Featured, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

I’m Scared To Death Of Randomly Dying And This Embarrasses The Fuck Out Of Me

This time last year, with weight that I’m perfectly fine with calling “pregnancy weight” despite the fact that the gain began before my wife became pregnant still attached to my thighs, my face, and my gut, I weighted approximately 225 pounds. I was 199 when stepping on the scale this morning.

I do not feel particularly different. I haven’t had a conspicuous gain in energy during the day or a burst in leaping ability when I play basketball. (Sadly, I’ve dunked for the last time.) But I do apparently look different. People who haven’t seen me in months ask if I’ve lost weight. When running into each other at a Twitter happy hour in D.C. a couple months ago, Jamilah (jokingly) asked if I’ve gone vegan or something. I usually respond by saying that I’m just buying and wearing smaller clothes; a self-depreciating deflection intended to change the subject because I don’t enjoy thinking or talking about the reason why I decided to slim down. 

How it happened is easier. I stopped drinking juice. I used to go through a gallon or four of orange juice and Simply Lemonade® with Raspberry a week and I’ve (mostly) replaced it with water. I’m at the gym three to five times a week, either hooping or lifting — an act made easier by the fact that I live 100 yards away from a YMCA and have a high school aged brother-in-law and nephew who both hoop and are eager and willing workout partners. (And, well, I’m a man. Which tends to help with the whole weight losing thing.)

Why it happened, though, is a bit more complex. And by “a bit more complex” I mean “so embarrassing that, when asked, I lie and say that it’s due to the vanity of wanting to fit into all of my clothes.” (Which really is a terrible lie. Lies are supposed to be flattering; to make you look better, not the world’s most insufferable motherfucker. I need to do better at lying. Maybe I’ll make it a resolution.)

I lie because the truth is embarrassing. I just don’t want people to know that I live in mortal fear of dying, randomly; that the thought of succumbing to cancer or brain aneurysm or plane crash or choking on a bite-sized Snicker while home alone or getting trampled in a fucking squirrel stampede possesses far too much space in my mind than I care to admit. That despite however much I write about things like police brutality and White supremacy, neither those very deadly and very real concepts come anywhere close to disturbing and/or scaring me as much as getting on Facebook and learning that some 39-year-old friend of a friend died in his sleep the night before. That when hearing about Rashaan Salaam’s death last week, as sad as I was that he died of suicide, I was relieved, comforted even, that it was suicide and not a heart attack or something. That dying in a random way takes up such a disproportionate amount of my psychic space that I didn’t want to write this and I’m still tempted right now to delete everything I’ve written because I don’t want to chance “putting it in the air.”

And the weight loss is less about me getting healthier and more about me communicating a message to the universe: “Hey! I’m making an effort over here! Yeah, I still drink milkshakes and eat bacon and maybe masturbate too much. But I’m trying! Don’t take me yet!”

To be fair, this fear isn’t completely impractical. I will be 38 years old in two weeks. As I grow older, it will become progressively less uncommon to hear of people around my age dying of random aliments and illnesses and accidents. Often these things happen to people who seem to be very healthy. But also — and this is a quite a bit less practical — I carry a fear that the universe will find a way to balance my scale. This last year has been very good to me professionally. Things I’ve been working towards for a decade are coming into fruition. And 2017 seems poised to be even greater. But while I believe myself to be deserving of whichever goals I’ve met and surpassed, I can’t shake the fear of it all crashing down. Of the other shoe dropping. Not because I’m an impostor, but just because.

I wonder how much of this is due to a race-based latent skepticism about the world. Perhaps I’d still feel the same way if I happened to be White, but I can’t deny that sometimes I feel like whichever gains I’ve made are somehow going to be swept from underneath me; a cruel and contrived form of universe-correcting comeuppance.

Oh, Damon got a book deal? Ok, let’s give him brain gout. That’ll show that nigga.”

