“How crazy is it that that building just exploded today?”, I said. It’s 10 P.M. and it’s pouring. My friend Allegra and I are halfway between a walk and a jog as we search for an unoccupied cab to drive us home. I’m referring to the place on Second Ave that sent enough smoke into the sky to scare the whole city.
A gas leak, none dead, few injured, Thursday’s preliminary investigations said.
The Sunday night report disagreed, “Two Bodies Recovered at East Village Explosion Site.”
We’re ineffectively dodging the rain as she responds, “Yeah, I know, it’s so crazy. It just makes me think, there better be Heaven.” She says it like a threat to God or to the burning building or to whoever is out there that might be listening in from above.
“Like there has to be Heaven or what? What’s the point of it all?” She shouts above the roar of the downpour hitting sidewalks stickered with black gum. Two and a half beers stir in our stomachs as we continue to search for an empty cab. I’m laughing at her intense earnestness about it all. It’s one of my favorite things about her. But as I do, I’m also thinking, and agreeing, though I’m not as adamant about the necessity of its existence as she is.
I’ve always wondered why newspaper headlines don’t refer to the deceased as “people.” I think it has something to do with the need to detach ourselves from those who pass away immediately. To define ourselves in contrast to them, to separate our beings from theirs because being dead scares us like hell. Because it’s one of the questions that will never be answered until it’s too late. Because “Two People Recovered” sounds too alive, too close to our current state. Because apparently, you’re no longer allowed to be a person when you’re dead. Human beings are cliquey like that.
I don’t know if I believe in God anymore, but like her, I really want to. I want to believe more than anything that if something unimaginable happens to me tomorrow that everything I’ve become isn’t for nothing.
We talk more. “Yeah, I know what you mean, because then everything is just so arbitrary and nothing really matters. Nothing we do or say or accomplish means anything if there’s not some kind of next life.”
I don’t know if she can hear me or if she was really listening because we drop the subject as quickly as we had picked it up. We wander in hopes of finding a cab a couple minutes longer, the rain continuing to wet the wool coats not meant for March that are raised above our heads.
I fall into my own thoughts about belief and life and death and life after death. I wonder if the young victim repeated youth’s mantras of “Be in the moment” or “You only live once” like the rest of us do. But the truth is, we all hope to God (even if we haven’t defined our relationship with him yet) that that’s not the case. We hope maybe you can live twice, just differently the next time around. Is there a God or are we just scared? We hope being a free spirit who can both embrace and let go of each moment isn’t sending us straight to hell. We hope that trying to be a good person is enough for whatever comes after we flat line.
And so we’ll pretend that if we all perish tomorrow, we’ll have lived our life in a way that enables us to go without regret. We’ll push the sheer terror out of our minds when we stop for a second to consider just a few of life’s uncertainties. We will demonstrate our faith in the purposefulness of our existence through secular rituals: when the guy we’re interested in texts us twice as a sign of true love, when we pay $9.80 for an açaí bowl because it’s going to cancel out that sleeve of Oreo’s we inhaled last night, when we write occasional blog posts as a way to imprint our soul onto the world, when we promise ourselves and each other that it’s all going to be okay.
By the time Allegra and I see an empty taxi pass by on the opposite side of the street, we’re just a few blocks from home.
“Ughhhh.” We roll our eyes in unison. “Let’s just walk at this point.”
I nod. “Yeah, we’ve made it this far, we’ll be fine.”
Photo by Emily Long