Dedicated, with love, to a friend.
“And that’s it, friends. I’ve done it all, I’ve lived it all. If I had the strength, I’d cry. I bid you all goodbye…”
Roberto Balano, notes for the novel 2666
AS long as he could remember, he had known him.
We grew up together, he would say. I’ve known that motherfucker my whole life. Actually, since kindergarten. We were in the same class too. My mom has these funny pictures with us all muddy and shit — we used to roll around in the sandbox during lunch and our teacher had to call our moms one day cuz a kid got a bunch of sand in his eyes. I still think Andy did that shit on purpose but who really knows. He claimed it was an accident. But I don’t know. Our moms came to get us early cuz that kid I guess got really hurt — I think he had to get like glasses or some shit after that — and we thought they were gonna be really mad. So we were like super scared. I remember, and I have no idea how I still remember this, but Andy was really fucking scared. I don’t know why though. Lisa, his mom, is a super nice lady. But he was super scared. It looked like he was about to burst into tears. I remember too, for some reason, he looked older than I did — he always did. I guess that’s the way memories are though, right? They’re just kinda like little pictures in your brain of the way you saw the world back then. Like some sort of fucked up camera. But so anyway, our moms came. And then I got scared cuz I just didn’t know what was gonna happen. Then I saw the weirdest expression on their faces when they came into the teacher’s room where we were being held. It was like they were gonna cry almost. I got scared again. I remember looking at Andy and he had a tear running down his cheek — and I thought, if that kid is about to lose it, I’m fucked. Cuz you know, he was always the gnarliest motherfucker — even in kindergarten he was the gnarliest motherfucker. But so we’re both just looking at our moms, and it looks like they’re about to cry, and Andy is about to cry, and our teacher is pissed — but then. But then, our moms just both burst out laughing. They were laughing at us. And our teacher is just so bummed, you know. Cuz she was all trying to discipline us. But I don’t know, we must have looked really funny or some shit, cuz they just lost it. They took these pictures of us on that bench with this disposable or something. We got to go home early that day. And I just saw that picture again, you know, my mom pulled it out. We look so funny. And so young. It’s crazy. Anyway, yeah. I’ve known that kid forever.
And then, at least in those first few days, Jasper would cry.
The air up in Portland feels somehow a lot more arid and dry during the Summer than it does in Southern California. It was weird because Bradley never knew it got hot there. He had moved the previous winter and so had only known the cold as well as the mild, slightly colder Spring which lagged to catch up, lingering just behind the time it was meant to show, a trait typical of the seasons in the Pacific Northwest. So Bradley had only known the cold. And being from Southern California, where the North looks like a wet and frigid forested oblivion from down there, foreign and very far away from the coastal desert town of Los Angeles County, California, he hadn’t expected it. He felt the heat had dulled him, caught him off guard a little bit — at least that’s what he said.
Juliette didn’t believe him. She knew he was just in shock and she of course didn’t blame him. Although he felt like she did. Why wouldn’t she? She hadn’t even known Andy all that well and yet she seemed to be more distraught than he. Juliette wasn’t judging him obviously. She wasn’t even thinking about anything like that. She just couldn’t believe it, and she kept trying to comfort him. But Bradley, for a reason which escaped him, just as the yawning questions of life do, didn’t look like he needed anything at all.
He couldn’t do anything. Couldn’t speak. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t bring up any emotion. Nothing at all. He just sat up in his bed and thought, This isn’t real.
I’m gonna have to take a flight tomorrow if I can find one, he said with his eyes fixed on the TV watching colors explode in tiny bursts of light, holding her as close as he could.
I know. And Juliette sobbed into his shoulder deep and boundless breaths of loss.
When someone uses heroin it is not necessarily because that person is different from other people who may have never, and will never, use the drug. In fact, everyone has the potential. Everyone has the thought. Everyone would love the sensation.
What makes someone who uses heroin different than perhaps those just previously mentioned who have never and will never use it, is that person who does now knows where to turn when things seem a little too much. They now know what to do when things become a little too real. Obviously it isn’t a valid solution, a good solution, or even a solution at all — perhaps it’s a vice, a bad habit, an addiction. Whatever it may be, to the heroin user, whether active or in remission, it becomes a potential for life. It becomes that sinister hunter which lurks all-wheres, and tires not. It flies with any wind and needs no incentive to do so.
So when he first heard the news that Andy had died, McCay saw that hunter trudge that thick muck of progress he had made for himself as protection, like a wry demon it came to him with no qualms. Just a passive gatherer of what was owed. A hunter with no mind to the animal. McCay feared the thing, and yet grief is sometimes too overbearing to recognize anything else. Too overbearing to even recognize the hunter, although he was now there again. But for the time being, he let McCay grieve those first few exhausting days. For even hunters, sometimes, take pity.