I guess this is where I’m supposed to acknowledge that I recognize the futility of worrying about things largely out of my control. But, I don’t know man. Irrational and absurd worry helped me lose 25 pounds in 10 months, and helped me conjure some sort of frantic prolificness that allowed me to write four pieces for VSB, a piece for GQ, a-yet-to-be-published piece for the New York Times, and roughly 5000 words in my book this week. Sure, it can be embarrassing, and yes it keeps me up at night; anxious, disquieted, distracted, and possessed. But it seems to have helped to keep me unkilled for the last 37 and eleven twelfths years too. So I’ll stay embarrassed. And, for now (hopefully), alive.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • I love President Barack Hussein Obama. That is all, for now.

    Going to read Damon’s actual post after the press conference.

    • Janelle Doe

      I was so going to write this same thing. This press conference reminds me why.

      • Epsilonicus

        What press conference??

        • LetEarthReceive

          Russia

        • Janelle Doe

          cNN still on now. Goole

          • Janelle Doe

            *Google. App it is his last press conference for 2016. It has gone on a while. Worth looking up the live feed and then later the gideo or transcript

    • KNeale

      I missed it. What he say?

      • Lea Thrace

        Fuck the Russians.

        • NonyaB?

          Fxck zem ALL!

          • Cheech

            Da.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        That basically they fucked with us and Barack handled it.

        But the Russians fucked with us & Barack didn’t handle it so…………………….

        http://www.labourmobility.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/shrugging-shoulders.gif

        • Cheech

          He was too worried about what it LOOKED like he was doing, he forgot to actually DO the job of calling out the attack. He’s not just the leader of the party. He’s still the President. Of the nation whose electoral process was attacked.

          • L8Comer

            Yep. I read he didn’t want to look like he was interfering with the political https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/942c9d6697bdfc929b686199780f4124a1ffc0499389dfa539fc99e8975f2903.png process by going after someone interfering with the political process

          • Brother Mouzone

            This has always been my biggest issue with Honolulu Slim. Anytime you’re a Black person that gets any amount of real power or influence, you have to say fuck what they might think, and do what you KNOW is right. Appoint who the heck you want, sign whatever the heck you want, set the policies you want, emphasize what YOU think is important and dam what them other folks have to say about it. They’re gonna hate you anyway and call you out your name no matter how much you try to be conciliatory…so give em a good a$$ REASON to hate you.

            • La Bandita

              Honolulu Slim – so funny. I get it you’re not in my part of the world. But anytime he did anything people started yelling the Muslims are coming and running into walls. But good one.

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            That’s what bothers me so much Cheech

  • kingpinenut

    Just make sure your draws are clean…. you’ll be goodtago then

    • LetEarthReceive

      And do not have any holes. But sometimes things happen at the last moment

      • kingpinenut

        All too true. Death is the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

        Maybe if we spent more time developing our spiritual qualities, we’d be happy to move to the next plane of existence

        I do know I don’t want to spend more than 100 years in this physical existence….

        • LetEarthReceive

          Well, they tell me of a pie up in the sky
          Waiting for me when I die
          But between the day you’re born and when you die
          They never seem to hear even your cry

          So as sure as the sun will shine
          I’m gonna get my share now, what’s mine
          And then the harder they come
          The harder they fall, one and all
          Ooh, the harder they come
          The harder they fall, one and all

          Jimmy Cliff

          I feel a bit nihilistic.

          • kingpinenut

            Will be singing that for the rest of the weekend.

          • Tasha Lawrence?

            Watchu you know about Jimmy Cliff!!!

            • Cheech

              (Sorry to say, required listening at PWIs in the 80s)

            • LetEarthReceive

              Resident West Indian

              • Tasha Lawrence?

                I know hun, but I ain’t never seen nobody reference him. Dope.

                • LetEarthReceive

                  The songs you hear when my uncle, lived next door, decides to fix his bike at all hours of the night.

              • kingpinenut

                Ghanian…stop all the false talk!

