I’m sure he had died by the time I reached the park in front of his building. I wasn’t so sure then, but I’m certain now. He was gone, I know. Everything around me, the crosswalk, the bushes and the trees around the bench where we often sat seemed bizarre and out of shape, but I, I walked in the same manner as I’d always done, glancing to my left and my right as I crossed the street and made my way crookedly through the trees and toward the worn and withered wooden bench. Such an almost perfect day! An abundance of sounds surrounded me, none of which aroused even the smallest reaction within my senses. I stared down at my feet stretched out and a line of ants marching deliberately behind my heels. A fly landed on my shoe and I stared at it, but only for a second. Strangely enough it flew off as soon as the sound of an ambulance siren pierced through the street. I raised my head and turning my glance, I saw it go by and wondered to myself with a trembling smile, “Why are they in such a hurry?”
The thought was an explosive spark, a raging blaze of hope. I even jerked forward on the bench, as if trying to get up. I began to hear everything with my ears, for my eyes had suddenly caved. Sure enough, they had reached the building. I pictured them running around to the back and their franticness in my mind gave birth to the absurd, yet dreadfully pleasant idea that all might be well. Nothing may have happened. It was with this thought that I began to cry. I sure made up for many years worth of tearless moments, seeking rage blindly and only stumbling on emptiness, the greatest emptiness I’ve come to know, but even in this hollow plain time still existed and could be seen vividly, even through blood soaked and blurry eyes. I had much time now, much time for tears. Never before had I been so consciously aware of the present hanging frame of time and the many layers of moments, awakening one by one and never losing their grip. I was so incredibly aware of the hours yet to come and the immense hole left within my already vacant mind, caused me to believe that routine shall no longer take form. “There’s no getting used to anything anymore,” I thought, still crying with my eyes half closed and my hands pressed firmly against the sides of my thighs. “Habit knows nothing of where I stand.”
I do not know whether the ambulance had left, for my eyes were in a way swollen shut. It seemed also that my ears had ceased to listen. All that was left was the repetitive and agonizing beat within my chest. My mind was silent with the thought of my friends and their reaction to the news. I thought about their eyes and tried to open my own, but a burning feeling forced them to close and streams of tears began to make their way once again down my ghostly and sunken face. I only hoped that I wouldn’t be the bearer of this incident. I decided right then and there that no one was going to hear it from me. Even in that state of mind I knew that it was a rather difficult task. “If only they could stumble upon it in the paper. The best way to find out would be to have to read it.” Still I did not want to be the person that handed them the newspaper, nor did I want to be anywhere around or close to them when their eyes would stumble upon the headline of their friend’s corpse.
When there is no getting used to anything, when there’s no habit, one can do nothing but numb the pain and put to sleep the mind. That’s all I wanted at that point, and quite frankly, that’s all I could’ve had.
“You’ve got to get all that you can,” he said, nodding his head gently as he stared at his hands on the table, “And you’ve got to make it last,” he continued, stretching the final words with a peaceful breath, subsequently falling silent within a sigh. I could tell that the alcohol had begun to move inside him, but he wasn’t yet drunk. When he finally looked up at me, there was no poison in his eyes, only a blank consciousness, a distant and detached idea he had retrieved. “I try to beat the sensation out of life,” he whispered all of a sudden as if he was telling me a secret, as if ‘beating the sensation out of life,’ was an act so far beyond and against the law that not a single soul should ever overhear. I knew what he meant though. As a matter of fact, I knew him better than almost anyone else. I knew for instance that he had a distinct way of speech, and certain theatrical details encompassed the manner, in which he so bluntly spoke the words he so frequently thought. His words would make you feel all sorts of things. But if you knew him truly, most often of the time, his words would make you feel sorry for him. I knew that he had known many people and had infected them all in a way, differently. I also knew that it was not with love that he had encountered the bare souls of so many people. Instead, it was a thick mist of pity and numerous shades of shame, inside which he cloaked the lives he so carelessly altered.
“Another dreary night, it seems, needs to be made in to morning!” he exclaimed as he reached for his glass, took a rather large sip with his eyes closed peacefully and slammed the glass back on the table. I noticed a couple of lonely heads turn towards us. I nodded my head and smiled at the drunken regulars; an old man of about sixty years, with cheeks that hung lovingly above his drink and rising eyebrows that almost always depicted anger. The other was a middle aged black man, always in the same seat in the most distant corner of the bar, where dirt would often gather and the wall behind him seemed to carry a darker shade. He would sit there with his sunglasses on and the bartender would bring him his rum.
Suddenly, with a completely different tone and a smile on his face, Anthony said, “I like this guy; our Jamaican friend over there, the one with the shades.”
“Is he Jamaican?” I replied, as I turned my head to the right with my drink in my hand and stared for a moment at the man in the corner. I was sure he wasn’t watching me, but with those sunglasses on I could never be a hundred percent certain. Without even the faintest signal or slightest expression of acknowledgement, the man raised his drink at us and smiled. Both Anthony and I returned the gesture, but nothing simple and whole was ever enough for my friend, Anthony. Not even life.
