I am everyone that has ever been, everyone that ever will be. I was there at the birth of the first, and will be there to collect the last. People believe it is a mother that gives life, but it is not as simple as that. Mothers bring the body, but it is me that gives life, in that I bestow death. I am the dead and all of those who are yet unborn.
I wait now to collect a man—old enough to have lived well, but younger than seems reasonable. I wait for him, just beyond his awareness, and watch as he breathes himself closer to me, calling me to collect him with each struggling breath—in and out, in and out. I remember the day I gifted him with death, the day of his birth. I remember the look on his mother’s face as she cradled him in her arms, begging the nurses not to take him away until later, always later.
They always want more time, whether it be for them or for those they are leaving behind. This man has done well; he has loved fully and made friendships that burrow deep inside of his heart. He has touched souls, and lived properly enough for cherished memories, lessons, and regrets. No life is complete without all three, and each with a weight to balance the others, to remind the person of the value of their own life.
For my kind, there is such sadness in birth. What was once a part of me is then stripped away and given life, only to return whenever it is full, when it is changed and become more than I held. For this reason there is joy in the death, in the collection of souls taken from me now to be returned.
It is a beautiful experience.
I come for each person. I come for them as the person deepest in their hearts, for I am everyone they have ever known, adored or hated, feared or admired. I come as the dead they have missed and the living they cannot bear to leave behind. I come as the deepest person to them, whether they love that person or loathe them. Each person has but one and that one is a secret even to me until the moment I must collect.
If your deepest emotion is regret or fear or hatred, I will come to you as that. I will bring death as you feel you deserve it at the very bottom of your soul. For some, it is a dream come true, for others, it is torment, but in the very end, it is private and it is each person’s own secret I wear to greet them.
I do not know who I shall be until he is ready, and so I watch him as his family sits beside his bed. They believe he is unconscious, that he does not know they are with him. They feel as though he is already gone, but I know the truth. I see him lingering behind, holding on to the wife he loved more than anyone, the son he could not be more proud of, the daughter he cherishes so much he can hardly stand to leave her behind.
He worries that this will break the beautiful person she is just blooming into. He worries for the boy that sits in the man that is his son, and he worries for the wife that has never had to be without someone who loved her. For this reason, he waits and listens to the sounds of them waiting and wishes, as they all do, for more time.
As worried as he is, he is not afraid of death.
He has lived with death his entire life long, lost so many people dear to him that memories and stories are the most valuable of all of his possessions. He holds his words as though they are jewels and weaves his yarn with the precarious nature of a carpenter working his tools.
The people he has lost stir inside of me. There are many who long to be back with him—a mother, a father, grandparents, friends. They are not still in waiting, but shuffle like the wind rattling leaves.
He is barely breathing. The string that holds him to his body is decaying, unwinding as he waits. I watch, ready. My moment is coming. I am taking form. I can feel the world stirring around me, the restless eyes of thousands of souls peering out from my own until the right eyes come forward, and I am brought to a single being.
It is his person, the person deepest in his heart, the only person who would take him away from this. It is his brother, gone for over half of his life and still the one person he can turn to when he is unsure, when he is scared.
I am his brother. I remember the smell of a shared bedroom, the sound of a basketball against the pavement, the smell of Mother’s pasta from the kitchen. She never could cook, but we didn’t mind. We made it through everything as we always had: with laughter. We laughed through our hard times just as well as our joyous times.
I smile at my brother, put my hand upon the shoulder of his spirit and sigh. There are no words for what we must leave behind, only the emotion that lies in a shared gaze as we step forward together and become one.
—Katharine Samberg has been writing since recess of the second grade, everything from poetry to screenplays and novellas. She is an enthusiastic book lover known for her voracious appetite and ability to read while walking and driving – though she fortunately now commutes via subway. Though this is her first published work, she is eager to get more involved with the literature community and considers the written word the greatest of human accomplishments. She’s a dedicated social worker who lives in Brooklyn with her two beloved cats and fiancé.