Every year on the last Saturday in April the city of Austin has a party in Pease Park called Eeyore’s Birthday Party (“Eeyore” being the depressed donkey in the A. A. Milne ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ stories). What started as a spring picnic in the early 1960s for the University of Texas Department of English students has now turned into a full costume party dedicated to drinking, pot, and LSD. Realize that this is a family affair as the event is primarily geared toward children with competitive games, clowns, and all proceeds going to charity. The children seem to thoroughly enjoy watching inebriated adults stumbling about in absurd costumes, and the adults get to enjoy their drug of choice out in the open with fresh spring air and rumbles of a drum circle. It’s about as “hippie” as you can get. Of course I go every year.
I was taking a friend to experience the scene for the day. It seemed my nature in April to try and cram as much everything into my life so I wasn’t stationary long enough to absorb the unknowns of Jeb’s daily condition. The more distraction I had the more I didn’t have to think about how much I missed him… or how much I was going to miss him in the future – you know… after it happens. I was trying to formulate some collection of life for myself so that when it happens I had a cushion to land on, a living I had to get up in the morning for, a reason to stay alive. This was being on the ship after the Titanic, bracing yourself for an unseen iceberg yet to be. That evening I was driving back from the northern parking area (you take a bus to the park) when Brian called on my cell phone.
More specifically he stopped breathing during dinner. Brian sounded distant, diluted, methodical. He was pleasant and polite. He said he thought I should be “one of the first people to know.” That phrase took me off guard and immediately irked me to no end. I didn’t fault him because I recognized this… it’s the ‘auto-pilot’ mode a one sets whenever they have to relive a painful event for each person they are required to tell, and then listen to the recipient’s live reaction to new information in real-time… over, and over again. He was already in that mode the day before, Friday. Brian called and told me that Jeb would not wake up and it seemed like the “time is getting close.” He suggested I drive to the lake house to say my final goodbyes.
I didn’t have any final goodbyes to say. I spent almost every day from August to March with the guy saying “goodbye.” There was no more to express other than “it’s about damn time.” I called the Hospice nurse. She confirmed the situation, so I drove out to the lake house. It seemed tragically pointless but like Jeb’s trip back home to see his family it felt like something I should do – it would be more out of place if I didn’t do it. This would be the first time I stood face to face with my friend since he left and come to find out, “not waking up” was an extreme oversimplification of what was going on.
I walked into the room and saw what was left of him after his body began to systematically shut down. He was nothing more than an all-encompassing star trapped inside a paper-thin shell twitching with random contractions from the nerves’ obvious disintegration, legs squeezing together, arms magnetized to the chest. Ed was in and out of the adjoining kitchen while Brian kept making sure I’m okay (which was nice of him). Jeb’s mom, Eileen is running about, “James is here. Do you remember James? It’s JAMES!” loudly in slow rhythm as if he had become an senile centenarian in the weeks since leaving my apartment. As I approached the bed he opened his eyes wide and stared at me. It was powerful. He kept looking at me and only me. The house erupted into excitement at this. Everything was so uncomfortable, but I just kept looking at him looking at me. What did he want? I couldn’t tell… I closed my eyes for a moment to absorb it all… the conflict, the noise clashing from the outside. I finally just told everyone to give me a moment, give us a moment. They went into the kitchen and Brian closed the door.
I look back at him. What did he want? Quiet. He wanted quiet. He gave a smile (I think). I grabbed his hand, something I had only done once before, and gave him the biggest grin back. I never wanted to be in this position, not with anyone much less him. But here we were, on the brink of the inevitable and he just wanted quiet… so I didn’t speak. I had nothing to say anyway. We had sat without words a million times in the past decade (not staring at each other, mind you) and I knew it was a great comfort to me to just have his existence in close proximity, but it hadn’t occurred to me it was a comfort for him as well. For a man who made a living with his ears in a world of constant commotion, it made sense that he just wanted some fucking silence for a little bit. So that’s what I gave him.
After a long while of a rather calming stare-down (I’m not sure who benefited from that more, he or I) I put his hand back to his chest . There was no more levels of peace to be felt. “I have to go,” I said aloud. I rubbed his head and whispered, “Don’t take too long, okay?”
