Sometimes I wonder what the world would be like without me. Am I nature's spiritless, monotonous experiment. Drab and lifeless. I hate myself. Time ticking on my blue clock on the wall of my kitchen. Suspended in mid-air, swaying steadily to the rhythm of my life, my footsteps. I like to imagine life being taken in footsteps. Leaps, bounds, tiptoes, jumps, skips, strides. All of the above and more. Presently, I am guardedly seeking baby steps. Pawing obstacles gently, then obtusely retracting and cowering in dumbfound shame, each time closing myself away a little bit more. Some people can walk amazingly, others like me are often left in wheelchairs. That's life, though, isn't it?
I call Billy a lot. Especially when I hit one of my philosophical moods. When I get myself engaged in this sort of speculation, my head feels like a triggered mine. Countdown set. I get upset, unnerved, unhinged. My breath doubles its pace and by the end of it, my arms are shaking in agitation. That's why I call Billy. Because no doctor is ever going to help me. Billy can at least postpone it. It's a sickening problem I have. One that turned my eager, naive childhood hopes, into a dystopian reality. That's why as I heave out of my bed, tousle my hair, grab a packet of camel ciggies and shuffle out to the balcony, phone in hand, I stop. Pausing at the doorframe. Deep breaths. In. Out. In. My heartbeat has accelerated like a rocket and I am in no appropriate footing to handle myself. Exactly what you'd want to hear from a character in a Jane Austen novel, but not from a fully grown (6'1") man, living alone in the middle of Chicago. I stand in the blue air. Just my cotton vest, and sweats. Then I tilt myself over the railing. Only the creak of the railing, there is nothing else to be heard. An ultimate, infinite, nocturnal silence. I sniff. Storm's coming. I can smell it. A salty smell of rusty blood mashed up with leaves. The alley my balcony is in is like any Chicago alley. Narrow and stony. Once I have taken in everything that surrounds me, I flip my Motorola StarTAC open and dial Billy's number. I don't need my phone book anymore, I've memorized it. I press the phone intensely against my ear and wait. The phone rings twice, and I turn to check the blue clock on the kitchen wall. 3:37 a.m. My heartbeat races at the thought of him not picking up. He doesn't disappoint me. On the fourth ring, I hear a shuffle and a flick.
"Jude." He doesn't say my name as a question. He says it as a consultation, a statement, an answer, an agreement, all at once, and it makes me feel safe and intact. Immediately my shoulders slump in immense relief and I even manage a little grin.
"Billy," I answer cordially behaving myself. "Thank you," I manage to stammer. He doesn't answer, I take it as a sign that I may voice whatever I need to. I lower myself on to the edge of my 21st (and may I add, last ever) birthday present from my mother, a green and white, striped beach chair. "I just wanted to say that I can't live like this any longer." Silence.
"I know." He answers quietly. "I know."
"My life is pointless." I sigh. My voice breaks. "I just can't."
"You know that you can," He answers. "However you also know that you don't want to." I nod. Then I realize that he can't see me.
"Yes, you are right, but how can I spend my life like this any longer. I can't Billy. I can't ." I start to shake,
"Then you have to change."
"Fine." I straightened up. "I will! Billy? Are you still there? I will!"
"Okay then." I declare it with withering confidence. Silence. And then I break. I sob, tears spilling down my cheeks. I try drying my tears with the lower palm of my left hand. Then comes his wisdom.
"Jude? Buddy? Are you listening?" He waits. Then continues, "Everybody, including you, hopes they can make it in this world. That won't do, at least not on planet earth, it won't. The first step is to think that you can make it. The second step would be knowing you will make it. Otherwise, you're going nowhere."
"Ok," I answer after seconds of reflection.
"Alright then." He responds. "You and I have long days ahead of us. Let's get a bit of sleep. How about it?"
"Yes." And then he hangs up. I pocket my phone and lean against the polyester back of the chair. I don't know if it's what Billy says, or just the way he says it. Maybe it's just the way he says it. Maybe if he gave me crap advice and was an outright douche, I would still hold on to him. It's an alarming trait that some people have.
I hoist myself out of the chair and stroll back into the kitchen, trailing my hand over everything that I encounter on the journey back to the bedroom. I crawl under the sheets and I embrace the last thought that comes to my head: I love you, Billy.
I wake up and immediately I know where I am. Nestled in layers of sheets in the apartment. And I hate it. From the moment I lift my head. I'm enraged that I can't for a moment be unaware of the grief that envelopes me. That I can't just forget. That I can't just sleep longer. I hate life. The only thing I love is Billy. And I can't have Billy. I can't have what I want. I can't fight this. A coal-black curtain is being pulled in front of me and I can already tell, it's never going to open again.
