Human mortality is a harsh reality that causes sentient life considerable discomfort. Since death is inevitable life can only be procrastination. Everyone does their best to drag their feet and push off the big day just a little bit longer. It is especially jarring to have to explain death to children. Many children learn about death through incremental experience.
The first time is when they are the most detached most likely it was a pet, beloved but with minimum emotional investment, It's this first encounter that shows them what it means to die but no effort will be made to explain to the child that they share the same unalterable fate. A few years later it will probably be an elderly relative, a grandparent and that’s when the inevitability of death will be addressed, and the developing child or adolescent will have either have to accept that truth or drive themselves to madness trying to deny it.
By the age of thirteen, this was the extent of Christopher’s experience with confronting mortality. His youthfully resilient psyche was perfectly able to reassure itself even if it would happen to him some day it was such a long way off why worry? In the minds of the young nothing is more abstract as the future.
That morning over breakfast Christopher’s mom noticed an obituary the text of which was accompanied by the thumbnail portrait of a cute teenage girl. The name seemed familiar, so her curiosity was peaked.
“Kelly Anne Schroeder,” she read the name in a ponderous tone. “Chris, isn’t that your friend Kyle’s sister?” She asked in a horrified tone.
Kyle had only been a Friend of Chris’s by proxy, a mutual friend if you will. He thought about it for a second. “Yeah I think so,” Chris acknowledged. “But how? she’s only like three years older than we are.”
“It doesn’t say,” replied his mother relieved she wouldn’t have to explain any one of the ways she assumed the teenage girl most likely died.
"Wow, that's crazy," said Chris unable to come with a more insightful response because he had never had the experience of losing a sibling.
“Didn’t Kyle say anything to you about it?” Asked his mother.
“We’re not really close friends or anything. I just know him through Josh,” replied.
“But doesn’t he live just three blocks over?” His mother asked as if this would somehow contradict the information he had just give.
“Yeah, something that like,” nodded Chris.
“Well, why aren’t you better friends with him then?!” Demanded his mother.
“I don’t know,” said Chris now visibly annoyed by the line of questioning.
“You know what I think since he lives so close it would be nice if you brought his homework to him until he’s ready to go back to school. Maybe then you guys can become better friends,” his mother gleefully suggested.
Chris wasn’t thrilled about going out of his way every day to carry textbooks to a household full of people in mourning. Every interaction was sure to be painfully awkward, but all the same, he figured it was a worthwhile gesture maybe not for the reasons his mother was considering but because it seemed like the decent thing to do.
It was 7 minutes before the bell and Chris was burning the last few minutes of the morning scrolling through his various social media feeds. He heard the desk next to him skid as someone settled into it.
It was Kyle. Chris hadn't expected to see him today. He discretely sized Kyle up to see what kind of engagement he might expect to have. Kyle didn’t appear saddened, despondent, or even shaken in any way. As usual, he took his binder and his book out of his backpack placed them on his desk and rested his elbows on them while he used his phone.
“Hey Kyle, what’s going on man?” Chris greeted him warmly.
“Kyle turned and glanced at Chris. “Not much, how’s your morning going?” He asked before turning his attention back to his phone.
“Good, good,” said Chris “Well except for what happened to you obviously,” he blurted out. Chris cringed when he realized how that had come out.
“What do you mean?” Kyle asked somewhat suspiciously.
Chris felt his heart cease to beat while his face contorted into a clenched-toothed squinty eyed recoil.
“About Kelly,” stammered Chris now suspecting he may have somehow managed to make an idiot out of himself.
“You think my sister is ‘dead” Chris?” Kyle asked putting up air quotes on the word dead.
“Didn’ she die yesterday?” Chris asked now feeling a peculiar mixture of embarrassment and confusion
“She didn’t “die”! She’s not “dead”!” Kyle said putting an emphasis on the words as if they were terms of degradation only someone would use only out malice or sheer ignorance.
