One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism, and Other Fun Stuff
Hands up—who wants to die?!
Guess what, friends? We’re going to talk about death! It’s a topic I’ve grown more comfortable with, not because I’ve just grown more accepting as I’ve gotten older, or because life has forced me to confront it over the years; learning that trying to hide from it doesn’t, in fact, make anyone immortal. This has been an active effort on my end.
This past year’s forced isolation and the mounting death tolls meant there were seldom respites from serious looks at mortality. How could someone make it past this year and not constantly think about death? Fearing death is something I excelled at. Fearing most things is a hobby for me, so understandably death is way up there. But as the days went on and times became more uncertain, it was hard not to feel like we were just moving towards a collective end. And the thought of passing life away in isolation until it’s all over was bleak beyond words.
Acknowledging death, honoring it, and, yes, even planning for it, makes it feel manageable. Controllable, even.
That’s when I realized that the best way to stop fearing death is to stop avoiding it. Changing the subject when it arises doesn’t stave off death. Turning off the news doesn’t make it disappear. Closing my eyes and holding my hands over my ears won’t knock me off the Grim Reaper’s list. But acknowledging it, honoring it, and, yes, even planning for it, makes it feel manageable. Controllable, even.
I started reading Caitlin’s Doughty’s books besides binging her “Ask a Mortician” YouTube series. I started learning about the death traditions in other countries. I joined the Order of the Good Death. My husband and I had serious heart-to-hearts about our end-of-life plans. I became enamored with the thought of a natural burial. It sounds morbid, but there’s a beauty in having something to look forward to, even if it’s the last thing you’ll ever do. It felt like I lifted a weight off my shoulders—even if the world was still in freefall. We both know what we want our post-mortem selves to look like. And that is a strangely calming sensation—knowing that even if you don’t get everything you’ll want in life, you’ll at least be able to have the last rest of your dreams.
I still have so much more work to do when it comes to death positivity, but I’m taking those steps—which is something I never thought I’d say.
While I’ll always have a low-boiling level of fear in my heart regarding the mortality of those close to me, having an existential crisis before bed every night about my own eventual death became less and less frequent. It made life feel more approachable. And I still have so much more work to do when it comes to death positivity, but I’m taking those steps—which is something I never thought I’d say.
Now, we’re going to talk about grief. (Yes, again.)
There’s a level within that hackneyed term of the “new normal” where there emerged a sense of numbness that came with the rising death tolls. I had so many friends lose loved ones over this past year, not even related to the pandemic. So many friends-of-friends have gone by far too young. So many names and faces and ages, all with the same end. So many it seemed like too many.
There was a point where I became more comfortable about the topic of death. And then there was also a point where I started to worry if I became so desensitized to it that I didn’t process it anymore. Each new person’s obituary had me searching for the what’s, the why’s, and the when’s, as if they were characters in a drama. The pangs of sadness became fewer and fewer. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, I just felt as though nothing could strike up those emotions in me anymore.
Then Jack Terricloth died.
My husband broke the news to me after I got out of the shower on the night of Thursday, May 13, 2021. We had gotten off a Zoom call with friends and I was about to start my nightly before-bed routine. He said it in a shaky voice, and the words didn’t click in my head. I deconstructed each part of the sentence, unsure of how they fit together.
I sat next to him on the couch. We slowly monitored the news and memorials coming in. I didn’t know what to say or do. And, most importantly, I didn’t know how to be there for him. We sat mostly in silence, reading the kind words from his fans and friends in the music scene. We listened to a few World/Inferno Friendship Society and Sticks And Stones songs and went to bed, still processing what we learned.
How do you explain to your bosses that you’re a mess because your favorite lead singer died? How do you explain it to anyone who hasn’t been a part of the circus?
The next day it hit harder. I couldn’t concentrate at work without bursting into tears. My husband called me on my lunch break—he left work early, having the same problem as me. But how do you explain to your bosses that you’re a mess because your favorite lead singer died? How do you explain it to anyone who hasn’t been a part of the circus?
There’s something so self-indulgent in memorializing another person, especially one you didn’t know personally. And the more well-known or well-liked the person is, the more it feels like a competition. Everyone feels the need to couch their relationship with the departed, either in how close they were or how not close but still so affected. Everyone’s memorial is ultimately about themselves, their lens of the person from their perspective. Social media has given just about anyone with access to keys the ability to eulogize someone, to put their unique stamp on the death of another.
I scrutinized each post and the reactions they have on me—some make me angry at the level of self-indulgence; it is almost as if the deceased is just a minor background character, others drum up tears I didn’t know I still had left to cry in me. In others, I get lost in their inability to put the words together, to spot something short and seemingly emotionless, because processing takes time and I can connect with that.
My finger hovered over “share” as I thought about what I was about to post. Who was I to act like I’m bereaved when I know people who are bigger fans? Even as the shock started to wear off, the tears still welled up in my eyes, and there was a big, empty feeling creeping internally. Who gives me the authority to speak of another with whom I’ve only shared a passing connection?
With all that said, here’s mine.
Jack Terricloth/Pete Ventantonio/World Inferno Friendship Society/Sticks And Stones has been the background music of my life for well over a decade. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that makes me more of a newbie to the scene, the man, and the circus he so carefully crafted. My husband’s been a fan for more than half his life. When we first started dating, now well over twelve years ago, he taught me everything about the band and the man. He played me his favorite songs. He knew every line Jack said word-for-word in between sets in the Hallowmas at North Six live album. He educated me on the short but storied history Sticks And Stones—his favorite band. I knew if I saw their CD in the car CD player he was either having a great day or the worst day of his life. It was the only band who targeted every single feeling he had. I went to multiple reunion shows with him. We saw W/IFS more times than I can count. We got engaged before Hallowmas in 2013. We wore pumpkin and cat masks and waltzed with two of our best friends.
In the time I was along for the ride seeing my husband’s favorite band, I didn’t realize they had become one of mine, too.
And at the center of it all was Jack.
Jack was enigmatic. A larger-than-life force who blended vulgarity with intellect, a philosopher who was loquacious by nature. An anarchist. A romantic. A troublemaker.
And, most importantly, a genuinely kind human being.
How do you really memorialize someone who seemed immortal?
You do that self-indulgent thing that I judged others on. The same thing I’m doing right now. You realize how much life they gave you.
Jack’s passing opened up floodgates that I thought had long been locked shut. Once I started, I found it harder and harder to stop crying. I went to bed every night for weeks with a song of his in my head. He crept into my dreams. I woke up with him with a different song of his in my head. His music has been playing in my mind, even if I don’t realize it, ever since.
Losing Jack felt terribly unfair. There was no doubt in my mind that when things were safe again, World/Inferno was the first band I would see perform. It only makes sense, they were the last band I saw live, too. It feels like something was robbed from me. It feels almost like horrible comedic timing that he left this astral plane in a year when playing on stage, something that gave his almost vampiric-self life, was gone. It hurts more than I can explain.
Jack’s death made me realize that I’m very much still alive. And as much as it pains me to be in a world without him, all I want to do is continue. To keep making art even when it hurts. To believe in a world of endless possibilities. To fuck shit up.
And, most importantly, to remember that when all is said and done, things are really pretty damn funny. Things ain’t really quite so bad.
Jamie L. Rotante is a writer/editor located just outside of NYC. She’s a professional comic book reader by day, and a neurotic worrier by night. When she’s not anxious about the future, she’s busy tending to her thriving window plant collection. You can find more about her at www.JamieLeeRotante.net.