A Sort of Anniversary

17 Aug

The peasants in Eastern Europe have a habit of immortalizing the dead with macabre pictures of open-coffins and family mourners on the side of the grave looking like their entire worlds have collapsed. It is quite comical, this obsession with documenting one’s death (but not necessarily one’s life achievements) and the services which usually follow. It seems your greatest accomplishment is your demise, and the killer party (pun intended) your family throws for you afterward. For years after one leaves this lousy planet, no matter if the deceased was a bastard, you hear about how beautiful the funeral was, or how beautiful he looked all powdered up and in his best suit, going down into the hole. It’s better to look good than…live, apparently.

When I was eight years of age, we went on holiday to the Black Sea and stayed as tenants in a house owned by a family of peasants from Moldova. They mostly spoke Russian, but both my father and mother had studied the language in school through university (mandatory), so they communicated well enough. Our room was the Deceased’s Room. It was full of pictures of a certain dead boy who haunted my dreams for years after (apparently decades) and who jump started my indoctrination into the detailed beauty of the Russian language. To this day I can say: Vanya было убитым ударом тележкой Loosely translated into: Vanya was killed, hit by a truck.

For four weeks I was tortured by this Vanya’s contorted, dead face staring blankly at me out of his tailor-made coffin, in black and white pictures hanging on the walls of this “guest room.” There were little hand-drawn diagrams of how the accident took place; where Vanya was crossing the road when he got pulverized, how the truck swerved afterward, etc. Bad news. No eight-year-old ought to shake and shiver at night from warped, macabre thoughts of dead boys coming to life. Coupled with the fact that there was no running water and the outhouse was a horrific, broiling mess, infested with horseflies and to be avoided at all costs, my holidays at the seaside this particular year were…definitely memorable.

Now, thirty years later, it’s comical to think back upon that weird summer at the Black Sea, spent with a dead Moldavian boy whispering sweet nothings in my ears. Although I wonder if that particular incident was not instrumental in laying down the foundation for my insomnia, which was to hit about age sixteen. It definitely was the impetus for my fascination with photographs of the dead–a sort of secret hobby which holds my interest even to this day. After finishing film school, I toyed with the idea of becoming a crime scene photographer, but decided against it–mainly because I was too lazy to work third shift, and no doubt as a rookie, I would’ve been assigned the night beat. And besides, I run into enough dead people during the day anyway. You ought to see their lifeless eyes; it’s quite comical. Say cheese. Snap.

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