The Writers Afterlife
I died typing midsentence in a T-shirt and boxer shorts in front of my computer. I was about halfway into the second act of a screenplay. I took the job so that it would afford me the time to write the novel I had been thinking about for a year. I also thought the money could sustain me while I tried looking for a producer to bring my latest play into production.
The screenplay I was writing was a job for hire. It wasn’t much of a challenge though I was trying my best to make sense out of the story. It was one of those writing assignments my agent would get me. Idiosyncratic characters and quirky dialogue which nearly everyone with Final Draft believed they could mimic just by watching Goodfellas.
However, the professionals knew I did it better than the hacks. I lived it and the sounds of that life resonated in my brain. I had an ear for the music in the dialogue without irony so I tackled each rewrite, each project with a silent passion knowing I was the best.
I wish I had been working on the novel in my head when I died. I hadn’t worked out the details but I wanted it to be about why I had become a writer in a family where my father and mother hardly spoke to one another. Yes, it was another novel about a dysfunctional family but that was what was expected from a contemporary novel which hoped to be take seriously. I wish I was working on anything else than that stupid movie.
It was a stroke that killed me a little before noon. People have them all the time without any reaction but mine just happened in the wrong place when an artery in my neck got clogged by a piece of cholesterol that broke off the artery wall. I felt pain for a few seconds on the right side of my body but I thought it was just a muscle spasm since I was at the gym that morning.
My super found me that night when he came by to check on a leak in my bathroom that was causing water to flood the apartment beneath me. The corner’s office called it thrombosis or more likely, an embolism. The rest is history, or more accurately, nothing more than a mention in the Daily News obituary column because they recognized my name. I was all of forty-four years old.
I expected to live way into my eighties like my senile father who was happily enjoying the twilight of his life in an assisted living home in Riverhead, Long Island, or at the very least live into my mid-seventies like my mother before she lost her bout with cancer.
Dying at the age of forty-four with two published novels, eight published plays and four shared screenplay credits on IMDb was far from what I had expected concerning my life’s work. My entire writing career was ahead of me, or so I thought. I had plans for another play, eventually other novels. All were going to be monumental stories with important cultural themes which made me daydream about winning first a Pulitzer, then later on The Nobel Prize. I also thought that with more artistic success under my belt, maybe I’d settle down and get married to my long time girlfriend Sarah but an artistic success was a novel that most critics loved but in general, nobody outside of your friends, ever read.
I was also teaching film writing part-time as an adjunct at CUNY and NYU and took all the necessary steps to become famous in my lifetime. I had a clear career path, as they say. I had no baggage. I never married and I never had children so I made sure that life’s detours didn’t distract me. I made money from studio and network writing assignments, I had a successful agent, which is nearly an impossibility, and I was smart enough to save my money and not to spend it all on a big house in Santa Monica after I sold my first screenplay only to never work again and lose it all.
I had heard of so many writers -- those who lived on the edge, did rewrite work -- who were deemed too old for the studios when they turned fifty and weren’t hired anymore. I swear I wouldn’t become one of them but of course dying at my age made this irrelevant.
I lived in a modest fifth floor apartment in the trendy Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and I was gliding nicely along and considered myself at my peek when it came to the true understanding of plot, story and theme. Hell, I was right there. I had learned the three-act structure format so well it had become part of my DNA.
I was a member of the Writer’s Guild of America, East, the Authors Guild, the Dramatist Guild, Poets & Writers and Pen America. I was in the most specific definition possible, an artistic success. My first novel, The Last Vision, was the story of an aging and lonely poet which takes place on the last day of his life as he roams the streets of his small Long Island town struggling to complete a poem he has spent ten years writing. When the clock strikes midnight he completes the poem and then commits suicide by throwing himself in front of a Long Island Rail Road commuter train on the Port Jefferson line. It was given rave reviews by Publishers Weekly and Kirkus and The New Yorker actually called it “brilliant.”
My second novel, The Dead Mexican, is the story of an illegal immigrant from Oaxaca, who is murdered by a racist cop in a small town in Upstate New York. The novel is about how his young wife sneaks into the country to find his murderer. The New York Times called it a “masterpiece of social comment and intrigue.”
But that was then and this is now. And now, I’m no longer in existence. I don’t need to tell you about the wake or the funeral or that my grave is in a big cemetery in Queens called Calvary. Those are incidentals. What is important is that I learned a lot about immortality after dying since no one knows much about it before you die.
I was one of those who craved immortality and thought that perhaps a little notoriety on earth would bring some fame after my demise. There was nothing wrong with that notion, or so I thought. And then, like I keep saying, I ruined it all by actually dying.