My crush on death

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I was busting to share my great idea:
I had a crush on death.
“I can hardly wait to die!”
Celia was horrified, so I explained.
I could see it all. I would die young
a hero mauled by lions and after that
I would explore the jungle of death!
It was a great idea, don’t you agree?

Meantime some actual deaths were history
but most were in detective books.
Murder was a puzzle, amusing until the day
they sat me down for a chat so weird
that the air got squashed and I had to faint or cry
but I didn’t know which so I shook
and the blood sank into my feet.
I was fourteen when I found out
that a real life murder isn’t entertaining
and it isn’t a puzzle because everyone knows
who done it
and murderers can be girls
fresh out of your own classroom
girls you tried to be nice to
but in your heart you do not like
they’re not your sort of person.

That’s when you learn that murder hurts
everyone, even the public who go feral
with theories and fear
even the murderers who had been
so vain about their work
and you learn that every teenage girl
must be prised away, sliced away
from her best friend
in case they kill their mothers too.

That’s when I learned to feel guilty
for not seeing what was under my nose
for only writing twice to Juliet in jail
guilty for not saving her, guilty for retreating
when our mothers tried to make us friends
guilty for not liking her model horses
guilty that our IQs were not a bond
guilty for not feeling as guilty as I should
because it was all my fault.

The Principal decreed that nobody
should talk about the murder.
I learned that life is not a book
and that was how I lost my crush on death.
Someone set me free from guilt at fifty:
only then was I allowed to talk and talk
and talk and talk and cry.

MP3 recording of this poem

Poem by Rachel McAlpine, CC BY 2.0, image from Christchurch Public Library.

Alternative M4a recording

26 thoughts on “My crush on death

  1. Today I am amazed to remember that I too thought of death as a teenager. Romantic novels such as Wuthering Heights made the death of a young person heartbreaking and simple. No thoughts of sadness brought to others. Just the kind and good thoughts they would have for me. I got over that quite early at the death of a young playmate. It wasn’t romantic or simple. This is a very touching post.

  2. In the early fifties my young friend and I would play cowboys and Indians at some point we would get into a shoot out and before it was over most if not all were dead for that day anyway. I don’t remember my grandkids doing that but maybe I just missed that part of their lives.
    My mother would tell us to play nice and don’t get hurt but we did not always listen as kids do.
    Here in the states in the fifties we didn’t talk about murder and death when it was around us, but like all places it happens.
    You made me remember some of those days. Thanks

  3. A terrible lesson to learn, Rachel. I live in the thrall of stories, of books, and for most of my adolescent life they provided a lens on how the world worked. Until reality changed my perception.

  4. That was not helpful to be told to forget it. And with so many girls at your school knowing these two girls it must have been very difficult for so many people. i was only seven at the time, and remember nothing of the case. We would not have been told anyway, I do not think.

  5. Recently visited the place where this occurred with my son and family. It seemed such a remote horror on that sunny day. There was a bit about it on the information board, which I thought a little macabre and wondered how to explain to our grandchildren if they read it (but they didn’t so it was avoided). I couldn’t help imagining the scene while walking there. Horror is so far reaching. Your poem and thoughts & impressions around that incident, helps distill and process something of the brunt. I guess that’s how we deal with such, reduce it down as much as possible to what can be managed, to what can be learnt. Thank you.

    1. That sounds like you have a healthy way to approach such things. The fact that the murder is mentioned on a notice board says heaps about the ghoulish fascination it caused compared with more recent dramas, I guess.

  6. so many things were taboo – and probably still there are taboo things – you couldn’t talk to that nice man who was always drunk; nor ask Mother about the children across the road who wore no shoes and seemed to run wild – BUT I could go to school on my own, around a huge empty park, a long walk for sure…(later when I was an adult, I went back to the town – that wouldn’t be allowed now, parents would drive kids to school, there might be a rapist…) And actually when I think about, someone was murdered in the vicinity and still I walked that route…

  7. my Mother was quite old by the time I went to school – mid50s – she hated questions or she threw booklets at me – and when I asked a Q, she wouldn’t be able to answer, apparently it wasn’t ladylike (these mostly to with female issues of a teen…by then she was in her 60s)

  8. Violent death of someone we know at any age is traumatic but especially so for a child I think. I don’t know where the idea came from that not talking about matters somehow made them disappear from the conscious mind and memory — that one would simply forget. Shame gets tied up in it all. For you, the erroneous assumption of guilt where there was no guilt was a needless burden to carry.

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