The Silver Year: Chapter 22

Chapter 22

Grateful For The Dead

 

“Is this the best of all​​ possible worlds?” Walter asked​​ the statue of​​ Voltaire from the crypt floor.

“God, I hope not,”​​ the statue​​ replied​​ back. “But​​ you​​ should​​ always​​ be grateful​​ for​​ a​​ garden​​ that needs cultivating. Boredom doesn’t come from an absence of happiness,​​ but​​ from an absence of suffering,​​ because without suffering,​​ eventually​​ philosophical speculating—aka​​ those voices in​​ your​​ head—will​​ drive​​ you​​ to suicide.”

But still,​​ what an​​ absurd​​ way of​​ looking​​ at life.​​ I need​​ suffering​​ to make​​ life​​ fulfilling?​​ And how​​ much​​ uncultivated garden can​​ one person​​ handle before it’s​​ better to​​ just​​ put down the plough and pick up the gun?”

“That’s a question only the person can answer because it is the only​​ question​​ everyone must answer,​​ whether or whether not​​ to​​ commit suicide​​ in the face of life’s absurdity.”

“Okay​​ Camus, no one asked your opinion.”

You’re the one who brought up absurdity. And you don’t think I’ve kept up with the progression of philosophy in the afterlife?​​ But regardless, the conclusion to​​ his​​ and​​ my​​ opinions are the same.​​ A mountainous journey​​ contains many more miles than​​ a​​ flat one​​ because it offers the perspective of a new dimension. And perspective​​ is​​ where​​ the​​ beauty of suffering can be​​ seen​​ and how one can appreciate the​​ absurdity​​ of the​​ journey—or their garden.

Or in other words,​​ enlightenment through suffering​​ . . .​​ You know​​ Voltaire,”​​ Walter said rubbing his chin, “everyone pins you as​​ optimism’s adversary,​​ but​​ I believe you’re​​ actually one of its biggest advocates.​​ You just believe​​ optimism shouldn’t be blind and idle, but instead​​ the​​ fertilizer for​​ our​​ gardens.​​ Only through the shit of life can we grow a new perspective on it.​​ And while I’m not​​ certain​​ of anything anymore, I am​​ certain​​ of this: insanity certainly​​ hasn’t been​​ boring.​​ So cheers to you​​ Monsieur Arouet,​​ or​​ shall​​ I say,​​ santé!​​ 

Sat upon the ground, leaning against a marbled wall,​​ Walter raised his​​ CamelBak backpack​​ to the statue​​ like a hobo​​ raising​​ a flask,​​ then stuck the straw in his mouth and sucked the last of his​​ whiskey-water​​ mixture down.

“Don’t tell Rousseau or the Curies I said it,” he​​ continued, “but in this ‘temple of every god’,​​ you’re mine.​​ If there was anyone I’d want to​​ sit down and have​​ a drink​​ or joint with—actually you know what, let’s go 18th​​ Century style and​​ get loaded on caffeine​​ and find a salon to theorize in.

“Yes sir, please​​ do,” the museum security guard​​ said. He then turned​​ to​​ the statue. “But I’m sorry Voltaire, you must stay here. However, I believe it will make no difference if you want​​ to​​ still carry on this conversation​​ elsewhere.”

“What?” Walter said. “I don’t understand.”​​ 

Monsieur,​​ vous devez partir, s’il vous plait.”

Quoi—I mean, what?​​ Je ne comprends pas français—I mean,​​ I don’t understand French.”

The guard exhaled politely.​​ “You must go.”

Cinq minutes plus s’il vous plait?—I mean,​​ can I have five​​ more—”

“Can you please stop that​​ sir?​​ Please, just French​​ or​​ English. And no,​​ I already give you five minutes. The other guests, they complain. You are not​​ alone​​ here.”

“Oh.”​​ The audience​​ of​​ tickled​​ and​​ uneasy​​ faces​​ suddenly appeared​​ before​​ Walter.​​ When he first entered Voltaire’s tomb, he’d been alone, but in the two hours since and​​ a​​ CamelBak’s​​ worth of whiskey-water​​ later, apparently it had filled without his notice.​​ 

“I’m​​ calling the​​ police,”​​ the​​ security guard said.​​ Walter jumped up quickly.