“It’s a good day!” he exclaimed, still staring at the man in the corner. “I hope you don’t mind me asking,” Anthony continued, paying the least bit of attention to my gaze on him and my eyes telling him to lower his tone. “Are you Jamaican by any chance?”
I put the drink down and partially closed my eyes as I tilted my head slowly to the right again. There was a gentle stroke of silence, and then a strange emerging voice said, “Quiet down, the man’s a mute.” The bartender was smiling as he scribbled something in a pad on the counter and nudged it aside casually. The old man sank back into his whiskey and turned away from us.
“You know,” said Anthony unexpectedly and added with a tone of absolute sincerity and innocence, “for a while, I thought to myself that he was blind and you were deaf, or mute, because you know, I’ve never heard you speak, and our friend over there always has his blind man’s sunglasses on. I don’t know. It’s just a thought that I had. But I’m glad I was wrong.”
“What are you so glad about?” asked the old man, speaking from the depths of his chest.
“I’m glad he’s not blind and that he can see. Well I’m also glad that you’re not deaf, or mute, or dead,” he replied, mouthing the word ‘dead’ silently with his lips, which shortly after turned into a playful smile. It was as if his eyes nudged me on the shoulder. I felt to have no choice but to smile in reply.
“You should keep your thoughts to yourself,” said the old man.
“Oh I try,” he said, “but my therapist says it’s not healthy. So you know, every now and then, I’ll share a few of them, my thoughts. You can’t stop the damn things you know! I’ve just gotta keep making room for them. “
Nobody said anything. It was quite cool inside the bar, yet somehow, for some absurd reason, I had been sweating all along, but hadn’t realized it. It was a sudden sense of sickening measures. An emptiness in my blood moved around. I could feel it and hold it still inside me for a moment. It would slow down every now and again, and if I concentrated and held my breath I could trap the blank beast within my gut, but only for a few seconds. Much like all other life, even my emptiness must keep moving.
Awareness makes it so dreadfully difficult for dreams to continue. It usually brings them to an abrupt end. I do not mean awareness to life or death or any aspect of a philosophical nature, bearing much significance, no. It is not the acknowledgement of life, but of a series of mundane facts; a book out of place, a clock that has stopped turning, a coffee stain never before seen on a table cloth, which suddenly appears strange. I stumbled upon my sweat, real as it was, and the surreal circumstance surrounding me gained clarity. The ice in my drink was gone, and as certain as I was about being drenched in sweat, I knew that Anthony was gone as well. At first I ceased to hear his breaths to my left; his long and heavy breaths. By the time I finished my drink, I looked up and he was sitting there, completely tranquil, and further away behind him, the bartender was still smiling that same smile, the old man had dropped his head along with his eyebrows, and I knew, with a jagged certainty raising the hair on my skin, that all was too simple to be real. I tried not to look at him anymore; Anthony, my friend, my brother, sitting to my left, as still as a spider before a meal, with not a single sensation to beat out of life. I looked down at my hands glowing in the light. There was blood on my right palm; a thin streak of emptiness escaping. ‘I will miss talking to you Anthony. I will always miss hearing you speak.” I think that was my final thought.
There are certain limits to our control over our own minds; distinct boundaries that map out our knowledge and all that we can and cannot know. Once asleep, one has no choice but to wake up. Very much so I did and was instantly disgusted by the feel of sweat soaked sheets and the foul taste in my mouth. For a short while, I remained still, seeking desperately in my mind with eyes closed, the path I was on a moment ago. I marched back and forth, racing through the narrow and damp corridors of my empty thoughts, searching blindly for a sentence I had just heard, a drop of conversation perhaps dripping down slowly behind my ear. I was, without a doubt, at the very edge of my power and so, in a way of complete agony and disgust, I managed to thrust myself off of the bed.
“Today is Tuesday,” I thought, “May twenty…” I grunted and coughed, digging my fists into the side of the mattress and raising myself off the ground. “Tomorrow is Wednesday. Today is Tuesday. Monday must vanish from my mind.”
I chose not to wash up. Going downstairs, I heard voices, faint whispers and what sounded much like muffled laughter. The living room depicted the scene of an amateur burglary, where the thieves had thrown everything about in their frantic search and at one point had relaxed and taken a break to have a snack or a drink. Within the disoriented jungle of books scattered about, mugs stained with coffee, empty cigarette packs and dreadful looking plates filled with the loneliest of crumbs, I noticed instantly my bottle of cognac sitting idle, with the patience found not in love, but in true devotion, by the leg of the coffee table. Walking over to it, I cursed in my head the voices from downstairs. “Miserable bastards, you drink my cognac and flee to the basement like a couple of lousy rats! Couple of lousy rats in a hole…”
I carried the bottle into the kitchen like an infant child in my arms, an orphan perhaps. For many years I’ve been a drinker, but never had I bonded with the bottle. Never had I seen its friendship so vividly, it’s loyalty to my needs. It is also fair to say that never before had I needed it so desperately. The kitchen was not so different than the living room in appearance. However, there was a sickening odor that lingered in the area. I guess it is better to say that it did not linger, but lived day after day, dying. It was unbearable and caused me once again to curse those lousy rats, lousy rats in the basement, smoking all day long, drinking all night, making love by the hour, almost always muffling their laughter, but never their pain. They enjoy, they consume with joy the moments and leave behind their weaknesses in a cluttered mess of extreme proportions, carrying the stench of death itself. With my breath held captive inside my chest, I struggled over to the cupboard to grab a glass and could feel the emptiness in my stomach, the urge to vomit, rapidly rising. Time had eaten away at everything and continued to do so. There were no delays, no interruptions, only scraps of rotting seconds, satisfied with the monotonous pace of decay.
