Memento Mori

staglieno-664597_1280This Samhain season I am reminded of a night not too long ago when I was afraid of a Dead Girl, the young Victorian I’d seen earlier in the day while doing research. She was pictured in perfect resolution, frozen in time at the point of her passing, eyes fixed in an empty stare. Early photography was never crystal clear because the living moved – a shiver, a sniffle, a sigh – during the long exposure times required for those early photo ops. However, the recently dead who were sometimes featured alongside their living family appeared in perfect resolution. The contrast captured in those old images is surreal and quite stunning. And so it was that I saw the Young Dead Victorian Girl and she seemed to see me. I couldn’t sleep for hours that night. I told myself that I wasn’t afraid, that I was just enjoying a game of 2048 at 3 in the morning for no particular reason, but that was a lie of course. Eventually I set the game aside and laid my head down on the pillow despite my fear, but the Dead Girl lay next to me, ice cold and staring, as if asking me to part the veil between life and death and join her in final rest.

She was young and beautiful, and quite over. Her hollow eyes a testament to the fact that the lights had gone out in her before anyone was able to fully know the soul that lived there. She was not a shade who had come to terrorize me, but she was my own mind’s most recent projection of mortal fear. Her haunting photographic memorial was my memento mori. As I tossed and turned in bed I worked to shatter my own fear of dying without having “really lived”, whatever that means.

With firm intent I confronted the hollow-eyed, pale Dead Girl. I grew larger in the process and, with the building righteous indignation, I became part human and part serpent. I coiled and quaked, allowing my mounting might to affirm my living, breathing being in that moment. To quote a random bit of a Star Trek Voyager episode, “I wrestled my tremors to rages”. I transformed my fearful bedtime thrashing into a courageous banishing of my own terror. Half human, half-serpent, and writhing I shouted, “How dare you emerge to terrorize me? I alone am the thing that roves the inner dark!”

With that admonition the Young Dead Victorian Girl was gone, and immediately I felt Hekate’s embrace. She lifted me into dream and showed me the way to another place, whispering all the while: “Now we can begin.”

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