Obituaries were strange things to read. An entire life, condensed into the crawlspace of three paragraphs. How do you choose which parts to include? What is worthy of importance, and why? Which moments get the privilege of being memorialized, which memories get the pleasure of being left to rot?
The image of a smiling man looked back at him. He wore a pleated suit, the hair around his balding head standing up on tufts so it looked like they formed a ring around the eye of the storm: a singular, glorious bald spot that gleamed in the pale fluorescent light. He looked back from behind the computer screen warmly. His smile felt forced as Turner imagined the man’s cheeks and lips beginning to cramp, the awkward curvature of his lips heavy enough to make even Atlas wince.
This was an obituary for a distant cousin of one of Turner’s Facebook friends. For all intents and purposes, this post and everything included in it was now his friend’s cousin. The man was gone but this representation of him would live on. Now the things that would define him were how people chose to remember him, what they thought was relevant to emphasize. He was caught within the space between Purgatory, like some kind of zombie, as accounts of his life were passed from one pair of lips to another like a cold sore on prom night.
Three paragraphs. Nice and neat and simple. Survived by his wife and kids. Missed dearly by his friends-slash-business partners and countless employees the world over. A former quarterback at his high school. One of the finer graduates produced by his alma mater. A pleasure to work with and a pain to compete against.
The obituary went on to describe the man’s work ethic, his kindness, and his devotion to his business and his family. Sweeping generalizations that could be said of anyone, living or otherwise. Turner peered deeply into the connotations of each word; he felt as if he were a graverobber, spiriting away limbs of meaning piecemeal. He could not shake the unease nesting in his stomach. Each word was penned by an employee of the funeral home, someone who was literally paid to summarize a person’s entire life in three short paragraphs or less.
That was all the man would amount to. An introduction, a body, and a conclusion. A short essay in all regards, completely lacking in specific details and references. The commitment to authenticity was commendable.
Three paragraphs to convey the love of a father, the passion of a husband, and the pride of a working man. Three paragraphs to explain away a life.
Turner felt sick to his stomach. He closed his laptop shut and the stranger died a second time within the span of a week.