I managed to escape from it all without fainting, leaving the house in the same manner that I woke; with disgust tightening my muscles, lowering my eyes and crawling over my skin. I could still feel the liquor in me from the night before; Monday night, oh dreadful night! I hesitated for a bit, but as soon as the repulsive presence of the odor had left my being, I raised the bottle up high and began to drink fiercely, with a purpose far beyond intoxication, far beyond my urge for forgetfulness. Truthfully I was already drunk, I was already lost. I drank, simply because I no longer wanted to cry. It has always been too strenuous an exercise for me, crying. Besides, at that point, where I was headed, there was no breathing consciousness, no living figure, only passing reflections and traveling characters put on paper. Piercing sentences and drawings of strange looking faces marked the walls of my destination. I had seen them all before, oh so many times. Oddly shaped emptiness, flooded with flashbacks of a voice that filled many moments worth of silence, awaited me. An awkward sheet of a quiet texture awaited me; familiar faces, hanging in disbelief, gathering under the same sheet to mix their different emotions into one shared love, the loss of one friendly voice known to them all.
“Anthony, you selfish bastard,” I thought, finishing the remains of the cognac and dropping the bottle on the grass by the sidewalk, “You made a four into a three, you conceited prick! You made our four into a three. You left me to face them on my own. Only you’d know what to say in a time like this. It’s hard to hate you, now that you’re dead, but I’m going to try. Hopefully I’ll never understand why you chose death, so I can remain forever hating you, and myself.”
“Dude, what’s your problem? This has gone on longer than I expected. That day I kept calling you, do you remember? You wouldn’t pick up, and I sent you that text saying, ‘Can’t you stop eating pussy or watching TV for two seconds?’ and still you didn’t answer…I had something important to tell you. Moments earlier, I had called the cemetery where Anthony’s funeral was at. They told me that his fucking parents had him cremated.”
“That’s probably what he wanted.”
“Fuck man,” he grunted, “I wanted to visit his grave, to leave flowers and pour some shots, but I can’t; never will be able to.”
“It’s not a big deal,” I sighed, smiling at Anthony’s image in my head, flipping through his laughs, and remembering how everyone went their own separate way, once he passed. I said, “You remember Amy?”
“How can I forget,” he laughed, shaking his head.
“Well, she used to leave whole plates of food outside of her house on the ground, with a shot of something on the side, maybe even some dessert, as an offering to the spirits of her dead friends. She had a few. Anthony is only energy now in my thoughts, and I think about him daily, but I don’t believe in graves. I’m in a different place these days.”
“We have to party in his honor.”
“I’ll have a drink for him every now and again; I’ll smoke a joint and remember his laughter, and how he rarely asked any questions. I have no more benders in me, no more pills, no more powder, no more sleepless nights. I’m in a different place.”
“You mean to tell me that you’re the same guy who got me started? Who taught me to mix and trip and how to let go…come on! You kidding me or what? Better get off this stupid shit soon.”
“I’m afraid I’m happy here…Love has saved me man. The last time I got high, it all came to me; the emptiness inside me…I’m empty of all temptation…I saw who I am now, who I want to be. Anyways, it doesn’t matter…I gotta head home and empty the cats’ litter box. The thought of a clean litter box excites me these days, and I’m happy, in a different place. So long my friend.”
Walking home, I put together a poem in my head. It certainly isn’t the greatest poem, and quite frankly, Anthony deserves better, but it was how I felt and still feel. “So long my friend…”
He isn’t forgotten,
His energy is around here somewhere.
Every other day,
Someone’s energy greets us,
On the sidewalk, in the park,
Smoking on a rooftop, watching the city,
Watching birds drawing circles…
I used to get so high,
LSD made me realize
The energy out there,
Energy in the waves of
Smoke that caress the air…
Followed around still
By Fragments of conversations
And shadowy fingers in my solitude,
I hope his energy never leaves me be;
We were all insecure,
We were all friends for a short while,
It was the greatest summer.
All said and done, his energy
Still tends to wake me some mornings,
His energy is out there,
Like that of Jesus or Muhammad.
Who knows who`ll follow us later on,
On the sidewalk,
To our homes,
This emptiness, this empty world,
Isn`t all that empty.