No one and nothing can prepare you for it. All the so-called experts are wrong. They don’t know a damn thing about it. How could they? It’s different for every one of us.


Cue the fire and brimstone and malevolent music and the devil with his pitchfork. Right? Wrong. On all counts.

I didn’t think I was a bad person who deserved damnation. I never murdered anyone or embezzled funds or committed armed robbery or drowned kittens. I was no Mother Teresa or Padre Pio and I made no efforts to volunteer or make regular donations to worthwhile causes and, yes, my candor could be considered cruel, but I guess there’s really no point in rehashing my life.

None of that matters anymore. Hell is where I ended up.

I never put much stock in religion despite my parents’ best efforts to raise me as a Catholic. We went to church every Sunday and they forced me to go to CCD. I don’t even remember what CCD stands for. Maybe I never knew.

Just had a good laugh trolling through the annals of time to find out; possibly Charge-Coupled Device or Cash Concentration and Disbursement or, my personal favorite, Colony Collapse Disorder. Based on the agony of attending those classes, all of them are strangely apropos if you really stop to think about it. But apparently in the context of Catholicism, CCD stands for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Like that means anything to a child.

I guess religion is as good a means as any to teach a kid right and wrong, good versus evil. A way for parents to rely on someone else to scare the shit out of their children to keep them in line and for the church itself to ensure the cash will continue flowing generation after generation by literally putting the fear of God into us so we can’t possibly live without their guidance. Cha-ching forever. Amen. I think Nietzsche may have gotten it right.

Way off topic now. It’s odd how time loses all relevance and it’s just so easy to get sidetracked here, even though it’s impossible to get sidetracked here.

When I died, there was no great fanfare. No previously deceased relatives and friends waiting to greet me. No angels or demons leading me this way or that. No review of the good and bad deeds I’d done to determine my fate. No reincarnation as a dung beetle. No land of the remembered. No eternal oblivion … some part of me remains.  

What I recall is that something or someone pulled me out of my dying body. Was it my soul being removed? I don’t know. I still feel like me, but do I have a body? Do I look the same as I did when I died? Or when I was born? Or the day I looked my absolute best or worst during my life? I really don’t know, and it doesn’t seem to matter much.

One second, I could feel pain, hear the machines keeping me alive and the assorted noises of the hospital around me. The next, all that vanished. I was in a void. Not black, not white. No color or scenery at all and it certainly didn’t feel as if I were confined in any way. It also didn’t feel like I was falling or flying or walking or sitting. I just was.

After a few minutes or days or years or centuries or eons, I became fully aware of myself, of my thoughts. And I knew, without a shadow of a doubt I was in hell. My own personal hell.

I never amounted to much in my life. Never tried to use my talents, was too afraid of failure to take chances. Call me a never was.

Now I’m doomed to watch myself at critical points in my life. Times and dates that could have changed everything. I watch myself to see the outcomes of making different choices, only to have them disappear like smoke in the wind … again and again and again.

There I am letting someone in, rather than pushing them away. Marriage, children, and grandchildren. Sunny days chasing my grandkids around the back yard and flying brightly colored kites. Family Christmas dinners and weddings and funerals and love and happiness like I never imagined were possible. So beautiful and it could have been my life. But it wasn’t and it never will be.

I’m writing the great American novel. It’s a best seller and I’m rich and famous and living in a fabulous mansion. Awards and accolades. Then I’m back in my ratty little apartment, writing bits and pieces of stories I never finish and never let anyone read.

I study medicine and become a world-renowned surgeon saving lives. My life work is challenging and important and truly life changing for my patients. And then I nearly faint at the sight of blood.

I travel the world and have friends in countries far and wide. I take photos of people and exotic animals and places and make a fortune selling them to magazines and celebrities. My photographs hang in museums and I’m widely praised and sought after. Then I’m admiring a picture of a bee on a flower I took in the park around the corner as I pin it to my bulletin board at work.

My hell is always being on the outside looking in. Always seeing what I could have been, all I could have done. The difference I could have made in the world. If I’d only had the courage to try. If only I’d taken more chances.

It’s thrilling to see what I could have accomplished. It’s agonizing knowing I wasted my life and it’s devastating watching the woulda, coulda, shouldas materialize and vanish. I think of myself as a nomad crossing the vast desert of my life looking for the fabled oasis that can never be found.

As the minutes or days or years or centuries or eons have passed, I’ve tried to distract myself from the millions of better case scenarios I could have lived. Might seem stupid or like a waste of time to you, but when you watch all that you could have been, but never will be, playing out in front of you for all eternity, anything you can do to escape it for even a second seems worthwhile.

My latest attempt to bury my shame and remorse for failing myself has been to write in abecedarian in my head; the first sentence starts with A, the next with B and so on. I’ve even gotten to the point of sometimes forcing myself to have the first and last words of the sentences start with whatever letter I’m on just so I must concentrate harder.

A deep breath of fresh, spring air that smells of earth and rain is exhaled as she strolls through her yard toward the arbor.

Beautiful tulips in shade of pink, purple, yellow and red sway in the breeze.

Crocuses crouch beneath them clamoring for their share of the patchy sunlight that peeks through the clouds.

