I’m sitting and smoking and watching Alice pop these huge blue pills into her mouth. She just scoops them up in her hand and pops them in like it’s nothing, like they’re candy, but they’re not, and I’m just sitting there watching this, and I’m petrified. I don’t know how the hell she’s doing it, just scooping them up like that, knowing. I can’t stand to watch it but I know I have to, so I just fucking stare at her doing it and smoke.
I just can’t believe how she just scoops them up in her hand and pops them in.
She’s been through the chemotherapy. She’s seen… I don’t even know how to start.
I was lying in bed, working on my laptop, and I turned it off to go to sleep. Not that you care what the fuck I do. I certainly wouldn’t if I were you. But I usually work in bed like this until I get sleepy, and then just turn the laptop off and go to sleep. Only tonight, no sooner have I done this and I’m feeling relaxed and the sheets are soft than I think about having a heart attack. I think about – I’m there with the lights off, and I think about having a heart attack. I imagine this pain in my chest and how I’d think I was dying and how everything would change in that instant. And then it’s real, and this wave of horror – just plain horror sweeps over me. Like this chemical wave of total fear, of being trapped in this body that’s having a heart attack and having no way out. The heart, the chest in pain, so close to the head. So close to me. And I know I can’t sleep. I know there will be no sleep tonight.
I get up and start to smoke, and the taste of the cigarette on my lips makes me think of Alice and those blue pills going into her one and only mouth like they’re aspirin, and the look on her face as she takes my hand.
There’s still time to pump her stomach, I think. But I know there’s not and she’s not going to.
That look. Not calm exactly. Not scared. Just resigned. Because this is the end, and she knows it. It’s all over her eyes that she knows it.
She’s so much less horrified than I am. I’m staring at her bald head and her mouth where those pills went in with those lips and all their singleness and those lines under her eyes that have never seemed beautiful to me before and I can’t imagine how I couldn’t see them before, how I couldn’t hear their beauty, and I think how selfish I am, how I’m only thinking of my own death, how I only agreed to be here because I thought I had to, because I couldn’t say no, how I even thought about how it’d be educational and help prepare me for my own death, when it’s doing nothing but the opposite. Nothing but making me realize how unprepared and how terrified I am and you can’t imagine or prepare for this.
The pills are in her blood and I’m just sitting there, smoking, letting my stupid ash fall on the stupid floor and thinking how I can’t believe how calmly she put those pills into her mouth and just swallowed, like it was nothing.
I’m a liar. I lie for a living. I am a selfish, superficial person. I use women for sex. For comfort. I use my friends for conversation. I care about them, but I care more about myself. All the good things I’ve done, I’ve done because I thought I should. All the people I’ve helped, I’ve helped not because I’m good but because it’s the only way I can fucking sleep at night. I don’t have any morality any more complex than that. I envy people without any morality at all. I don’t believe in God. I know it’s irrational to fear my own death. I want to say great and true things to people, but all the words evaporate before I can say them, and I know that even this doesn’t matter. We’ll all be dead someday, and no one will care, the way I didn’t care about the secret thoughts of my grandparents. We’re insects in a thin sheet of atmosphere clinging to a rock unmoored in unfathomable darkness. We can’t understand it. I dream of better things for us. I want us to get off-world. I want to find love. But no sooner do I dream than I know this doesn’t matter any more than any other stupid thought. No one really cares if the last human eye stops moving and you stop feeling a pulse in Alice’s wrist. I’m lonely all the time and never tell anyone. I’ve wanted to die for twenty years now. Never had the courage. Always felt that rush of fear when it came time. The idea of jumping and suddenly realizing all your problems could be fixed except that you jumped. So I told myself ending my suffering doesn’t matter either, so I might as well live and take some small pleasures, if only because they let us forget that we fucking disappear and everyone who knew us will disappear and our names and our beings will vanish from this earth and none of it will matter nor consequently ever has mattered. I want a hot dog. To taste the relish. To let it be that.
Alice feels the pain in her stomach, and it’s then that she puts the plastic bag over her head.
I can’t believe she’s doing this, and I’m crying for her and know I’m only crying for myself, but I love her so much and want her to stay.
Her nose sucks the bag in and out, so it goes tight and loose against her mouth and those lips. She’s looking through this claustrophobic little bag and I swear she looks happy. Or at least not petrified. And then her eyes roll up much further than they ever should and her body just slumps back into the bed and I hold her hand and there’s no tension in it and I just keep crying and condemning myself and feeling what an animal feels when it realizes it has a predator it can’t run away from.
The smell hits me, her shit and piss, and it stinks like death. Like the shit we are. There’s this condensation on the inside of the bag. But no in and out anymore. She did this to herself because God cursed her with cancer.
What we call God is all the chance and luck and shit we can’t control in the universe and can’t even imagine understanding some day. We take all this uncertainty and we roll it into a ball and call it God. Because if you can build a church to it and kneel to it and call its name, it can’t be a fucking void anymore. So we can just go on with our lives, not seeing Alice dying, until it comes time for us to lie in bed with chest pains or to put the pills in our own lips and somehow find the courage to swallow death.
Alice didn’t pass away. Alice didn’t euphemism anything. She fucking died. Don’t you ever call it anything else.
I’m the selfish bastard who turned it into this story. Who packaged all her pain. Who took those tears and tied all his bullshit fucking angst and wrapped it up with a bow and made a fucking trinket out of it that others could enjoy in their own masochism.
Because it was real and raw, and nothing sells like real.
And I’d like someone to remember, besides me.
I know it’s selfish to turn this into something about me, but I want to say that I was there. That I smelled the shit Alice became. She didn’t expel it. She became it.
Alice was my friend. She had cancer. I’d just like to stop lying to myself about it. She’s gone and she left nothing for the world. All the beautiful stories of her life, all the observational power, all the creativity, all the times she made me or someone else feel better, all those little precious idiosyncratic memories are full in me but always twisting and already fading and no sort of mirror for what’s gone. This Alice. The fullness of her.
Tomorrow, I will brush my teeth and pretend it matters. And pretend I should. And get on with the forgetting we call life.
I know three things. I am a selfish prick. Oh, yes, I know you’ve seen the good in me, but trust me, yes, I am really a selfish fucking prick. In my thoughts and wishes and all my secret desires. I am a fundamentally superficial person. If I stay with you when you’re old and fat, it’s only because I think I should, and both I’ll hate myself and pride myself for it. And I am going to die. And I’m not looking forward to it. And I know I’ll lie to myself again and say, logically, “What’s the big deal?” But I am fucking horrified of it.
I don’t presume to tell you that you’re the same, but you are. All signs point to yes, says the magic eight ball. I may be wrong. You might be a wizard, you might know exactly what heaven looks like, but I highly doubt you have any information the rest of us don’t.
Alice just scooped up those blue pills and swallowed them without any nervousness, like her body was letting go of its anxiety because it knew she was no longer viable to herself or her kin group.
But that’s bullshit intellectualizing, and fuck me for doing it.
No, Alice died with a plastic baggie over her head, and all that she was is extinguished, and that’s why we cry, no matter what we profess to others or ourselves that we believe.
My teeth need cleaning, the bills need paying, and bullshit needs tending to. I wish I could wake up.