It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone
Maybe we’ll get forty years together
But one day I’ll be gone
Or one day you’ll be gone
If we were vampires and death was a joke
We’d go out on the sidewalk and smoke
And laugh at all the lovers and their plans
I wouldn’t feel the need to hold your hand
Maybe time running out is a gift
I’ll work hard ’til the end of my shift
And give you every second I can find
And hope it isn’t me who’s left behind
— Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “If We Were Vampires”
I heard this song a few months ago while out driving. The melody did nothing for me, but the lyrics struck me immediately, especially the poignancy in the realization that a “mere” forty years can seem paltry to a couple in love. There’s also the endearingly honest weakness in the line about hoping to not be the one left alive to mourn. The next time I stopped, I looked the lyrics up on my phone, then texted the Lady of the House about them, saying that they made me think of her.
In Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he added a reincarnation romance to the familiar story, with Gary Oldman’s Vlad Dracula furiously renouncing God after the tragic death of his wife. After 400 years of undeath, he encounters his beloved again in Victorian England and sets out to reclaim her. Later, he refrains from allowing her to join him in his vampiric state, saying that he loves her too much to condemn her. As Isbell’s lyrics recognize, the price of invulnerability is too high; it kills the very sentiment it’s meant to prolong. Cut loose from the tether of mortality, we float off into meaninglessness rather than freedom. Fantasies of afterlives or reincarnations, however understandable, are just another means of avoiding that painful reckoning.
My greatest fear, without question, is the possibility of having to survive her. Statistically, at least, that’s unlikely. But the threat of accidents and disease weighs more heavily on the mind than actuarial tables, and whatever selfish comfort I could take from the reassurances of probability is offset by the feeling that I love her too much to condemn her to years of aching grief. Would I stoically endure for her sake if I had to? I can only hope to have that much courage. I can only hope to never be called upon to demonstrate it.