Dew drops fall from the blooms onto the soil last night’s storm left drenched.

Evenly spaced rows of daffodils, in every shade of yellow, catch her eye.

Following her favorite heavenly scent, she pauses only briefly to take in the delicate white freesias that are just starting to flower.

Grape hyacinths wait their turn to catch her gaze.

Her hand reaches out to pluck a weed that’s managed to take hold.

Irises stand tall behind the other plants, their blooms set to open imminently.

Just as the breeze brings the heavenly scent back into focus, she wonders yet again what the difference is between daffodils and jonquils.

Knowing that so many of the flowers were originally given to her as gifts from friends and family always brings a sense of well-being, nostalgia, and kindness.

Lingering over the beauty around her, she slowly turns full circle as shafts of sunlight poking through the clouds highlight areas here and there making the flowers they touch even more luminous.

More beautiful blooms await her as she continues toward the arbor, just as the formal name for grape hyacinths pops into her head – muscari.

But when you’re in hell, pretty little prose like this seems too sweet, too lovely and contentment isn’t allowed. Each of my attempts at such serenity is fleeting and I can never seem to recall the words when I’m done because they aren’t real, just like the versions of my life I’m endlessly forced to endure.

The distractions in my head that mirror my real life I’m allowed to remember, but they become an infuriating background noise, a sound track if you will, to the ‘Me I Could Have Been’ never-ending movie marathon and I wish I’d never thought of them, but once I have they never leave me.

Another boring day in my life draws to a close. Better to hope tomorrow will be the start of great things than to plan on it being the same old, dull bullshit yet again.

Considering that I’ve never really faced a true hardship, what the hell do I have to complain about anyway?

Doesn’t it seem ironic that all throughout school, they work so hard to convince you that education makes a difference and will prepare you for a bright and wonderful future?

Erroneous, seriously hypocritical crap they spew at us class after class, day after day and year after year, as we in our ‘wish we were anywhere else’ stupor somehow do believe it will all eventually make a difference in our lives.

Forgetting it is impossible because it’s been repeated so often that it has become ingrained in our very psyches. Getting the dubious double-dose in the form of religion and education is about the most prevalent brain washing scenario on the planet.

Hadn’t been inside a church for more than a dozen years when my dad died and the minute his funeral mass started I was regurgitating every prayer, every response and the words to every song like I’d never missed a Sunday mass in my life.

I often wonder if everyone else feels like this or if I am the only one damaged enough to want to blame church and state for my lot in life.

Just because I got good grades throughout school, went to church regularly, and followed the rules, should I be entitled to a happy, productive, useful, bright, and wonderful life?

Kinesis is the movement of an object in response to some kind of stimulus so is my lack of movement toward my goals, my dreams, my brilliant future the result of my own inactivity or because I’m no longer part of the educational and religious communities that dominated my youth by providing stimuli ad nauseam?

Lingering hopes still try to drive me onward when they manage to get my attention every now and again.

My shattered self-esteem doesn’t help matters.

Now that I’ve passed the milestone birthday that clearly establishes I’m closer to the end of the road than I am to the beginning of it, a tug-of-war is developing between the part of me that wants desperately to leave a positive legacy and the part of me that’s given up hope of ever being anything more than insignificant.

Oh, I did have potential and I’ve definitely pissed it away.

Perhaps never really chasing your dreams is the saddest thing of all. Quite an awful reality really, when you fully understand your lot in life is down to you.

Realization brings regret and regret delivers bitterness and hopelessness.

So, you try to warn your kids, your nieces, and your nephews, all of whom still have that shiny penny, the world is my playground and I’ll never be like you, glow about them. They politely pretend to listen while, not so discreetly, counting the seconds until they can escape from your life-sucking presence.

Utopia or dystopia, I don’t think either really exists; real life is always somewhere in between these two extremes. Variations on the theme are as endless as they are pervasive.

Whenever things start looking up, something always happens to knock you back down, but that’s normal for everyone, right? Xanax can only dull the pain for a little while.

You must get up again and again and again and force yourself to move forward every single minute of every single day.

Zealously approaching each new day is the only way to truly pursue happiness and secure that bright and wonderful future, isn’t it?

While I try to think of happy, light, and joyful things, it’s only these dark, oh poor me distractions that remain. It is part of my eternal punishment or it is because it’s what I believed when I was alive and reflects how I lived my life?

Either way, these distractions are my constant companions, adding to my ever-growing misery and despair.

September 19, 2020 01:38

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J Smith
22:50 Sep 25, 2020

You have a good sense of voice and the prose device within the story is a nice touch. Maybe as an experiment, it would be interesting to see how the story would read with some restructuring. For example, if the story would cut back and forth more with the different versions of the protagonists life that they are witnessing. This could break up what seems almost to be stream of consciousness and bookend major sections of the character's self-reflection. There is, however, one point I would like to nitpick. I think definitions belong in dictio...


PK Spice
02:00 Sep 26, 2020

Thanks for taking the time to read the story and for your detailed comments. I appreciate the feedback.


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Nandan Prasad
05:44 Sep 20, 2020

This is a great story! The prose addition is a wonderful touch. Keep writing!


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