“No-no.​​ Not necessary,” he said.​​ It’s time for me to​​ go​​ anyway.​​ I have other people to see—or not see.” He​​ then​​ turned​​ to​​ Voltaire​​ one​​ last​​ time.​​ Merci​​ moi.​​ Merci.

 

Taking a taxi, Walter​​ told the driver to​​ take a lap of the city past the Eiffel Tower then​​ a few rounds​​ on​​ the world’s most famous roundabout​​ around the​​ Arc de Triomphe. As they drove,​​ he​​ had never seen anything like​​ Paris. Flat pastures of civilization​​ barnacled​​ with visible history for​​ as far as the eye​​ could see, then faded into a hazy horizon of​​ skyscraper​​ islands fenced in distinct districts​​ of modernity.

After a sleepless night in his Amsterdam hostel, he’d taken the first train​​ there, and as much as he tried​​ to​​ sleep then drink himself to sleep on the train,​​ his mind wouldn’t shut up.​​ So​​ he figured​​ might as well consult the dead​​ before seeing the living in Paris​​ since they​​ had been​​ of more help lately. But after spending​​ his morning with Descartes at​​ the Saint-Germain-des-Prés abbey,​​ then​​ his afternoon​​ at the Panthéon​​ with the​​ Curies,​​ Rousseau,​​ and​​ his longest​​ visit,​​ Voltaire,​​ these​​ consultations​​ didn’t seem​​ as vivid as his previous one—or ones—had been.​​ And as hard as he tried to​​ take​​ himself​​ out of the conversation​​ with​​ whiskey​​ and believe he was hearing their​​ voices,​​ he​​ knew​​ in reality​​ he was only​​ consulting​​ himself​​ through them.

After breezing past​​ the​​ Eiffel Tower, his taxi​​ crossed​​ over​​ the​​ Seine, then​​ entered​​ the​​ Arc de Triomphe​​ roundabout​​ that was​​ ten unmarked lanes wide with twelve intersecting streets.​​ As they cut into this circling circus, it​​ seemed like everyone was in a game to get to the center​​ of the roundabout where its stone overlord stood​​ like the​​ Kaaba​​ to motor vehicles.​​ Tour buses took polite, lethargic turns around, while small cars and scooters stung and squirmed through​​ the​​ open​​ gaps. There was a constant cheeping of​​ horns, not so much in discord, but in communication like bats echolocating one another. Taxi cars​​ were the most common​​ worshiper​​ crammed​​ with​​ people​​ craning their necks and cameras up to capture the colossal creature in the center​​ standing​​ taller than any surrounding building and resembling​​ a gigantic, gaudy anchoring pin​​ dedicated to “winning”.​​ But as​​ Walter​​ orbited​​ this​​ triumphal​​ arc,​​ all he did was think about all the​​ defeats​​ it​​ played a role in.​​ But​​ a monument​​ erected​​ to the ego in the center of your city​​ is​​ just asking to be​​ made​​ a mockery of.

The​​ irony​​ of this​​ “triumphal” arc​​ and​​ its​​ circling circus​​ was making​​ for very comical surrealism in Walter’s​​ liquored​​ head. He began to gush with laughter​​ which​​ soon turned to hiccups. Then the lack of oxygen and spinning began making him feel​​ dizzy​​ and​​ suddenly his whiskey wanted out.​​ His taxi​​ driver​​ hearing his dry heaving as​​ it​​ climbed up​​ his​​ esophagus,​​ raced to the center just in time for Walter to​​ expel it out​​ onto​​ the​​ arc.

His taxi driver​​ then​​ skidded away, but​​ Walter​​ easily found another sucker​​ at​​ a​​ nearby taxi lane​​ and continued on his way​​ to​​ Père Lachaise Cemetery.

 

Dans ces​​ derniers jours!”​​ a​​ stoutly​​ woman​​ vagrant​​ was shouting​​ at the​​ gates of the main entrance of the​​ cemetery​​ like some​​ retail​​ department store greeter.​​ Although​​ he​​ was only able to decipher the aforementioned​​ phrase​​ which followed almost every sentence,​​ it was clear she​​ was trying to scare the uncaring​​ sightseers​​ walking past her​​ into repentance. Walter​​ couldn’t ignore her.

