Night Falls Fast
I hold on.
We all hold on in some way or another, grasping at things just beyond our reach, trying to keep everything close when we know in the end that Yeats was right, that things fall apart, the centre can not hold. But we still hold on. Because there is nothing better that we have been taught and we all do what we have learned. And this is what I have learned.
I can still hear the doctor, still hear him saying not to worry, that sometimes the body will stop breathing but as long as the heart is okay then things will right themselves quickly. And then the heart stopped. The line went flat at just the moment when I prayed, asked, begged for everything to stop, for all her pain to disappear. And as simple as that all her pain was gone. She was gone.
That’s all the past now. Eight months ago, nearly a full school year, almost ancient history. Just as, when this year started, everything between Jessica and I had simply become a memory, well, when I return in the fall, all of the pain from this year can be pushed behind me. It will be gone. I won’t have to hold on to it.
But I hold on.
I hold on, hold close to her hand and her body as we twirl in time to music. I whisper to her words I never would have imagined coming between us, words of almost a love song, words that go something like “if i been hard on on you i never chose to be / i never wanted no one else / i tried my best to be somebody you’d be close to / hand in hand like lovers are supposed to.” But we shouldn’t be close, we aren’t supposed to be like this, she is supposed to be a lover for Kyle, a lover for all time. I tell myself I’m not stealing my best friend’s girl, that they broke up months ago, before Christmas even, that I had nothing to do with this, life came along and after Rachel there was nothing that could repair the tears in the fabric of their relationship. Love dies sometimes. I’ve seen it. And so she’s here with me and everything feels right and feels wrong. This isn’t even supposed to be a romantic moment, just a nice time to celebrate being done with Chem class, that the year is almost over, just a couple more finals and we’re all out of here and just one more year left.
Then everything falls apart. So close, so far away, a chance to be together and the centre can not hold.
The angle of Jenn’s window offers a nice view of the roof and we see Sean climb out of his window onto the roof. That used to be where he would always go, generally at night when he wouldn’t be noticed. He’s steered clear of it most of this year, with eyes on him since Rachel died. Paul was out there with him one time and they had a nice talk. Kyle and I followed him out one day when he looked like he wasn’t doing so well, but he came back in with us. He talked about how much he missed her. He talked about how little else mattered in his life now that she was gone. But he had gone through the motions, come back inside with his friends, kept life going, went to classes, ate, lived. Or a reasonable facsimile of life anyway.
I step towards the window because Sean isn’t sitting next to his window as he normally has done in the past. He is standing and he is looking down. I feel her pull back on my arm. I turn to look and see something I don’t know to describe. Fear? Pain? A shot of love?
“I’ll get Kyle,” she whispers.
“I’ll go out there.”
“I’ll get Kyle.”
I can’t tell what she means, if I should still go, if this is better left to Kyle and I understand that perhaps she is not as over him as she should be given that we’ve slept together four times now.
“I’ll go out with him.”
This may be my only real chance, the only thing I’ve had since letting Jessie turn around and run out the door, trying not to look back, and I pull her in close and kiss her. This is not like our first kiss, not that soft, tender moment we shared at the playground the night of the accident, the night everything came crashing down, but it is a nice kiss, a soft kiss, a kiss I really need right now, something which she can almost give me and yet can’t quite bring herself to commit to. And then she is gone through the door, running at a full sprint towards my room, our room, mine and Kyle’s, and I turn and am climbing out the window.
“A name, a city, a movie. That’s what I want from all of you”, he tells us. “A name, a city, a movie. Nothing else. Just give me that and we’ll see what happens.”
“What about you?”
Paul turns to look at Kyle. We all know his name is Paul because that’s how he began this, jumping up on the table and yelling out ‘I’m Paul and I’m in charge because I’m the loudest.’ Kyle, of course, I know, because we’re roommates and we met when he came to visit me over the summer.
“Shouldn’t you lead by example?” Kyle adds.
Paul looks at him, smiles, lets that smile infect all of us, something I’ve never seen done, a pure perfect smile of happiness, of someone who’s found it all and made it good.
“Okay. Paul. Berkeley. The Last of the Mohicans. Any more objections?”
“Why are we doing this?”
“Because I’m in charge and I said to do it and there’s no better way to get to know someone than to get them talking. So, you can start.”
“Kyle. San Francisco. Touch of Evil.”
“Good nice. Next. You.”
“Bruce. Gilroy. Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
There is a bit of silence as I turn to the guy sitting next to me.
“Come on people, keep it going.”
“Kevin. Pasadena. The Princess Bride.”
“Tom. Portland, of the Oregon variety. Die Hard.”
“Jim. Las Vegas. Star Wars.”
“Kate. Nashua, New Hampshire. Princess Bride.”
I see the look that Kevin is giving Kate, hear the connection of their movies, hear the sweet New England accent in her voice and I wonder how soon before people start pairing off. And which one will score with the super hot redhead in the Coronado High Swim Team t-shirt.
