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This Life Will Kill You If You Let It:
The Endless Search for Solace

Angelina Bruno


Nothing's Meant to Last Forever

Life comes to us unexpectedly, a curse forced upon thoughts that become reality. We are injected into a reality that is beyond comprehension, beyond common knowledge, and told that we need to sharpen skills of the past to excel. The constant exercise in discipline, control, and progress are drilled into us to sustain existence, as if we asked to be here, let alone to care for a home we know nothing about.

That is my definition of Life.

Death is the ultimatum, the peace weaver, the silencer, the cruel justice. It comes with a swift hand to silence the unworthy, in most cases by surprise, and does not allow space for error. It is the equalizer that determines when we have made our biggest impact, when we have exhausted all our resources, and when it is time, our efforts expire.

That is my definition of Death.

There is beauty in Death, one not so visible to the naked and untrained eye. Life can create living things, sure, but everything it creates eventually dies. Everything life touches comes with the weight that it will one day face a bitter end, some tragic, some not, but an end, nonetheless. And the worst part is that once we leave the world, Life must fill our place immediately. Life keeps making things that destroy themselves, and Death cleans up the mess.

Who, exactly, is the cruel being in this situation?


Tales to Read When You Can't Sleep at Night

There’s an old wives’ tale that was created thousands of years back about Life and Death that I will recite for you now. It is not word for word, has no specific origin, but is vital in understanding the balance of nature itself.

It is one of my favorite pieces of folklore.

On the eve of the first moon, Life and Death were walking on opposite sides of the world. When the two met at the equator, Death became entranced by Life’s beauty, and promised to bring to her anything she pleased in exchange for her love.

Life would only accept Death’s love if he could prove he was not a being of pure malice and sent him off to fulfill this request by the time the moon had taken its eighth phase.

While on his journey, Death met the souls of Life’s most precious creations, who were lost without their mother to guide them through their afterlife. Death then realized that this was the only way he could prove he was empathetic and compassionate enough for Life’s standards.

Death made it his mission to continuously take care of the beautiful souls Life created once they left her loving arms.

Life accepted Death’s love immediately upon this revelation, and the two continued to work in perfect balance to ensure all living things knew they had loving parents to watch over them.


The Ideology of Conscious Beings

Why is is it that we fear Death to such a high degree? Is it the overwhelming dread that comes with knowing the end has come, that your unfinished business cannot be tended to, or that you may or may not have the chance to say goodbye?

What about the pain? Is there pain?

Are humans the only beings that understand the fear behind the process of Death?

Logically speaking, we are beings backed by a consciousness that propels us far beyond that of other species, so it is possible to believe.

What about a soul? Are our souls somehow connected to that consciousness, and if so, how can we prove we even have them?

There was a study conducted in 1907 by a man named Duncan MacDougall that has fascinated me for years now. The experiment is called the 21 Grams. MacDougall hypothesized that the soul of a human being had physical weight, and that he could prove the soul left the body once a person had died. He measured the weights of dying hospital patients by placing them on scales and concluded that humans did lose at least 21 grams each time one died.

MacDougall also did this experiment on 15 dogs, but none of the dogs lost weight following their deaths. He was not surprised by this data because he believed dogs did not have souls, therefore that would explain why they did not lose 21 grams. No one has ever contested or re-tested his theory, which is also truly fascinating.

So, does this experiment hold any weight? Is this a legitimate claim to make about the idea of souls leaving the body, and does our ability to think consciously, follow moral law, and overall seek out knowledge mean we have a soul that other creatures do not?

Have You Ever Seen Ghost Adventures?

I love ghost hunting shows. Specifically, a show called Ghost Adventures, which has been on the Travel Channel since I was at least eight years old. The team consists of four men, Zak, Aaron, Billy, and Jay, who have become staples of my Thursday nights. Zak is the ring leader, the instigator, and the brains of the team, and has fascinations similar to mine about the afterlife. Each season the hunts grow increasingly intense, and overall, the team as a whole are highly regarded for finding some of the best evidence to date.

What piques my interest is the evidence itself.

Each episode, each voice, each shadow figure, each thermal image carries with it an oddly satisfying sense of relief.

