I still remember the very moment when I became a Grim Reaper.
It was this past Thursday, November 5, at 8:45 PM, to be maybe more exact than is necessary. I had just run three miles and I was lying in my van in the Rice Stadium parking lot with my legs hanging out the back door, and I was listening to Jenny Hval’s Apocalypse, Girl, which was my favorite album in the whole world back in those days.
And all I wanted to do at that moment was to lie there and chill, listening to Jenny sing about Heaven and about wires and cunts, but my friend, Aesop, was in the front seat, smoking a joint and worrying about my dating life.
“I’m worried about your dating life,” he said.
“Don’t be,” I said. “I’m not.”
“It’s been more than three years since Dana,” Aesop said, unhelpfully. “Do you want to die alone?”
I wanted to say that we all die alone, because we do, but that would have only extended the conversation further and probably sent it down a quasi-existential rabbit hole to boot, so I didn’t. I knew how these things worked.
Outside the van, two students argued over how to make the stadium parking arm go up without putting in a card.
“What you need to do is to make a game out of dating,” Aesop said to me. “Tell yourself you’re going to go on dates with ten people and-”
I hadn’t been on dates with ten people in my life. I did not say that, however. Instead, I sang along with Jenny Hval: “Some days I feel like my body is straightened / Held up by thin braces / Metal spikes embrace my spine.”
This was back before I became a Grim Reaper.
Meanwhile, outside, it sounded as though the students were trying to push the parking arm up by hand and were failing at it, badly.
“How many Rice students does it take to exit a stadium parking lot?” I said.
And Aesop, well, he was not listening. Aesop was pushing forward with his grand plans for my dating life. “So you say you’re going to go on dates with ten people,” he said. “And at some point on each first date, you challenge yourself to – I don’t know – casually let drop that you’re Jack Nicholson’s illegitimate daughter. Or that you have a fused unborn triplet inside you who sometimes takes over.”
I paused Jenny.
I mean, hold the phone. Aesop was actually talking sense here! This was the kind of fantastic, profound life advice for which I kept Aesop around and stoned.
“Or I could tell her about the phenomenal Bowling Prevention Program that I’ve started,” I said. “More than one thousand kids saved from a life of fake sports leagues.”
Aesop crawled back from the front seat. “No-no-no!” he said. “You tell her, ‘Before we sleep together, you should know that I lost my right arm in an accident and this is a bionic arm with a synthetic skin covering’.”
I leapt to my feet, remembering to hunch over slightly to avoid hitting my head.
“Aesop!” I said.
“Yes?” Aesop said.
“I look her dead in the eyes. I tell her, ‘I’m just going to lay it all out on the table right up front.’ I say, ‘I am a Grim Reaper. My job is to collect the souls of the dying’.”
“Yes!” Aesop said.
Amidst all of this excitement, I jumped from the back of the van.
The two students walked by carrying the now-detached parking arm to their car.
I swung back around to face Aesop. He was still in the van. “Wait…” I said. “Can we just… make it five people? Are you going to be doing this, too?”
At this, Aesop got serious. He stepped down onto the parking lot. “Honey,” he said. “I am a gay man living in Houston. That wouldn’t be a challenge for me.”
He said, “I could get on Grindr this instant and find a dozen guys with Reaper fetishes in a three mile radius of here.”
And you know? The man had a point. Oh, to be a gay single man in this city.
I looked down for the play button on my phone but I was different now than I’d been when I hit pause moments before. I was a Reaper now.
As the car with the parking arm inside drove by me, I got down to celebrating this new life of mine, dancing and singing to the words of Jenny Hval:
“I understand why people want to be reborn.
I understand why people speak in tongues.
I understand why people want to feel newborn.
I understand that it’s the same as feeling unborn.”