? SLAB | Sound & Literary Art Book

Issue 8

Creative Nonfiction

Ron Riekki

A Bunch of People Who've Died

My Grandpa, heart attack.
My Grandma—I don’t know, old age, I guess.
My other Grandpa, drank himself to death, but it took
a lifetime.
My other Grandma, drank herself to death, and my
Dad walked in as a twelve-year-old or somewhere around that
age and found her dead. My Dad dragged her to the bed, not
understanding death. He only told me that story once. I asked
if he would be OK with me writing about that ever and he said,
“Do whatever you want.”
A lot of other relatives, but I don’t go to funerals. It’s
like I want to forget them so that I don’t sit around thinking
about my dead relatives all day. It’s relatives I didn’t know that
well though, like aunts and cousins and stuff. My uncles are
crazy. One’s been in prison, a lot. And another’s a heroin addict.
And another’s a bit of a workaholic, working in the mines.
But they keep plugging away, refusing to die. It’s the nicest,
quietest relatives who’ve seemed to die the quickest. Like my
Auntie Sharon, who had a large pan full of boiling maple syrup
spilled on her at my mother’s wedding. That didn’t kill her, but
it was something else years later. And another relative who
was flying a small plane he crashed on an island in Lake Superior 
during winter. He survived the crash, but then froze to
death. I didn’t go to those funerals though. I told you that. If
people don’t go to my funeral, I’ll understand.
The E-4 on my opposite watch in Rota who fell from
a roof. The rumor was the Guardia Civil threw him off it. They
told us during orientation to run if the Spanish police were
ever coming to a bar or restaurant we were at, that they beat
up Americans, that they might even kill you. I always ran if I
ever heard the cops were coming, even if I didn’t do anything
wrong. I don’t know what happened to that E-4 exactly, but I
saw his wife the week after he died. She didn’t say hi to me.
All the guys on that plane that crashed off base. Diego
Garcia. Standing on the beach, I watched the Search and
Rescue. It was a warm February night, not far from the equator.
I went back in the barracks and watched TV in the rec
room. It was always empty at night. David Letterman used to
come on at around noon. Late Night at noon. But they’d do
reruns around midnight or so.
This guy in a helicopter that ran into electrical wires
just off base on Skaggs Island. I watched him die through binoculars.
I wrote about it before in a short story called “War” in
Oklahoma Review. My Dad read that story and said it had too
many f- words. I couldn’t really see what was going on inside
the helicopter though. It was too far away. Although I used to
have nightmares where I was seeing the guy burning. But the
older I get, the further the helicopter gets away.
This Marine who shot himself in the mouth while doing
patrol around The Bullring, which was the name of the
barbed-wired building where I worked as a CTO in Spain. 
I hated that building too. This other Marine who drank himself
 to death on Diego Garcia. His barracks was right across from
mine and the MPs placed police tape all around the part of the building
where they found him dead.
This guy in boot camp where the company commander
drowned him during training, holding his head under
the water as punishment. But he held him under too long. I
got pneumonia in boot camp and lost fifty pounds, but I didn’t
die. My Mom said that when she came to visit me at my company
C060 graduation I looked like an Auschwitz survivor.
I’m doing these deaths out of order. It’s just how they
come to me. I think that’s it for the military. I actually thought
there’d be a lot more of us that would have died when I was
in the military, but it was just these people. I didn’t know any
of them very well. Everybody I knew well lived. The people I
knew well used to get in trouble a lot though, like having to
go to Captain’s Mast and be put in the brig and stuff like that,
including me, but that’s a different story.
This girl in high school who got leukemia.
Those kids in high school who committed suicide. I
think it was like three. Two of them had the same last name,
but I don’t think they were related. One of them was really
mean to me. He used to make fun of how skinny I was. I used
to think about punching him in the face, but I never did. After
he died though, I forgave him. The other kid with the same last
name had a good sense of humor. I was really surprised when
he killed himself. He did the car exhaust thing in the garage
that people do. If I ever killed myself, I wouldn’t do it that way.
I’d do it some other way. I always thought drowning would be
a good way to do it, but then my cousin died drowning and
then I hated drowning from then on. And my Mom said that 
she has thought of killing herself by drowning too, which I
didn’t like her telling me.
The guards in the prison where I was volunteering. It
was a correctional facility for inmates with a history of violent
crime or mental health issues. The head of the volunteer program
told me to never turn my back on the prisoners. Basically
always keep them in front of you. The prisoners all had pencils
for the class, so they could stab you with one of those and kill
you pretty quickly if they targeted the right place. When the
prisoners found out about the guards who died, they didn’t
seem like they enjoyed the news as much as I thought they
Everybody I know from college is alive, except for my
old Religious Studies professor. I had him for Witchcraft, Magic,
and the Occult and Goddesses. He went to Harvard. I think
it was non-Hodgkins lymphoma that he died from. I went to
his office and he told me he couldn’t live anymore, that the
pain was too much, too constant. He was a nice guy. During
office hours, he gave me moonshine he got from a juke joint
in Mississippi and also gave me books by Mary Daly, Charles
Bukowski, and Malcolm X. He told me not to read Martin Luther
King, the Bible, and books about Gandhi. He said life’s
more complicated than that.
I was going to say my heart back in 2005. That’s
when Julie left me. But that’d be corny. I’ve thought about
suicide though, but I don’t know how to do it. I won’t kill myself
though, if you’re wondering. I have a book coming out
next year, so that’s keeping me alive. That’s what I like about
writing. I’ve always said that if I ever really want to kill myself,
I have to first write a suicide note and the suicide note has to 
be at least 250 pages and then when I get done writing it I can
try to send it to a small press and see if I can get it accepted
for publication and, if so, that’d keep me wanting to be alive
for longer. I think if you write a suicide note that’s only a few
pages long, people could care less.