Pale White Houses in Rain

He pressed his hand to the window, watching as icy rivulets of rain carved impotently at the glass, trailing down from the skies, destined for the dingy gutters below. The pane was cool, vibrating with a gentle pulse that synchronized with the flow of the water. It had been raining for three days in a row and he could not be more happy, or more miserable, about the sum of the experience. These days his core nearly always ached for gloomy weather, like an addict seeking the next surge of dopamine. Sunlight gave him no inspiration; only the thick, oppressing gloom called to him, wailing like a Siren through the lonely days and nights. Everything that surrounded him reflected shades of gray; the dim paint in his workspace, the pregnant skies outside, even the dusty light that filtered through the grainy glass and sprayed onto the distressed wooden floor like a wistful sigh.

He had been stranded here of his own volition. Mutineed by a life that had seen him drawn tightly with lines, cast adrift, and finally marooned on an island of his own design. His failures had been absolute, and he reveled within the darkness, his smile a ghostly memory of a past that was never his to control in the first place. It was a curse he both loved and loathed, but one he cared not to remedy. This dark space, this cloistered house, this broken staircase, this ambient drip-drip-drip of a broken faucet were near perfect companions to the dark gray hopelessness that he wore like a pale cloak. He had shrugged into it years ago, and now wore it like a favorite pair of jeans.

Standing, he strode across the vast empty space of his quarters. When a wooden floorboard squeaked he stopped, still as an antelope, then slowly rocking forward and backward on the ball of his foot, allowing the board to squeak in a tortured rhythm. He repeated until the sound reminded him of the taut lines of a docked boat straining against the rise and fall of the seas. He closed his eyes and cast his head back, breathing deeply through his nostrils, straining for a scent of the sea air. It never came, stifled instead by the musty smell of old plaster and rotting wood.

“Take me to the sea, again, someday,” he whispered quietly, his head still held back and his eyes closed.

He slowly opened his eyes as the moldy, cracked paint in the ceiling swam into focus.

As he released his breath in a long, focused effort, he caught it sharply as he was yanked back into focus by a crisp knock at his front door.

He stopped breathing entirely for a moment, staring at the door, daring it to knock again.

The knock came again, with even more alacrity.

He trod carefully over toward the blackened oaken panel, his bare feet plodding almost silently on the wooden floor. A burst of rain immersed the sides of the picture windows, clawing to get in.

He placed a tremulous hand on the bronze knob. The patina dulled the door pull greatly, but it felt ice cold in his right hand, its oblong form sinking gently into his palm. His breath shortened, and his heart seemed to take a different place in his chest altogether.

“Go. If you want to go,” he whispered, pressing his face to the door.

The sharp knock came again, reverberating through the wood as if a shillelagh cracking him on the cheekbone. His arm hairs pricked, and he thrust himself backward and twisted the knob hard, yanking the door back, his face a wretched mask of anger as he started into oblivion.

A wash of grainy white light burst into his gloom, seeming to push the door off its hinges. The slim figure silhouetted in the doorway was bathed in a blue glow, her essence already creeping in through the doors. Tendrils of vapor so much like fingers wrapped her lithe frame, creeping sinuously through the open portal and finding their way, like a lost soul, into his cloister.

He shoved his palms to his face, ushering back the brilliant light, shielding his eyes from the bright glow. He took a startled step backward, his feet scraping callously against the wooden floor. The misty tendrils crept inward and the figure took inside, the vaporous smoke flinging the door shut behind her as she did.

The darkness of his own space pushed back against her, and a balance was soon reached, her shine dulled only moderately by the dim quarters. He dropped to a knee in obsequiousness, his arm still shielding his face.

“I have loved you for a thousand years,” she whispered ethereally, tendrils of colored smoke reaching to him, tracing gestures on his bare forearms. She raised her head, curled tresses blowing in the breeze as she fixed her smoky eyes on his face.

Still bowed on one knee before her, refusing to meet her sultry gaze, he shook his head fiercely. “No. No. There is a sickness here. We are all only sick in here,” he said, shaking his head, the timbre of his voice approaching a near wail.