I find solidification in hearing the voices of the afterlife, as it means there is, or might be, an afterlife. That there is a destination for the consciousness beyond becoming worm food, and most of the time, a self-aware intellect to back it up. How could you deny a little girl’s voice calling out to her mother, or a woman naming the man who killed her in unsolved murder cases?

Sure, many have said that all their evidence is faked, that they are too theatrical, but I like to live in the fantasy that this is all legitimate. Their biggest critique comes from the piece of evidence that made them famous to begin with.

Goldfield Hotel, Nevada, 2004.

A brick flies across the basement at Zak and his former teammate, Nick, and sends the two out of a second story window from the sheer terror of the event. News outlets, professional cameramen, and more have spent years trying to find evidence of wires, fishing line, string… anything that can prove that Zak and Nick faked the flying brick.

But what if it was, real? What if that brick was truly thrown by an unseen source, or better yet, a deceased soul looking for solace in their afterlife?

Sure, seeing a brick fly at you from across a room is terrifying, but it’s also exhilarating. Humans by nature are incredibly stubborn, and above all else, terrified. They do not want to accept the possibility that something unseen could have thrown that brick, as it would mean we as a species are encountering something we do not understand.

Whatever you hang your hopes on, goes the famous saying, so what does it matter if I hang my hopes on three over-dramatic middle-aged men? What if this is my religion, my nirvana, my reconciliation with our end?

I have watched every episode of every season for twenty-five seasons, multiple times at this point. I would say I am somewhat of an expert on Ghost Adventures.

But why do I keep coming back?

Is it for nostalgia, for the luxury of rewatching a childhood favorite? Is it to laugh at how absurd their reactions are to the evidence they experience? Or is it that solidification, that link between worlds, that false hope that what they truly are capturing is in fact reality?

I would like to think it’s the latter.


When Death and I Shook Hands

August 10th, 2007, 3:34 a.m.

I shot up in bed.

The room was quiet, void of all light outside that of the street-lamps that snuck through pleated teal curtains. No dream had ejected me from slumber, no call of ambulance sirens, bark of the dog, or opening of the bedroom door opposite me. The blankets were still tucked around me, and the air conditioner was still humming methodically.

Why was I awake?

We were not due to be at the hospice center until six-thirty, and my aunt surely did not have Eggos toasting in the kitchen. Our backpacks were not stuffed with frozen Ellios pizzas, or Capri Suns wet from condensation, with a note for the nurses about when we would be picked up. My mother would not be sitting in the Krauser’s parking lot, her eyes barely open as she waited to bring my cousin, sister, and I to the public pool. She was hiding far too much for our sake.

What had I been dreaming of?

Was I dreaming of my father, who was six miles down the road in a cream hospital bed, hooked to more machines than my seven-year-old mind could ever comprehend?

Was I dreaming of baseball games at Met Stadium, where we shared oversized pretzels and soft serve inside a tiny helmet? Were the sprinkles orange and blue to match the team colors? I remember, once, when someone caught a home-run ball that had slipped through his fingers. It was the first time he allowed me to swear, since someone had to help tell the guy off.

Maybe I was remembering Saturday mornings, when the leather glove he bought at Bob’s would pinch my fingers if I did not fasten it in place properly. His smile when I ran the bases, covering my white pants in sand and grass from a slide into home, or how I liked to throw sunflower seeds at his back when he strayed too close to the dugout to prep the next batter.

The following morning, Mom told us that he had passed in his sleep, a quiet and much deserved end to years of suffering. That God had taken him because Life had not been kind enough to keep him.

He passed at 3:34 a.m. that morning.


Phobia (The Aftermath)

Have you ever watched something die?

Seen the life leave its eyes, which slowly turn to a glossy grey?

I have, many times.

I used to work in the veterinary field, a job I got because of my mother, who got hers from my grandmother. Same veterinary clinic, where we all worked together until I took over my grandmother’s position. Though I worked reception, I consistently aided my mother and the doctors with various tasks in the back, including the sedation and euthanasia of sick animals. I have had my hands inside a dog’s stomach, intubated cats for surgery, counted pills while my mother helped amputate a leg; the list is endless.

I have since left the field for various reasons, but the defining one centered around Death. I could not take the constant dread that came along with it; spending hours in the waiting room consoling crying parents, bagging up bodies to toss into a freezer, calling families when the ashes of their beloved pet returned… it all simply became too much to handle.