“Michelle. Rancho Palos Verdes. Casablanca.”
“A classic. Nice to hear. Next.”
“Jennifer. Jenn. Fairfax. Heathers.”
“Someone with a wicked sense of humor. You will go far.”
“Sean. Bellevue. Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
“Rachel. Coronado. Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
I look at the last two, notice that the three of us share a common movie and I can already see his hand inching towards hers and that seems to answer the question of who will score with the super hot redhead and I wonder if you really can fall in love at first sight.
“Of course we can fall in love at first sight,” Kyle says. “Look at Sean and Rachel. First sight, wham, bam, everything falls into place. Kevin and Kate, one look, everything is perfect, the way they want it.” He nods in the direction of both Kevin and Sean as he says it.
“Have you ever fallen in love at first sight?”
“Fuck love!” Paul yells. “Fuck all of that!”
We all turn to look at him as he throws another rock into the river, skipping it along touches of the water, but it doesn’t go far, as the surface is moving quite swiftly.
“Things with Sarah not going well?” Jim asks.
“Fuck her. Fuck you. Fuck everything.”
“Think he can finish a sentence without the word fuck in it?” I ask.
“I could if I wanted to, you little fucking prick.”
I almost take a step back at the words, which seem so violent, so hateful, but Kyle shakes his head slightly.
“Don’t take it personal,” he says, softly, just below the hearing range of the other four.
“Did Jim say Sarah?” Kevin asks.
“I think he and Jim have swapped Sarah and Laura.”
“That’s so disturbing I can’t begin to describe it.”
“Keep passing the open windows.”
The five of us turn to look at Paul as he climbs up into the tree.
“What the fuck does that mean?” Jim asks.
“It’s like Iowa Bob always said. You have to get obsessed and stay obsessed. You have to keep passing the open windows.”
Jim turns to look at the four of us.
“Any of you have any idea what he’s talking about?”
“He must be quoting something,” Kyle says and they all turn to look at me, look for the works of literature that have been absorbed into my system, that I let loose at any variable prompting.
“Must be John Irving. What else would he quote?”
“Look,” he says, pulling himself onto a higher branch. “I’ll put it another way so you movie freaks can understand. Stay alive. I will find you. Whatever you do, stay alive.”
We all remember that, can all connect with Daniel Day-Lewis screaming at Madeline Stowe, standing under the edge of the waterfall, darkness all around them, lights coming up from below to kill them, no time left to think, to act, a desperate last chance before death and maybe we can understand when he looks down at us all and repeats “you have to keep passing the open windows” as he pushes off from the branch and the sun reflects off his shirt as he cuts through the air and disappears in a perfect dive under the surface of the river.
He used to tell us that all the time, I think, as I move slowly across the rooftop towards Sean. Keep passing the open windows. So many of the windows are closed right now, to keep in the cool air, to keep out the wasps, to filter away what we can not control.
He’s looking away from me, looking out over at the sunset. It’s no strange sight to see him up here, leaning back on the roof, a good four stories above the ground, watching the sunset, staring at the snow, counting all the stars. Below us, the campus is mostly deserted, sunset on the Friday of finals, just a few more days and tests and the whole school will be a ghost town again.
I say it softly, loud enough for him to hear, soft enough that he won’t be startled. He doesn’t respond, par for the course lately. “I think you and Kevin have overrated this spot. The view’s not all that great, what with the trees in the way and all. You can get a better view from the lake.”
“You’re not funny,” he says in a voice that sounds like it’s coming from the dead. Maybe that’s not so far wrong. The living don’t sound so cold. They don’t sound so desolate. I’m not sure if it matters if I get him inside or not. I think he will find himself another open window.
“Sometimes things just aren’t funny, no matter how hard you try, I guess.”
He turns and when his eyes touch on mine I wish Kyle were here already, I wish Paul was here, Kevin, anyone other than leaving me to do this. I’m not even sure I can do this.
“Stop trying then,” he tells me. I close my eyes but then, remembering where I am, how many feet I would fall if I were to move wrong, I open them back up again.
“Point taken, Sean. You want to come back in?”
“Haven’t we been here before?”
“This is different.”
“What makes today any different than the last eight months?”
He looks at me again and this time his eyes aren’t so dead, this time there’s at least the faint possibility that some of those windows are closed. There are tears in his eyes. I’ve never seen him cry before, don’t think I have ever seen any male except Kevin cry before. All our friends are so full of anger they never find time for tears.
“School’s over, Bruce. Time to go home.”
“So go on home.”
“What fucking home? My grandfather died, remember? They sold the house in Bellevue. Am I suppose to go back to fucking Coronado? Go back to her mom? And I sure as shit can’t stay here. Not anymore. Not without her.”
“So go somewhere else, Sean. Find a new place to be. Take the time to find out who you are. Come to terms with this, and then, if you have to, go somewhere else. You’ve got friends here, people who understand . . .”
“You don’t understand a fucking thing! You can’t possibly understand what this is like.”