                • LetEarthReceive

                  If anything I would have Nigerian roots.

                  • kingpinenut

                    Close enough for the gov’t ;)

                    • LetEarthReceive

                      You Ghanian?

                    • kingpinenut

                      500 years removed. DNA says yes ;)

                    • LetEarthReceive

                      DNA testing thing?

                    • kingpinenut

                      Yep

    • Vanity in Peril

      The thought that I could die and they’d see stubble all over my cold cadaver is a large reason why I leave the house w shaved legs.

      I also fear my loved ones dressing me in an alphet I hate.

      • LetEarthReceive

        My aunt has planned her funeral. I think she has the outfit planned too.

        • Jennifer

          Listen, the old ladies in my family are pretty adamant about their funeral-wear when they get up there in age. My Aunt Lucille lived to be 95 and I remember her repeatedly telling me and my mother what she wanted to be buried in a few years BEFORE she died.

      • Simms~

        My fear is that they will use the most unflattering picture of me if I meet a tragic end (like my horrendous PP pic), so I’ve selected a few that will be appropriate.

        • Vanity in Peril

          Smart!

          Wrong lipstick shade, somebody puts a post-life relaxer in my hair, bad outfit, one of those spray-paint t shirts w a bad pic of me sitting in heaven to memorialize me….

          I may have to come back from the dead.

          • L8Comer

            No viewing for me. I hate seeing dead people

            • charisma_supreme

              I wanna be cremated, and my ashes sprinkled in a body of water, hopefully somewhere exotic

              • La Bandita

                I want to be wrapped in cotton like the Egyptians and Ava Perron.

            • Blueberry01

              Would you believe that I’ve never been to a funeral in my life?

              • LetEarthReceive

                How is that possible?

                • Blueberry01

                  None of my friends nor relatives in the US have passed away. Also, I’m not close to my distant family who have (and who have lived in various countries around the world). But, in some of the latter cases, my parents have.

                  However, I have had two former students die before they graduated high school – one from AIDS complications who I was somewhat close to. I couldn’t go, LER. I just couldn’t bring myself to seeing his body lifeless.

                  It still f*cks me up to think about how one day I was his teacher, he passed my class, and moved onto to the next grade. Then the next school year he was in the hospital and….

                  • LetEarthReceive

                    I understand and yes having former students die is not good especially if you were close. About 3 of my former students have died. One in particular the common response was ” Who killed him?” or ” How was he killed?”, but the funny or not so funny thing was he died from seizure. I know 3 of former classmates died , one died about the same age of her mother. In her case it was a tumour and that was sad as heII.

                    • Blueberry01

                      I’m sorry to hear this, TFB. :HUGS:

          • Darling Sneauxflayke

            I’ve already left instructions on the EXACT lipstick & highlighter I want to be buried in, as well as explicit threats on future hauntings if they try to clown me. Literally. Had a female relative pass away a few years ago and the foundation and blush on her cheeks looked ridiculous. And she and I looked a lot alike so I was a bit shook at the whole funeral anyway.

        • Sadly. I partly started using Instagram to work on my selfies…so I could find one I liked for my obit. I sent my best friend the photo I chose.

      • I chuckled.
        Out loud.

    • Skegeeaces

      Ironically/sadly, most people soil themselves in death because of the lack of muscle tension, so clean drawers may be a moot point.

  • KNeale

    Often worry about things that I don’t need to worry about. But the part about the universe evening things out is REAL. Even though in my life right now I can’t really see a bunch of really great things happening (other than general health and nonhomelessness which is quite amazing) and even still I worry about the universe coming to check my ash.

  • Don’t feel too bad having a brain aneurysm is one of Archer’s 3 greatest fears (along with crocodiles and alligators).

  • cyanic

    Fear of death is natural. But your thoughts concentrating on your own will pull that thing closer to you. You should replace inevitable death with having more ejaculations. Focus on the positive of being alive.

