“At the heart of my thoughts I wasn’t I.”
Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
It was early morning and so he was tired. But he had also just lost track. To the best of his poor recollection though, Giles had had eight friends or family members die within the last year. That number sounded about right to him. First it was Aunt June who had cancer. Then Cam. Now Seabass. Both boys died from heroin. Most had died from heroin. But not Aunt June though– and there was his Grandfather too. It made him sad to admit, but he would forgot about him often. But then that would make nine.
And yet somehow Sutler was still alive.
Giles pulled his car into that well-trafficked beach parking lot and found a spot sandwiched between two lifted, shining Tacomas. All across the black asphalt the sand danced back and forth a fine film of grit and silica like lukewarm frost. The ocean was shimmering with those first whispers of the February offshore winds and he felt them as he opened his door and turned his head to the east, the stinging rays of that sunrise flicked at his pupils and he squinted and held his hands up for shelter. He peered northward, up the 101, and looked for Sutler. There was no one there save for others he did not know. Giles turned his gaze back to the surf, rested on his open door and saw the sheen off that black rubber of wetsuits dotting the lineup.
A vibration hummed from deep in his pockets and the look on his face showed no signs of anything as he read a text. An imposing yawn broke out on his face and he stretched his arms out with hardship to that sky. His limbs seemed to burden the boy as if he were being weighed down by some cement in his bones. The air was brisk and the sun was just beginning to make its way over those eastern foothills and blanket the coastal morning in a languid warmth. He looked back to the north, and off in the distance, on the other side of the bridge that crossed the 101 over the lagoon’s rivermouth, Sutler was walking toward his direction and from where Giles stood he could make out the general lazy stroll and skinny silhouette of his friend through the sun-glazed haze of that early hour. He walked over to the back of his car and stood up on the trunk, checked the surf down the beach to the south and then back north in the direction of Sutler to see the progress his friend had made– not much. But even from that distance, Giles saw a nervous smile on the skinny boy’s face.
The ocean, beginning to show the initial ripples of some welling north swell, contrasted in a deep and demanding navy with that raspberry sky and the waves broke like exhausted schools of fish out there, rolling finally onto the shore where they would take leave. It felt like winter and the sand had that cold metallic tinge to it and men sitting in their parked trucks blasted their heaters on high as they sipped coffee and scorned the crowded lineup and lack of surf.
Giles continued to stand on the back of the car and watch Sutler make his measured pace across the bridge, into the sandy parking lot cul de sac and closer to himself, and although Giles recognized this unhurried stroller with that nervous smile on his face as his buddy, Sutler’s presence, even from that closing distance, felt like a stranger’s. Up high a lonely pelican sored and no one below paid any mind.
Sutler came near and regarded the boy affably.
What’s up dawg, Giles greeted him with a humorous and ironic inflection to his tone. Sutler smiled back in a silent, welcoming hello.
They dapped each other up as Sutler replied, What’s goin on buddy?
You don’t have your stuff with you, Giles noticed, as all Sutler had on him were his neat, fitted clothes. He had the appearance of someone who took very good care of himself and paid mind to how he dressed– a black Levi’s jacket over a navy blue button up, nicely fit green jeans, and white Huf shoes.
Yeah– left all my shit up at my truck, Sutler replied, smiling as softly as he spoke. Despite the smile, a lingering odor of bad blood hung heavy even in the thick miasma of that beach air.
It looks sorta fun, Giles pointed out to the lineup. Not the best– for sure– but I’ve seen some fun one’s come through.
Yeah, I don’t know.
Look cold? Sutler asked, laughing awkwardly.
Giles smiled with his dark brown eyes. Yeah, looks cold.
God, when it’s like this it’s just so hard to get motivated. That’s why I haven’t been surfing at all. I missed every single one of the last few swells. Sutler cupped his hands over his mouth and let out a breath of warm air. Like, you know how some people are all, oh I missed the last swell? Well, I missed every single one.
You gotta 3/2?
Nah, 4/3. Just that it’s still hard to get stoked when the ground’s cold and the air’s cold– fuck…
They stared in a pause for a few moments looking out at the surf– maybe admiring the day– perhaps weighing the possibility of actually surfing the cold mush breaking before them, or maybe just thinking of something to say.
How’ve you been? Giles finally asked.
Been doin good man, Sutler said with a strangeness to his mellow response. Giles noticed. He knew Sutler wasn’t hiding anything or being otherwise disingenuous. Giles believed him. Giles simply understood that, to Sutler, doing good was a fallacy. As opposed to actually meaning it, the two realized the phrase as a formal platitude instead. It didn’t make a difference if he’d actually been doing good or not– just that he was doing better than not good at all. It was a lie, but a lie of acceptance. A lie of surrender.
Yeah man. Just working and trying to save money.
Giles already knew the answer to the question. Where you workin at?
Fish Market, Sutler looked at Giles finally and smiled with white teeth.
Oh yeah, Giles looked back towards the lineup. My brother said he saw you there.
Yeah I saw Tommy.
Yeah, Finn was with him too.
Giles looked over and saw Sutler’s big, green eyes laced with the redness of early morning. His hair that used to wear the sun bleached streaks of hours and hours of surf was now a short, dull brown. His skin was an insider’s pallid and red but clear of any acne or blemish. No acne? He said thoughtfully.
Yeah, been taking care of myself pretty good, Sutler said with pride.
That’s dope. I saw your story the other night you were using, like, a honey mask or some shit? I don’t know.
Oh yeah, Sutler laughed and spat on the ground. That’s something I do sometimes. But mostly I do this prescription stuff. But I’m just on so many other meds right now that it’s kinda fucking me up.