 ​​ “…dans ces derniers jours!” she yelled at him​​ after some muddled French.

 “Quoi?” he said, but got the same response. She then reached out and put something in his hand. It was a map of the cemetery.

 “Oh.​​ Merci,” he said​​ to her. “Où est Chopin?” he asked pointing to the map, but​​ got the same​​ “dans ces derniers jours!”​​ response.

 

Using​​ the​​ map instead,​​ Walter​​ easily​​ located​​ Chopin beneath his impressive​​ and gated​​ tombstone​​ which​​ not only​​ had​​ his​​ portrait​​ carved into it, but a life-size sculpture of the muse of music,​​ Euterpe, weeping​​ on top of​​ it.

Sitting at the steps of​​ the​​ grave,​​ looking at​​ Chopin’s​​ face,​​ little was said,​​ but​​ much was felt,​​ just like​​ his​​ music.​​ Then like Euterpe,​​ Walter​​ too​​ shed deep sobs over the short and somber life​​ which​​ was Frédéric Chopin’s.

Tormented by ill love and health all his life and estranged from his Polish homeland and heritage, the vulnerability, intimacy, and bravery​​ which​​ fed his compositions​​ listens like​​ a​​ diary,​​ as if​​ written​​ for his hands and ears only.​​ Unlike the many prominent​​ and​​ showboating Parisian pianists of his time, Chopin hated the spotlight and rarely performed publicly, preferring the privacy of salons. The ultimate and original romantic, he died young and broke at the age of thirty-nine, but​​ composing since the age of seven, his artistic output was that of a man who knew he had little time on​​ Earth.

Once finished with his weeping, Walter opened his​​ backpack​​ and​​ took out a small bouquet of violets he’d purchased​​ from a flower shop that morning and placed them on​​ the​​ grave,​​ then continued on.

 

Not far​​ from​​ Chopin’s​​ was​​ the much more modest​​ tomb​​ of​​ Marcel​​ Proust,​​ just​​ a​​ forlorn​​ black​​ platform​​ etched​​ with​​ his​​ name.​​ Sitting on it,​​ Walter​​ ran his​​ hand over the​​ letters cut into the polished​​ black​​ marble​​ and thought about Amber. Even though​​ he was there because she asked him, he’d grown a​​ great​​ appreciation for​​ the writer​​ because of her.

Inspired by his father who had been responsible for eradicating cholera in France,​​ Marcel​​ Proust​​ wanted​​ to​​ write a book that would do as much good for humanity as his father’s work.​​ The subsequent result was​​ a​​ massive​​ masterpiece called​​ In Search of Lost Time,​​ a​​ story about a​​ man’s journey​​ to​​ find the​​ meaning and purpose​​ of life​​ in​​ an​​ effort to learn how to best appreciate existence and​​ make the best use of​​ time. In it are explored three possible answers.

Fame?”​​ Walter said to the grave.​​ “If only I had read your book when I was younger maybe I wouldn’t have wasted so much time seeking​​ it because​​ it’s​​ exactly as you said:​​ a​​ fraud.​​ Anyone who thinks​​ fame​​ will​​ gain you access to some extraordinary stratum of​​ happiness​​ will​​ be sorely disappointed.​​ No amount of money, celebrity, or titles can​​ ever​​ save you​​ from​​ misery,​​ loneliness, and stupidity.

“So what about love?​​ I mean,​​ that’s why I’m​​ here​​ in​​ Paris.​​ But however honorable​​ love​​ may​​ advertise​​ itself,​​ fulfilling​​ your life through​​ the love of​​ another has only a vacuum of meaning​​ once that love abandons you, a lesson Amber​​ unfortunately​​ taught me all too well, but so did Shiva.​​ We will​​ always be lonely​​ islands​​ within the sea of​​ ourselves,​​ and​​ until​​ you can get comfortable living there,​​ no one else will.

