When I was younger, I thought about death a lot.
Okay, that’s a pretty morbid intro but it’s actually kinda true. I was a pretty happy kid with a penchant for playing pretend, organizing the neighborhood kids for plays, and a burning desire to somehow acquire exactly 101 Dalmatians, but boy did I have a weird fascination with death. Well, more like suffering in general. I’ll explain.
I don’t know when this began, but I’m thinking junior high. I went through this big phase where I was obsessed with the Romanovs and the Russian revolution, Princess Anastasia in particular. I read everything in my age group I could get my hands on (and even some things way beyond my comprehension level, such as a biography of Anastasia’s mother, Queen Alexandra). My favorite part of the story was when they were taken from their palace to Yekaterinburg where they were later murdered in the woods. This wasn’t because I wanted them to die, I was just fascinated by how their lives were changed physically and psychologically.
This grew into another phase where I read a lot of books about the Holocaust. Talk about a depressing topic. I was well-versed in the horrors in Auschwitz and the occupation of Poland before I went to high school. My favorite Holocaust subject, or person, was Anne Frank. I read her diary many, many times, as well as a book of her short stories that she wrote while hiding in the Secret Annex. I even portrayed Anne Frank in Shrine of St. Anne’s inaugural production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.” She was, in a sense, my home girl. I knew the story didn’t end well for her, but every time I read her diary or a biography of her, I hoped it did.
I eventually grew out of these phases and went about my life, but still I sometimes had morbid thoughts. I often wondered about my mom’s parents, who died well before I was born. I loved ‘The Lovely Bones,’ the bestseller about a girl who watches her family from heaven after she’s raped and murdered. I thought a lot about what heaven would be like, who I would see there, all sorts of things. Again, I realize how strange this is, but there’s a point to this, I promise.
One of the campus ministers at Xavier, Deanna Martin, was trained to administer the Enneagram personality test. She did this often and I have another deep interest in personality tests (ENFP, visual and linguistic intelligence, Concrete Random mind style—I could go on) so I anxiously awaited mine. According to this particular test, I am a 4, the Individualist. This means my ultimate desire to be uniquely myself and I fear being insignificant and alone. I hate being ignored and neglected and I am often envious of others. I’m interested in the origin of ideas and I like to make up my own, hence why the whole “being a writer” thing makes perfect sense.
The thing about suffering and death is that it strips away all the things on our outsides, both metaphorically and sometimes physically, to show who we really are. It reveals your true essence, your inner core. It answers that simple question of ‘who am I?’ I think my interests in the Romanov family was there were cloaked in finery, royalty, and wealth, but then they were stripped of it, forced to live in seclusion and then murdered in the woods and buried in an unmarked grave. I think when I was little I wanted to know who the Romanovs really were and this part where they suffered the most was the biggest clue.
Now, taking an interest in the Holocaust is not abnormal for a kid, but I still think it had something to do with my curiosity about human nature; specifically, how could the Nazis have been so cruel? The variations of their torture horrified and fascinated me. I was curious if those Nazi soldiers were really being themselves when they did those terrible deeds or were they forced to? If so, what price did they pay mentally? What did it to do their self, their soul? Also, the accounts of survivors made me hopeful. It was a genocide and people still lived. Some of those people even under the most terrible of circumstances managed to be resilient enough to survive and that, to my 14-year-old mind told me all I needed to know about who they were.
I like to think that even though my interests may have been a little worrisome (my grandma noted that I read “a lot of depressing books for a kid”), they affected my education in some way. I wrote about my trip to the Holocaust Museum for my college essay and I like to think that knowing about that horrific time in history made me more accepting of people who were different than me when I was a kid. Knowing a lot about the royal family made me pretty good at trivia (Who is Anastasia’s famous great-grandmother? Queen Victoria, from her mother’s side. Also the side that carried the gene for hemophilia. BAM. Next question).
Let’s hope there are some other ways in comes in handy, too.
Also, just because it’s fascinating, here are two visual artifacts of my former historical interests.*
*okay, current. I’m still interested.
What about you, lovely readers? Fascination with True Crime at age 10? Witch hunts? Weird tribal customs? Let me know in the comments!