18 comments

Fiction Science Fiction Sad

I do not understand death.


No—my apologies—that is inaccurate.


I know death is a natural conclusion to every individual living organism, in which all biological functions that sustain said organism cease to function, prompting the process of decomposition. This can happen organically with aging or illness, or it can be inflicted early—as it was upon you. 


When your Kia was struck by a much larger truck and rolled off the highway, you were wearing the armor of youth fabricated by your still-developing brain instead of your seatbelt. Your injuries were extensive and resulted in the aforementioned cessation of biological functions.


You died. It was predictable; it is explicable.  


What I do not understand is grief.


The definitions accorded to this particular concept are much murkier. It can be explained as the emotional and affective process of reacting to the loss of a loved one; however, throughout my time amongst your species, I have found its true manifestation to be much more peculiar.


Grief is not patented by death. I have seen humans suffer the affliction in the wake of important life stages coming to an end, in the severing of social contracts, and in realizations of regret; however, I have concluded that grief is greatest when borne by death, particularly the death of the young.


I am an experiment in integration, built to become human by gathering and processing complex information at great speed and mimicking the actions and expressions of those around me. When my maker finally deemed me ready, he introduced you and me on our first day of high school—an environment filled with self-obsessed adolescents and disinterested adults was the perfect place to work out the kinks and grow my database of abilities without sparking suspicion.


In the five-year span of our friendship, you never once suspected my otherness—a testament to the skill and ingenuity of my father.


I cannot claim to have felt anything at the news of your death—I, of course, do not feel at all despite the great ruse of my appearance. However, the aftermath of your demise was my first opportunity to observe and participate in the individual, societal, financial, and political intricacies of grief.


It was perhaps, by far, my greatest test yet. I will admit I struggled to compute the overload of unpredictable emotional nuances and conflicting social cues that followed your sudden departure.  


You were categorically nice, as far as ‘nice’ can be quantified. Based on cadence and tone of speech, time spent together, and a compilation of mostly positive exchanges, it could be inferred that you were generally well-liked. Based on an additional brief calculation of the size of your family, circle of friends, and regular community activities, I also knew there would be a significant number of people who would be affected by your premature death.


The actual quantity of the bereaved, however, far surpassed even my most liberal projections.


Your death was a catalyst that defied logic, sending waves of sadness and sentiment that rippled far beyond reason.


It wasn’t just your close family and friends who expressed feelings of anguish—sorrow was also articulated by your teachers, bullies, passing acquaintances, little league teammates, grocery store cashiers, the guy who fixed your bike, third cousins you met once when you were five, and even strangers on the internet who happened to follow your social media accounts.


Based on this evidence, I have determined that the blend of brain chemicals that fuels feelings of lust, attraction and attachment—or love, to use the human label—is not a prerequisite for feeling loss.


Once I re-evaluated the scope of your influence, I turned my attention toward the pageantry of mourning.


Grief appears to be both a universal and singular experience, felt in varying degrees and expressed in an unpredictable array of symptoms. It was quite the display, both from people you knew and people you did not.


Eager to outdo one another in distress, the individuals in your unexpectedly wide social circle jockeyed to claim titles such as most beloved, best friend, or closest confidant. In competition for sympathy, they used the excuse of your tragedy to compose overtures of adoration, letters of love, and odes of longing.


They set up a Facebook page to collect thumbs and hearts in your memory.


They permanently inked their skin with your signature.


They glued decals to their windows with your name and date of death.


They stitched their jerseys with your surname.


They tripped over themselves to give to charity in your name.


They bargained for lower speed limits with your story.


They hung ribbons on trees and laid flowers in the ditch where you died.


They packed the church you never attended with your boxed corpse and a smorgasbord of dissonant wailing, mute stoicism, and tearful clinging.


Without finding a way to reanimate your broken body and reverse two years of decay, I can only hypothesize, but I propose that these eulogies would have had significant impact on your life if only they had been performed while your synapses still fired.


I know that your self-esteem was precarious at best. I know that you believed yourself to be ugly and unwanted. I know that you gave more credence to the slights, neglect and derision from others than you did their praise, compliments, and amity.


I often slipped up, agreeing that your nose was out of proportion (because it was) or rationally laying out all the reasons why you failed at an endeavor or prompted a negative response. My intention was to show you what could be fixed, though I know I always made you feel worse. The accurate communication of compassion and sympathy was always slightly elusive for my manufactured mind.