He thrust his hand forward, urging her back. A sudden gust of wind blasted the glass picture windows open behind him, shattering dozens of small glass panes as a surge of rain attacked the interior like the blast from a shotgun. Long black drapes railed against their captive rods as the wind gusted in, animated the dark curtains like shadowy spectres. His breath escaped him in short bursts and he could see it clouding before him as the temperature in the room dropped to near freezing.

He could not bring himself to look at her. Tears escaped the corners of his eyes, trailing down his cheeks and falling to the floor in silent crystal shatters, nearly frozen. A surge of terror possessed him then and he stood with alacrity, raising his chin to gaze at her, his eyes wide and panic stricken. He pushed his hands forward and grasped her nude shoulders in a futile effort to shove her away. Instantly, the warmth of her porcelain skin thawed his numb fingers and he felt the warmth of her flush beneath them, the tingle of energy jumping from her to his fingertips and spreading to his elbows and shoulders like an electric current. His intent to shove her back was immediately repulsed as his frozen soul seemingly collapsed upon itself like a dark star. He convulsively grasped her arms, the soft, toned muscle beneath filling his grip. She arched her back with a yearning sigh and fell forward into him, her silken breasts pressing against his chest, urging him to capture her. As her flaxen hair fell in waves down upon his chest the two dropped to the hard floor as one, her head landing on his chest, tiny body pressed close to his.

“It will all be lost,” she sighed, pressing her rosebud lips into the side of his neck. “It’s ok. You didn’t die. I’m here to show you the way. Let me,” she breathed sensuously, her warm breath hot against his skin. She gently kissed him on his sharp jawline.

Wispy tendrils of smoke, turning first from blue to green and then yellow encapsulated their bodies, running snake-like over their entwined forms. His head fell back against the hard floor, now wet from rain as it billowed inward from the rapidly intensifying storm outside, his shocked azure eyes staring skyward as they blinked back tears. Rain immersed the pair, soaking their naked skin in chilly liquid before coursing in tiny rivers down their bodies and pooling on the floor beneath them.

She pressed her body against his more firmly, thrusting her hips against him and exhaling with a sigh of ecstasy. He felt her heat against his legs as a sudden surge of fire filled him from his throat to his heels, countering the freezing chill of the icy rain. Resting her hands to the floor she pushed back and arched her spine over him, her hair hanging in wet layers around her face as she met his stony gaze. Little drops of rain dripped from her chin and nose onto his chest, sizzling into steam with a hiss as it made contact with his skin.

Without a thought he was inside of her, pressing himself into her as she returned the motion. They desperately clung to each other, fingers raking against each other’s cool, wet skin, railing against the frigid rain and gloom. The smoky haze wrapped them in a blanket, metamorphosing from yellow into a brilliant ochre. The light in the room flashed, pushing back the gray and the darkness for just a moment, in a fleeting yet perfect moment. Their bodies collided in a clash of violent energy, and for the briefest moment the world was empty; a great void filled only by the sheer power radiating from their intertwined bodies.

With a flash of lightning, an echo of thunder, and a crackle of heat, it was over. Tiny motes of light drifted down around them, falling to the floor and darkening.

She collapsed atop him, inhaling in ragged breaths. He could feel her heart drumming against his chest, racing as she clutched him compulsively. He wrapped his arms around her body, pulling her against him fervently.

“This is how the world ends,” he recited into her ear.

The mists around their forms tugged around her, became more tangible, and suddenly she was nearly weightless, levitating carefully off his body, drawn back and to her feet by an unseen, smoky hand. The tendrils of smoke around her faded from a brilliant ruby hue, darkening until they were jet black. They wrapped tightly around her body, constricting her movement completely. A look of confusion fell across her face as he carefully stood, standing naked before her as the sinister fingers of darkness held her firmly at bay.

“But you never told me why,” she breathed, her voice cracking into a sob.

He turned cautiously away from her and walked, one foot before the other, purposefully, toward the broken, open windows.

The rain fell straight down in fat droplets, a noise like hammered metal ringing in his ears as it came into contact with the hard copper gutters. He felt the broken glass crack under his feet as he walked, warm blood gently seeping out as the shards lacerated his skin.

In a step he stood on the window sill, his arms extended outward against the sash, hands pressing into the wet wood.

He turned his head over his shoulder to look back at her.