“I, I’m sorry man I thought you knew,” pleaded Chris. “Belive me, man; I would never have said anything if I didn’t know…
“Look she just posted on my timeline,” Kyle said shoving his phone directly in Chris’s face. There was a new post on his timeline from his sister with a picture of them as small children playing tee ball.
“Hey, lil bro hope you have an awesome day! Go Willaims kids!” Was the first comment and it was posted by Kelly as well. It had garnered six more likes in the few seconds Chris was looking at it.
“But her obituary was in the paper,” said Chris.
“That’s not because she’s “dead,"" he huffed. “She’s gone A.D,” declared Kyle.
“A.D.?” repeated kyle
“All digital!” Kyle said visibly agitated.
“I’m sorry Kyle I don’t know what that is,” Chris apologized.
Kyle threw up his arms and rolled his eyes. “How ignorant are you?!” He demanded.
Chris was at a loss for words. “A.D. or all digital means she has decided to give up her physical body and just live through her online persona,” A classmate named Hannah explained as part of her sudden intervention into the conversation.
“What does that mean?” Chris asked
Hannah groaned “Ok, so this may not be something you can understand, but some people are born with extra sensitivity to pain. Rather than having to suffer every day they decide to live safely through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or tinder.”
“But she is dead through right?” Chris asked reluctantly.
“I’m not going to let say that about my sister!” Kyle said clenching his fist.
“Wow,” said Hannah leaving her mouth open to portray the apparent shock she had just experienced.
“The funeral is Saturday right?” Chris asked with his hands up to show he hadn’ intended any harm.
“I’m not letting you get away this. I’m going to tell Mr. Bilmer, and you’re gonna get suspended!” Kyle declared as he stormed off.
“Why do you think you get to decide what being “alive” means?” Hannah asked acidly.
Chris was pleading for understanding. “I’m sorry I thought she died. I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just going to ask if he was ok!”
“Typical,” replied Hannah in disgust.
Kyle had returned with the teacher and was pointing out Chris to the authority figure. Mr. Bilmer or Greg as he encouraged his students to call them was barely 15 years senior to the children he taught and was convinced that put him in a unique position to make them feel like they had real agency and independence while he still guided them developmentally.
“Chris Kyle says you said something insensitive about his sister’s less orthodox life choice?” The teacher asked in the manner of an investigator at a crime scene.
“I said I thought she was dead,” Chris explained
“He doesn’t even think anything's wrong with it either,” Hannah said condemningly.
“Look just because Kelly’s body no longer performs all the functions our society typically associates with “life” or being “a-live” doesn’ mean you can just invalidate her as a person,” Mr. Bilmer said sternly. “She is living the life she wants to lead through pre-written messages and Turing tested algorithms because that is better for someone with her condition!” the usually soft-spoken Mr. Bilmer thundered like a judge about to announce the most draconian sentence he could think of.
“That’s what I told him,” cried Hannah.
“I just thought if somebody died that meant they were dead!” Chris said hoping to finally put this to rest.
“You’re coming with me. I don’t tolerate hate speech in my class!” hissed Greg as he grabbed his pupil by the arm and lead him ou of the classroom.
“I’m sorry you had to go through that Kyle,” Hannah said regretfully.
Kyle sighed “I knew life would be different, but I didn’t know how difficult everything would really be.”
“Don’t worry Kyle you have your sister to look up to she knows what it means to be brave,” Hannah assured him.
“You’re right I’m going to make sure nobody every has to go what I went through,” Kyle triumphantly declared.
Such was the beginning of a campaign to ignore death out of existence. Just because someone had died didn't mean they weren't still living and to suggest otherwise was rude and oppressive.
Death became a lifestyle choice. People weren't gone they simply occupied a more limited existence. Who's to say life can't be just as much the aggregate of online interaction as it could be the sum of biological senses? The binary code could be manipulated to create files with visual and audio representations of a life being lived, and that worked for people who wanted nothing more than to forget one day they too would die.