Hereafter: Escaping the Debtor’s Prison


The old, unhappy feeling that had once pervaded my life
came back like an unwelcome visitor, and deeper than ever.
It addressed me like a strain of sorrowful music,
a hopeless consciousness of all that I had lost, all that I had ever loved.
And all that remained was a ruined blank and waste lying all around me,
unbroken to the dark horizon.



Obviously, if the feelings are familiar, they’re not new. Something else happened, something that had fixed hopelessness upon his soul. Yet, if he allowed himself the luxury of detachment, relinquishing the apparent cause of his misery, he’d find himself face-to-face with the most curious of puzzles: how feelings can pierce the barriers of time and space, injecting themselves into lives different from those in whom they first emerged. A transference between generations.

If he’s anything like the rest of us, he’d be hard-pressed to find their origin: after all, what could explain feelings so grim: a ruined blank and waste lying all around, unbroken to the dark horizon? And yet, they’d always been there, like a battered teddy bear: evident in the tortured prose of adolescence, perhaps, or the music to which he’d been drawn, plaintive tunes pointing to the unspoken and the dead.

The words of Dickens do the same: giving voice to a feeling written upon the soul and lodged in the bones. Inscribed for eternity. Finding comfort in the language of another, precisely because it echoes the ancient and familiar. Perhaps it’s even due to something as gruesome as a child sacrifice, like the accident of his youth: for it’s precisely from the black abyss that "gifts" such as his are born.

Darkness Lifted

Which is probably why the chance encounter with a woman, including the taste of a possibility, felt so exciting, lifted as he was from the envelop of darkness that had become his home. It offered the chance to gauge his senses against another’s, the opportunity to learn and understand something as simple as the taste of things, and giving names to them.

With her abrupt departure on the heels of an unwanted disclosure, he’s plunged back into his dreaded cavern, the black sea from which he had hoped to escape. Tired of exploring the shape of the dark, including the ghosts who were his only companions, all he had wanted was the chance to meet the gaze of another.

(Some say that abuse targeting the body is the worst fate in the world, especially for a child. Yet, injuries to the soul are just as crippling, leaving survivors without a sense of themselves or a place in the world, as much the result of neglect as having become a plaything: seduced into the world of an adult, only to have it taken away; left with an enduring absence and an inherited sense of shame, ever responsive to the needs of others, even to the exclusion of his own.)


So, it’s to the old and familiar to which he returns, echoes that resonate with the submerged and half-forgotten. They’re enlivening precisely because they give voice to what no one else has had the courage or insight to say out loud. Besides Dickens, he could become just as entranced by the movies, struck by their ability to mirror his anguish and exultation. And yet, the words seem to speak of the danger of this rapt attention, as if he were being drawn in by a spell:

In his affable unconsciousness, he took no heed, making a tour of the prison before he left, and looking on at a game of skittles with the mixed feelings of an old inhabitant who might have his private reasons for believing that it might be his destiny to come back again.

The prison in Dickens’ novel is where entire families were sent to work off the debts incurred by husbands and fathers, where wives and children were condemned to suffer the deficits inherited by misfortune or by fate. Perhaps that’s why he’s drawn to melancholy tales, the fate of their protagonists not so different from his own … including the distinct possibility that it might be his destiny to be returned to the prison and its darkened world.

About Her Drowning

And yet, as if by happenstance, in this place of words and books, he crossed paths with another who’d written a about her experience with death, the conspiracy of silence with which she was met, and her struggle to find meaning in the confused aftermath of her passing.

I felt connected to another world, a place of utter peace and tranquility.
Whether what I saw was a genuine glimpse of the afterlife
or just a concussed fantasy, I’ll probably never know.
I arrive at the end of my journey with as many questions as I started with.
I certainly never imagined I would be exposed to that kind of prejudice and closed-mindedness. We obviously have a long way to go before we are able to deal with death and what follows in anything approaching a sensible fashion.