“I loved you when the snows came,” he said in a calm, deep baritone, letting his gaze fall upon her beautiful face.

“I loved you in the spring!” she cried, fighting against the black fingers of mist surrounding her. “And I would love you in the summer, too!” she shouted through choking sobs, “I would love you for a thousand more years! Please!” she sobbed, struggling to free herself.

“I have loved you too much,” he said quietly, turning his head away, and looking down from the open window. Tiny gray cars lined the ashen streets below. Grainy sodium vapor lamps cast pallid light on gloomy sidewalks and soaked black asphalt, flecks of rain illuminated momentarily as it fell.

“I have savored perfection in you, and it can never be eclipsed by anything else,” he murmured quietly.

She fell to her knees on the floor, her soaked hair hanging in tatters around her tear streaked face.

He stood, sinewed muscles wetly silhouetted against the demure light of the cold, gray sky and soapy glow of the lamps as the rain fell around him. He cast his blue eyes on the dark horizon. Somewhere in the distance, thunder rumbled.

“I will love you in the fall,” he whispered, finally.

 

Passenger

They make antidepressants in several strengths and styles. They come in many names and flavors. BoosPar. Paxil. Wellbutrin. Zoloft.

The red bottle with the blue neck ring in the medicine cabinet belongs to me, so says the Target pharmacy. It’s called Sertraline and it’s the generic form of Zoloft. It has a companion called Clonazepam, and there are never enough of those anti-anxiety pills to go around. Sertraline are small pinkish pills that you barely notice going down when you chase it with a cold beer or a draught of Russian vodka. They’re supposed to cure The Sadness, but everyone knows they don’t. At least, I know they don’t. No pills ever address the real sickness.

I’ve had The Demon for years. It’s something deep and dark and wicked and miserable. It lives deep inside and usually I can keep it down there without any problem. When I drink a lot it comes out like a Chinese dragon, angry and vengeful. Even then I can usually keep The Demon at bay. If you’ve ever suffered from depression you know it’s The Demon inside that you simply live with, cope with, suffer with and secretly love. You keep it watered and fed and it usually leaves you alone until you need to channel it.

It’s a vile companion that just is. It infests us creative, artistic types. The blessing of beauty that we can give, understand and appreciate always comes at a price, doesn’t it? The Demon exacts that price in mental anguish and torment fortnightly. We like to pretend that it doesn’t affect us and that we can keep it down like the bile that rises in the back of out throat when we take a shot of hard whiskey. Our mouth sweats and our stomach heaves in agony, but we can swallow hard and hold back the vomit.

Until something bad happens.

I cry sometimes when I run in the mornings, seemingly unprovoked. I jog, in the darkness, alone, listening to music. When I try to sing along sometimes my throat closes and tears jump into my eyes. I hyperventilate and get out of breath. My vision narrows and my palms sweat.

The doctor said these were anxiety attacks, except I’m not really anxious about anything. I know its The Demon, come back.

I fight back the tears, stop singing to myself and run on. The Demon quiets and I can keep going.

It had been years since I’d seen The Demon, but then a friend of mine took a .44 magnum and put it to his temple and blew his brains out and The Demon inside me woke up again and started fucking with me.

I was so happy for so long. I was able to put my nose down into my work, ignore my own inner turmoil and focus on my family and friends. I held them all close and glided through the days in a booze induced haze that kept my internal self blissfully numb. Nothing could touch me emotionally. I had this force field around me that kept sadness out and The Demon quiet.

When Greg killed himself The Demon woke up again and I haven’t been able to figure out how to make it silent again.

I am alone tonight. My family is away for two days. I listened to familiar music and drank Maker’s Mark whiskey straight from the bottle because it tastes good and I hate my liver almost as much as I hate myself.

It was only a matter of time, but finally, I cried for almost an hour before I could get myself under control.

I went to the doctor a few weeks ago. I told the nurse I was there for a referral. When the doctor came in he asked why I had back pain. I looked at him quizzically and said I didn’t have back pain. Accusingly, he said that’s what the nurse said.

He thinks I’m here to score pain pills.