It's not my job or Chicago, although that's what I express to him. I mean, sure, being a google street view driver isn't anyone's life aspiration, but it's not absolute hell. It's dull and it doubtlessly worsens my frame of mind, but there is no way that last night's freak-out occurred, solely because of an unfulfilling job. As for Chicago, you do come to love the city, mysterious as it is. I am not a fraud or a phony. Well, maybe a little bit, but I do not lie about what I feel. I do feel grim, heartbroken, bitter, sorrowful. God, I feel more nauseous with every single intake of breath. And for myself. And that's the worst part. For myself, which only makes everything 20 times as bad. I hate myself. I hate myself and I also hate the unknown. Everything, absolutely everything. Even as I slip under the tepid, pouring water of the shower, I'm daunted. Everything troubles me. The missing tile, the dripping water, the amber-with-rust showerhead. On the way to the breakfast table, more and more. The way the floor screeches and creaks, how when I jump, the ceiling flakes. Even breakfast is a mistake. The fried egg looks like a fried puddle of bubbling, slimy goo. The toast looks inedible as if it was made as decoration. The socks I wear itch and give me goosebumps, the Sound Garden shirt I pull on awkwardly strangling me at the neckline. Stepping outside, the sun radiates way too flashily as if to brag. Angling my shades, I walk towards my car, pressing the key fob and watching as the car's lights flicker and then die down.
That's when my day officially begins. The whole day is a blur, a flash. As it's consistently the same. I often drive through the same streets, or maybe they aren't the same streets. I don't know. See it's hard to know. Two weeks of the job pass, then three weeks, then six weeks, six months, one year, two years, five years. It's different for everyone, but the longer you stick around, the more the streets become clones of each other. Kids point and wave at the camera. That used to make me joyous, but smiling and waving kids do not amuse me anymore. Five years later they rapidly blend into the scene. However, if I fuck up the photos, my boss, Larissa, makes me go back and take them again. Larissa has a method of getting what she wants, but I do not drive back for her. I do it because it's my responsibility. That woman's to watch. Beautiful, smart, tempting. But not for me. Only one person is circling my head and pickpocketing my heart.
7 a.m until 4 p.m, five days a week. It's just a job, people say, "it doesn't make you out". I don't know if the person, who came up with that ever got a job or had a career in anything. Because it's first-class bull. Your job is you and you are inevitably your job. If not, you become it. Sadly my case was the latter. So yes, it's not fantastic, but in fairness, I'm the peacock in the flock of pigeons in a google map. I wake up at 6:00 a.m., go to work. Spend 97.3 % of the day absorbed in my thoughts. Thinking about Billy. Lunch at 1:30 p.m. Then check-in with Larissa at 2:00 p.m. The longest my workday ever expands to is 4:30 in the afternoon. Then straight home. Dinner on the miniature portable stove and music. Hours and hours of music. If I'm feeling it, I'll watch a movie, that's it. My friends haven't asked me out in years now, as they have given up on me. I have no one, but myself, to thank for that. As for Billy, that's another story.
Billy and I met when we were about 17, 2001. Military school. No need to elaborate, but we were as close as brothers. It wasn't until a few years later, once we were out of that place, that I was sure of the undeniable attraction I had for him. Canny, dapper, inscrutable, amazing, flawless, faultless, perfect Billy. Still time ticks, years pass, and Billy's with Debbie. Billy and Debbie, boyfriend and girlfriend. That is until I arrive home this evening. A letter sticks out of my post box. It's red. My vision is red. I grab the letter and stuff it in the sleeve of my denim jacket. I don't think I've ever sped up the stairs faster, and I was part of a track team for 7 years. Once in the privacy of my apartment, I fan myself with the letter and swing the window open, letting in as much of the June weather, I can handle. I sit on the couch and tear open the letter. My heart jumps into my mouth as I read.
Debbie and I would like to invite you to our wedding, on Sunday the 10th of August. Please save the date. You are my dearest, closest, best friend. The day I marry the love of my life, and I say that in all sincerity, and unbreakable honesty. Be there, my friend. Be my best man. I can't think of anyone better suited.
Lot's of Love,
It hits me like a rusty knife, right in the middle of my heart. I stand. Then I sit. Confusion overtakes me. I stand again trying to make sense of everything. The pain kicks in, deeply. Every breath I take. A full ten out of ten. I've saved the ten for this all my life and here it is. Overflooding, I scream and kick. I smash my Christmas mug. I rip my photographic prints of the walls, smash my CDs even the ones that remind me of him. I shred every photo I have of Billy and me and then I sit in the middle of the floor and cry.
Sometime later I arise from the floor and immediately a sense of woozy lightheadedness explodes in my head. I am in the kitchen. I clutch onto the table trying to stay still for dear life. The kitchen's ceramic floor tiles gleam up at me menacingly. I stand still for a couple of minutes. Then like an erupting volcano, I grab the colossally heavy bottle of Grappa, which was my dad's last present to me, and head outside of my apartment, hoodie pulled over my nose and head down.
This is the first time I have been out after 5 p.m. in four years. The sun lights up the sidewalk and I feel raw in the sweltering heat. I slide into my car and start up the engine with a hefty kick to the accelerator and then, I am out of here. I am beyond the horizon and all I can hear is the murmur of the engine. I don't know where I am, somewhere rural, or perhaps it's my imagination. I keep driving, I won't stop until I'm far away. However far 'away' might be.
Time passes, I then pull over. My nerves are frayed, but I manage to step outside. It's not too bright here, the sun is setting and I climb onto the hood of the car. I feel calmer upon wiping my eyes and lighting a cigarette. Pulling out my phone, I call Billy's number. I stare at the side of the road, inhabited by daisies. The phone rings once, then twice. I don't see the oncoming car. I only hear it at the very last moment, when its force disconnects me from Billy.
And then I arrive. I arrive at a place so pure and innocent, my heart falters for a moment. A place where nobody will find me. It overlooks a field, full of luscious long blades of grass that are so simple, yet indisputably in the right place.