Kane was shaving Ryan’s head and they were drinking beers at his mom’s house that night and the air was humid and hot and they were watching music videos on his TV and thinking about picking up a bag of coke when Kane’s phone rang.
Who’s that? said Ryan as he lifted his half-shaven head up to meet his eyes.
Jasper, said Kane. Hold on one sec.
And Kane clicked off the razor and picked up the call. Ryan watched and tried to listen as he answered and immediately saw his face turn from a red drunk to something unseemly and out of place. At Jasper’s first words, Kane’s expression had changed to a pallid muteness and Ryan knew something was very wrong.
What’s up? Ryan asked insistently.
Kane held up his finger as his face became more and more drained, and a white, the color of officespace walls, ran down the boy’s face and his eyes looked catatonic and lost. On the other end of the line, Ryan could hear the muffled and low voice of Jasper and it sounded like he was in pain.
Where are you? Kane asked Jasper, and then a pause. I’m with Ryan, we’re coming over, okay?
Kane hung up the phone and looked like he couldn’t breathe. He held his hand to his heart and began to take a deep breath in and then lost control. His head bowed, his arms fell, his body folded, and he landed on his knees in a convulsing heap of dread. Ryan widened his eyes and felt for his friend’s shoulder, and asked what was wrong and what happened and what Jasper had said. But all Kane could do was reach for him with his clumsy big forearms and hands.
What happened? Ryan asked with a tone of dire need. Kane. Yo. What the fuck hap–
Kane looked up for just a second and a lost and wild look met his gaze. Andy died, man.
What? Ryan asked, stunned by the absurdity of the words. Andy didn’t.
I’m so sorry man.
What do you mean?
I don’t know, Kane continued to sob. I don’t know.
Ryan reached down and picked him up onto his feet and embraced the boy, while slowly, like the release of a syringe, Ryan too began to come to realize Andy was no longer around. Then he began to sob. The two boys embraced and cried in the living room as a pile of Ryan’s brown hair lay in clumps on the ground and the TV played JPEGMAFIA music videos and empty beer cans sat like some kind of dour chessboard pawns out on the table and Ryan’s hair looked like a preschooler had taken safety scissors to his head and each came to settle into a reality which from that point on would never quite abide a serenity once known to these boys.
Jude’s phone had died early — around eight p.m. — and he never figured to get it hooked back up to have it charged. He figured if his phone was dead he wouldn’t have to do anything he didn’t want to do, and so he kept it dead. No one he was with cared or even knew and so his out-of-service phone only affected him at first.
It was all fine until he decided to follow a girl he had been talking to into an Uber with a few of her other friends, leaving Kane and Ryan to fend for themselves.
Are you fucking serious?
Yeah, dude. Saw that fool get into this fucking Uber van with those girls. Kane said as he looked off down the road, in the opposite direction Jude had left, as if in disbelief and frustration.
You call him?
His fucking phone is dead, remember?
Fuck that’s right.
What should we do?
I don’t know, but I’m kinda over being here anyway.
Wanna cruise my pad?
Yeah, sure I’m down. You still have that buzzer?
Wanna shave my head?
Yeah. How you wanna get there though?
What do you… Fuck that’s right. Fucking Jude drove us here, huh?
Yeah, said Kane as he shook his head and pulled out his phone to call a Lyft while halfway across town Jude was in the back of a white minivan making out with a girl who was in a sorority at UCLA.
He went back to the girls’ apartment where he ended up in a threesome with the girl and her friend by the jacuzzi of their apartment’s public swimming pool. Shortly afterward, they all three stumbled back inside and Jude fell asleep fully clothed at the foot of the first girl’s bed as she was showering off, getting ready to have sex again — just the two of them. When she finally came out, she realized she couldn’t wake him and thought about calling an ambulance until she too passed out watching a TV show with her roommate in the living room.
In the morning, Jude woke up to realize it had not been a dream and so he smiled. It was seven in the morning and the soft sunlight was just barely making its way in through the scanty linen window shades and the whole apartment smelt like lemon and vanilla. The bed and the comforter and the sheets were all white and the walls were painted a pink the color of a ripe nectarine. He dug his phone out of his pockets and remembered it had died. Over there by the bedside table, he found an unused chord and plugged his phone in where he waited for a second for it to turn back on. The sounds outside resembled some busy city street and so he figured he must be far from his home and yet it somehow comforted him and he felt safe and strangely proud of himself. His phone screen lit up and after a few seconds of it warming itself up, five voicemails, sixteen texts, and an uncountable number of missed calls appeared as notifications.
Jude furrowed his brow and shook his head as he wondered what the matter was as his phone was still lagging to catch up. When he was able to pull up his messages, he could see a name repeated through the chaos and that name, like a meat hook, drove into his chest and it melted like hot candle wax in there. Andy.
He then called Jasper and tried to hold back his tears through his gritted teeth and confusion.
