As ever, he was quick to liquor me up. Tried anyway, I didn’t want the rest of the guests showing up to find me shitfaced and drooling on myself. Little by little the cars trickled in, until it became a chore finding places for them to park.
By the time the party was properly under way, the sun hung low on the horizon. I hesitated before going back inside, savoring the deep oranges and reds. What a hell of a thing it is, to watch the sun set for the final time. Feels almost like it was a friend. Like I’m watching its final moments unfold, even as it watches mine.
Jorge thrusts a bottle at me again the minute I finish closing the front door behind me. Before I can protest, he puts a finger to my lips. “Just drink. It will help.” Because I don’t want to fight him over this, and because I believe he’s right, I take a large enough swig to satisfy him.
He didn’t follow me into the kitchen, so I motioned as if to dump the remainder of the bottle into the sink and pretend I drank it. Something stays my hand. The realization, I think, that I may need the rest of it later. I set it down by the fridge, then head into the livingroom.
A dozen smiling faces greet me. “There he is!” trumpets my Dad. “The man of the hour!” They all raise their glasses. Some of them cheer, others laugh. I’ve been to so many parties, but none where I was so decidedly the center of attention.
Every birthday since I was legal to drink, I just went pub crawling with one or two friends. Sort of nostalgic to have all these eyes on me. Unnerving too, because of the glint I see in their stares. The unspoken expectations.
“Here, smoke this.” Jorge now had a bong out, which I’d not seen him bring in. He launched into a story about how hashish was traditionally given to assassins before they set out on missions they did not expect to return from, because it diminished their anxiety about the rapid approach of the grim reaper.
The story had the opposite of the intended effect, but I still took a big hit so that Jorge would leave it alone, and he did. It wasn’t enough that I felt in danger of making a fool out of myself, but unfamiliar thoughts were beginning to swim around in my grey matter. The sort of thoughts that only surface when you’re ripped.
I began to tear up. Mom came over, looking concerned. “It’s just…” I struggled to get it out. “Remember when I was ten, and I thought I was going to be an astronaut?” She first scolded me, but then her expression softened.
“That’s no good. Everybody’s looking. They’re here for your big day, because they all love you! Not more than I do, which is why I can’t let you stumble before you reach the finish line. Wait here, I know what will put a smile on your face!”
She hurried into the kitchen. I heard the oven door swing open, and a delicious scent wafted out to my nostrils. Mom then emerged from the kitchen bearing a steaming cake. Carefully decorated, with the most candles I’d ever see on a cake.
I didn’t want to disappoint Mom, so I smiled even though I’d begun subtly trembling. That was just the start of it. The shaking grew steadily worse after we finished polishing off the cake, because I knew how little else there was left to do.
By the time Dad set up the little digital camcorder to one side of the canvas, I could no longer hide it. Jorge put his hand on my shoulder. “Like a leaf. I was worried about this. You want the rest of the bottle?” I nodded, wondering how he found out, or if I’m just that transparent.
“Do you want to get into position? I’m not hurrying you, I just mean so you can get a feel for how to sit. How to angle your head, all that good stuff.” He gestured to a cushion he’d put on the floor just in front of the canvas, with a beige tarp under it so the carpet wouldn’t stain.
Some primal part of my brain fought every step towards that spot. My self-preservation instinct, maybe. Somehow sensing that it wanted nothing to do with that cushion or canvas. I nevertheless forced my body into the shape I wanted, cross legged on the cushion with my head tilted back slightly.
I could feel the canvas behind me. Pulsating, resonating. Ready to catch the sum total of my dreams, memories and feelings. All around me, wide eyes looked on in excitement. Equally wide grins radiated approval. How could I disappoint them? How could I destroy those smiles? Nowhere left to go but forward.
The shaking was now accompanied by growing nausea. My stomach had joined the mutiny against my brain, it seemed. Try as I might to stop it, to sit in stillness and quietude, I only felt more and more strung out. Fried, and at the end of my rope.
I never imagined it like this. I had this romanticized picture in my head of how it would be, silly in retrospect. I looked so cool, posing with my eyes closed. So dignified. Never once did I picture myself as a quivering, nervous wreck. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. But then I doubt anybody knows how it will feel…until it’s their turn.
It’s my turn now, and that’s all there is to it. That’s all there is to it. Nowhere left to go but forward. Towards the very end of me, and of all things. From my perspective anyway. It seems almost like there’s this huge uncompromising wall of absolute blackness rushing towards me.
“I…I think I’m ready.” My dad cupped a hand to his ear. “I’m ready. Bring it to me.” He asked if I was sure. I shook my head. “I don’t think I’ll ever feel sure, but I want to try. If I can push through, it won’t matter. I just have to push through, don’t I.”
He smiled, then wiped a tear from his eye. “That’s right, just push through. Wait here.” He disappeared up the stairs, then came down a minute later holding a modestly sized wooden box. After unlocking it, he swung the lid open and presented the contents to me.
It was much heavier in my hand than I expected. I cradled the hefty chunk of metal for a bit, getting a feel for its contours. Smith and Wesson, Model 686. Nice long, narrow barrel that doesn’t bump your teeth at the correct angle, unlike the M1191 a lot of people use.
Everybody’s watching. I can feel their eyes on me as I slide it into my mouth, kneeling into position on the cushion. A few of them get their phones out to take pictures. “It’s going to be so beautiful” I heard Mom tearfully remark. “It’s going to be…just spectacular.”
There was a long, tense silence. All those wide, glistening eyes. Then Dad took it out of my hands. “There’s no rush, it only has to happen by midnight. Let the guests enjoy you a little bit more before then.”
I could’ve done it right then. I was ready in that moment, I think. Any little niggling irritations about the cushion, or the lighting, none of it would matter a split-second later if I’d just gone through with it right then.
I wouldn’t need a cushion after that. Wouldn’t need clothing, or a house, or a car. No more groceries. No more heating bills in the winter, nor air conditioning in the Summer. It’s remarkable how many practical problems it solves, all at once.
If I could only penetrate my brain. That’s all it is. “Shooting yourself” sounds unreasonably severe, to say nothing of the cultural hooplah surrounding “suicide”. All I’m going to do is penetrate my own brain, briefly.
That’s all I’m going to do. That’s all it is. Like those captive bolt pistols they use on cows at the slaughterhouse. Not so different from the sterile, colorful unit the government gives you if you go into one of their exit centers. Just so there’s no loose bullet to possibly ricochet and hurt somebody.
Those tapes are so fascinating to watch, because of how the full human characteristics of each individual are expressed in that little ten foot by ten foot room. Expanding to fill it almost as they pace around, argue with themselves, laugh and cry.
But it always ends the same way. However loud, energetic and colorful it is up until that point, it becomes much simpler afterwards. Quiet and still, as the blood goes down the drain in the center of the floor. Everything becomes much simpler, much simpler afterwards. Once everything is said and done.
Stay Tuned for Part 5!