed, they are filled with the unavoidable regret. Now they have to pay for a wedding to someone they don’t really love. They have to exercise until they’re back to the size they were. They have to stare at the Spongebob on their arm everyday until Death finally decides He’s done with them.
I remember the day my Grandma died. She was apart of an organization that worshipped Death, certain He would be merciful to them. She used to lecture my Mom about how we would all die in the most horrible ways because of how we mock Him. Mom would tell Grandma to get out of her damn house.
On Grandma’s deathday she would pray to Him before she did anything.
“Oh Death, please let me finish my breakfast before you take me.”
“Oh Death, please let me watch just one last episode of Jeopardy.”
“Oh Death, please let me empty my bladder one last time.”
I remember the day my Grandma died, because we were the ones who caused it. No, we didn’t show up and shoot her. But we brought her some dinner, because Dad insisted she didn’t have many years left.
We walked in and Grandma began to curse when she saw us.
“Oh Death, did you send them? You know how I loathe them.”
“Love you too Mom.” Dad said, setting the dinner down on the dining room table.
“What the hell is that?” She shuffled over to glare at the dish, cold eyes narrowed until they were barely visible.
“Dinner.” Mom said, already setting the table with Grandma’s best dishes and silverware.
“Those dishes are for special occasions.” Grandma grumbled, sitting down at the head of the table with an angry thump.
“This is a special occasion.” Mom whispered at me with a sneaky wink.
Before we could eat Grandma insisted we pray. “Oh Death, please let me finish one last meal with my family. I know they don’t respect you, but please don’t let their actions deter you from giving me peace. I owe my life to you. Amen.”
“Amen.” Dad said.
“Amen.” I said.
“This wine is delicious hon.” Mom said, sipping from a large glass of red wine.
My Dad had prepared Grandma’s favorite, lobster soup with crab instead of lobster. Grandma was deathly allergic to lobster. As I sat there sprinkling oyster shell crackers into my bowl, I heard Grandma cough.
“Excuse me.” She said, patting at her face with a cloth napkin.
We continued eating, this was the best not lobster soup my dad had ever made. It just tasted so flavourful, so real. As I sat there shoveling the warm goop into my mouth, Grandma coughed again. She took a sip of water, but the coughing continued. It soon morphed into hacking, causing the dining table cloth to become covered in vile spittle.
“What...have...you….done...to….me?” She cried, rising quickly from her chair.
My Dad looked at Mom, his eyes cloudy and lifeless, “Hon, you did buy crab and not lobster right?”
Mom took another long sip of wine, “Of course hon, I’m sure of it.”
Grandma was now staggering toward the kitchen, her wrinkled hands gripping the countertops. “Quick..call..the...ambulance….” She panted.
“You know hon, now that I think about it.” Mom said, finishing the rest of her glass in one gulp, “I might have accidently bought lobster.”
Dad wiped his face with a napkin. “Oh hon, you can be such a scatterbrain sometimes.”
“Damn….you….all…” Grandma screamed before tumbling to the floor in a limp heap. We finished our soup in silence.
You’re probably wondering why no one helped her. You see, that was Grandma’s deathday. She had to die that day. Some will say my mom bought lobster on purpose, or that it was all some morbid plan. But you can’t prove anything. Grandma was supposed to die that day.
I’m sitting in my room right now. I like my room. It looks over the ocean. I can hear the waves crashing against the battered shore. Above my house seagulls screech, looking for an easy meal. If I look out the window I can see the boardwalk. People run around, some with children in tow. Others walk with that someone special, hands wrapped tightly together. A man plays guitar, his fingers moving quickly over the strings in perfect rhythm. Someone stops and throws a few coins into the empty guitar case. The man smiles, and he begins to sing. The fluid notes of “Good Day Sunshine” echo around the boardwalk as more people stop to listen. The guitar case slowly fills with more money, actual bills instead of loose change. When he’s done applause takes over, scaring away the seagulls who had found a nearby trashcan. The man beams, thanking everyone, and quickly begins to play another song. Further down the boardwalk a little girl plays one of those cheesy carnival games. She squeals as she tries to knock down the bottles, but they don’t budge under her weak aim. Her father, or perhaps uncle, approaches, hands the worker some money and begins to chuck baseballs at rapid speed. He quickly knocks them all done, smiling as he hands the little girl an overstuffed teddy bear. She hugs him, laughing that perfect, giggly, little girl laugh. I’m smiling down at this scene from my bedroom window, watching these beautiful people live their beautiful lives. The ocean breeze continues to fill my bedroom, blowing at the curtains, calming me. It dances into my hair, pulling and playing with it. “Look at this beautiful world.” It whispers in my ears. The waves are louder, their roars crying for attention over the guitar player and the laughing girl. It is a beautiful world. Despite the bad things that happen, aren’t we lucky to experience life. Aren’t we lucky to love one another, to grow and create together. Perhaps, if today weren’t August, 12, I would-