Thirteen years ago, I would have told you that I would live forever. I would remain unchanged, building castles with my LEGOS and watching Saturday morning cartoons. Back then, time used to stand still; it was a time when everyone’s eyes were watching me grow up and become big and strong, while I pretended not to notice. Aging was beneath me while dying was past my concern.
One day I was taken to a Chinese cemetery down in New York City to honor my family’s ancestors. At the age of five, honoring an ancestor meant a day’s worth of boredom. To counter this boredom, my brother and I created a game where points were scored for hitting gravestones with a tiny pebble. While my folks were paying homage, my brother and I were committing sacrilege.
I would later learn that the Chinese are a very superstitious people, especially the Buddhists. That day, I asked my parents why some people were placing brown pieces of paper on top of the gravestones. “They’re giving money to the dead so that they can buy whatever they want in heaven.” Well, my brother and I stole this “money” so we could create airplanes that sailed through the cool breezy air. We ended our day of fun with sweet buns and tiny cakes that melted in our mouths.
Two years later, I lost my immortality to a dead man in a funeral parlor. My family was attending a wake that day, and my brother and I were too sacred to sit in a room and stare at a dead guy for hours on end. There was a poorly lit waiting room nearby that smelled of incense and embalming, but it was the perfect place to twiddle my thumbs and stare at statues of chubby Buddhas rubbing their portly bellies.
I saw a little boy that day who was dressed in a black suit wearing an armband made of black construction paper. He looked so upset, but I did not understand why. I figured that the incense was making him nauseous just as it was doing to me. Moments later my mother came in and grabbed me by the arm, so naturally, I tried escaping her grasp. Little boys are always embarrassed to be dragged behind by their mothers, and I was no exception. She said to me, “Geoffrey, I want you to see someone who was very dear to me.” Before I had time to react, there he was, just lying there. I could only see a glimpse of him so my mother pushed me to the very edge of the coffin.
Cradled inside was a very old man who looked like he was made out of melted wax. His eyes were closed, but his unseeing gaze seemed to penetrate my soul. His cheeks sagged, his eyelids drooped, his mouth hung slightly open, and his lips were bloated. For the next minute, I stared with my jaw dropped, taking in all of his details, horrified at what I would see next. The body was squeezed together in such a way that it seemed a straight jacket was underneath the black funeral suit, making the face all that more prominent. He begged for me to come closer, but I did not dare, afraid that I might fall in and never come back out.
Everyone around me was crying their hearts out save for me, baffled by this man who would not wake up from his plush mattress. Then I realized that this old man would never wake up and seize me by the arm. He would never again have the chance to throw pebbles at tombstones, or make paper airplanes out of brown pieces of paper. His slumber would be eternal, while I stood there, eyes transfixed on his preserved corpse.
Death had finally introduced itself to me, stripping me of my innocence and immortality. I could no longer ignore death while visiting a cemetery nor live forever in a fairy tale. That day my life was given direction, a meaning. I wanted to be loved by many just like the old man. I wanted to be remembered for who I was and what I did with my life, so that one day I could rest in peace without a worry on my face.