“So​​ what? Are​​ we just supposed to​​ be content in our​​ suffering​​ then, cultivating​​ our​​ gardens​​ on our​​ lonely​​ islands?​​ The​​ answer is yes. As children,​​ our gardens and islands​​ were all we needed. And it’s​​ not​​ so much we grew out of them,​​ we just forgot​​ how​​ big​​ and extraordinary​​ they​​ actually​​ are. But​​ what reminds​​ us​​ is art. It can make​​ even the most mundane​​ novel again.​​ And whether we​​ consider ourselves​​ ‘novel’-ists​​ or not,​​ we’re​​ all​​ writing​​ at least​​ one​​ story: our life, and doesn’t that story deserve​​ to be novel?​​ Should it not be​​ the medium for​​ our​​ greatest​​ masterpiece?​​ Yet so many of us​​ copy​​ in​​ fear of failure​​ and​​ surrender​​ our childhood powers of creativity and curiosity​​ to the stability and predictability of habit, then wonder​​ why the time seems to pass​​ us by​​ so​​ quickly or why life always feels so empty.​​ The purpose and meaning of life is finding​​ purpose in meaninglessness​​ and​​ meaning in purposelessness, and for everyone that​​ answer​​ is​​ different, but it can only come from​​ questioning yourself. However,​​ that’s​​ a​​ hard​​ thing​​ to do​​ if​​ you​​ don’t love yourself​​ or​​ are afraid to be​​ with​​ yourself.​​ Yourself shouldn’t be a stranger.”

Walter​​ sat up from the​​ tombstone​​ in astonishment. Although he knew the story,​​ he had never understood​​ it​​ so clearly until now. But often the arrow​​ of time​​ is what finally​​ zippers​​ together​​ the cogs of knowledge and experience into understanding.

He​​ took out a metal spoon from his backpack and found a small​​ patch of dirt next to the tomb​​ and began digging. Once he had a small hole, he took out Amber’s suicide note and placed it in​​ it.

“Thank you,” he said. “I hope you can forgive me. But even if you don’t think I deserve forgiveness, I will always love you for what you​​ always​​ gave​​ me:​​ love.​​ You didn’t deserve to die alone​​ feeling​​ unloved, and​​ I’m so sorry​​ for that​​ Amber. I love you.​​ I love you.”

He then took out his lighter and​​ lit​​ the note, and once it was ashes, he buried them​​ in the dirt​​ and​​ continued​​ to​​ his final grave.​​ 

 

The air seemed to suddenly chill as Walter​​ neared​​ his purposeful​​ final destination,​​ Jim​​ Morrison’s grave, hidden in a dense thicket of headstones.​​ He​​ knew he was​​ getting​​ closer​​ by​​ the growing number of young people​​ around, but​​ also​​ a faint​​ voice​​ prickling​​ his ears​​ telling him​​ he was.​​ Stopping to listen, he then heard what the​​ voice​​ was​​ saying, or more so​​ singing,​​ “Harvest​​ Moon”. His​​ hair stood​​ on end.​​ 

“No, it’s not,” Walter said, but it sure sounded like it.​​ He​​ had​​ never heard another voice like it.

Now tremoring,​​ he​​ moved​​ slowly​​ toward the grave,​​ the volume​​ of the voice​​ only​​ increasing.​​ After​​ cresting​​ a hill,​​ he​​ then​​ at last saw​​ the grave he’d​​ been seeking,​​ and in front of it,​​ a​​ brilliant​​ red​​ beacon​​ beaming​​ in​​ the sunlight, the same red he had seen​​ on the pillow​​ the morning after​​ his night in Amsterdam.​​ However, whoever was beneath this​​ red hair had her back to him and was​​ sitting with a guitar, playing toward the grave.​​ Around her was a small crowd listening under a gum-and-graffiti-infested tree that had been decorated by Jim’s admirers.

Continuing​​ toward​​ her, Walter​​ started singing along.​​ Hearing his​​ voice,​​ she​​ turned around and roused to her feet in surprise, dropping the guitar on the ground, but neither​​ stopped​​ singing.​​ Her eyes were​​ tinted​​ by​​ rose-colored glasses.​​ A​​ royal blue summer dress​​ hung​​ over​​ her​​ black canvas Doc Martens.​​ They​​ stepped toward him.

Once within reach,​​ Walter​​ touched​​ her​​ face, expecting​​ it​​ to change​​ like the others,​​ but​​ this one​​ stayed.​​ He​​ then​​ took off​​ the​​ glasses and​​ big gray​​ eyes​​ smiled​​ back​​ at his.