We call my mother the Angel of Death; she has been witness to the death’s of hundreds of animals in the veterinary field, and dozens of human deaths working hospice care. No matter what state she lived in, she somehow always worked around death.

It became a part of her personality.

I envied her ability to stare death in the face everyday, nonstop, and never flinch.

I could not do the same.

My father’s death ruined a lot of things for me, and enriched others. I lost my faith in religion for quite some time, but also gained peace from his violent anger. I lost the good days where we watched American Idol and laughed at contestants tone-deaf singing, but gained safety from receiving a flying glass to the face or a hand I had to duck.

I also gained a horrible phobia of Death.

I did not know for around five years that I had obtained this cruel companion, and silently let this sinister monster brew within me until a summer day in seventh grade. We had to put our cat of seven years to sleep due to, above all things, a brain tumor. Brain tumors have become quite the reoccurring theme in my life since my father’s cancer, but at the time, this was my second experience with death.

Frankie was his name; a blonde tabby who laid on the cold metal table I had played board games on after school for years. His chest fell in shallow waves as the sedative took place, and once his eyes grew wide and then, flat, something snapped inside of me.

I could not look away from his eyes no matter how much my mother tugged on my arm.

The emptiness within them as I realized his heart had stopped awakened an agonizing panic in me that followed me to school a week later, when we were taking our pulse for a science experiment. The room was dead silent as people counted their heart beats.

The moment my fingers found my own pulse my first ever panic attack hit, and I shot up and screamed bloody murder in front of a room of thirty kids. It was not only my most embarrassing memory, but the start of a life-long struggle with horrific anxiety, depression, anti-depressants, and therapy that never seem to work.

It took me years to eat a complete meal, to turn on the ghost shows I had once loved, to visit my father’s grave… but I digress.

With this phobia came the obsession, the inability to turn off the part of my brain that was so violently affected by Death. The novels I began to write around this time consisted of violent wars, vampires, angels and demons, even the God of Death himself. All of my writing had Death in it some way or another, until eventually he became the main character of my most prized book series. Emily Dickinson’s poetry was plastered all over my bedroom walls, and I had my nose deep within novels in the school library that made my teachers uneasy. I insistently researched religions, their texts, anything I could get my hands on to explain what I was in fact afraid of.

I simply lost my mind, and spent years in the dark slowly piecing the fragments back together. The glue holding them in place is fragile, Dollar Store brand compared to Gorilla, but it does the job. It’s not something you just, bounce back, from. This is going to be a lifelong torment of mine, a nagging at the back of my mind that rears it’s head from time to time whenever I feel an odd pain, eat too much fast food in one sitting, or simply have time on my hands to kill.

I have come to accept this, though.

We have an understanding, Death and I, a relationship we have built over the last twenty years. I continue to fill my mind with distractions to keep the thoughts away while he sits in wait, timing the moments in between our encounters.

Sometimes, I crave the obsessive thoughts.

They make more sense than the ones grounded in reality.  


If You Don't Believe, It Can Hurt You

If God’s light should shine down upon me in my final hour, will I know it was his love embracing me?

Will skeletal hands reach through a black veil over tired eyes to place me among the stars in a never-ending universe?

Is it all just an empty void, a darkness that encroaches and takes our consciousness to store in a jar to be recycled later on?

Will my ethereal spirit roam the halls of an eclectic mansion, tapping on doors and windows to catch the attention of a mother who claims it is just the wind?

Where do we go after we die?

To faraway lands that the psyche has never traversed, where the sun shines all hours of the day, and the moon has lost its position?

Do cascading waterfalls with crystal clear floors lure us into a peaceful home, where angels strum harps and put Apollo to shame?

What if the gates of gold turn black, and the fall to oblivion ends with a nap amongst flames, where Lucifer dances to the sounds of the damned screaming?

What if all our Gods are false? What if they are stolen myths, ghosts of folklore’s past that we hold like souvenirs that only serve to buffer disappointment?

It is impossible to justify a proper end to our lives, a legacy that has yet to be told, but I am confident that when that time comes, I will feel as if I had always known.

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Angelina Bruno is a Senior Creative Writing BFA student. This is her first semester at Otterbein, and her first time sharing her work with the community. She has two cats named Percy and Gatsby who like to pitch in on her writing once in a while, and loves sushi and rock music.

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