    • Blueberry01

      There’s something about chexual release that will help ward of the angel of death, imo…

      • cyanic

        It’s a motivator to live.

  • KNeale

    Also, its weird sometimes I worry about losing people unexpectedly which is not something I’ve really experienced up close. (Even writing this makes me feel like I’m jinxing myself). But then I have an existential moment of: “what if I’m the friend/family member that goes suddenly”. And it makes me question the path in my life and what it is all leading up to and whether there was never any intention of me ‘accomplishing my dreams’ on God’s behalf because he got a hard stop coming for me. I don’t want to be struck down for this comment I know its blasphemous and I’m sorry. But I really do feel this/worry about this sometimes.

    • Jennifer

      We worry because we’re human. I think about this too. It’s usually in terms of how will my mother cope if I pass before her. Do I have my financial things in order so it doesn’t cause my family any issues?

  • Vanity in Peril

    In the aughts I was pretty into those Final Destination movies and I would always leave the theater with the debilitating thought that I’d randomly die slipping on a lone spaghetti or something else bonkers like that.

    That we could all die warm and safe in our beds at the tender age of 126. And our enemies die cold, alone and pantsless.

    A girl can dream.

    Congrats on getting healthier!

  • charisma_supreme

    I have a request list about how, that i just put in the atmosphere when death is a topic of discussion… no fire, no water. Sudden preferred over lengthy. In my sleep preferred over all. Might as well die doing what i love.

    • cyanic

      No murder. I don’t want another human being to have that much say so over me in the end.

      • charisma_supreme

        I could see my Aries grudge holding continuing into The Great Beyond, and me haunting a n**** that murdered me like Patrick Swayze. Sauced up Swayze, though, not beginning of the movie Swayze

        • Cheech

          Roadhouse Swayze.

          • brothaskeeper

            Not To Wong Foo Swayze.

          • miss t-lee

            Definitely Road HOUSE Swayze.

          • charisma_supreme

            Outside of Peter Griffin references, im lost on Roadhouse

      • KNeale

        Anything quick and discoverable is my thing. If I go out quick and my body can be found and identified so my family can find closure is ideal to me.

        My dad told me as a child if someone were to try and kidnap I should fight to the death in the moment. IF they have a gun let them shoot me etc. etc. because he doesn’t want them to take me somewhere and torture me or something and no one ever finds my body and that hole is left open for my family forever. I know that sounds like a crazy thing for someone to say to their child. Lol. But it made an impression on me and I intend to do the same. I want closure for my loved ones so they can all move on. Thats a more important factor for my death than the how. (Just typing this last sentence made me smh and chuckle at the same time.)

        • cyanic

          Biggest childhood fear aside from losing my mother to death is being kidnapped.

        • PinkRose

          Said the exact same thing to my daughter, once you’re taken away, the chances of surviving are next to nil.

      • SB

        Agreed. No violent death, no suffering (terminal illness). If I were to get a choice in the matter, I’d choose sleep as well. Prefereably surrounded by grandchildren because I do want to be 100+. I’ma be a fly-ass old lady. I’ll look like Storm from X-Men, wif all my teefs, too.

    • MsCee

      I don’t want to be stabbed…please Black Jesus.

      • charisma_supreme

        *touch and agree*

        I’d count that as lengthy, bc it might take a while to exsanguinate. That’s too long …. you know what’s happening

      • Trust me, you want noooo parts of that. It hurts.

      • Blueberry01

        I had a neighbor that was stabbed to death by his lover. It still disturbs me to this day.

    • Simms~

      Water is definitely on my list of “not this way please”.

      • charisma_supreme

        Just seems like such a panic filled way to go.

    • Kylroy

      Assuming you like to drive, you just signed up for the punchline of “I want to go quietly in my sleep like my Grandpa…not screaming in terror like his passengers.”

      • Blueberry01

        SMH.