Come to think of it, I could have used some pain pills, but I was being honest. I told him I didn’t have back pain, but that I was depressed, I had suffered from depression before, and I would like to talk to someone about it because someone close to me had just succumbed to his own Demon and it was affecting me. His demeanor immediately changed. He softened visibly and became a “friend”. At least, as much as he could be considering that we’d met moments ago.

He said he would prescribe me some medications, and give me referrals to some local psychiatrists. I left thinking it might actually work.

Turns out, my insurance doesn’t cover that sort of thing.

They will, however pay for drugs.

I felt The Demon chuckle inside, just a little.

Afterdeath

PREAMBLE

This is the story of the last days of Greg Harrington’’s life, and the aftermath of his death. There are people who will undoubtedly dislike and disagree with my writing this. This isn’’t for them, nor is it intended as a fond look back over the life of a young man. It is a sobering look at a man’’s death and the echoes that follow. I knew Greg for four years, and his life and death had a profound impact on my own life.

This is the story as I remember it, though not necessarily in the order in which it happened.

 

Ascertainment

I found out Greg was gone through a friend. When I went into work, I walked into my office, and he was sitting there in a chair.

I nodded, and he said, ““Did you hear about Greg?””

I looked at him quizzically.

““Greg who?”” I asked. I knew several Gregs.

He held a hand to his head, thumb cocked out, and index finger pointing to his temple. “

Tssssh“,” he said, motioning with his thumb.

I looked down at him as he sat in his chair. “

“GREG WHO?”” I demanded, more sternly. “

“You know, Greg, from that band you know,” he replied.”

I grit my teeth and I instantly hated him.

““I have to…”…” I left it hanging. I didn’’t know what I had to do, but I left. To do……something.

The cellular phone was heavy in my hand. It was a candy bar and it didn’’t weigh anything, but it may as well have been a manhole cover.

Tom, Greg’s brother, wasn’’t answering. I didn’’t expect him to, but I left him a message anyway. If he had answered, what would I have said? “Hey Tom, this is the worst day of your life. Anything I can do?”

I didn’t have words for it. I’’ve never been more grateful for voice mail.

“”Tom, it’’s Matt in Jacksonville. Call me any time. Please.””

I called Mike.

On of my closest friends, Mike, wasn’’t answering, either. That was a surprise. Mike always answered my calls, at least, as long as his phone was turned on. We had been friends for over a decade. We sensed each other’’s trouble. I missed this one. I don’t know how, but I did.

““Mike, it’’s Matt. I heard something… really bad. Please call me. Please.””

To Facebook. The news leader.

My shoulders left my neck standing on its own like a Saharan gazelle facing down lions.

Fuck.

Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.

I called Mike again. No answer.

 

Stupefaction

The first wake was at a Catholic Parish Hall. It was large and open with dozens of big, round tables and there was a disco ball the size of a Volkswagen hanging from the ceiling in the center of the room. It was a vile, happy intruder to a somber occasion. I wished it was a piñata we could strike dead.

Everyone was there, even me, the outsider, and my daughter, who had become, at this point, much more famous than I. The paper mache guitar that had been at Saint Helen’s Catholic Church had already made it there, and I had driven over fast.

These church people were efficient.

It smelled like Southern soul food and my stomach growled. I hadn’’t eaten anything since the fish I had grilled at Niki’’s house with Mike in their back yard that looked like a primordial forest. I loved it there. It made me want to strip down to my shorts and swing like a monkey in the trees. I found that I was clinging to anything to escape the reality that was now.

Food seemed like a lifetime ago. Not because I was that hungry, but because I was already a different person now than I was last night.

I felt like a bastard because I needed to eat.

 

Plaudit

Saint Helen’’s Catholic Church in Vero Beach, Florida was huge and it was hot in the August sun. Large metal fans sprayed impotently across the gathered, seated crowd, cooling no one but making noise anyway. Thick green song books lined the back of the pews, full of songs and psalms for any occasion other than this one. There were no pencils in the pews, which wouldn’’t have been a big deal to anyone other than a person with a three year old child who had nothing to draw with. That was my dilemma at the moment.

There was some music, piped in through old speakers. A semblance of a choir was there but no one seemed to notice. Everyone looked straight forward at the paper mache guitar and the altar. No one looked back. I would have noticed, because I was watching. No one’s eyes broke away from the spectacle.

