Sorry for the double post, I accidentally sent this to my Facebook account. This is a story I wrote back in 2001… it’s fictional, but just barely. I never gave it a title, and I haven’t edited it. Critical thinking and comments are mostly welcome.
But maybe, looking back with enough distance, everybody looks sad just before they die.
That’s how I remember him. Half a smile, his eyes trying to catch up to mine. His left hand near his shoulder, immobile, in a solitary frozen wave. The last time I saw him had been the first time we had met in eight years.
Eight years since we had discussed the sudden and expansive growth of Susan’s breasts. Eight years since we had snuck a cigarette behind my parents house. Eight years since he had moved to Vancouver to be with his mother after he had found his dad naked on the bathroom floor with a small pool of blood under his face.
Now all I remember is how sad he looked as we parted. As I fully turned around after walking sideways for a few steps, waving and smiling like an idiot. Thinking we would have all the time in the world to reminisce. Just his eyes and that stupid hand. Frozen just at his shoulder.
And as my eyes turned away, now in my memory, it all just fades to black. With time, and a focused imagination, I can see him. In a room full of books and music, window open to a city baking in the summer heat, sitting on a single bed with no sheets, holding a picture of his long dead father.
He had come back here looking for something that I knew he couldn’t describe. And then he was gone. Lost in a thick fog of painkillers. It was ten days before his landlord opened the door.
The less intimate details came from his mother. Between quick dabs at her eyes with a bunched up tissue. She was standing very still. I don’t know why I noticed that. Maybe it was because my legs were shaking, and I hadn’t been able to hold a full cup of coffee for over a week.
The more intimate details came from my imagination. That he was sitting in his boxers. Thinking of his dad holding him. Trying to cry, but getting more depressed as the tears refused to come. Listening to the kids laugh and chatter outside his first floor window. Alternating between anger at what a stupid death his dad had. Slipping on the way out of the shower, trying to reach for a towel so the floor wouldn’t get wet. Anger at having to explain it over, and over again.
He knew people’s first instinct was to laugh. He could see it in their faces. Or maybe the look was one of disbelief at such a tragic finish. In my imagination, after the anger would come melancholy. Remembering the times they would talk. Stupid things, like school and girls. His dad slightly patronizing, of course. Having done it all before himself. But making his son feel like it was all for the first time. He was made to feel unique by his father’s smile, his father’s laugh. The way his father looked at him over the dinner plate, or the breakfast table.
But the tears still wouldn’t come. He had left, to be with his mother, almost eight years ago and he had never cried. And now he was back. Had seen his old home, his old school, and his old best friend. And still the tears would not come.
And then came an even darker depression. And everything in his little room seemed to speak to his failures. Eight years of immobility. Eight years lost to a father who was no longer there. Eight years out of twenty-four. I know, in my imagination, that he forgot his mother. Forgot her in his memories of his dad.
If someone, anyone, had been there in his last ten minutes to remind him he would still be here. If anyone had just whispered “mother,” just louder than the traffic outside his window, he would have stopped to think. But no one did. Not even me when we met, purely by accident, around the corner from the schoolyard where, in grade nine, we both spent a few dollars to stare at Susan’s naked young chest.
We knew each other instantly. We embraced and shook hands. Looking back now, I’m sure I can remember hope in his eyes, and how his look made me feel. Wanted. Remembered. But in my imagination, I can see the blankness in his eyes. The desperation. The need to speak to someone, anyone. His best friend. About everything.
We talked. I talked, mostly. I asked questions that he could only answer with single words.“What have you been up to?” “How long has it been?” “When did you get back?” “How long are you here?” Then I had to go. I. Had. To. Go. I gave him my phone number. On a torn piece of a cigarette pack. And told him to call me.
Then I turned to go. And then he gave that stupid shoulder high wave. And then, as I turned, in my imagination, the world just turned black.