I want to see you dance again”​​ they sang as they​​ took each​​ other’s arms​​ and began​​ dramatically​​ dancing around the tree​​ like they did on the boat deck. At the end of the song, he then​​ dipped​​ her, then kissed her, and only after​​ the kiss​​ did he become entirely​​ convinced​​ of her existence.

“How dare you start our song without me,”​​ he​​ said.

“Who​​ said​​ I didn’t know you were coming?” she replied.​​ “How else were you​​ supposed​​ to find me?”​​ 

“Shiva?”​​ Walter​​ asked. “Are you​​ really​​ her? Are you​​ really​​ here?”​​ 

“Yes,” Shiva said​​ smiling. “I’m​​ really​​ me, and I’m​​ really​​ here. Been​​ here for quite some​​ time​​ actually. It’s the only place I knew you’d be in Paris.​​ Is​​ it​​ really​​ you​​ Walter? Are you​​ really​​ here?”

Yes, I am—well, I think I am.​​ Je pense,​​ donc je​​ suis.

They both then fell to the ground​​ crying and​​ laughing​​ madly,​​ kissing​​ ever inch of each other’s salty​​ cheeks.​​ 

“I love you Shiva,” Walter said. “Maybe it’s premature, but you​​ wouldn’t believe what​​ I had to go through to say it.

“I love you Walter,”​​ Shiva​​ replied. “And​​ believe me, I know. You​​ also​​ wouldn’t believe what I​​ had to go through to say it.​​ It’s​​ been a long strange trip​​ since​​ Red Rocks.”

“Red Rocks?”​​ Walter said sitting up.

Shiva​​ smirked​​ and also sat up.​​ “You still haven’t figured it out?” she said. “You really think you survived​​ being struck by​​ lightning?”

“Lightning? . . .​​ Wait,​​ I’m…​​ I’m​​ dead?”

“Surprise!” she said laughing.

“But… but what about all the people I’ve met​​ since​​ then?”​​ Walter asked.

Some​​ in your head, some​​ dead like you, some alive depending on the​​ time,” Shiva replied. “No​​ one​​ really knows in the afterlife. Here​​ there is no such thing as​​ time; no such thing as dead or alive.​​ We​​ souls​​ live in the world of Schrödinger's cat​​ you could say. Like massless particles,​​ we​​ are​​ unaffected by​​ spacetime and therefore can exist at all possible places at all possible times.​​ This shouldn’t surprise you. It all falls within the laws of physics.”

“I suppose it does…”​​ Walter said,​​ but his head​​ was​​ shaking no.​​ 

“You still don’t believe​​ me,”​​ Shiva noticed.

“I don’t know​​ what to believe.​​ All I know is​​ Death was much simpler being nothing​​ . . .​​ So​​ does this mean​​ there’s​​ a God?​​ Is​​ He​​ Kurt Vonnegut?​​ 

Shiva laughed again. “It’s not impossible,” she replied, “but to be honest,​​ I’m not sure who’s running the show, or if​​ anyone​​ is running the show. And also, if​​ there is a God,​​ He​​ would​​ most likely​​ be​​ an​​ It. No gender pronouns in the afterlife. Just like we are neither​​ dead​​ or​​ alive, we are neither male or female since every soul has​​ lived as​​ both​​ throughout existence.​​ Plus I’ve been told by other souls the​​ x chromosome goes on to out evolve the y​​ chromosome​​ in future generations of humans anyway, and​​ in the year​​ 4000​​ F.E.,​​ Homo cypiens​​ officially designated everyone an ‘it’.​​ But​​ don’t worry.​​ We​​ have​​ all the​​ time​​ in the world​​ to​​ get to​​ all​​ that later.​​ Right now we’ve got a​​ joint to smoke​​ and a bottle of wine to drink​​ with Jim,” she said pulling both out of​​ a bag.

“Like in-person?”​​ Walter​​ asked.

“Oh no. Just in-body.​​ Last I heard​​ Jim’s​​ soul​​ was​​ almost finished​​ redoing​​ its​​ life over as a writer.”

“You can do that?”

