"He's Not Setting Out to Hurt People"
FROM NOTEBOOK #4
Back then I knew that I needed help, and you did as well. We had both become so empty that people didn't recognize us anymore. My dad never showed concern, but your parents did. Back when we were in school I would often have dinner at your house and we would have lively conversations about the war on the news. But in those later, pathetic years, your parents only rang me up to try and find out what was wrong with you. They weren't aware that by then we almost weren't speaking. But standing on the yard of my house on a sunlight morning, curling the phone cord around my hand, talking to your mom about when we were kids, was a blessing anyway, even though she sounded so sad.
I don't know what happened to us. All our forward momentum evaporated the second our graduation ceremony ended. Once you told me that it had been the night at the hotel that did it, that it had been too much for us. And maybe it contributed, but I think it goes beyond that. We had so much going for us and so many people cheering us on back in school. I was going to be a painter and a writer and a sculptor, you were going to be an athlete and a dancer and a chemist. And I don't even understand where the next seven years went. Apparently they slipped past me while I was sitting on the lawn chair outside, throwing cigarette butts into the empty pool. I remember specific events of nights out drinking, parties we regretted going to, people we dated, excursions, lazy afternoons with the group, but on a macro level, I have no idea of what I was doing. I was too crushed to consider it.
I'm sorry for meandering. It was back in this winter when I was useless and B. had more or less become my caregiver, that we shared all our deeper anxieties about the future. As was the case for everyone in our group, we were secretly unsure of everything; our talents, interests, decisions, priorities, affections. Later on it became apparent that every one of us regretted whatever we had studied in university, but at that time it was just B. and I, commiserating.
We would talk about a lot of things on the hood of his car on those afternoons, and we would talk about Weird Shit as well. The term seemed so childish at that point, something we had come up with as teenagers and kept going far past its sell-by date. We talked about Monica and Sister Zero, about all the record stores. It was our way of disarming the strangeness of their existence and distancing them from our lives. If you will recall, nothing out of the ordinary had happened to us for the better part of a year. It had become apparent, at least to me, that things didn't simply happen to us; we sought them out for entertainment, and the moment we stopped being interested, they disintegrated from life and memory. All that remained were specters of shared childhood dreams. They no longer seemed even real. And we talked them all away, explained them rationally in dozens of different ways. Whenever our individual versions of the same story differed, we took it as proof that the whole thing was a fabrication.
One Wednesday we had skipped our last classes of the afternoon and headed straight for the bodega to drink, and we were probably four bottles deep when our conversation began to extend beyond its natural point, the point where we would normally head home. We had started early and were going on late, the streetlights were already on, and the place was empty except for us. Having no more customers, Omar had headed to the backroom to watch TV with his girlfriend. We were sitting at the white plastic table right at the entrance with a stray cat for company. The soda cooler was buzzing in the background, and that was it. It was perfect.
I knew that something was going to happen because B. had gone silent in a way that was unusual for him. Considering that B. is a man with a severely limited expressive range, you learn to read even the most minor facial cues for indications. And I could read the doubt that comes with struggling to spit something out, something that you have already decided that you will say, but is so deeply buried and unthinkable that physically formulating the worlds feels like trying to remember a language you haven't spoken in decades. It took him a while, but he did it.