23 February, 2017

Last Night on Earth

Why, still, the lifelike memory of that last night? It wasn't special, just a drive through town and a couple of hours with a friend. With renewed energy, at the conclusion of a long, violent week in bed (or, by appearances, in a grave), it was a kind of liberation: out of bed; black pants, black T-shirt, black Docs; earrings; concealer, powder, eyeliner; away.

"Hey, you pale and sickly child," sang Martin Gore. "You're death and living reconciled." In the car, the new Depeche Mode album compelled me along the streets and terraces. I could've driven anywhere — dropped in on the Captain, rang up Brahm, invited out that girl from the art museum, stopped by the coffeehole — except I wasn't fit, not yet, for that level of interaction. My friend F.C. was chill. F.C. was unambitious. F.C. was the perfect person to hang out with while affecting a resurrection. Such was his ease, when I showed up on his porch, he gave no sign of noticing, until "Coffee?"

We watched Requiem for a Dream on rented VHS. Darren Aronofsky directing the adapted Hubert Selby Jr. novel. Everyone in it loses their mind (and body) to drugs. One character overdoses on diet pills and hallucinates what's likely cinema's only scene involving, according to the credits, a "refrigerator puppeteer." Some have called the film depressing. I recall it being wonderful — the last thing I watched as a free man.

No want of a cigarette afterward, which felt weird. Being sick had kicked the habit — two and a half packs (or more) a day, for longer than I kept track — right out of me. It was a conspicuous absence. I wasn't sure what to do with my hands, so I knifed them into my pockets and told F.C. I'd see him around.

The car, my enormous silver car, belched a plume of exhaust. I tingled with amusement at the absurdity of it, the stink of wasted gasoline (eleven miles to the gallon, new, in 1974), the engine's out-of-tune havoc. I left F.C.'s driveway without cueing up a different soundtrack than its mechanical one.

There was swirling fog when I plunged into a low section of the barren expressway. Here was where the night was at its most potent, across that span of solitude, unfettered by any more pain or fatigue from illness. Here came the full appreciation for my liberty. I was piloting into the night, waves of mist sweeping around my vessel, which bobbed along nautically, like a boat on dark seas through which I could travel in any direction — any direction at all.

Foot off the gas pedal, for the neighbors' benefit, it was 1:30 in the morning when I coasted down my street. Ever the insomniac, inside, I logged on the usual IM clients and my webmail: four unread e-mails waiting — a band's tour dates, pics from my recent ex, adult-site spam, notice of a software update. I surfed art and humor sites until yawning.

I undressed. I slipped into bed. I slept dreamlessly. I woke up to guns. To shouting. To something altogether different from anything I'd known.

And that's where some think the writing ought to begin, yet here we are at an ending. Retrospect alone — the thereafter and the heretofore — is what gives these paragraphs relevance. I'm haunted, as I have been for almost sixteen years, by that simple night. Worse is not knowing when, or if, the memory will ever leave me be.

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