“Many times over, and​​ you​​ already have many times over. But guess what?​​ You​​ no longer have to.​​ Today we leave​​ purgatory​​ together, and that calls for a celebration!”

Walter began shaking his head again. “Purgatory is real?”​​ he said.

“Nothing is ‘real’,” Shiva said laughing,​​ “but yes.​​ We’re​​ in it. But not for much longer.”

“So​​ what’s next?” he asked.​​ “Paradise?”

“So I’ve been told.”

“What’s it like?”

“Hopefully like paradise, but I’ve​​ never been.​​ I’ve been waiting here for you.”

“How long have you been waiting?”​​ Walter asked.

Almost​​ a year in ‘living’ years, but that’s nothing in purgatory,” Shiva said. “I kind of got a hall pass on purgatory,​​ however, I wasn’t​​ going to leave without you, so that’s​​ why I gave you my hall pass, the​​ Ace of Cups.​​ It entangled our souls​​ together​​ and that’s why you were quantum-tracked through purgatory.

“Like quantum entanglement?”​​ 

Shiva smiled.​​ “Now you’re getting it,”​​ she​​ said.​​ It was my mother’s​​ hall pass​​ and she—it​​ was a she at the​​ time’—gave​​ me​​ the pass​​ just before she passed on from purgatory.​​ Her​​ purgatory, however, was served ‘in life’, so when she gave it to me I was still​​ living​​ and just a child.”

“So I was supposed to be​​ in​​ purgatory much longer?”​​ Walter asked.

From​​ a​​ four dimensional spacetime​​ perspective you were.​​ But you’ll eventually learn to see​​ things​​ outside your​​ lower-dimensional​​ bias.

Walter’s head began shaking in disbelief again.​​ “So​​ were​​ you​​ dead​​ or alive​​ when I met you?”​​ he asked.

“You’ve really got to let go of being​​ dead​​ or​​ alive,”​​ she​​ said.​​ “In​​ reality we’re​​ all​​ just being.​​ However,​​ yes.​​ I was​​ ‘dead’​​ just like you. I​​ just​​ didn’t know it at the​​ ‘time’, just like you.”

“What did you die from?​​ Huntington’s?”

“Again, dying is relative​​ just like​​ ‘time’, but at the​​ ‘time’ the disease never had​​ ‘time’​​ to get me.”

“What did​​ then?”​​ Walter asked.

“Well…” Shiva said looking off to the side,​​ “essentially I killed myself by entangling us together.​​ ‘Time’​​ had to be adjusted so that you and​​ I​​ died​​ at the same ‘time’ in the past, but still met​​ at​​ the same ‘time’ in the future. In order to do that,​​ the past and future​​ had to be​​ layered​​ on top of one another.​​ But this happens all the ‘time’​​ to ‘time’​​ because ‘time’​​ is nothing but a construct of our​​ lower-dimensional​​ four-dimensional​​ plane.​​ But again, none of​​ this should be a surprise to you. After all, it​​ is​​ what you theorized.”

“Yes…” Walter said,​​ but​​ his head​​ was​​ still​​ saying no. “But theorizing about the universe​​ is much easier​​ than accepting it.”

“Don’t worry,” Shiva​​ said​​ caressing his face, “you’ll adjust. Just imagine if our​​ universe—which is in truth just​​ a​​ fraction of the universe—was shrunk to the size of an atom and someone tried probing in. Do you think that being could even fathom our idea of​​ ‘time’​​ from their perspective?​​ No, they’d​​ see an entire timeline of the universe​​ playing out at all possible places and at all possible times​​ just like we do when we​​ probe​​ into the world of the atom.​​ However,​​ when​​ you’re unaffected by​​ the fabric of spacetime and​​ no longer​​ bound by the rules of light like​​ us souls​​ are, you realize our world and the world of the atom​​ are​​ one in the same.”

“Okay.​​ But​​ still, you​​ haven’t​​ explained​​ how you died.​​ You died on our four-dimensional plane in​​ some​​ way and at some ‘time’ to be here, right?”

Shiva​​ looked at Walter sideways and smiled.​​ “That’s​​ another story for another​​ ‘time’,” she replied. “But right now, let’s just enjoy this​​ weed and​​ wine.”

 

Leave a Reply