My mother, who has been dead three years and never lived in Lenoir, received an offer in the mail at my house this week to get a free hearing exam.
“You have received this invitation today because you best represent the segment of the population which is most likely to experience hearing loss and tinnitus,” it said.
I would not have thought of the dead as the segment of the population most likely to suffer from hearing loss, but in hindsight I should have known better. If nothing else, all the dirt muffling sounds from the surface would make that person keenly aware of how much better his hearing could be.
Anyway, my mother was cremated. Surely that process cleared up any problems with her ears.
But as I thought about it I realized there are other possibilities.
What if the afterlife is more like the Catholics envision it, or used to (do they still believe in limbo and purgatory?), and when you die it isn’t a clear-cut case of going to heaven or hell? There could be intermediate steps. Maybe not limbo as the Catholic church described it, but something hung in the middle between heaven and hell.
My mother lived a good life and was kind to helpless animals, but she was no saint — she was a journalist, after all — so perhaps she escaped hell but is condemned to an eternity of tinnitus, a constant ringing sensation in the ears.
It would be like the afterlife was portrayed in the comedy-horror movie “An American Werewolf in London,” where the victims of a werewolf are cursed souls and must roam the earth as ghosts until the werewolf’s blood line is severed.
This would make being bitten by the journalism bug a curse similar to being bitten by a werewolf. (If you don’t think being a journalist is a curse, come spend a day with my boss.) I’m sure this idea would strike any journalist as uncomfortably familiar in the same way as looking into a mirror at a big, formal gathering and seeing yourself with a severe case of bedhead.
Except in the movie, the ghosts of the werewolf’s victims looked just like their physical corpses – bloodied and mauled, and gradually decaying.
In the case of the cursed journalist, the ghost would walk the earth forever, constantly sticking a finger in his ear and wiggling it, or lying in bed in the dark trying to ignore the ringing. And of course, the curse for a journalist is doubled because the dead can’t drink.
I can see it now, and probably will the next time I belly up to a bar. I’ll look down at the row of seats and imagine dead journalists at each one, all looking longingly at my beer while they wiggle an index finger in their ears. All except Mom. She was a scotch drinker.