ISSUE #78 GUEST EDITOR Will Stratton is a New York-based songwriter, composer, and arranger who was previously featured in Storychord as Issue 10's musician. His most recent album, Post-Empire, is available on Bandcamp, and a new release is forthcoming. For more, visit Will online at willstratton.com.
ISSUES CONCERNING DEATH AND GRIEVING DURING THE EMOTIONAL CONSERVATION ERA IN FUHD, WASHINGTON
by Sean Adams
The Emotional Conservation Era refers to the period in Fuhd, Washington’s history during which time the town’s citizens were prohibited from feeling fresh emotions. Instead, they were required, whenever it proved necessary, to recycle feelings they had felt before. As illustrated by the examples below, this caused certain issues in dealing with death and grief.
Issue #78 soundtrack: Anawan "Old Hands Sad Arms"
1. The Doctors’ Orders
The Emotional Conservation Era saw an increase in visits to the doctor. People would consult their physician monthly, if not weekly. It was an especially good time to work in medicine in Fuhd, Washington, not just for the money but also for the respect. During the Emotional Conservation Era, people really listened to what doctors had to say, took notes, followed their every instruction to a T.
The Emotional Conservation Era saw a decrease in boat rentals and bicycle sales. The toy store sold not one skateboard while the emotional regulations were in place, but they sold plenty of skateboarding helmets. They couldn’t keep those helmets on the shelves. You had to get there just as a new shipment came in if you wanted a chance at getting one at all.
Everyone ordered their burgers well done and their cocktails weak. Speed limits were vehemently obeyed. Nobody ran a red light or rolled through a stop sign. Everywhere you turned there was hand sanitizer, first aid kits, and decaffeinated coffee.
Nobody wanted to die during the Emotional Conservation Era. Nobody wanted to be mourned with stale old sadness. Who knew how long this would go on? It could be years before people were allowed to feel fresh grief, and by then, you might be a blip, a bump in the road, too difficult to really even remember let alone mourn.
Residents of Fuhd feared death like never before. They dug up two old fears and felt them both at the same time just to get the measurements right. A fear of tornadoes and a fear of bears, a fear of ghosts and a fear of commitment, a fear of jellyfish and a fear of avalanches.
Really, though, it was more like when you go to get a cup or a shoe to take care of a big spider, only to return and find the spider is no longer where you left it, and you have no idea if it’s far away or waiting for you under the covers of your bed. That was the fear the people of Fuhd should have felt when considering the possibility of dying, but then again the fear of death makes people do weird enough things when they’re allowed to feel whatever they want, so you couldn’t really blame them for getting it wrong.
Nor could you blame the few of them who did die during The Emotional Conservation Era. After all, if doctors could give a few prescriptions and a few pieces of advice and keep a whole town alive indefinitely, then they’d have even more money and more respect than they have now.
2. The Trouble with Triplets
When his brother, Gerald Winger, died, Henry Winger found himself in the strange position of being the last remaining Winger triplet, a position he never expected to be in due primarily to his poor eating habits. Sure, he jogged a little bit and he did a few sit ups every other day and he got enough sleep and he didn’t drink too much, but he always ate terrible food, the kind of food whose descriptions on restaurant menus made liberal use of words like stuffed and drenched and overflowing. Eating this way felt like a challenge. It gave Henry a certain morbid thrill to wonder, will this be the meal to do me in?
But it had yet to happen, and while Gerald had made better dietary decisions than Henry, he was never a very good driver, and so one night, slick roads, a tight corner, a tree, etc., and now Henry was left to figure out what recycled feelings he would use to mourn a brother who was an identical genetic copy of himself. The easiest answer seemed to be to revisit the feelings he felt when Cooper, the third triplet, died years earlier and could be mourned with excessive amounts of fresh emotion. A better driver than Gerald and a better eater than Henry, Cooper had simply stepped on a loose rock while on a hike up Mount Thuhd and taken a fatal tumble.
Henry had vivid memories of how his throat knotted up every time he accepted someone’s condolences, of how getting to the end of a conversation without talking about his deceased brother had given him the same endorphin high as a seven mile run, and of how sadness seemed to attack him in specific aisles of the supermarket, aisles he still avoided. All he had to do was drudge up these feelings, make a few minor tweaks, sub out Cooper for Gerald, and he’d be as good as grieving, but something bugged him about this. It was an idea that had bothered Henry for a long time, this notion that being identical in looks translated into some deeper identicalness, that they were the same men with different names.
