Right before he hanged himself, my friend Arron typed a final status update on Facebook. His missive was notable for its bilingual pith: “Adios, my loves.” Moments later came the first response: “Where are you going, handsome?”
Arron suffered from addiction via a self-loathing undoubtedly facilitated by the mother who immediately swooped in to steal his valuables, burn his body, and toss the bits into the Hudson. A few weeks earlier, Arron creepily told my friend Dan that he’d tried to kill himself twice and the third time he ”wouldn’t fail.” Dan endeavored to lighten the mood with positivity, to pooh-pooh the pity.
When news spread that the third time was indeed the charm, Dan and those in whom Arron confided felt massive guilt for not having done more to stop the self-destruction. Others felt miserable that he didn’t reach out so they could attempt to save him. I know this because it’s all there, archived on his Facebook wall.
Sometimes Facebook heaven sends me a surprise update. Do you think Arron wears underwear? Another friend (who died of an aneurysm) is continually tagged by a former flame in travel photos like the globetrotting ghost of a garden gnome. Still another friend is dead from a GHB overdose but keeps popping up — he’s a mutual fan of Richard Dawkins! Recently, a Farmville pig wandered onto his property.
Nobody is resting in peace anymore. The suicide, the aneurysm, the overdose. Distilled into how they died because their pages are a persistent reminder they are dead, not of how they made me feel alive. I’d like to believe a legacy is in memories made, not the unintended irony of a last status update. Not in a ghastly, never-ending funeral procession like Alzheimer’s or Amy Winehouse.
I love to remember my friends, but not this new element of surprise. Type a message and his name appears as a suggested recipient. I’m sorry, Arron, now is not a good time for me! Fuck off, because today I’m angry. Stephen Hawking is trapped inside of a black hole and you couldn’t see the light?
Facebook is the modern-day mausoleum, only now it is mobile. The mausoleum can travel to you, posing a digital age moral dilemma: Do you delete the dead ones? Faces, photos, their writing is on the wall. How can you click “unfriend”?
Cleaning, I find an old postcard from my long-gone grandmother, and it’s not a pretty postcard. WTF was she doing in El Paso anyway? But it’s her handwriting, now a limited edition collector’s item. I can’t throw it out, same as you don’t dare un-follow Elizabeth Taylor on Twitter. It’s just rude.
Besides, a cyber cemetery takes up no space and you don’t have to drive to get there. It’s eco-friendly, and did I mention hygienic? Here you can visit their walls and join the ultimate guest registry, grieving with others in a community of commiseration. Sometimes (chronically), I check in to see who overshared. Obsessing on Facebook — it’s more than just stalking your ex.
Their birthdays arrive and I stop by to watch the nostalgia and miss yous and “oh girl, you would not believe!” scroll in. At times, usually drunk, I head to those walls to type something maudlin or to read the latest testaments and platitudes and humanity. “I finally got that job,” “Kathleen is getting married,” “Because of you, I want to live.”
Sentiments like these make me want to create a profile page for all the dearly departed. We could connect, suggest friends, and memorialize them within the online patchwork quilt of a not-so-social networking website. They can all live on Deadbook. But to have them mixing and mingling here with us?
It might be different if they were on the man-haunt. If one had the foresight to bequeath passwords and name ghostwriters, one could — Jesus was right! — live eternally. They’d play vampire wars, share posts about quantum physics, definitely RSVP “attending” to the Fetish Ball. My friends might have gotten a kick out of that.
Wondering what they might have wanted raises a question we may all one day have to answer. Another heady end-of-life care question alongside whether you’d like to be revived if you stop breathing or if you’ll donate your corneas. Do you want us to pull the plug on your Facebook page?
Do I pull that plug on the suicide, the aneurysm, and the overdose? Could they care? Cyberspace doesn’t exist any more than they do. It only lingers, pregnant in the void, a virtual reminder to tell the living what you’re saving for their wall once they’re gone.
Jesse Archer is an award-winning writer, actor, and rabble-rouser who can be found at Jesse on the Brink.