afterlife's suicide café

Word has it that several tribes of native Americans, including the Iroquois, believed that suicides did not go to the usual land of the dead, confined instead to separate villages lest they make the other dead uneasy.

I imagine those villages as merry places.

Well, not exactly merry, perhaps - more like Afterlife's Suicide Café, with all the coffee you could drink and literally eternity to weave your long stories, your visions of armageddon and resentments against those who had driven you to such a fate. The suicides aren't forced to go there; they choose it, arrogant, unwilling to breathe another moment in the company of non-suicides even when they can no longer breathe.

The welcoming ceremony in these villages is casual but extremely well-defined. Each new arrival is first congratulated (if I ever get there, I'll get the Miss Persistence award, no doubt, for my repeated attempts); then they receive whatever painkillers are needed to ease the physical transition (the cuts in the throat still smarting, the gut tired from throwing up from barbiturates), a decent meal, and their choice of living conditions. Many choose solitude, either out of habit or because they've never had it; some, like many of the religious martyrs, form quiet spiritual communities; and still others join more sybaritic houses, many touches soft ethereal skin long slow screams.

Marilyn Monroe laughs in Percy Shelley's face and goes off with Cleopatra for a night of giggles over rum; Sylvia Plath and Assia Wevil, sister refugees of Ted Hughes, avoid each other - Sylvia choosing instead Sappho's vast tent, which is filled to bursting with the virgins of Milethos, the girl-widows of India taught to burn with their husband's ashes, and many young dykes from later years, whose teen suicides later caused rioting by the Lesbian Avengers. In another house Jim Jones and his followers, reunited and madder than hell, revive the tradition of the gladiators and kill each other nightly, charging admission to visitors from other houses. And Socrates teaches peacefully in his final university, trading philosophy with Jesus Christ, who has grown fat on plum wine, with Buddhist monks who once protested international tragedy by setting themselves on fire.

But it is the cafés of these villages that come to life most vividly for me: Jack Kerouac staring cynically over his cigarette at some Trobriand Islander who died to avenge a lover. "You did what?" he asks. "Jumped from a fucking banana tree?" He puts out the cigarette and lights another, sighing in a mix of awe and bewilderment. Meanwhile Judas Iscariot has reclaimed his original calling as a revolutionary agitator and sits on his heels before a crowd, talking about "integration" of the afterlife. "They stick us on on this godforsaken corner of eternity," he says of the natural dead, "while they sip ambrosia elsewhere. We think we've got it good but that's because we don't recognize our oppression. The natural-dead have us brainwashed." (Natural-dead like natural-born, the suicide thus the bastard among the dead.)

but before Judas has amassed any followers, Sappho and her girls always come out to play, with drums and tambourines. Even Anne Sexton comes out of her neurasthenic torpor to dance with them, while the ultimate bitchin rock and roll band, Brian Jones and Kurt Cobain and Sid Vicious (OD's having been admitted to these villages after a long controversy), add a trembling taste of white-hot rage. The Christian virgin martyrs dance the fastest and longest, their centurion scars still gleaming dark red.

Every night in the village of the bastard afterlife they happen: rocking thundering three a.m. dance parties, attended by Socrates' disapproval, the laughter of Jesus, the apathy of a million schizophrenics. Not the soporific Swan Lake of the natural dead but dirty dancing, with more of a mess to clean up afterwards.

If I believed all this, I know which village I would choose. Gods, stand up for bastards!