Outside the room in the kitchen Eileen was desperately trying to read into his movements, motions, and responses, calling his nurse for the new positive ‘turn around’ as he hadn’t opened his eyes in several days. “Is he still awake?” She asked.
“He’s not awake,” I said blatantly. I didn’t want to sound mean. Jeb wasn’t “awake” in any real sense. He was never going to be “awake” again. He was responsive, but even that was limited. With my quip she ran into his room after him, after her son, after a dream about a boy who was once her son. I couldn’t believe the way his body twitched. And yet with that, there was a parade of people all coming to say “goodbye” to the most private, prideful, and distant person I knew, making him the subject of conversation, concern, the center of attention. It was a house of noise and clamoring ceremony. That is when I noticed in Brian and Ed that evening… they were being ceremonious – not in bad or selfish way, in a ‘coping with the worst shit of their lives taking a crap in their fucking house’ way.
Then I heard the tone again in Brian’s voice on the phone the next evening, Saturday. I was driving south on Lamar. I pulled onto 25th Street and immediately parked on the incline next to the grass lawn that sits directly on the corner. I put my head on the steering wheel and let the phone drop to the floorboard. It was over. It was over. The sound of the burning wreckage took over my thought. I didn’t know what to do. I was dizzy. I wanted to go to the bar, but I wanted to go home. I wanted to be around public outcries and numbing beats with people who loved him, or a version of him… Scot Free. I had spent the past six weeks surrounded by the ‘noise’ of life… maybe what I needed was some fucking silence. The thought made me laugh. I went home and curled up on the couch… the green couch, his couch. I couldn’t believe it finally happened. Good for him.
That night I had a dream, a real dream. It was less “celestial” in theme and more “Indiana Jones.” I was being chased though the crowded streets of Merrakech by a bunch of sweaty thugs who wanted my… something. I turned into a bar and there was Jeb at the end of it holding a shot glass getting ready to drink. I smiled. “You made it,” I said happily.
He gives me a stern look. “What kind of trouble did you get yourself into?” A giggle was my only reply. He half-smiles and shakes his head. Toasts the bar, then does his shot. Then in a vocal version of a push he says, “Well, get on. There’s an exit in the back.” He motions with his head.
“Okay.” I hustled past him. I stopped and turned back around. “It’s good to see you.” The bad guys show up at the door. They look… like they should. “Go,” he says.
“What about them?”
“Don’t worry. I got this,” he smirks. “Get going. Take care of yourself.”
“You too,” I said and darted out the back.
That was it. That was my “Jeb dream.” I woke up in tears, smiling. I wanted to thank anyone and everyone, maybe even God included, for having a vivid picture of him as him etched in my mind instead of the shaking spasm I last witnessed with my eyes. I wish everyone would remember that Jeb and not the one asphyxiating in a bed from the burden of his own failing body. He was now released and I found it wonderful… but selfishly empty – pain but with laughter, relief but regret, scarred for life but thankful. I lived in that dichotomy for two weeks, the realism of the finality not hitting me until we are in the backyard of the house where Margie, a friend of the bar, created a Navy-theme picnic with a blazing barbeque pit and most of the employees from Oil Can Harry’s and the neighboring bar, Rain. I took off early from work, and I took off the next day just because I wasn’t sure of how all this was going to go.
Of course I was running late to Scot Free‘s memorial service. “Hurry up. We’re waiting for you” Anthony told me on the phone, waiting outside to escort me to the event. When I reached the backyard through the wood gate on the side of the house, I was slammed by the amount of people there, All waiting for me. Most of them didn’t even know who I was. The (extremely ‘Texas’) service started somewhere between the potato salad and the swimming pool (near the booze, of course). Once it did, that… that is when it all hit me. At that singular moment my ‘dream’ ceased its storytelling of gods and palaces, heavens and earths, gold and light and everything became real, raw, and exposed with an unmerciful choke-hold of reality. That is when I became one naked nerve ending emerging from the train wreck and I was unable to control myself or the movements of my own body. I realized I wasn’t able to speak. The amount that my body is shaking was something I had never experienced before and (as of the writing of this) have not experienced since. I had never been so cold or on a come down so violent that my body would convulse outside of its own existence without control like I was experiencing. Ed held me close and as tightly as he could as Margie reluctantly agreed read the words I had written about my friend, their friend, in a whimsical story composed of 50% my heart and 50% song lyrics from over 20 different songs.
