Imagine, for a moment, that you are dead—dead not for a day or a year, but dead for many centuries. You have been dead for so long that the lease on your grave plot has expired, and your mostly disintegrated bones have been dug up to make room for the newer, younger dead. You have been dead so long that you have ceased to miss life. You are content to be where you are, whether that’s paradise or just a steady humming noise and a warm, bright light.
Your body does not remain, but you did leave things behind. Your life was full of things, crammed into the edges of each passing moment. At gift shops, you bought candles that smelled like Muir Woods. At yard sales, you bought instruments that you did not play. Once, you stole a hippopotamus-shaped tape dispenser from a house party, and it sat in your car for two years. You drowned iPods in swimming pools and left them to sweat out the chlorine in dark desk drawers. You bought three pairs of boots in 2014 alone.
All the objects that you acquired did not cease to exist when you did. Some of them were surely lost, incinerated perhaps, but still more were displaced. Rubbish refugees found a new home atop a landfill, until truckloads of fresh waste buried them deep below the surface. The weight above them grew more crushing with each passing lifetime. Bound together with the items around them, they formed a geologic layer in the sediment of this man-made mountain.
In the blink of a century, the earth hiccups and swallows the landfill, burping up a layer of spikey, yellow grass. Decades sift through themselves. The soil becomes fertile. The grass becomes lush. Trees grow thick in the slanted sunlight. Houses appear and swell with humans and animals and—always—more things. One morning, a boy digs into the earth, a parakeet’s lifeless body wrapped in toilet paper by his feet. He keeps digging, deeper, deeper, until his shovel strikes something hard and his nostrils sense a primeval stench rising from the avian grave.
Now the boy must stay inside while a team of archeologists excavates his backyard. He watches from the window as they burrow into the earth, emerging each day with new treasures from ancient kingdoms. Here is your cracked iPhone, your ink-stained backpack, your novelty mug. All of your things are tagged, inventoried and laid out under surgical lights. Packaged with the utmost care, they are shipped to institutions you have never heard of in a city you would not recognize.
There, they are lovingly restored and placed on velvet cushions inside of locked glass cases. Your things are pressed up against the things of strangers: an ophthalmologist’s toothbrush, a plumber’s bicycle, a politician’s printer cartridge. They are identified by small white placards, which tell the story of your civilization in less than 100 words.
Imagine, now, that reverent visitors stand in front of the cases, examining a ladybug shaped hair clip that your aunt bought you on your tenth birthday. A tour guide points to your sister’s bellybutton ring, the one you were not supposed to tell your mother about. A guard dozes in a corner next to your 6th grade science project. School children press their noses to the glass and make foggy circles with their breath.
Now imagine that no one is looking. Imagine an empty gallery, one so deserted the guards do not bother guarding it. Elsewhere in the museum, crowds jostle to catch a glimpse of the latest Golden Age, but the stillness of your gallery has not been disturbed in months. The only sound comes from an overhead vent—a climate control system is calibrated to postpone the disintegration of your artifacts.
Imagine, while you can, that you are dead.