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Your Great Journey

Lucas Sekiguchi is a queer, autistic writer who is currently working towards his psychologist's license. He has written for Spruke's experimental music albums, Music to Die Alone in Space To and the upcoming Pieces. He lives in the Seattle area with his husband, a cat, and an eclectic series of houseguests.

You died on your fifteenth birthday. As you sprawl on the couch a week later, you think that dying on your birthday might be the saddest thing you can think of. Your parents certainly aren't taking it well. Your mother hasn't been able to bring herself to return your presents, or even unwrap them, so they sit in a painfully festive pile in a corner of the living room.
"If only you'd lived to open them," your dad says. "We chose some great stuff for you this year. You would have loved it."
Your mother nods, and then buries her face in her hands. You go upstairs and lock yourself in your room.
The funeral is weird. There are many more people than you expected. You see classmates you've definitely never talked to. The minister says a few words about you; some are true, some sound like they were written about someone much nicer than you. Your best friend goes up to the podium but crumples to the floor in tears and has to be guided outside while you watch helplessly. When your parents speak, your throat tightens. They talk about how much they're going to miss you. You wave at them from where you sit in the front row. Your dad gives you a thin smile and waves back. Your mother stares straight ahead.
As everybody is filing out of the church, you catch up to your girlfriend. You reach for her hand but she steps back. "This isn't going to work," she says. "I can't cling to your memory forever." You start to tell her that you know it must be hard, but she turns away. "What do you know?" she demands, clenching her fists. "Have you ever lost someone you love more than anything?"
You admit that you haven't. All of your grandparents are alive and healthy. The family cat died when you were nine, but she was old and mean and never let you pet her. You've had very little experience with death until now.
Your girlfriend scowls at you. "Then don't act like you know how I feel." She stomps past you. You see your parents approach her and comfort her. Her family is not around, as usual, so your parents offer her a ride home. You watch them drive away.
It's a long way home from the church. No one is waiting at the bus stop when you get there, and no one joins you. Death makes people uncomfortable. After the third bus passes by without stopping, you start to walk.
When you finally get home you find that your parents have already boxed up your things. "We read that it's important not to keep your dead child's room as a shrine," your dad explains. "It's not healthy." You sleep on the bare bed for a couple of weeks, until they take it out and turn the room into a home office. You get your pillow and blanket out of storage and put them on the floor.
One evening, shortly after the funeral, you and your dad take a walk to your graveside. Your classmates have scattered notes and flowers on the grassy surface. You see your favorite jacket, soggy with rain, draped over your headstone. You had been wondering where that went.
You look at your dad, who is staring at the grave with his hands balled into fists. He's been looking older since you died. He didn't hunch over like this before, or shuffle when he walked. He looks a little bit dead himself.
"Damn it!" Your dad drops to his knees and doubles over, as if hit by a sudden blow. "I had so many dreams for you!" You start to reach for him and then hesitate, your hand hanging in the space between you. Finally you let it drop. "I thought you were going to be a doctor," he continues, "or make great scientific discoveries. You had so much potential. You were really going to be someone. And instead, you're dead."
You tell him that you can be someone, that you will be someone. But doubt creeps in.
Some of your dead friends are watching you from a distance. You wave uncomfortably. Some of their parents have stopped visiting their graves. Your dad sees them and stands up quickly, casually brushing the grass from his knees. "Go on then," he says. "I know you want to be with them."
You hate to admit it, but he's right. Your dead friends understand. You even met a cute dead girl who likes the new you. They all know you didn't mean to hurt anybody. You didn't mean to make people sad. That just happens when you die.
You and your friends begin staying out all night. You roam the city and do whatever you want. You had hoped your parents would be concerned, but instead they seem relieved.
Months pass. You still long to be close to home but nowhere feels like home anymore. One day, as you wander into your parents' house just before sunrise, your dad is waiting in the living room. He sits you down.
"I think it's time for you to go," he says. "Holding onto this tragedy isn't helping anyone. Maybe if you're not hanging around every day as a reminder, your mom will start to get better. Eventually."
You get up and turn to go, and your dad stops you. "Hey," he says. "You know I'll always love you. You don't stop loving your kid just because they die." He hugs you and you collapse onto his shoulder. "You'll always be in my heart," he says. "Just not in my house."
You walk out and stand on the lawn, looking at the mountains edged with gold. You think you hear church bells. The street is empty except for your elderly neighbor, who has paused in his morning stroll to watch you. You start walking without looking back. Your neighbor takes his hat off as you pass. Behind you, a dog begins to howl and doesn't stop.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, August 17th, 2018

Author Comments

"Your Great Journey" started as an homage to the Handsome Family song of the same name, but quickly took on a spirit of its own as the theme connected with painful personal experiences. It is my first professionally published story and my favorite thing I've written so far. I owe thanks to the work of Kelly Link, whose exquisitely weird dream-logic stories have been under my skin since childhood.

- Lucas Sekiguchi
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