    • Gibbous

      I am an avid outdoorswoman and when I buy gear, I tend to pick bright colors so they can find me for a quick body recovery when I fall down the mountain. No waiting until Spring. I don’t mind returning to nature, but my family has to know tout de suite.

      I also started running when I was 38. I was about to be 40 (which I’d heard was the best) and I wasn’t ready. Nine years 35 lbs and 11 marathons later, they were right! 40s are the best, so far.

      I intend to be old and spry, not old and decrepit. You have to start preparing for that earlier rather than later.

  • I don’t have the fear of keeling over but I worry. My mans dropped dead at a Kingdom Hall this summer a few days after his 37th birthday. That made me realize that I needed to change a things. It didn’t stop me from finding 13lbs in the last few months but I can lose that. #slotreceiver

    As for the things I can’t control I just pray and stay alert.

  • RewindingtonMaximus

    Nice to admit the truth Damon. It’s fair to have this fear. Especially because you have a daughter now.

    Me on the other….I already died before so uhh…………..all I really want is to not die looking at pron gifs on Twitter while I’m out in public. That’s all I ask.

    • LetEarthReceive

      So are you an undead? Tell me now

      • Other_guy13

        I think Zombie is the more PC term

        • LetEarthReceive

          Either which way. I think I am being watched. Disqus is messing around with me.

          • Other_guy13

            Ditto….it’s acting mad slow. I think they found us

            • LetEarthReceive

              See why i gotta try change up the names.

              • Other_guy13

                Yea bout that time to change my avi

                • LetEarthReceive

                  I am due for my weekly update

        • “Walkers” is the new en vogue term.

          • LetEarthReceive

            Alt right, skin heads, white supremacists, neo n4sease

          • brothaskeeper

            Life-deprived individuals.

        • Kylroy

          “Vitally Challenged”.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Never ate brains in my life dude.

    • NonyaB?

      Good gawd, man.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Your boy has lived a little and not at all, at the same damn time

    • esa

      may i ask, do you have any memories of death ? i read a fantastic book called Glimpsing Heaven from National Geographic that talked about the science of life after death and it had some incredible stories from people who came back ..

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        I don’t have memories of what happened because I was under anesthesia at the time. I do remember being resuscitated though.

        However, ever since that time, I’ve been able to see things that aren’t there. Dark figures moving in the corner of my eyes. My perception of deja vu is a lot more frequent. And I always feel strange presences around me.

        I’ve not known what this meant and I honestly don’t talk about it..

        • esa

          I don’t mean to pry so I won’t press for conversation but I recommend “Glimpsing Heaven” if you are curious about other people’s experiences.

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            Thanks Esa, I’ll look into it.

    • Blueberry01

      Interesting…my life flashed before my eyes once. (Isn’t that a precursor of death?) It was scary because it was just like they say it was going to be: black and white, slow enough to identify each scene yet fast enough that it went through my entire life.

      But I’m still here. I guess God had other plans…

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        Is that how it went? Damn that’s amazing.

        I died on an operating table. I was under anesthesia, so I don’t know exactly what happened. I just managed to read the report after I was resuscitated.

        Don’t remember anything. It was just Black and i felt something pull me, and then I was awake.

        • Blueberry01

          Yeah, I used to have dreams that I’d die in a car crash whereby I’d be T-boned. That day, while I was in the passenger seat, it felt like an out of body experience. Then when I “came back”, I started freaking out because I was still alive.

          Wow! I’m happy that God brought you back to us.

          My sister had a similar experience, but she was too young too remember. Three weeks after she was born, she had open heart surgery, and coded twice. So, I doubt that she remembers what happened or how she felt. (She does have a permanent scar above her left breast, though.)

          • RewindingtonMaximus

            Wow I’m glad you’re still with us my dear!

            I’ve heard that out of body experiences are so trippy, so I can only imagine what that is like.

            Yea I imagine your sister has no recollection of what happened but that scare is a constant reminder something was right at one point. That’s how it feels for me.

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