The priest was young and tragically inexperienced. When the eulogy was over I would later notice that he had a Band-Aid on his shorn head. The sociopath of a subconscious I have that lives in my head mused that an altar boy must have given him that wound, feigning off his attentions. It wasn’’t fair of me to think that because the priest was a nice enough fellow who was just doing his best. My subconscious is an asshole, and it seemed a perfectly reasonable joke to it.

 

Oblivion

I was there in the bedroom with him. The wooden floor was cool under my feet and I didn’’t move so as not to make a squeak. He was splayed out on the bed, his azure eyes looking toward the ceiling. He was waiting for a miracle, but it wouldn’t come. It rarely does when you need it.

I imagined all this, but it didn’’t make it less real to me. I had been in that bedroom. I had slept in that house. In my mind, I was there. I could see the white plaster.

I know gun metal is cold when you place it on your skin. It doesn’’t matter how hot it is outside. It is sobering and violent, even without motion. I know this because I have done this, and I have felt the feeling in my finger. It is the feeling of being the catalyst for movement between worlds. It’s an awesome, horrible feeling. It is the feeling of being on the edge of eternity. Of oblivion. A tiny movement and all is forgotten.

One half of an inch and the pain stops.

I would never do it, though I’’m not alone. Many of us have been there.

 

Saturnalia

There is a dive bar down the street from the Parish Hall. It rests right off of A1A Boulevard on the water and it is just exactly what one would come to expect from a south Florida bar; high, tin roof, drop ceiling fans, plastic windows and the smell of many of nights of hard drinking.

We descended on this bar like a murder of crows, dressed in black, tear streaked and thirsty.

We had all cried the night before and the morning of. We had somehow held it together during the ceremony. We were emotionally ravaged.

It was time to drink.

I’’ve imagined my own wake. I hoped it would be something like this. At first, though, when I heard laughter, saw smiles, I thought, “”How dare you?”” But then I was smiling. I was laughing. I was a fucking hypocrite, and it was okay. I hugged people I barely knew. I put my smiling daughter into the arms of people I had met yesterday. They needed it. I needed it. We all needed each other, and we didn’’t even need to talk.

Greg was dead, but we weren’’t. That was what counted, now.

 

reunion

I didn’’t talk to Mike on the phone. We both avoided it for some reason, and it made sense to us. I left Wednesday night and made Orlando in just over two hours with my three year old daughter, Maeve, in the back seat. I didn’’t tell anyone I was bringing her. I didn’’t need to. They needed her to be there, even if they didn’’t know it yet. More, I needed her to be there. I needed her to distract me from the task at hand. I needed to be busy with something, and she was the perfect outlet. She was new and beautiful and innocent and the world would need her today. I couldn’’t be strong, but she could. She could make it all better. People would look into her eyes and forget. I knew they would, because I did.

When we arrived, Mike came outside and I didn’’t say anything. I opened the passenger side door to my truck and released Maeve from her seat and set her loose on her “Uncle Mike”. His pain didn’’t dissolve, but in that moment, she and he were the only people in the world. Their embrace was tender and lovely and it made me want to cry. I am callous and insensitive. I am not a comfort to anyone. But something I had helped to create could be.

I met Niki for the first time and she was just what I needed her to be; small and dark and lovely with kind eyes and arms open to a three year old who was glad to find some comfort in a woman. She and her friend Erika would become great friends and the subject of much conversation to little Maeve in the short time they were acquainted.

Mike and I embraced and I held him in my arms until it became awkward for me and I let him go.

““I love you, man.”” I said.

When you’’re a straight guy, you always have to append ““man”” to that phrase, even though it cheapens it.

Mike’’s hair was a shaggy mess of blonde and brown curls. His green eyes were softer now than ever before. He was a true Bohemian and Maeve called him a “”dirty hippie””. He loved it and told everyone. When we put Maeve to bed that night I sang “”Hush Little Baby”” that night while Mike played guitar. She fell asleep in minutes.

 

Imminence

It is a two hour drive from Orlando to Vero Beach, even if you drive fast, which we did. I met John and Jessica that morning. John was tall and strong and wearing dark sunglasses while carrying a personality that made me instantly like him. Jessica was blonde and sweet-voiced and welcoming. I didn’’t know her, but I felt like I did immediately.