But they weren’t. Cooper had been a beekeeper, Gerald ran a fish hatchery, and Henry himself eked out an income breeding and training Bernese Mountain Dogs. Only Cooper married. Only Gerald had fathered a child. Only Henry had gone to college. Yet, they were seen in Fuhd as a novelty, three Xeroxes of one man. The guys at Rocco’s called Henry by whichever name they could think of first, even Cooper sometimes, despite him being four years in the ground. Henry thought about college, where no one knew there were two more hims back in his hometown. He thought about how nice it felt to be looked at as Henry Winger, not Henry of the Wingers. He wanted Gerald, who had never left Fuhd for any significant stretch of his life, to know this feeling.
So he grieved not with the sadness brought on by Cooper’s passing, but with the frustration he felt when he mistook salt for sugar and ruined his coffee. The feeling could barely fit over the memory of his brother – Henry felt it tearing at the edges – but it was unrelated to Cooper, and that was all that mattered.
3. Funerals Gone Mad
In a Letter to the Editor of the Fuhd Gazette, Hilda Mentz, high school ethics teacher, sought to address the issue of funerals without fresh feelings.
“Using old sadness to mourn a loss is not only disrespectful to the dead but to the original cause of sadness as well,” she wrote. “Instead, let us remember and revisit the good feelings that we once felt for those who have passed. Because if we cannot properly mourn a loss, we should celebrate the life, and I mean really celebrate.” She then went on to discuss a variety of funeral games and activities of her own creation that, she claimed, would “take things from dreary to cheery in just minutes!”
The letter was, for the most part, mocked and cast off as a piece of sacrilegious contrarianism, that is until one brave widow gave the Mentz’s approach a try and reported great satisfaction. A few other bereaved families followed her lead and also testified to the approach’s success. Soon, all funerals became occasions to feel old happiness anew. Never had there been so much smiling and laughter in the vicinity of a casket.
People began to look forward to these once depressing gatherings. Doctors started to notice a certain flicker of excitement in the eyes of family members when informing them of a parent or grandparent’s illness. Friends reminiscing about the good old days might say, without a note of morbidity, “Now there’s something I’ll save for your funeral!” People spent their weekends strolling through the town graveyard, their faces glowing with warm eyes and grins. During the lunch hour, the hospital staff opted to eat not in the cafeteria or the staff lounge but in the morgue.
Only when the church installed a dance floor and a bar and the pastor’s daughter volunteered to be the funeral DJ did Mentz write, in a follow-up letter, “Okay guys, let’s tone it down a bit.”
4. The Second Coming
Elaine Trammick gave birth to a healthy baby boy. It was her second child with her husband Gil. Their first, Thomas, had passed away at age three due to something that had been referred to as "a condition," "allergies," and "a condition brought on by allergies" depending which doctor the Trammicks spoke with.
They had decided on a name months earlier, Joshua, but now, in the hospital, Gil had another idea. “You know,” he said, “with all the regulations and everything, maybe it would best to name him Thomas.”
Elaine agreed. “We almost have no choice,” she said. “We have so much old love around from the first baby Thomas. We have nothing for Joshua, except the love we felt for him when he was growing in my belly.”
“That was fetal love,” said Gil. “Who knows the psychological and developmental ramifications of bestowing fetal love on an infant.”
“Babies need baby love,” said Elaine. “That’s just plain old science. He will be Thomas, our second Thomas.”
“But we’ll love him just like the first,” said Gil.
Later, with the emotional regulations lifted, the Trammicks would realize their mistake. They would see their hasty renaming as disrespectful to the original Thomas’s memory. They would feel guilty, and their guilt would make it difficult for them to even be in the same room as the second Thomas, let alone show him any true affection. He, in turn, would grow up to be a quiet and unhappy man who would often wish he had fallen victim to the same condition or allergy that had taken the older brother he had never met.
But that day in the hospital, Gil and Elaine once again felt all the old love and enthusiasm for the original Thomas, and it felt just as good as it did the first time.
Sean Adams has had writing published on McSweeney's, The Bygone Bureau, the Barnes & Noble Review, and The Morning News. He lives in Seattle and works as a staff writer for Woot.com.
Jamian Juliano-Villani's paintings have appeared at Rawson Projects in Greenpoint and at Retrospective in Hudson, NY. She lives in Brooklyn. Visit the artist online at jamianjulianovillani.com.
Anawan, formerly known as Trevor Wilson & Vocal Ensemble, is based in Brooklyn. Their most recent album, All Material, is out on New Amsterdam Records. For more, visit the band online at anawan.net.