When I was five years old, my sister - older than me by six years - gleefully informed me that someday I would die. She said this contemptuously, her eyes narrowed and her chin up, as if daring me to defy her. Everyone dies, she told me. Life doesn't go on forever. Someday you'll be dead and you won't be on this planet anymore, and mom and dad will be dead and you'll be all alone until YOU die.
And it hit me. Hard. I was mortal. I would not go on forever. Someday, maybe tomorrow and perhaps in great pain and agony, my body would shut down and stop, like a clock. I would no longer exist. What would happen after? The enormity of it devastated me and I began to cry, utterly afraid for the first time in my short life. There was no end to the fear: it was a great black ocean that no comforting words could ever dismiss.
My mother was furious. "Why did you tell her that?" she demanded of my sister, a cruel, cold, dark girl that had had a different father and who had wept bitterly when I was born, angry that she would no longer be the center of attention, angry that she was no longer the only female grandchild.
"She has to know." my sister stated.
"YOU don't get to make the decisions about what she finds out and when!" My mother yelled at her, before sending her slamming into her room without supper.
But the damage was done. I knew about death. Nothing could erase the fear. It was so all-consuming that my mother finally took me to a doctor and told him what had happened. He wasn't greatly concerned, either with my trauma or my sister's cruelty. "Kids" he dismissed. "She'll get over it."
I never did.
"Whatever became of the moment when one first knew about death? There must have been one. A moment. In childhood. When it first occurred to you that you don't go on forever. Must have been shattering. Stamped into one's memory. And yet, I can't remember it. It never occurred to me at all. We must be born with an intuition of mortality. Before we know the word for it. Before we know that there are words. Out we come, bloodied and squalling, with the knowledge that for all the points of the compass, there's only one direction. And time is its only measure."
~Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)