Maeve was excited because the only John she knew was John Smith, who is in Pocahontas. According to John, he also wanted to be in Pocahontas, but, muttering under his breath, ““not like that”” after which we all laughed. We used anything to take our minds off the task at hand. We had a service to attend, and it was going to be hard.

My head was stuffed with cotton after a night of drinking tea-flavored vodka, Kentucky bourbon, Jagermeister and grain neutral spirits that were supposedly filtered through Swarovski crystals. Mike’’s sarcastic comment the next morning of “”Well, that was a good idea”,” hid the truth that yes, it actually was a good idea because we shared, cried and talked until the late hours. We both needed it. It was alcohol therapy. I scolded the orange-labeled bottle of Bullit bourbon.

““Bad””, I said. We laughed.

The sun was a fat dollop of melting butter in the sky as we drove down the 529 Beeline and onto I-95 toward Vero Beach. I called a lot of people on the phone, even though I don’’t usually talk while driving. I needed company, and my daughter was still sleepy.

 

Anguish

I picked out people I knew at the church. I sought out their faces desperately, clinging to the recognition of friends amid a sea of sorrow.

Michael. Brent. Jordan. Jennifer. Tommy. Trisha. Tomato. Lots of other people I didn’’t know, too.

The young priest carried on with his choppy, rehearsed speech.

It was a sea of broken faces: women sobbing quietly with their strong boyfriends by their side, men, eyes red-ringed under dark glasses sinking low on their nose, only sniffing occasionally, holding back the tears. They……we……would cry later for Greg. Now was the time to show strength, even if we didn’’t feel strong.

I was in the aisle and I saw him. Tommy never took off his dark glasses as he strode toward me and I thanked him for it inwardly. His eyes would have told a tale that my heart wasn’’t prepared to know. I wasn’’t ready to see thirty-three years of pain reflected back at me. Tommy wasn’’t ready to share that burden with anyone yet. I hoped he would. Today, though, he stood, back arrow-straight, strong, confident.

He approached me in the aisle outside the pews. My daughter was in my left hand and my right was free. I was a marble statue. I loved Tommy, but I was wooden and thick. What does a person say that isn’’t trite? Numbly I raised my right hand to my chest. He extended his arms and I was saved.

I picked him up like I was rescuing a victim from drowning in a pool. I actually reached under his arms, seized him fiercely, and squeezed.

““Anything, anything at all”,” was all I could muster. He seemed to understand and I released him.

He crouched before my daughter, who peered at him, almost knowingly, and wrapped her little arms around his neck.

In that moment I realized how much more powerful she was than me.

““Thank you”,” was all he said.

It was more than he needed to say.

 

Complaisance

We stopped at an ABC liquor store just about an hour outside of Vero Beach on our way to the church. We all knew we would need some liquid courage in the hours to come. We knew others would probably need it, too.

Maeve had asked me where we were going. I explained the situation to her as we drove.

““We are going to church. One of daddy’’s friends, Greg, has died, and we are going to pay our respects to him and his family.””

She seemed to understand, and stopped asking further.

I met Caroline right outside for the first time. She was an Italian redhead with an aquiline nose and warrior blue eyes who instantly adored Maeve.

When we went inside and were standing in line, Maeve said to Caroline ““We are going to church to say goodbye to the boy who died in the house.””

I flushed red. My kid was too honest. My fault.

““I’’m sorry”.” I said to Caroline, sheepishly, as I knelt down and told Maeve that it wasn’’t polite to speak about the dead so casually.

She wasn’’t bothered by it in the least, but I didn’’t know who might be, so I used Skittles as a bribe to keep the little one quiet. Better safe than sorry. I’’m not sure it would have bothered anyone, but it bothered me for some reason.

 

Verity

The .44 magnum produces too much recoil and muzzle blast to be suitable for a police weapon. It is less suitable for shooters of smaller build or with small hands. A bullet from a .44 magnum travels at 1,500 feet per second and delivers 1,200 foot pounds of force on impact. It was popularized by Clint Eastwood’’s character ““Dirty Harry”” and by Robert De Niro in ““Taxi Driver””.

