“Listen to the forks hitting the dinner plates,” I said to my wife.
Our apartment was decorated by a soul tangled up in flamenco. The walls were sponge-painted pastel yellow, green, and orange. A small arched doorway opened to the living room, which overlooked the Mediterranean Sea. In the right frame of mind, it was like vacationing in rainbow sherbet.
We loved the place, but it was an ergonomic nightmare. The bedroom pillows were flatter than Western omelets, and piebald with fluids from the dreamers before us. A couch cushion deflated minutes after sitting down, and the stools in the kitchen were taped and missing foot bars. It was thrilling in the Russian roulette when-you-gonna-break-your-coccyx spirit, but that only lasts so long.
It took two weeks – our necks were stiff, our skeletal structures out of whack. We moved like bats on the floor of a cave. Of course, that’s an exaggeration. Since I don’t live in abject poverty, I tend to complain about minor inconveniences: Cheap couches, gnats, smelly feet. Thankfully, small annoyances are all I have. Perhaps you’re the same way. Because you’re capable of reading these words, you’ll probably never starve to death. In that sense, you’re privileged. In fact, folks like us are more likely to die from suicide. Isn’t that funny? I’m not saying that suicide is funny. I’m just saying, if you did off yourself, you probably wouldn’t have to do it on an empty stomach.
Last year we stayed in a hostel one block away from this apartment. The room was slightly bigger than the box spring. My wife was taking college courses, same as this year. I hung out on the bed, reading essays by Emerson until the afternoon heat compelled me to the topless beach at the bottom of the hill. With my toes in the sand, I would read or take notes on human activity. One day I was sitting on my towel with a can of San Miguel. A seaside café was blaring obscure 80’s music. A small, nude child was digging a hole in front of me. I was wearing tortoise-shell shades, feeling nostalgic.
This year, one of my back-home friends died, probably while I was sitting on that same topless beach, feeling, amongst other things, nostalgic. His name was Michael, but I called him Bach. I met Bach in a cinderblock bungalow in Atlantic Beach, about 8 years ago. Time flew by and over the years our lives became intertwined. It did not require a compelling dose of courage for me to pick up the phone and call him. I’ll never forget where I was when I heard the news. It’s incorporated in the title of the story.
Naturally, our first instinct is to reject bad news. Disbelief stands up in our defense, but it too slinks away. With acceptance comes the need to notify others. It’s strange, but I’ve always found a sort of dark pleasure in this. Perhaps I should have been an anchorman. I tried to make some phone calls over the computer, but I was borrowing wi-fi from a neighboring apartment, and the connection was lousy.
So I had pictures and memories. Of course, memories are not static. We give them life through imagination. They change over time, become larger. The dual mind remembers more than the single mind. The two synergize, relying upon each other to fill in the blanks. With our dual mind shut down, the issue became this: detangling the overall experience of “knowing him” – to pull out and examine specific memories, strand by strand.
So I stretched out on the couch and remembered…
I didn’t remember much from our first meeting. I wasn’t good at documenting my thoughts and actions back then. Fast-forward a few years. What stands out was riding the Jaguar. It was parked in his garage. Bach’s parents were out of town, and the car was parked in such a way that if it was moved, his father would know. We preferred that he not find out.
There were four of us, and each was responsible for marking the coordinates of one tire. I had the back left. Bach drove, and even with Three-6-Mafia in the stereo, we could hear the roar of that engine as we set out in search of, what else, The American Dream. The windows were down and the AC was up. Girls stared. Almost everyone did. They couldn’t help but eyeball that 80 mph blur barreling down Millionaires Lane, its tires all screeching rubber and smoke. Good clean fun. We returned the Jaguar, gassed and in pristine condition, to its rightful spot in the garage.
Some may remember Bach’s apartment in Raleigh. He was enrolled in school, pretending to be a student. I was in town for a job interview and ended up crashing for five days. There was a massive novelty check nailed to the wall in the amount of one million-some-odd dollars, courtesy of a fishing tournament. When I woke up on the couch, it was the first thing I saw. My interview was on a Wednesday, but I would never get the job. Of course, neither of us knew that. Bach surrendered his bed the night before my interview.
“Get some sleep,” he said, “I’ll take the couch.”
It was 3am when a terrible clatter awoke me. Creeping down the stairs, I half expected to see burglars ransacking the place. Instead, I saw Bach fussing over a stove full of sizzling pots and pans. The kitchen and living room were shrouded in smoke. The stereo was on, as was every other light in the house.
I was going to sneak down and scare him, but something stopped me. Peering through the haze, what struck me was the calmness in Bach’s face. The punk music had no effect on him. Curiously, I kept watching. Cooking is a sort of ritual, requiring some internal dialogue, but he did not talk to himself; at least not verbally. His movements were deliberate, almost to the point of seeming childlike. I sat quietly and observed a moment in time: one man cooking a pre-dawn feast, as his unemployed guest looks on, secretly.
These two experiences were shared by a few and one, respectively. Even before he died, I thought about these times more than others. What did it mean? I wondered.
The answer my brain gave me was this:
I would no longer see or talk to my friend, either face-to-face or over satellite transmissions/fiber optics.
For reasons that I cannot explain, that was the answer. True as it was, this response clearly lacked any emotional wallop. Am I in shock, or am I disconnected?
This was an interesting question. Shock is temporary. I knew that much. However, can you plug a disconnected feeling back in? Perhaps “plugging in,” in the emotional sense, meant communicating with the universe through your soul. Here is one such effort…
Because death (more specifically, relating death to a loved one) is a touchy subject, I’ll use the term “wormhole” hereafter, instead of “death.” Both are heavily theorized, but more importantly, most folks aren’t that passionate about what may -- or may not -- be on the other side of a wormhole.
So, if Bach were here now, this is what I would say:
A wormhole is the urethra of God. As you travel through it, secrets of the universe appear in the form of rubble -- go forth and fertilize the unknown.
Perhaps the living will find this more insightful:
People keep giving even after they enter the wormhole. We share stories to rejoice the times we had, and to help keep the memory alive.
Dedicated to the memory of Michael Register Bach.