The next six weeks went by like a dream. I didn’t see much of Jeb although I sometimes saw evidence of his being at my apartment – either that or I was going crazy. Some things were definite, like the return of my iPod with a note (the increased shaking of his hands actually made his handwriting more legible… I’m not even sure how that was possible). As time went on I had the distinct feeling that maybe I just wanted to see something of his presence because I began to miss him, the routine, making him laugh. I stopped going to the bar during the week so I could concentrate on my new job. I was finding it difficult to get myself up in the mornings, and it didn’t help that my first paycheck was wrought with taxation and deductions. I had to work 80 hours for this? I can make this in one weekend! Still, the point wasn’t the money or sustenance, it was the time. I had to fill my time. Time would become a dangerous void of centric spirals of unneccessities, crowded with empty stages with stark lighting ripe for drama if I didn’t manage the darkness correctly.
I would still visit Hunter on the weekends. One weekend he surprised me by taking me out to a (female) strip club. Somehow as a gay man I spent $200 that evening. He tried his best to keep me in good spirits, “Hey. At least now with the house to yourself you can finally get laid.”
I looked at him squarely with a drink in my hand. “My best friend is dying of fatal sexually transmitted disease. Getting laid isn’t going to be on my brain for a while.”
He laughed, “Good point. But you’re not him.”
Fucking Hunter – trying to interrupt my ‘artist in pain’ implosion. In fact, I haven’t been laid in two years (at a certain point, I refused to sleep with, around, or near my ex). I had yet to christen my apartment. I had yet to christen my new body now that I was almost half the weight I was before. All the dieting and exercise in Florida and I still hadn’t taken the results for a test drive. I had brain freeze because I didn’t know how to think about me. I went from a toxic relationship where the world centered around the other guy to a situation of love and faithful brotherhood… where the world centered around the other guy. I had lived out of obligation for so long, working with ‘what needed to be done,’ I hadn’t really concentrated on pleasure, leisure, or personal desire. I wasn’t even sure I knew the meaning of these words. I had to Google the definitions just to get an idea, some suggestion as to what I might want, who I might want. I forgot what kind of guys I was attracted to. I hadn’t felt this free since the first time I moved to Austin. It was overwhelming in opportunity. This is another reason why focus on a steady office job was beneficial.
I couldn’t get too lost in the world, however. There was still a big blow to come… it had yet to happen. I would occasionally talk to Brian or sometimes meet Ed after work or for lunch if he was making a run in town. Reports of Jeb were usually a series of mixed pleasantries. It was then I realized what they sounded like from the receiving end: a criss-cross of general niceties used to comfort with clutter without confrontation of the issue at hand. I would be insulted if I hadn’t been laughing so hard as the wording was exactly like my own when Jeb was in my care, and now it’s being thrown back at me.
“Oh, he’s doing better today.” Better? Better? Better than what? Better than the previous day when he was not dying? I found myself consumed with wording of (actual) avoidance, but I couldn’t fault anyone but myself. I did the same thing to them (to everyone) for months. I didn’t tell them about handling the Staph infection or his sleeping for three days at a time or the piles of bed sheets and constant laundering from his night sweats. I didn’t tell them about the small things like how his hands shaking would sometimes lead to chipped plates, cracked glasses, or how to handle his frustration by transcribing things for him when he wanted to look up something on the internet as his fingers no longer moved in a way to allow typing. I certainly didn’t warn them about the nurse’s visits. I didn’t tell them any of that. I just always said the same thing. “Oh, he’s doing better today.”
Through the month of April communication with them became lax in etiquette as they were getting a grip on the process and I wasn’t so invasive with my questioning. His shaking was getting worse, and sometimes he would be “out of it”, spacy and incoherent before returning to his room and sleeping for days. He was having difficulty breathing. He wasn’t eating. There were no more days when he was “doing better.”
I had dreams that crossed into the day, vividly theatrical and detailed. One stuck out because it was a presentation of what the emotions of the events felt like, but in a different story with a different setting. It seemed more like a consolation, a meeting of the middle between Jeb’s atheism and everyone’s want for him to be Christian. Later I would be asked repeatedly if he “found God” before he died. An honest effort was made, “God” wasn’t there. But in my mind there still seems to be a need for reconciliation with the drama of it all, and helping a friend (a brother) go through Hospice is about as spiritual as one is ever going to get, rooted in inside the heart. No god was necessary.
In the dark north of nowhere, covered with chill and snow we emerge from a train wreck were Jeb had been giving people in the observation car advice based off song lyrics. One was from a fortune cookie: It will get better when you do. I am not able to make the discernible difference in my surroundings. Are we even walking? Whatever we’re doing, it sucks. The oddity of the crash comes like a betrayal of a lover, the absence of hope for the first time in many years settling on a series of Catholic-like rote questions that were always there with the meaning, packed thick enough so that any bouncing doubt was reflected. It is a steady and safe cushion when left untouched, snug, and quiet… until your train runs into a damn a cow. Or at least I think it was a cow.
The wreckage behind us was crackling obnoxiously like a spoiled infant, at first bright yellow with its furious violence but now seems like a simmering beast readying for sleep from a few hundred yards away. Jeb seems like he knew where he is going. I do not.