 

Repast

I fed myself and my daughter with barbecue turkey, piping hot baked beans, and coleslaw that dripped with mayonnaise. The wake was well catered by Bono’’s barbecue. We drank unsweetened iced tea out of Styrofoam cups. I was in the far back of the room, seated at one of twenty or so large round tables, and watching as people entered the Parish Hall. The table was strategically located in front of an electrical outlet that I required to charge my daughter’’s DVD player. It also gave me a sweeping view of the room, and everyone in it.

A collage of photographs of Greg had been posted at the entrance of the Hall, and people mingled and milled about as they entered. Some hugged. Most stood woodenly with their hands at their side and looked over photographs. The paper mache guitar completed the ensemble. People filed in, sought out other people they knew, found them, and sat with them. Conversations were subdued, but I could hear them. They were about anything. Everything. Desperate conversation, forced laughs, eager waiting. Nothing mattered but to keep the words flowing. Silence was the enemy here and it must be avoided at all costs.

I met dozens of people and said words to them I don’’t even remember. I saw friends and we talked about nothing. I would say something and they would answer. Then silence would follow. It continued like that until one of us found another distraction, or excuse to pull away. That was how it had to be and it was all right.

I ate slowly until Mike arrived. I saw them enter and waved them over. He was with Niki, Caroline, John, and Jessica and they found me in the back of the room, and sat. We ate quietly, not talking about the service. People came by, people I didn’’t know, and hugged Mike, or John. We drank Jack Daniel’s’ Whiskey and Southern Comfort and mixed it with our iced tea. We didn’’t care who saw us.

Sam came and sat by Maeve and me and the rest of us, all blonde with a beautiful smile. She was dressed in sorrow with lost blue eyes and I loved her for it, just for that moment. It was so real to her, and we all felt that too; it just made more sense when we could see it.

We all sat in silence at the table as Maeve played house with the tiny flowers she had picked with Niki and Sam outdoors.

 

Desistance

All of the Harrington’ family except for Greg’’s mother spoke at the service. I was surprised that any of them could muster the strength. They were a courageous bunch and I intensely admired them for it.

In the audience, Jennifer and Karly held each other four rows ahead of me, and cried on each other’s shoulders. Brent and Trisha stood stolidly by each other, cloaked in black hair with set jaws and dark glasses. They were strong for each other and I wanted to squeeze them both tightly but didn’’t need to. They were already diamonds.

When Greg’’s father spoke of his son I stared at the floor and bit my lip. When his voice broke so did my nerve. Involuntary tears made my vision swim and I fought them back. It was agony personified. Who can understand a father’’s loss of his youngest son? I held my daughter close and kissed her cheeks. If I could have held her there forever I would have.

They played “”Far From Here”” in the church that day and there wasn’’t a dry eye in the house.

It was strange hearing rock music in a Catholic church. Somehow it seemed right, though, even as it poured out through tinny speakers across a crowd struck dumb by the loss of someone they never expected to leave them.

 

Remediation

The mourning crowd shared drinks and conversation at the bar that day. New friends were made. Old friends were reacquainted. Laughter came uneasily, but it still came. Pictures of that day show people who love rock music dressed in black suits with ties, slacks, dresses and high heeled shoes holding each other and smiling.

We came together to see a friend, son and brother off into eternity. We held each other, cried, coped, and in the end, we celebrated.

They handed out black ribbons to a small handful of people. The ribbons had a yellow guitar pick glued to the point where the two ribbons cross. As John and Jessica left the bar, Maeve went to give John a hug. He removed the black ribbon and pinned it to her pink and black polka dot dress. She looked down at the ribbon, looked back up to John, and hugged him. I shook his hand and he walked away. Maeve turned to me with a somber expression and said ““Mister John gave this to me so I will remember the boy who died. I will remember him. But it makes me sad.”” She was three years old.

 

Acrimony

On a warm Orlando evening in early August, Greg Harrington laid himself down in bed, placed the muzzle of a .44 magnum revolver to his head and, in an instant, ended years of insomnia, pain and depression.

I hated him for it.

 

DENOUEMENT

Tommy Harrington took the podium at St. Helen’s Catholic Church on Wednesday afternoon. He had on dark shades and a neatly pressed blue summer suit with khaki pants that looked more suitable for sailing in the Hamptons than a eulogy. His hair was neatly combed and parted, and subsequently one of the first times I’’d ever seen him without a hat.