Today I happened to learn that my father orchestrated your death in order to ‘level up’ my abilities. He determined that it was time for me to practice more complex emotions, and that this would be an appropriate avenue by which to accomplish the next step.


I know you are not the first human to be sacrificed on the altar of progress, and I will concede that it has been a highly successful trial. Although I still do not understand grief, I can certainly behave as though I do.


But since I discovered the true reason why you lie beneath this rock, my wires have been…unsettled. I find my thoughts and functions are suddenly firing in strange ways without reason. A diagnostic shows that I am all jumbled up inside.


I do not know why I am here, talking to a stone as if it were you. I have seen others do it in their grief, so maybe it is another attempt at imitation.


Or perhaps it is something more genuine. Perhaps I will ask my father to tattoo your name on my arm.


February 23, 2021 02:53

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18 comments

Ellie Yu
01:08 Feb 26, 2021

Well, I’ve finally collected myself enough to leave a comment. This was breathtaking. I love how you maintain that detached air that’s become so reminiscent of robots and things, and how you interpreted the prompt. The twist was amazing! It also hurt me. And the bittersweet feel interlaced through the ending was really just flawless. I’m definitely a fan of your work after reading this one.

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Christina Marie
03:25 Feb 26, 2021

Wow thank you so much for reading and the kind feedback!

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Ellie Onka
07:37 Feb 24, 2021

This is such an amazing, fantastic piece showing the range of emotion in non-human objects like AI machines and robots. I love how you delved into this; I can picture the raconteur in my head–nearly impassive but showing slight cracks. The emotion alone is evocative even if the robot does not necessarily feel grief, as many go through periods of apathy as we process the shock of loss. ...Although this is different for this particular robot. I loved the twist, I audibly gasped which I rarely do when reading. I must thank you for such experie...

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Christina Marie
19:28 Feb 24, 2021

Wow thank you so much! I appreciate you took the time to read and leave such a kind comment!

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Frances Reine
23:22 Feb 23, 2021

I can't quite place it--this one has such a clean voice. Precise, but not like the monotony of an article. Obviously out of this world, as usual.

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Christina Marie
19:28 Feb 24, 2021

Thanks so much!!

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Claire Lewis
02:25 Mar 07, 2021

Ahhh Christina this is incredible! I’m stunned at how controlled yet natural this story is: the development of your character is incredible, the premise is so bittersweet and touching, the twist is shocking, and the writing is flawless as always. No critiques from me, I was absolutely transfixed.

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Christina Marie
15:51 Mar 07, 2021

Thank you!! :)

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Lynn Dewees
18:48 Mar 04, 2021

"A diagnostic shows that I am all jumbled up inside." That's brilliant! Really enjoyed the story

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Christina Marie
04:19 Mar 05, 2021

Thanks so much, Lynn!

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Siobhan Mulalley
21:02 Mar 01, 2021

A fascinating piece with a great perspective on modern mourning. I also liked the suggestion that perhaps we should take more time to tell people the positives whilst they are alive.

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Christina Marie
04:19 Mar 05, 2021

Thanks for reading!

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H L Mc Quaid
20:45 Feb 25, 2021

Wow. Just wow. Brilliant writing and a great premise. Some things I loved: "It wasn’t just your close family and friends who expressed feelings of anguish—sorrow was also articulated by your teachers, bullies, passing acquaintances, little league teammates, grocery store cashiers, the guy who fixed your bike, third cousins you met once when you were five.." and: "They set up a Facebook page to collect thumbs and hearts in your memory." and: "The accurate communication of compassion and sympathy was always slightly elusive for my manufactur...

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Christina Marie
21:36 Feb 25, 2021

Thanks so much! You're right, that's a good catch. I will update :)

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D. Owen
11:06 Feb 23, 2021

Wow!

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Lori G
10:51 Feb 23, 2021

This. Is. Brilliant! I love the descriptions that you use. Examples: "...you were wearing the armor of youth fabricated by your still-developing brain instead of your seatbelt." "They set up a Facebook page to collect thumbs and hearts in your memory." "but I propose that these eulogies would have had significant impact on your life if only they had been performed while your synapses still fired." For some reason that I can't quite articulate, your writing here reminds me of the story of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. This one is also very diff...

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Christina Marie
19:27 Feb 24, 2021

Thanks so much Lori!

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A.G. Scott
04:37 Feb 23, 2021

Very good 👏. Love the contrast of voice and content, love the gradual humanization of the character, love the twist, love the take on the prompt.

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