Dylan James Peterson

Jaeger Eisenberg


Death is all around us. Someone next door has died.

This year was not clever, so I enrolled in a PhD in English program at Northern Illinois University. I received rejections from the University of Illinois, at Chicago and Champaign-Urbana, and Northwestern. While at Northern I learned of the reason why: a simple matter of a designation. Northern is an R2 public research university, and those others were R1. I am not qualified to receive a PhD from too good of a school. It is already well beyond my class position to have an MA. No one in my family has one of these, and I am lonelier for having rejected their traditions. I showed my dad the plates from the GDR which I carefully brought back to the US in my carry-on, proudly stolen from the furnished Berlin sublet we lived in for a year, and he asked, “what’s the GDR?” I am beyond my heritage, and I am not sure why. But I think it has something to do with the way I will die. When I die, Heaven or Hell will not follow. They believe in seeing someone again. I will go like my dog. Arlen died this year at 13 and a half, with his paw in my hand; it was the end of a good life. He looked me in the eye one last time at the moment of injection, and it broke my heart. But then he died, and I better understood that when my turn comes it will be the same thing. It would not be scary, but it would be death. This was new for me, because I always feared death. I still don’t want to die, but thanks to Arlen I have a better sense of it, and will remember him when it’s my turn.

I was remembering him on State Street less than two months later, with the grief still so fresh—a drive-by broke out a foot away from my car at the stoplight intersection. Tiny tufts of smoke out the windows mixed with a popping sound that was nothing like movies or video games. It is not a scary sound, which is why guns are much scarier in reality than in movies or video games. A desensitized culture has tried to give them a personality, but guns cannot have this. They are mechanized objects designed to remove life from a thing that has life. An encounter with this click pop click pop is as quick as the pinch my dog felt in his final breath.

“Is this it?”

I accelerate forward, my friend in the passenger’s seat looking into the eyes of the shooter, his girlfriend in my back seat ducking, screaming, making her first visit to America from Italy by way of Iran. All the stereotypes are true. They’re not stereotypes. I didn’t think we were south enough for this to happen, and I assured her earlier that afternoon over soggy Italian beef sandwiches that it wouldn’t. But we pulled forward, and did not get killed. My car wasn’t even hit. I don’t know how, but I am still alive remembering deathly events, furthering from life. It is timely, but the R1 PhD student would say temporal.

Still, I would visit Los Angeles twice this year, once for a reunion with our friends from Berlin who also just moved back, recalling Oslo as the place where we all first intersected, making new intersections for later recollections. Twice, in this city I had never been to before, the second time for the Film-Philosophy conference at R2 Chapman where I presented on the dialectics of nepotism in Hereditary, came more academic thoughts on death and lineage—maybe someday leading up to a book chapter or a journal article or nothing. My essays about Covid killing concerts as Burial thrived was published in a UK journal, too. Accomplishments from a 39-year-old former DJ are so mobilizing. I’m teaching Rhetoric to 18-year-olds but everyone on NPR is an “F” student whenever they talk about Palestine and Israel. I am disgusted by the president’s “stand” with the far-right genocidal government, but I do not post about it on Instagram for some reason. Maybe my next conference paper about mistranslations in Kafka’s animal stories will bring about something clarifying. I don’t know, except that I am still alive at the end of this year in spite of death being everywhere. But who needs words when death is all that has ever happened anyway? If anyone asks, I’ll tell them my secret is a French press in the morning, and an Americano in the afternoon.


Dylan James Peterson is an English (Rhetoric) PhD student at Northern Illinois University. Some recent scholarship includes a paper presentation at the University of Edinburgh’s Film-Philosophy conference (“Descendant Ascension: Dialectics of Nepotism in Ari Aster’s Hereditary”) and an English translation of Sabina Spielrein’s “Father Freudenreich” for American Imago. He holds an MA with distinction from the University of Potsdam in Anglophone Modernities in Literature and Culture and he is interested in movement, migration, and mobility.

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