I hear the intense collision of metal and fire in flashbacks, still feeling the inertia of the train car turning. In wild hits I can still see the ground scraping across the window and my body falling towards it as Jeb’s hand reaches around and grabs me like octopus would grab a leaf floating by. The toss, the movement, the jolt, the inability to know direction, up, down, falling, being thrown is all being hurled at my brain to process – all the while the idea of survival, landing, steadying myself, steadying those around me, and trying to figure out what exactly to steady myself to… and from what, dominates my eyesight. Now, walking in the cold snow, the frigid night adventure being shaped by the howling wind carving blue curves into the terrain, I sense my brain has caught up with the body as the two parts of a human are not able to recover during the same amount of time allotted. Both my mind and body are protesting this betrayal of safety with a grand voice.
Jeb not only seems to have regained his agility, he also seems to have infused himself with determination that I have never seen before. We were walking into the northern tundra, the cold nothingness… the very terrain that creates legends, folklore, and monster stories. The wreckage falls silent in the background… a faint glow of orange and despair in the distance. No sound. The light from its death was but a blink and the night’s reality took over.
Jeb drops to his knees. The ice beneath his legs began to melt, and with it the gravity that we had avoided started to grasp us. And it pulls us. We drop. My eyes are closed the entire time. I open them. We were… light.
The word thunders out of somewhere… I’m not sure where. Maybe it’s just in my head but it fucking echoes like it’s a blow horn on crack, powerful enough to burst my eardrums from within. My lungs seem weak with the pressure causing the eyes to bulge out of focus.
When I do regain sight, I see I’m standing on a glassy floor with a sea of… water (I guess) reflecting the light from above which is… are stars (I guess) but bright enough to light the court palace where I stood among gold columns, black space, universal celestial everything, and a throne (of course). A light of great strength stood beside Jeb who was covered in a white bed sheet. To me it looks pretty comical but I fear this may not be one of those times to start lightening the situation with jokes. This is, however, one of those times to be indignant.
“Yes, betrayed.” I feel the words pulled out of my mind and through my throat without my intent. “You said we would be safe and in no danger. But here we come from a train wreck where people died. Yes, for it I feel betrayed.” Where is this coming from? I’m more controlled than this.
YOU WERE NOT IN ANY DANGER. I WAS MAKING SURE OF THAT.
Dammit if the bass from that fucking voice didn’t make my balls itch. “Physically maybe. Emotionally you weren’t making sure of shit.”
I CONTROL EVERYTHING. YOU LACK FAITH IN WHAT YOU DO NOT KNOW.
“I know we were in a motherfuckin’ train wreck…”
YOUR CAUTIOUSNESS IS A GREAT STRENGTH, BUT IT PREVENTS YOU FROM MOVING FORWARD. YOU EXPECT TOO MUCH, AND WHAT YOU RECEIVE NEVER MEETS YOUR EXPECTATIONS.
Great. I finally get a chance to meet God… and God is a douche.
“Yes, well… that is called ‘being human.’ We live, we learn from our mistakes, we learn from examples, and we walk forward adjusting ourselves according. We take our experiences both as individuals and as a society and create expectations based off all that. So any missions or jobs we might accept should be given in a way that reflects who we are as humans individually. And we should be told if that includes hitting a cow on the trip up here…”
IT WAS A MOOSE.
“Fine… a moose. Whatever. Seriously, the derailing of a train is pretty fucking traumatic before we even get to walking through the snow in the middle of the night. Who knows how much therapy I’m going to have to go through because I was in a damn train wreck.”
ONLY ABOUT ONE THOUSAND HUMANS DIE IN TRAIN WRECKS PER YEAR…
God is an unempathetic prick. “That is not the point! The point is that you are forgetting the emotional aspect of this. I can only handle so much.”
I BELIEVE YOU ARE CAPABLE OF MUCH MORE…
“I’m glad you believe I can do more, but frankly, I don’t want to do more because the emotional recovery will takes a greater toll than the actual journey itself… so I’ve had enough, thanks. I don’t care how much you think I can handle, I’m unprepared to focus emotion on someone who has been my brother for over a decade and deal with a fucking train wreck.”
I KNOW YOU ARE UPSET. YOUR JOURNEY IS OVER NOW.
“An apology would be nice.”
I DO NOT APOLOGIZE, NOR WILL YOU EVER ASK THAT OF ME AGAIN.
“What, you can apologize to Moses but you can’t to me?”
LEAVE MOSES OUT OF THIS. THAT WAS A DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCE.
“I don’t see the difference.”
IT IS NOT YOURS TO SEE.
“I’m trying to grasp a sense of fairness about all this. That’s what I’m not seeing. When I signed up for this job, I didn’t know it was going to come with… all this.”
I DO NOT HAVE TO LISTEN TO YOU AT ALL NOR IS BEING FAIR MY WEIGHT. HOWEVER, ON THE COUNT THAT I WAS NOT PAYING ATTENTION AND DID NOT NOTICE THE MOOSE, I WILL LET YOU STAND AS YOU ARE .
