I've never been satisfied with the idea that "teenagers think they're immortal," so often bandied about by adults. I understand it. Having lived so few years, with so many ahead, death is a fairy tale, a fiction, a view not hindered by the few fairy tale details, remote and myth-like, available on the subject - a bright light! streets of gold! wings and a harp! These are not realities, at a time when reality is the everyday, the rhythms of daily life so natural as to be indistinguishable from your pulse or DNA. I wonder about children who witness death during that period that forms the basis of their understanding of the world. Is it a normality for them? Or is it just as shocking and incomprehensible as for the rest of us, throwing them forward into what we consider adult territory because we were lucky enough not to have noticed it before?
The realization that everything dies, that I will die, came upon me like a black hole near the end of elementary school. In sixth grade the world trade center fell and I saw people like flakes of ash pass floor after floor of windows on their way down, until a power outage brought darkness down on us, watching. One day in eleventh grade thirty-one people were shot to death in my town, not far from my school, but then again it is a small town and nothing is far from anything. These were chilling events and I, frozen, did not know how to respond. In the face of reality, my grief was small and inconsequential, and I wanted to remind those with larger, louder, more public grief that I, they, and everyone we knew would go too, before long. I tried to imagine dying; I played out scenarios like film stills in which I and everyone around me were killed; I lay awake in the night while my heart beat too fast and wondered how long I would keep it.
I suppose these things never made me cautious, so maybe the grownups were right insofar as that. But I never acted with the supposition that I would live forever, quite the opposite. I knew I might die at any time. Consciousness is a finite, instructionless, sometimes self-defeating burden, and even people who are young are not free from it.