“Jeb Stuart Mobley was born in a small Texas town where the streets have no name…” She began. I couldn’t keep it together. I wanted to just disappear.
I couldn’t see the point of sobriety without someone special to share it with. I couldn’t see the point of good drugs without someone there to indulge side by side. Without laughter, the point of either situation is void anyway. Jeb was my sobriety that was wrapped in copious amounts of drinking. But completely drunk we still had a better grasp of the world around us than most people did sober, chasing the winds in the desert with a bible in one hand and a butterfly net in the other. It was 6 months of drinking and while he had plunged into every sort of Hospice nicety that was offered, I had to remain steady in order to drive him home, put him to bed, or clean up after him. It was all over, not just for me… but for everyone. It all finally hit me but couldn’t tell if I was bleeding from our collective loss or ashamed because of my personal freedom.
Free, but alone. I’m alone in the world now, a solitary freak. There isn’t another warped visionary with a decade of experience (tolerance maybe) on the planet that could say what I needed, when I needed, in the method I needed, and succeed effortlessly… without being asked. Plenty of people tried, only a few got it right, and only one lasted that long. It’s painful to the point of uncontrollable quivering. I floated lifelessly though the party until after most people left on a river of alcohol and the cloud of cocaine that bellowed, seemingly impossible to ignore. What is exactly the point of avoidance after six months of abstinence and two weeks of antisocial immobility? I was no longer responsible for anyone getting home safely anymore… I’m by myself. Myself.
I wanted to fall down. I wanted to curl up and give my brain a fucking night off. I wanted to dive into a world of white and brown and let my veins pump a sweet vacation to my emotions while I sit in the back seat being driven around on a leisurely psychotic tour of ice cubes and shot glasses. I want a vacation that allows my senses to play instead of being in constant readiness to give the proper reaction to whatever is thrown at me, ‘doing what needs to be done.’
I was the mysterious ‘man in black’ that showed up in August and suddenly their crabby, scruffy Scot Free was secluded and distant, laughing and joking in private, a joke they weren’t included in. Then I stood in a backyard memorial service where everyone was going to use this death as an excuse for drinking, snorting, going fully naked into the swimming pool of sorrows. Fuck that… I’m going to be right along side with them. If that was how the other half copes with trauma, then I’m game. He wasn’t my friend, he was our friend. And we were going to mourn together. And it felt great to be included. After two weeks of lamenting alone behind closed doors I found myself in comfort getting hugged by every single person I never knew.
My reality was so loud and obnoxious and now it had come to a screeching halt. The first wave of a tsunami had completed its run after Eeyore’s Birthday Party, and at the memorial service the debris-filled secondary waves of the after decide to catch up. It was overwhelming and devastating and I had nothing to grasp onto in order to steady myself nor did I even know which direction I was being tossed. Did I want to steady myself? The helpless feeling of the unambiguous definitive finality is only trumped by the stark realization that there is no finality. Did I want this theorizing in my head? I wanted to know but I didn’t want to know right then. At that moment it is more important to breathe and to sustain life past the next day than to understand the details of it. I am just a human… and I needed time to heal from this cut. Time to acknowledge. Time to simply be. But time… time… what a fucked up oversimplified concept.
As humans it seems like we have progressed faster in our mental and emotional evolution than in our physical bodies that take generations, sometimes centuries to change and adapt. There’s nothing that says our flesh and blood can possibly keep up with our minds as we now apply layers of impotence to each other that didn’t exist in generations past. How is it we are expected to handle something of this magnitude when the tissue and wiring of the physical brain itself is hundreds of years behind in evolution? I feel the electricity being clogged, bottlenecked with drag and hindrance, trying to perform fiber optic level transmissions through two cups attached with a string between them. I wanted out… just of a moment, a minute, a second even. I wanted the world to stop spinning long enough so that I could catch a breath… just one fucking breath. That was me in reality without a steady balance. It looked a lot like collapse – collapse while watching the fade of blue-silver light.
He really was gone, wasn’t he?
James P. Perez © 2014