DISCLAIMER: Obviously, I do not own the characters in this story. It's a FANFICTION!
I have a confession to make.
I live a lie.
A big, fat lie.
I never saw it that way until the day of Angel's funeral, when Roger brought into sharp relief the bull I was hiding in.
"Mark's got his work," he said. "They say Mark lives for his work," he said. "Mark's in love with his work," he said. And most importantly, "Mark hides in his work."
It's true, too. My camera is, on the surface, a tool. But, as Roger would say, I "pretend to create and observe" but I really "detach from feeling alive."
You know what I said to that?
"Perhaps it's because I'm the one of us to survive."
Well, you know what?
I am the one of us to survive.
It only took Mimi two months. She was second to go, after Angel. Then Collins died two years later. Then, last of all came Roger. It took him an excruciating four years to slowly and painfully die. I can't count how many times I walked in the door to find him doubled over, shivering and sweating at the same time, his face pale, his eyes panicked, and his chest heaving.
Sometimes I would hear him at night, calling for Mimi. But Mimi never came. I would rush in and wake him up, only to have him call her name between sobs and bouts of coughing while awake.
After a while, I stopped waking him up. I realized that it only made his pain so much more real. I would lie awake at night, listening to him call, "Mimi! Mimi!" over and over and over again, sometimes interrupted by a phrase such as "I should tell you" or "You're candle's out," or more frequently, long, painful coughing fits.
Of course, since I live such a lie, these occurrences only happened at night. We never talked about it, not even mentioned it. I would pretend everything was okay, even if I did have to help him do simple things like put on a coat or hold his guitar pick. He never asked for help, I just did it wordlessly and then continued to do whatever I was doing before.
If I wasn't cleaning in the loft, I was with my camera. It provided a little wall between me and the pain I endured from watching my friends die. I recorded a lot of random people on the streets, and not a lot of my friends. Ever since Collins had died, we all had suddenly become very solemn. There was no fun to be had anymore when three of your friends have died from AIDS and one more is getting closer to death every day.
To tell the truth, I didn't even want to film Roger. I didn't want documented proof that he was getting thinner by the day and how his clothes were getting baggy, how his ribs were beginning to stick out, his eyes sinking into his head and giving him a haunted, emaciated look. I refused to believe it.
We couldn't afford to bring Roger to the hospital. Just like Mimi and Collins, he just slowly died in a way that was not graceful.
I will always remember the day before Roger died. He was huddled up on the couch with every blanket in the loft that I could find wrapped around him, his guitar at his side, though he was too weak to play it. I was editing one of my films by the window, silent as the grave.
"I'm going to die soon," he'd said. Not matter-of-factly, not crying out in torment. He just said it.
I was so astounded that I almost dropped the roll of film in my hand. After clumsily composing myself, I said, "No, Roger. You just have to hold on. You'll be fine."
Roger didn't say anything for a moment or two. Then, abruptly, "come here."
I didn't question him. I obediently put down my roll of film and walked to the couch.
Roger took as deep of a breath as he could and said, "Look me in the eye and tell me I'm not going to die soon."
I looked him in the eye. "I… you…" I began.
Then my wall came crashing down.
I fell to my knees in front of Roger and just began to cry. Not quiet, gentle tears, but great, racking sobs that shook my entire body. I began to wail as I slid down to the floor and curled up into a ball, shrinking from the pain that I had so long kept so quietly inside. I began to scream and writhe on the floor, crying for the first time since infancy. I lay on that floor crying for a long, long time; minutes, hours, days, I couldn't tell. I just felt all of my pain bubbling to the surface and escaping in my wordless sobs and screams of despair.
I know now that I wasn't crying only for Roger. I was crying for Angel, for Mimi, for Collins, and even for myself. I had lived for so long through the lens of a camera that I had, as Roger once said, "detached from feeling alive." I was crying for all the pain I had endured from childhood till that moment. But as I cried, I felt a part of me die inside. I no longer would express emotion ever again.
The next day, Roger died. I was in my room when it happened. Roger was on the couch, wheezing and coughing endlessly. Then he stopped, and I heard him singing faintly in a voice I had not heard in a long time:
I should tell you,
I should tell you,
I should tell you,
I should tell you…
And then silence.
I didn't cry at Roger's funeral. I had no emotion left to.
After Roger died, Maureen and Joanne moved to Chicago. I don't think they could handle one more death, and I never talked to anyone anymore.
Now I live in the loft all by myself, all my closest friends dead or gone.
On the night of Angel's funeral, Roger had said to me, "For one who longs for a community of his own, who's with his camera, alone?"
Answer: Mark. Mark Cohen, who hides in his work.