“I let Jessie go, Sean. Do you remember that? Do you remember her kissing me goodbye and then turning and running out the door and never coming back? She turned, she walked away from my life. I know what it’s like to whisper goodbye to the best thing that’s ever happened to you.”
“You got to say goodbye, at least. You got that chance to whisper goodbye to the best thing that ever happened to you. Fuck, Bruce, you even got to whisper goodbye to the best thing that ever happened to me.”
I wince when he says that, remember exactly what it felt like to say goodbye to Rachel in the hospital while Sean was still unconscious back here.
“Come down, Sean. Come inside with me.”
“No fucking point. Waste of time.”
“Life’s a waste of time? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I’m not letting you go.”
He turns and there’s a sick smile, almost the cynical smile that Kyle gives the world, but with a little something more desperate.
“Funny. You let Jessica go.”
The first instinct is the natural Oaks instinct, anger, and I want to slam my fist into his smile, break all the teeth that I can see, but I know that’s what he wants, is trying to to push me into and I will not fall prey to that trick.
“Why are you doing this?” I ask.
“Because I don’t have any reason to do anything else. I don’t know how to live anymore, Bruce. If you’re not living, you must be dying. Like Kyle likes to say, quoting his god, dying little by little, inch by inch.”
When he turns I make my move, try to grab his arm. He feels my fingertips and turns back, rolls across the roof. I stop, afraid to make him fall. He smiles as he regains his balance, stares me in the eyes as the world catches fire behind him and night falls fast.
“It’s over, Bruce. You tell Paul that. You tell him I couldn’t live up to what he wanted. You can’t always keep passing the open windows.”
“It doesn’t have to end like this, Sean.”
“You know literature. You’re the one who can quote every book ever written. Everyone breaks, the world makes sure of that. Hemingway wrote that. And he was right.”
“And he was a coward, too afraid to face up to the challenge of the great American novel so he blew his fucking brains out in a shack in the middle of fucking nowhere. I never pegged you as a coward, Sean.”
“Funny. Neither did I. I always thought this took some courage.”
“Takes no courage to surrender.”
“We’ll find out.”
“I’ve had enough of goodbyes, Sean.”
“So don’t say it.”
I turn to see Kyle climbing out through Jenn’s window, moving as fast as he can.
“What the fuck’s going on?”
“What’s it look like, Barton?” Sean spits out at him. “I’m the big fucking coward that can’t face life without Rachel. So I’d rather take a dive off a building than go through another day. Coward’s way out, right, Bruce?”
“Don’t fucking do this, Sean. There is no reason to do this.”
“Come off it, Kyle. I have every reason to do this. There’s no reason to go back in.”
Sean looks away from Kyle, lets his eyes rest on me. I remember looking at Jessie, knowing that this was the last chance to hold her in my arms, last chance to feel her lips on mine, the last seconds before she would turn and run for the door and I remember all of it, the look of someone who is already gone and I want to pray, beg, hope for life, for all the things I didn’t ask for when Rachel lay in the hospital, all the things I owed her, all the things I need now.
“Your chance to say goodbye, Bruce.”
I can almost feel the tears pressing against the back of my eyelids, pushing for their chance to come lose as the last light in the sky fades to black.
“Sean, I can’t . . .”
“I know. You tell Kevin and Paul. You tell them I just couldn’t do it.”
Sean turns and with the turn both Kyle and I are moving and we are leaping across the roof.
I hold on.
For a minute I can feel him in my grasp, holding him eighty feet above the concrete, one hand holding tight around his wrist, Kyle anchoring me to the roof, trying to keep the three of us from falling, from all dying together. Maybe it’s all a dream, maybe I don’t have him at all, maybe I miss as I dive across the roof and if not for Kyle, I would follow him off the edge and into frantic oblivion but Kyle has my belt and is able to hold on and I do not follow him off the roof, do not follow him into the night air. But I couldn’t have missed because I can still feel him in my grasp, his hand smashing into mine, screaming at me to let him go, to let him slip away, that this is what he wants and everything is getting harder and he is starting to slip and I can’t hold him any longer and Kyle is reaching out over the edge and trying to grab him. I can hear him saying to me, you let Jessica go, you let Rachel go, it’s time to let me go and he is gone from my hands. I close my eyes against the world and I don’t know any of it, do not know if I ever had him, if I let him go, if he slipped, all I know is that he is falling, falls, has fallen.
Everyone goes to God. Some go sooner, some go slowly through the years, as Kyle is fond of quoting, little by little, inch by inch. Sometimes the good die young and sometimes they are blessed for years. Some have a reason. Perhaps the most power we have in life is when we get to choose how we go. I don’t know, don’t want to know, have no way of understanding. I just want to be alive. Jessica turned and ran away and left her life behind. Rachel slipped away in a clean white bed in a cold room. Sean slipped through my hands. I’m alive. I push myself back up on the roof, push myself into the arms of my best friend and close my eyes and thank God I’m alive.