Really? Giles knew Sutler was on meds. He knew certain details he’d heard from other people, but he didn’t know the whole story. Not that it was a new subject for Giles, but to hear Sutler talk about it felt foreign and unnerving.
Yeah, my doctor’s got me on all this shit– but I dunno– I think it’s kinda fucking with me.
How do you feel?
Fine. Just weird, I guess.
Do you feel dull or numb, or anything?
Eh, yeah sometimes.
The boys shuffled their feet in a nervous attempt to warm themselves from a sudden chill felt through the beach morning air. Sutler clasped his hands together to rush blood to them.
An impulse creeped into Giles’s throat suddenly as the boy was looking out towards the lineup. You feel like you got a sense of purpose, or, like, well-being? Giles asked, the question surprising even himself.
Sutler squinted his eyes and pursed his lips to the side as in thought. I mean, I don’t know. What do you mean exactly? Sutler, although never the type of kid that took anything the wrong way, was nevertheless taken back by this strange question. One could ask him about his mom, his health, about music, about dread– to Sutler, no subject really registered as somehow abnormal to talk about. He just talked. So despite the perplexity, he continued his genial, unbothered manner and rubbed his red hands together.
Just, like, I don’t know, Giles replied as he mulled over a more direct version of the question that was on his mind, a sudden burden on his heart forced him to swallow. Are you happy?
Yeah, me neither.
Sutler smiled and laughed a bit. But I mean, I’m doing better than I was– for sure. The boy briefly glanced over the memories in his head and found humor in the absurdity of them.
It’d been a long year. The boys turned twenty-one two years ago and without much doubt, the second went by much slower than the first. Two years ago– Giles couldn’t even remember the last time him and Sutler talked or surfed or anything. He’d heard stories from other friends about Sutler’s desperate situation– actually, he’d been around in the beginning to see Sutler off to the yawning ocean of insanity which laid before him. The two were childhood friends with blood as thick as brothers, all for those troubling bad years.
Yeah, I mean same here, Giles said with a sigh in an effort to relate experiences. I don’t think anyone’s ever truly happy. That’s just some unachievable state of being that I don’t think no one ever reaches.
Selling products, Sutler’s soft Southern Californian inflection sounded out of place uttering a phrase that held so much weight.
Yeah, just selling products. A way to make money for self-help idiots. I think it’s fine to not be happy all the time.
Yeah, Sutler smiled and looked down at his feet and in a murmur he said. That’s just what mania is.
To be happy all the time. That’s how bi-polar is. That’s mania.
Yeah exactly, Giles winced and felt around his large front teeth with the back of his knuckles. A pang of guilt hit and that faint bloodaroma found itself slowly wafting away. This is gonna sound like a weird question, but do you ever– do you ever– like, miss it?
Mania. Or, like, being manic or whatever? Miss it?
Sutler furrowed his brow. Why would I miss it?
Cuz it feels good. I dunno…
Oh. Well. Uh-Yeah, in a certain way. Cuz when you’re manic you do feel really good. Like, you feel so fucking happy and jazzed about everything. Like, you’d look at that dog and say, wow look at that dog, the way it’s moving, look at how stoked that dog is, and look at the lady walking the dog and how happy she is, isn’t that amazing? And everyone just looks at you like you’re fucking crazy, cuz you are. That’s just insane. That’s an insane way to think. An insane way to talk. And that’s just the beginning– then the delusions come, and the voices. The boy paused. Well, it’s just non-stop, just, happiness.
You think that’s happiness though?
I don’t know what else you’d call it. I’ve never felt that good, ever.
Even in the delusions and hearing shit, and all that?
Even with all that shit, dog. You really don’t realize what the fuck is happeneing. You just know that you feel fucking unbelievable.
You ever think you’ll feel that way again?
Hope not. Cuz it’s not good. It’s just fake. It’s all a delusion. It’s all a voice that’s not there. And when that’s shattered, you’re fucked. Cuz yeah, it feels amazing, but it’s not real– and that’s the fuckin worst part about it I think. Feels the fucking worst to find out all that happiness was just some, like, some hell. Sutler’s voice trailed off along with his eyes to more beautiful sights than the ones in his memories.
Fuck. Giles replied.
Yeah, fucked. Sutler had his hands in his jacket pockets now.
Giles wanted to say something endearing and uplifting but the words didn’t come out. He understood that talking to a friend who had tried to kill himself was a weary task. A task that should have started when it had initially happened– not now. Not all this time later, after so many others have passed on and so much guilt and dread and sorrow lingered up there in those rafters of memory of the mothers and families and friends. Words, Giles feared, would somehow seem as hollow and meaningless as this life he led.
Instead he asked. Should we surf?
I don’t know.
Yeah I don’t know, it looks kinda shitty.
But yo, wait. Sutler smiled and pointed to the rivermouth. There was a broken board that floated on the surface, slowly being sucked out to sea in the pervasive rip of hightide. Look at that.
That snapped board? Giles asked, standing on the hood of his car to get a better look.
Yeah, check it out. That’s kinda cool huh?
Giles smiled and could hear the gulls out at sea cry. Yeah, I guess it kinda is.
Whose do you think it was?
The thin marine layer had all but burned off and to the north those orange bluffs which hugged the coastline up to that lonesome point started to light up. The three palms that stood sentinel over the beachfront restaurant to the south rustled in the day’s first big gust of wind and sent a mist of salt off into that solemn abyss of the horizon. A small, groomed set rolled through the lineup and distracted them from the snapped board for a second and the two boys rode the corduroy blue lefts and rights with a reverential gaze from their perch in that lot. Behind them, beautiful beach homes sat high on the bluff overlooking the 101 and it felt like the world’s eyes had just opened. Sutler looked back toward the snapped board as it was leisurely making its way out through the whirring, green channel.
Where do you think it’ll go? He asked.