“Not paying attention? Was there some rapper needing help sampling a song or an actress not able to cry on cue?”
IN TRUTH, IT BURDENS ME TO BE THANKED FOR HELPING WHEN IN REALITY I SHOULD BE THANKED FOR NOT PAYING CLOSER ATTENTION.
He made his point. There was no need to answer silly questions to avoid the bigger issue at hand. In fact, God didn’t have to involve me in this at all. I seem to be thinking out loud. Maybe God can here this.
I HAD NO INTENTION FOR A POCKET OF SINGLE CELL SEA MONKEYS GROWING INTO SELF ABSORBED MACHINES WITH COGNITIVE THOUGHT, AND NOW YOU HAVE THIS PLANET OF HUMANS THAT DEMAND EVERYTHING BE HANDED TO THEM WITHOUT ANY EFFORT OF THEIR OWN. THE POINT IS TO LIVE INDEPENDENT OF ME, OF ANY ONE THING THAT PREVENTS THE INDIVIDUAL FROM DEMONSTRATING WHO THEY ARE AS LIFE INSTEAD OF SEDIMENTARY BRATS WITH NO NATURAL ENEMIES BUT EACH OTHER.
“I knew our lack of natural selection was irritating you.”
YOUR UNSELFISH LOYALTY HAS PROVEN ITSELF BEYOND YOUR OWN KNOWLEDGE. IT BRINGS ME GREAT HONOR AND PLEASURE. YOUR WORK IS APPRECIATED AND NOTED.
That is what I needed to hear, I think. Humility suddenly took me. “Thank you. I apologize being so upset… and I’m sorry that I don’t technically believe in you.”
IT WOULD BE PREFERABLE IF MORE PEOPLE DID NOT BELIEVE IN ME. THOSE THAT DO TEND TO MAKE IMPOSSIBLE REQUESTS OF LITTLE LOGIC. IT IS RATHER ANNOYING. THINGS WERE MUCH QUIETER WHEN HUMANS DIDN’T SPEAK AND JUST ROVED AROUND THE PLAINS. NOW, YOU HAVE HOPE, EXPECTATIONS, AND FEELINGS THAT IF PRICKED CAUSES TANTRUMS THAT CREATE MORE CHAINS THAN FREEDOMS, MORE SWORDS THAN SHIELDS.
I could see how I was possibly created in God’s image. “When humans are given little information, we tend to fill in the blanks with whatever it is we know. The end result is not always pleasant. I’m pretty sure it’s the beginning of most religions.”
THOSE DREADFUL CONCEPTS BASED OFF COINCIDENCE PAIN ME.
“I didn’t ever think that it would be something hard to watch. I’m sorry. I’m sorry on behalf of all humankind.”
THANK YOU, JAMES. THANK YOU. I WILL ALLOW YOU TWO A CHANCE TO SAY FAREWELL.
“I’m leaving Jeb here?”
“But I brought him here to be healed.”
AND SO HE WILL BE.
With the words of the Almighty echoing across the glassy floor a blue and silver light rises out of the sky and starts to pulse with a hum that is calming and nauseating simultaneously. The pulse heads towards the gaunt, pale Jeb. The blue silver light takes root. His eyes return to their original green, his skin becomes tanned, his face full, his mouth in a smile.
I was caught by surprise. It was beautiful. The sea beneath the glassy floor gives up a planet. It is Earth. I look back over to my friend.
“It’s okay, James. I can do this.”
“Yeah, but I can’t. I cannot live without you in my world. Your humor and slanted perverseness. I’m not ready for this to all go away.”
“All the things I will miss… your future paintings and poetry, erratic behavior and randomness… I don’t want to miss any of that.”
“Jeb, you are my family. Most of what I create stems from your warped enabling.”
He looks like he’s about to tear up. “Stop being such a pain in the ass. This is a good thing. Go and live your life. You’re now free.”
Something about his permission made it so much worse. “I’m not ready for this…”
“Well…” he said through a teary smirk, “It’s not really about you, is it?”
“You’re an ass,” I said half laughing.
“I’ll see you soon enough, I’m sure.”
“Oh. Thanks…” I say sarcastically.
“James, it’s going to be okay. Don’t worry about me. I kinda want to see where all this is going…”
I couldn’t argue with that. And with an unnoticeable flash he was gone. It is the ultimate in feeling powerless and helpless, empty. Despair – and yet, extreme selfishness. Then I feel a warm wind, a falling. There is a grand vastness, almost like a freedom, the expanse of which was too much to handle. The earth from below got closer… and closer. The wind was so loud it was causing my head to tremble and the heat upon reentering the atmosphere was suffocating.
When I wake up from the dream I am dressed in black, standing in the back yard of a house off West Gate Blvd. with 50 other people, mostly guys, standing in a half circle. A woman named Margie is trying hard not to break down. She is holding up a piece of paper… my piece of paper from my notebook. It is my eulogy for Jeb.
I cannot stop shaking.
I cannot stop shaking.
Ed puts his arms around me and tries like hell to hold me still.
I cannot stop shaking.
James P. Perez © 2014