There was a hush over the audience as he took the podium. We waited. It burned like fire in my veins.

He spoke cautiously about his brother. Love laced his voice. Loss pulled at the corners of his mouth. But his voice was even and didn’’t falter. I don’’t remember everything he said that day because I couldn’’t hear him as I grit my teeth in a feeble effort to be strong for him. But I will always remember this:

“”Do something. If you want to do something in life, you know, just go and do it. Fuck it, why not?””

I loved him for it.

 

In memory of Greg Harrington 1976-2009

The Addiction

I feel so tired.

You have an average of seventy four years to make something important happen.

You’d better hurry, because the odds are, you’ve already spent almost half of those years and you haven’t made your impact where you wanted to.

Nothing I do really matters.

On the flip side of the coin, you probably have actually made a huge difference in the life of someone but you’ve failed, time and time again, to give a shit about what you’ve done for other people. It’s the tragedy within your human nature. Though you fulfill others you still thirst for your own happiness. It’s not just you. It’s everyone. But we’re talking about you here.

It’s not going to come, though, so you should just forget it.

I haven’t thought about it in seconds.

You seek, you strive and you don’t yield: Tennyson said that and it made a great deal of sense, but still you sit with your head in your hands at the end of the day, missing something. Not knowing what’s missing, you take a drink of wine, a shot of whiskey; two, three, five, seven, eleven. Drink to the prime. It doesn’t seem to have an effect, except to make you more emotional and withdrawn.

I’m more sensitive this way. Things make sense.

It’s a hot, white sickness. You stretch and breathe and squint your eyes against the bright fluorescent lights. You rub your hands on your oily face and squeeze your eyes but your mouth takes like vomit and you’re not any closer to finding the right path.

I’d be sick if I didn’t do this every night.

There’s no God in that bottle, puppet. He’s not there, but you’re going to look for him anyway, aren’t you?

I’ll find Him somewhere.

Everyone eats some of their demons, and you’ve eaten your fair share. When something makes you feel good you consume it. Happiness has to be nearby, it just has to because everyone else is happy, aren’t they? It has to be close by.

But then you wake up and the happiness is replaced with a skull filled with sawdust and eyes filled with fine sand. You’ve been in a fight but you’re the only one who threw punches.

God, I feel like hot hell today.

There’s this longing and it won’t leave you alone. Everyone around you is an antagonist, aren’t they? You spar with them verbally, never truly enjoying anyone’s company. Who’s the next person that will take a swing at you? Who is the next person that will challenge The King?

But you won’t come down from that tower for anyone, will you, puppet?

No, I don’t compromise for anyone.

It’s time to go. It’s time to find your usual dosage. It’s just the same drug you always take. It’s a gentle puppeteer and it doesn’t need you to apologize. It doesn’t need you to be responsible. You can fall away into it, and it will always love you. It’s a sexy witness to your suffering.

Why am I always so sad?

You’re probably screwed up in the head like the rest of us, puppet. It’s not your fault, though, remember. It’s society, or your parents, or your school, or the fact that you don’t get laid much, or the fact that you play video games. Nothing’s your fault..

It takes you awhile to find the right music for the occasion, doesn’t it? But once you find it you know. Maybe it’s Portishead. Maybe it’s Stabbing Westward. Maybe it’s Cold. Maybe it’s The Cure. Maybe it’s Blue October. Whatever it is, it isn’t happy, is it? But it’s perfect.

We all cry to different music.

I cry to everything these days.

Listen to the songs you can’t sing, but wish you could. Your vision is narrowing, so it won’t be long now. Stumble in and fall into the abyss. The happy drugs flow through your veins and you’re numb now. You feel better than you ever have. Before you go out, you’ll write some cryptic, pseudo-intellectual Facebook posts and you’ll be off to Neverland. It’ll be perfect.

I don’t want to sleep yet.

Oh, but you have to, puppet, you have to. You’re so tired.

If you wake up tomorrow, you get to take your medicine again. You get to think about what you’re never going to do. Drink yourself away. Celebrate nothing.

There’s that music again.

Shhhhh, now, child. It won’t be much longer.