Death’s Fridge

Humans were, by far, Death’s least favorite meal. They didn’t understand the Point of Life and so often, by the time he met them, were filled with regret—which gave him indigestion, and terrible nightmares. No, Death was not fond of humans. But humans, it seemed to Death anyway, were very fond of him.

Of all the species in all the universe who catered to Death’s appetite, humans were, by far, the least adept at self-preservation, the least interested in procreation, and the least aware of their shortcomings regarding both. They had been gifted a perfect planet, designed to meet each evolutionary need and crafted to fulfill every creative desire. They accepted these gifts with perversion, squandering their resources—while murdering themselves at a scale and with an efficiency rivaling anything Death had seen in any other galaxy.

Humans confounded Death. He had no idea how any Living Being could be so profoundly oblivious. Death would pity them if he didn’t know what they tasted like.

*This post was drafted in August 2021. As of publication in April 2022, America’s official death toll due to COVID-19 stands at 991,000.

A lot of people died this year.

Everybody I know has lost somebody or knows somebody who has lost somebody. My mother whispers church gossip in hushed mournful tones over FaceTime, entire families—grandparents, parents, and siblings—wiped out, leaving one shell-shocked relative to grieve. The man I’m dating tells me he lost his last and most beloved aunt in November—her daughter, his favorite cousin, suffering chronic lung issues even now, some ten months later. “They were just here” and “I can’t believe you’re gone” messages regularly populate my social feeds.

660,200 Americans died between January 26, 2020, and February 27, 2021, the direct or indirect result of COVID-19, a pandemic—brazenly called every p-word in the world other than what the uncontrollable spread of an infectious disease actually is—that has crippled communities in every corner of the globe.

We are living through the sun-hastened decay of a dying empire.

GoFundMe’s (read: mutual aid)—from bail relief to funeral expenses—proliferate online, people stepping in to support each other where the government has failed. This is one of the ways we have coped in the past couple of years: camaraderie. Humor is another coping mechanism, our refusal to call the panini press by her given name testament to our will, even in the face of mass civil upheaval. We are living through the sun-hastened decay of a dying empire. But the memes? Unparalleled.

We have also coped with denial, although “cope,” used here, is flattery. When the Paramore first surfaced in January 2020, the US government balked, failing to address the crisis when there was still time to do so (#stopthespread). As bodies piled up, the government doubled down—not equipping schools for safe in-person learning, lifting lockdown orders and mask mandates for the sake of an “open” economy, and going all-in on vaccines—despite a not-year-old insurrection attesting to the regressive and virulent nature of disinformation.

The pan dulce, in eviscerating our social systems, laid bare the bones upon which our society lies. #BlackLivesMatter popped off for the second, but I’m sure, not the last, time in my lifetime. Despite months of marches, street corners painted, and reading lists cultivated, less than one year later I watch people who I am sure would call themselves “allies” drag Chika, a fat Black recording artist, from here to hell, for the sin of calling out Blackfishing online. Police departments around the country receive increased funding, despite their track record of doing the opposite of keeping civilians alive. Black men and women, at alarming rates and for varied purposes, continue to die.

The Panic! At the Disco also did really weird shit to time. While the year 2020 is indelibly etched in my mind as the year everything changed, the year people died and marched and died and the sky bled, I also, frequently, am unable to wrap my mind around the year having actually happened.

The Panic! At the Disco also did really weird shit to time.

My brother is moving to New York City this week. To celebrate, I got him The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin, an artist whose Broken Earth Trilogy is one of the only forces that saw me through October of 2020. “When did the book come out?” he asks. “March,” I reply, fully sure the book came out in March of this year, 2021. Google, however, places the book’s release in March of 2020—a fact I remember as soon as the correct year is read aloud.

A similar occurrence happened two Sundays ago, during my weekly grad school planning session with a homie from undergrad. “It’ll be 10 years since we met and started school,” I tell him over FaceTime, marveling, as I often do these days, at the intractability of time. “You mean next August,” he remarks absently, “2022.” I did mean next August, my mind this time bouncing from the future I’m already envisioning living—another surge, another school year derailed, another year of racial reckoning stewing—back to here, to now, August 2021.

Like 2020, 2021 feels like a lucid dream, an existence I live through a haze-like shroud. I swim to the surface, briefly, see people scaling the capitol walls, case numbers again on the rise, and is that…the Taliban? Really? 2021 and 2001 suddenly flip flop in my mind. I turn on Olivia Rodrigo and it is 2007. I am 12 going on 13 and miserable, my hormones wreaking havoc and it is once again 2020. I am 25, doubled over in cramps, experiencing a second puberty no one warned me was coming.

We have not reckoned with the COVID shifts, as I think of them— in global consciousness from “real life” to online, in our perceptions of capitalism, in our awareness of white people’s fuckery, in our mental health and mortal awareness—well or even at all. Most tellingly of America’s rot, I think, is our inability to mourn.

As of February 27, 2021, 660,200 Americans have died of COVID-19, more than any other nation in the world. We do not fly flags at half-mast. We sing the national anthem at sporting events, but there are no moments of silence. Nearly half the population is content to deny COVID-19 exists at all. We do not acknowledge our dead, and in our refusal to do so, we hobble our ability to heal.

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