The Mourning After
The cellphone rang on the glass-top coffee table, and went unanswered three times. On the fourth, I had somehow heard it tap against the surface enough times to wake up.
“Hello? Yeah, what time is it? He, what? This morning? Yeah, yeah I can come home. Ok.” What had he just told me? No “happy birthday?” I stared at the ground for as long as I could without needing to think about anything.
“Err… Damn, what a night my dude!” Nelson, my oldest friend said, with no knowledge of the message I had just received. “What time is it, bro?”
“Uh, like, 6:42.”
“Shit, finally 18, man. I’m going back to bed. You leaving?”
“Yeah, I’m gonna go have a cigarette.”
“God damn! Starting early! Ha! Ok go ahead, until next year! Hit me up later.”
And I watched the same person I had grown up with for the last 10 years, roll back over on the couch of his remodeled basement. It wasn’t something he needed to know right away, if ever. It wasn’t something anyone needed to know. This was supposed to be my day, and now it wasn’t
I walked myself out, I didn’t care that my socks were on someone else’s feet. I didn’t care that my jacket was probably floating in the hot tub. I didn’t care that it was January 30th, 2015, my 18th birthday, because someone was dead. Not just anyone, someone I knew, someone I had shared memories with, someone I loved. Darkness filled my face as I sat in the car. I could feel the black muck of confusion and denial cover me like a mask and enter my mind through my eyes and ears. My brain could only process morbid thoughts of what life actually meant and why we’re even here. I had heard enough of the “Death is something to cherish,” or “ He’s in a better place now” nonsense. I fumbled through pockets for my pack, pulled out that two-thirds white, one-third orange stick of practically guaranteed death, looked up at the sky through my sun roof, and lit it. Baby blue turned black. The fumes of a cigarette never felt so inviting. I could only imagine what he’d think if he knew I smoked, just like him. But this connected us. We were one with death. With life. Through his death I have been reborn. I am another year older while he grows younger. In the same shoes but such different sizes. His spirit burns through my cigarette and into my lungs. Killing me. Healing me.
The morning hums of trees and early birds on the roads came through my window and into my head, swirled around like a blender, and exited unprocessed. All I was worried about was this cigarette us.
I hate talking to myself.
“Must’ve been the cancer, finally caught up to him.”
“Dude this is your grandpa you’re talking about, show some respect.”
“Technically he’s a step-grandpa, if we wanted to be like that.”
“Still, he didn’t do nothin’ but show you how to be a man.”
“I wonder how grandma is doing…”
“She’s probably not.”
“Have another cigarette.”
“I think I will. Then what?”
“Is there a plan after that?”
“How do you feel right now?”
“I dunno, pretty lost.”
“Well, no point in being lost in a familiar place, right?”
“What do you mean?”
So I did. I got on the nearest highway, opened the sunroof, and drove. Drove and smoked. Until I could figure out what the Hell just happened. Is this a birthday prank? It would be a pretty cruel one. As the evenly spaced lines sucked under the wheels of my car, I would check my mirrors and watch them spit out the back unharmed. It must be so easy to be a line on a street. Ha. What a thought. The radio wasn’t even turned on because my mind was yelling as it is, I didn’t need anything melodic to hear.
“Hey remember that one year he got you a fishing pole for your birthday?”
“Yeah, and how mad I was?”
“Ha! So mad. All you wanted was a little video game to play. But nope!”
“I should’ve loved it.”
I could remember the day so vividly. Grandpa didn’t visit for my January birthday that year so he had to wait till June to celebrate. I opened the box with excitement deserving of a new video game, and what did I unveil? A fishing pole. I lived in a suburb with two ponds down the street, I didn’t want a damn fishing pole.
“Come on, Brian! Let’s go give’r a whirl!”
“I don’t know if I can Grandpa I’m supposed to go out with my friends.”
“Go ahead, Brian, your friends can wait.” Mom just had to intervene. She probably noticed more than I did how much he wanted me to go.
The walk to the pond wasn’t far at all. Barely two blocks. But it was certainly long enough for him to spark one.
“Grandpa, why do you smoke?” All of the horrific facts that Officer OJ drilled into my brain during our DARE sessions confused my adolescent mind.
“It makes me feel good.” He said.
I couldn’t imagine it at all making someone feel good. Things like candy, sports, movies, friends were what I represented with those five words. Not smoking.
I noticed that I had been driving the entire time I recollected this event. Unprocessed driving. I could’ve swerved off the road or hit a wall or another car. But I didn’t.
If it weren’t for the full tank, I probably would’ve had to resort to walking to Wisconsin. The streets were so calm. Just corn fields and the occasional barn house. Higher speed limits than our highways, and these God damn roundabouts. My foot was numb from being uncovered and my lack of thought to turn on the heat. I could feel the pedal under my foot, but nothing beyond that. All I knew was to keep it pressed down until I couldn’t anymore. The steering wheel fell into my hands like soft dough and I glided on the roads passing anyone going under 70.
I had never loved him the way I was supposed to. He was never real. He followed The Bible, respected himself, I could never reflect that. I wanted him to understand me, but we were two different people. Two strangers in the same house. In the same family. What was I to do? Tell him how fun riding my bike is when he never had one? I was a stain on his life and an impossible being to connect to. We laughed, occasionally. We hugged, occasionally. He always smelled of smoke. I watched him huff and puff in the garage while I shot hoops, or while I rode my skateboard, always coughing. Always wheezing. Begging for more air. For more time.
My subconscious emerged once again.
“I bet you wish you appreciated his time more now, huh?”
“I wish I didn’t have to think of any time at all.”
“So you want to be just like him. Is that your plan? Let him live through you.”
“Fuck that. I just don’t know anything anymore. I need another smoke.”
“You’re pathetic. You know it’ll kill you.”
“I’m not worried about that.”
“Then why do it?”
“Because it makes me feel good.”