Obituary Birthday by Hannah Miet
Sometimes I search my Gmail archives for clues. Evidence in sentence form. I excavate my bedroom for scraps of discarded paper. Shopping lists that may unlock my mystery.
It doesn’t work, of course. There is no narrative. I don’t find out why I did or did not love. I don’t find out where I was, or where I am.
I find an email to myself that only says “hipster circus, golf mag, rent check.”
500 saved job openings.
“Banksy’s Playlist for Curly American Enlightenment.”
Shopping list for a spectacular dinner I was too lazy to cook.
Apartment in Harlem: 420 Friendly: $900/month.
“I want to make love to your soul.”
Bonnaroo Music Festival Ticket Confirmation.
“Hire me. I have a flower in my hair.”
Open bar Obama. Don’t forget the red dress.
“Panda, call home, it’s been months.”
When I die, they may say that my life was in shambles. That I lived in squalor, or had many lovers and died lonely. My ghost will be unable to write a blog post saying “No guys, you’ve got it all wrong. I was happy.”
I hope my apartment is clean when I die. I hope there aren’t lists that say “Champagne, toothbrush, enema.” I hope I don’t go gently into that good night with my vibrator in hand reading a dirty French novel or watching Naughty Bookworms.
Then again, that’d be better than Alzheimer’s.
Maybe they will figure it all out better than I can (whoever “they” are). Fill in the blanks with the glue of time. String together images to make a motion picture, or at least an absurdist poem. They will say “She sang at Carnegie Hall” and “She kissed a married man” and both of these things will make perfect sense on the same page.
Someone I am quite fond of recently told me to turn to obituaries for examples of short, concise prose. I signed up for a daily obituary email, since such a thing, and pretty much everything, exists on the internet. I didn’t expect to find them so fascinating, and precisely for the fact they are so concise: an entire, messy, human summed up in a narrative.
I’ve always wondered what my obituary will look like. I wondered this in middle school, when a teacher made us write one positive adjective for each of our classmates and submit them all anonymously on scraps of paper. She read them all out loud. There were 24 students in the class. 20 of the strips of paper allotted to me said the word “nice.” One said “helpful,” most likely written by someone who cheated off me, one said “pretty,” most likely written by the one boy who noticed my breasts were growing faster than most, and one said “cool hair,” clearly written by an idiot who didn’t understand the concept of an adjective. I remember thinking that my obituary would be pretty boring.
“Hannah Miet was a loving daughter. Apparently nice, good to cheat off of, vaguely pretty. Idiots thought her hair was cool.”
11 years later, People still tell me I’m “nice.” They also tell me I’m “crazy,” occasionally with the addition “in the good way.” Since then, I’ve had over 15 jobs (one of which vaguely involved watching people have sex), danced awkwardly in and out of bedrooms and friendships and haphazard living arrangements; I’ve fallen for a stranger I’ve never met; I’ve shared champagne with the cinematic hero of my childhood; An ex once dumped the contents of my purse, as well as my shoes, down a 23 flight stairwell and broke my vibrator; I’m not sure my original obituary leaves room for these kind of memories and realities.
I need a Sherlock Holmes.
I am lost.
Barely two weeks after I signed up for the daily obituaries, I had a conversation with a stranger at a journalism conference. Obligatory small talk led me to the knowledge that, up until recently, his job was to write obituaries for a Baltimore paper.
“How did you stumble into that?” I asked, avoiding the urge to beg him to investigate my life and write mine.
“I just did.”
“Did you like it?”
“I did. But I wanted to be out reporting. Half of my time was spent searching the phrase ‘dies at’ on Google for leads.”
“Really? So it wasn’t interesting?”
“Rarely. Very rarely, the person was interesting. Sometimes, that didn’t make much of a difference. We’re all sons or daughters to someone, you know?”
“The interesting stuff is unwritten…”
“Exactly. Or at least, it doesn’t fit the storyboard.”