It was seven-ten a.m. as he walked quickly past the girls who were just waking up and they saw him as he clumsily unlocked the front door and left without a word. He called an Uber and a silver Hyundai with complimentary water bottles in the back seat picked him up. On the ride to Jasper’s house, his phone died. And so he sat in the back of the Hyundai and sipped his water and couldn’t believe the day.
McCay — aside from Bradley who had just landed — was the last one to show up to Jasper’s. He had the heavy eyes of sleeplessness and his overall countenance expressed only the deepest dejection and sorrow, but his clothing and shoes were clean and looked new. One by one the boys got up from the couch in Jasper’s living room and approached the kid, McCay, as they allowed him to fall into their arms. Most wept again, with him. Then they would turn around, someone standing beside him, and they would walk back to the couch, slowly as if going nowhere, where they would resume talking quietly and without purpose or syllables like each boy were speaking only to himself and if the others heard that was fine. And this little ceremony — although, to the boys, it felt more like an impulse, a compulsion — was repeated accordingly, whenever another friend arrived. And since none of the boys had before experienced the gravity of such a loss, this etiquette was new to them and quite nearly improvised, like so many sheep in a fold trying to organize a cotillion. As if they were all patrons of some strange, sad dance and they only followed along according to these new rites because they were apparently customary.
When someone asked about Bradley, Kane said that he was just landing and that he would be there soon. Then Jasper asked, very softly without looking, who was picking him up, and if he needed a ride. Kane said his mom was and then there was a brief silence until McCay put his head in his hands and began to sob uncontrollably, apologizing between breaths. Jude, who was nearest to him, then held him so he wouldn’t fall over.
Above, the ceiling hosted a fan that whirred delicately around and was the only sound in that room. A few empty cans of beer lay out on the coffee table and a TV played nothing up on the wall. The boys sat around, facing each other but hardly looking up from their hands, and kept repeating the same sentence in various ways until McCay stopped weeping. The boy apologized again and the others, who looked very tired — too tired already — just said there is nothing to be sorry about and he took a deep breath.
I need a fucking beer, said McCay. And the others quickly agreed with him in a tone that sounded sincere.
Jasper, you got anything to drink? Jude said.
Anyone wanna drive? Ryan asked, nearly too soft to have been heard.
Let’s go, I’m down. Kane said as he got up and unlatched his keys from his belt loop. And Ryan hoisted himself up and no one followed them out of the door with their gaze. All just kept staring down at their hands, shaking their heads, until another lapse into a thought or a memory.
Yo, wait. Jude yelled out to the two other boys as they were about to close the front door. Where’s my car?
I don’t know, probably where you left it last night. Kane said with what almost looked like a smile on his face as he closed the door.
What happened? McCay said.
Oh, fuck. Jude pushed his palms to his eyebrows and smiled. Long story.
At this point, Jasper looked up from where he was sitting and looked at Jude and asked what he did last night. It hadn’t occurred to any of the boys at that time to have had any consideration to the previous day or night, or really anything before that either. But in truth, it was not that they had no use for the time before last night — the time before they had heard about the news that Andy had died — they just couldn’t recall, without what seemed to be a significant amount of effort, any time before last night that didn’t involve Andy.
Death, especially the death of someone very close, and moreover the untimely death of someone close, will have its way of shading in the areas of your life that once seemed to possess so much meaning. It will close your mind to the outside world — to conflicts, concepts, politics, and difference. The backdrop of your life will seem to fade into an opaque, soundless abyss like the far outreaches of another kind of void one might only find on a type of journey such as death. There is nothing more real than death, and yet, when the deceased is such a close and untimely case as was Andy’s to Jasper, Ryan, Kane, McCay, Jude, and Bradley, nothing seems more unreal. Again, reality, just like the meaning of life, becomes a formless concept. A thing to perhaps be referenced. But then, only in its relation to its opposite — that is, unreality, as it were. The polarity between the real and the unreal, in instances such as the boys are experiencing now, becomes too close. And the distinction becomes a nothing. So that, in life, no clear boundaries seem formed — no real purpose allowed for. The death of someone like Andy, to this group of boys, makes the purpose of life seem like some foreign concept of fathomless desolation. A Hymalian nothingness. In a sense, the only purpose, in those trying and initial moments, seems to just be Andy. Although as any death may take that toll on anyone who is close to the deceased, when it is someone like Andy, it makes the aforementioned sentiment all the more true — if not categorical.
In this way, it hadn’t occurred to Jasper that something could have happened with Jude at all last night — just as it hadn’t occurred to him that something could have happened with his own self last night. Nothing seemed to have had the right to happen.
But Jasper smiled as Jude went on to tell the two boys still in the room about the bar, and the girls, and the minivan, and the jacuzzi, and the threesome, and the bed. Until he talked about earlier that morning, about Andy.