Significant Death Loss Required
The application read: “Experience within the community preferred; personal experience with significant death loss required.” The emphasis is theirs, not mine.
I have lost a dog. Gone are two grandfathers and one grandmother. A close friend’s life was cut short in a motor accident. Many acquaintances over the years have died from disease. My mother and father are pushing seventy, but alive. I often worry about my brother and his barbiturate addiction. My sister takes the dash bus home from work late at night. Every night I check in to see if she has made it home safely. When she answers, she says she has, though occasionally I hear music or laughter coming from another room and I wonder whether she is home at all.
A Seat at the Table is a non-profit group that arranges dinner parties for those who have lost loved ones. The idea, from what I can tell, is a group of people get together to break bread, drink wine, and discuss their grief in a supportive and safe space. A worthy pursuit, to be sure. The goal of the group is to become as pervasive as Alcoholics Anonymous. “Pervasive” is their word, not mine. Pervasive? – like a creeping thistle or a common ragwort?
Alcoholics Anonymous is not exactly the sort of club one wants to belong to. Take it from one who knows. My present situation requires me to apply to at least one job every weekday in order to continue receiving my pathetic pittance of unemployment pay. And weekdays come around so often. I have been nothing and done nowhere for six months. Yet I am not altogether miserable. Only locked in my room do I feel the opposite of unraveled. I read most of the time. Still, in the throes of night, I understand such an idle life as mine cannot go on forever. An importunate drabness will surely swallow me up, if it has not already.
I continue onward to the application:
Would you describe yourself as a self-starter?
If the pay is right.
The physical requirements for the job are: Climb up and down stairs; bend, stoop, lift to move and retrieve; pull, push, lift; reach both above and below shoulder height. Are you able to fulfill these requirements?
Sure. Sounds like an aerobics class.
We’re a community who have each experienced significant death loss and we have dinner to talk about the ways in which death continues to affect our lives. What would you bring to the table at A Seat at the Table?
I certainly did not expect to be called for an interview. A warmth of fear filled my body. These days when the phone rings I feel immediate panic as if some ghost from my past is calling about a debt come due or my old parole officer is making a surprise visit. I have come a way from rock bottom. Not a long way, mind you, but a way.
With death as a prerequisite, I imagined what I would say if asked about my significant death loss. Would I lie or tell the truth? Must I rank the dead in order of the anguish I felt when they died? Usually at job interviews – the few and far between job interviews – I was concerned about whether I – that is, myself – was enough. Here, I would be putting my grief and sorrow on display to be scored and appraised. From that day until the day of the interview a feeling of naked dread, as if my heart were being clutched, never left me.
A week passed much more quickly than in childhood. The interview was at a local coffee shop because A Seat at the Table’s offices were being “gut renovated, ripped from wall to wall, limb to limb, cheek to cheek,” as a rather disturbing email in our correspondence phrased it. Minutes before the meeting I decided I did not need the job. I made peace with not getting by in life, but by getting lost. Time, by design, would take care of my situation. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, before I had the chance to flee, my interviewer sat before me.
My interviewer spoke about her father. At the time of her father’s death, she felt as if life, while moving on for everybody else, miraculously stood quite still for her. She became “cowardly and craven”, “timid and timorous”, “faint-hearted”, and lily-livered. “Lily-livered” was my addition. Isolated, alone, and with her equilibrium destroyed, it was not until she joined the group and commiserated with those who suffered similar losses that she felt the sudden reawakening of the world around her. It was as if a veil had been abruptly lifted and she could return to her former and better self. Her true self. She would not only seize the day but every hour.
I had the great sense that she’d rehearsed this many times and said all of it before. Amiable and smiling, she waited for my response. When it did not come, she asked me about my significant and irretrievable loss. I shuffled my feet and straightened my spine as she crisscrossed her arms.
I told my interviewer that when I was a child I was always getting into trouble. I always wanted to run away. I always had the same feeling a boy has when he wants to escape to the sea. I wanted to explore the world. This desire inside of me felt then so urgent, desperate, and incontrollable. The world appeared to be a puzzle, wider than wide, yet every inch discoverable and belonging. As I grew older, this need dissipated until it disappeared altogether. When I think of it now, I consider it a lost passion, not with nostalgia, but with a certain kind of resigned relief.
“Unfortunately,” my interviewer replied, “That is not the kind of loss we mean.”
Another, too brief, encounter.
Nedjelko Spaich is a Serbian-American writer living in Los Angeles and a graduate of Bennington College in Vermont. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Cagibi Literary Journal, Reflex Fiction, Los Angeles Review of Books, and LAist. He is a reader for Pidgeonholes. Find him on Twitter @Nedjelko or visit nedjelkospaich.com
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