She was speaking about her own drowning, a tsunami that left her dead. She wrote about her her miraculous revival as well as the disbelief her story elicited in others: even her (married) boyfriend was unable to give credence to what she was trying to say. Left to her own devices, she was forced to her own methods of divination, her only comfort coming from experts who themselves had gone into hiding since they, too, had been met with hostility and indifference.

The Twin Who Hounds Him

Before they have the chance to speak, he’s accosted by a boy he learns is one half of a pair: a surviving Twin. The child recognizes him, the man who once did readings for the dead, someone who could help put him in touch with the brother who left; a boy whose mother had been whisked away, left alone in world without his brother.

At first, the child’s an irritant. What’s worse, his demand for a reading has spoiled any chance to speak to the woman who signed her book for him. He tried running away, hoping to return to the rhythms of his life. And yet, the boy stood his ground outside from morning ’til night, as if he were the only one who could connect him to the spirit of the dead, the other whose absence had left him bereft.

Eventually, he relents but soon discovers that his words are not enough. The child remains stricken, not knowing how to live without his other half. Which is when the unexpected happens: straying from the script on behalf of the grieving one in front of him, as much a surprise to him as anyone else: less words from the beyond than advice on how to deal with an unwanted absence. As if he had to suffer a broken heart first to understand what it meant to get to the other side, perhaps even to recognize the nature – and consequence – of the accident of his youth.

Stealing His Mobile

What was not said (but implied), the secret behind the riddle of the Twin’s death, the fate of the elder who went to fetch medicine for their ailing mother because he was the more able of the two: when his cell was stolen, that’s when the terror began, for that’s also when their soul connection was lost. Boys who towered over him took it. Wanting what he had with his twin. Wanting it as their own.

It’s the kind of theft that happens more often than we’d like to think. The deprived stealing what they lack from the hands of a child. Sometimes it’s accomplished by brute force and the advantage of numbers, overpowering their prey. At other times, it’s more intimate, using the power of seduction to set their trap. But the result is always the same: there’s a death and there’s a survivor who’s haunted by absence, by the life that was taken.

In circumstances like these, some turn mute, other become a flower upon the wall or a ghostly shadow. Some try to compensate by changing their sex; some acquire talents that tap into the occult and hidden. Most became addicts, desperate to fill the gaping hole created by loss. Each are faced with the same question: how to live – how to create a life – in the absence left by tragedy.

Reading His Letter

Which might be why he writes a letter that turns into an avalanche of words, as much an homage to what he has learned as a desire to make it known to her. And while it may resemble a dissertation, it’s clear they’d never be published in a fancy magazine or a book. For they’re meant only for her.

Since the words come out rushing, not all of it makes sense. Surely, some of it’s garbled and confused, which probably reflects the nature of an illumination that undermines everything he took to be true. It’s as if his meeting the child and then reading her book had unleashed something that had remained dormant, as if the woman and child helped answer the riddle that had hounded his entire life, including his ambivalence about his "ability" to communicate with the dead.

His compulsion to write is a measure of his gratefulness, as well as his admiration. And why he’d ask if she would like to meet.


Whether she would consent or not would remain an open question, an uncertainty he’d happily tolerate, especially after assaulting her with his words.

While she reads, another scene unfolds, one involving the Twin who extracted a reading on behalf of the dead, as if the reading – perhaps even the letter that followed – contributed to a long-awaited reunion between the child and his mother: the lonely journey now finally at its end. As if the woman, in her own act of reading, conjured a different conclusion for the story of the boy who had lost his brother.

For he now has access to what seemed beyond his grasp, his very own mother who had once seemed so far away. She’d been drowning in a sea sorrow, leaving the twins to fend for themselves. But having committed herself to a life of sobriety, she had now returned. And the world was no longer swallowed by the dark.



~ by mistified on September 20, 2011.

One Response to “Hereafter: Escaping the Debtor’s Prison”

  1. Wonderful analysis of this deeply touching film. Who among us hasn’t been touched to the core by death? Death that has changed our landscape to one that is no longer even recognizable.

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