And I would have stayed up with you all night, had I known how to save a life.
"Where are we going Collins?" I'm helplessly drowsy and slurring my words, fighting hard not to fall asleep in the front seat of Collins' car. The seatbelt is the only thing holding me up.
Because I haven't properly slept in weeks, haunted awake by my own confusion and blurred uncertainty. I've had nothing but a cramped twin-sized mattress to sleep on, and that fake and narcotic utopian feel of Scarsdale made me a lot more of an insomniac than my drafty and dangerous city apartment. I've been displaced from my life somehow, separated from my friends and my home and…my mind. I trust that if I fall asleep I might never wake up.
But now I'm rescued, in a way. I still don't know where the fuck I'm going and can't make sense of anything, like why I couldn't remember who Collins was or why Roger ran away again and why I wasn't there to try and stop him.
But Collins is Collins, unpredictable and genius, possessing the definite quality of curing a situation. And I trust him to rescue me.
"You can fall asleep if you need to Mark. I'll wake you up when we get there."
"Shit, I can't Col. Unfortunately my body forgot how. I might…freak out on you. I've been having a damn hard time getting to sleep lately…"
Collins looks at me with pity.
"What happened to me Collins? Is there something wrong with me? Or am I just going nuts?"
"Really Mark, if you need to go to sleep you can." There's a biting impatience in Collins' voice. "I can handle it if you 'freak out'."
This completely vexes me so I shake myself awake. "But I don't know if I can handle it! Why won't anyone answer me? I was just held captive in my mom's house! I couldn't remember who you were Collins!"
He takes his foot off the gas and the acceleration quiets. We coast a few seconds on the empty highway and I fear I'm going drift off before Collins responds.
"Please go to sleep Mark." His voices echoes and fades. "You need sleep." And with a literally painful sense of déjà vu, I obey.
As expected, I dream.
Nothing is clear but I hear Maureen, Joanne and Benny sometime later. Parts of the conversation are lost to deeper sleep and misunderstanding.
"How's he doing Collins?" Joanne asks. "You managed to coax him into the car."
Collins clears his throat. "He remembered me…"
Maureen laughs, undaunted.
"Ssh. He had trouble falling asleep."
"Does he know what's going on?"
"Not entirely. He's getting there."
Benny interjects worriedly. "Well shouldn't you wake him up before you get there? It's kinda sudden, don't you think?"
And then I'm rustled awake and it's just Collins and I. The sequence of time has escaped me once again.
"Hi." Collins smiles. "Sorry. Thought I should wake you up. We're almost there."
I sigh. "You can't tell me where 'there' is, can you?"
"I have orders to let you figure things out on your own."
"Orders." I snort. I don't have the endeavor to question that statement. "Roger didn't run away."
"What makes you think that?"
"He wouldn't let us visit him."
"You're his best friend Mark. You have absolute permission to visit him."
We turn a corner and Collins gives a sharp intake of breath. "Do you want this to be a surprise? Because we'll be there in a second."
"I don't know Collins." My voice is breaking but my mind is coming together.
I close my eyes.
I'm frozen, I'm still sleeping, I'm at a standstill and worthless and overwhelmed and beguiled.
Collins turns off the engine and looks over at me.
I stare at the glove box and do not blink and try very hard not to breathe. Maybe I can stay in this moment a few seconds longer- forever- so I don't have to face what I knew was coming.
I try meditating.
I aim to lose focus and sound and location, but at the corners of my vision I can still see all the tombstones stretched beyond the hood of the car.
This isn't happening. This is happening.
"Get out of the car Mark."
"Ha ha, you're sure he wanted me to come visit?"
"You owe this to him."
"Are you gonna get out? Because I will take you home. Decide."
"You gotta get the car door for me." I hold up and uncontrollably shaking hand. "I mean- please."
Collins sighs and nods and gets out.
He rounds the car.
My door swings open.
"There. I'm not coming with you, you know. This is all you Mark."
"Okay." I falter.
"You know you gotta do this."
"I know, I know, gimme…gimme a second."
"Go." He whispers receptively.
"Just a second."
My legs are lead. On purpose.
"Either you get out now and I wait for you, or I bring you back tomorrow and I leave you here."
"Please don't be mad at me."
"I'm not. But he is."
I laugh, because Collins can't possibly know that, and swing my legs from the car.
Before me is the entire salient panorama, the neat and somber rows upon rows of tombstones, the hill, lined with barren trees, and the church with its ominous and weathered steeple. The world meshes gray and white.
It is so familiar it's foreign.
Collins crosses his arms and unsympathetically walks back around the car. He gets in and slams the driver's door.
"You can't but you have to." He reaches over and slams my door.
The church bells promptly remind me of my paradox, and for a second my hands ache for the weight of the camera, the shield of the lens, the excuse to remember.
He starts the car.
"Wait, wait-" I open the back door and pull the Fender off the seat.
A wraithlike wave of self-hatred beleaguers my every nerve and I almost drop the guitar. Compelled by nothing but guilt and obligation, my foot steps forward, followed by the other, and again, and somehow my head is hung and I'm walking towards the hill.
My jacket is open but I won't zip it, and the guitar slips from my bare hands and drags in the snow.
And my head is thundering. Not with pain but with torment, and it is directed at myself- for my decisions.
The guitar bounces off a rock with a hollow 'thunk' and I resist the urge to just smash it to pieces.
Firewood. I promised myself firewood.
And I also promised I wouldn't forget.
I am past tears.
I am past devastation.
This happened once already. And it is my fault that I am going through it again.
I am not stunned. This is not coincidence.
And it stopped being torture.
I am past forgiveness and past forgetting. I am not cursed and I am not privileged.
I am past witnessing.
This is reality. This is closure.
This is my responsibility.
I am on top of the hill, looking down upon the bland gray markers of hundreds of people- hundreds of histories. And somehow the headstone at my feet seems like the only mistake.
He was thirty-one.
But he suffered. Thirty-one years of mistakes, and anguish, and loss, and betrayal.
And the cruelest part was that 'Rest in Peace' was not inscribed. That would be a lie. A broken euphemism. He is not 'resting' and he's always had trouble believing existence would be any better in the afterlife. I don't know how anyone can. It's the unknown.
I stare at the engraving hard.
It blurs and refocuses but the inscription does not change.
Roger Davis, August 2nd, 1964- January 16th, 1995
It says nothing else. It is miserably bare. Inaccurately bare. There is so much more to be said.
And suddenly I'm kneeling, pushed down by the same ethereal compulsion of self-hatred.
"No! I don't want to give in! I want to give up!"
…This is closure. This is necessary. You forced yourself to deny it once already, now open your eyes Mark! You're the witness…
These thoughts are not mine.
"They're yours!" I scream at the frozen ground beneath me. "Shut up! Just fucking leave me alone Roger! Please! It was better when I couldn't remember!"
Was it really though?
"I didn't want to remember! You fucking helped me along! Why?! Why the fuck would you do that to me?! You said you were hanging on by the thread that I put between us. Well I cut it, alright? We're done. You died, and I stopped thinking about you. You couldn't go until I promised, and I lied. I can't hold onto all this grief."
Crushing, the amount of trust we put on one another. It's funny how best friends tend to do that.
No, fuck you Mark Cohen. Fuck you for caring. And fuck you for forgetting.
I am going insane. I'm losing my track of my mind and now I'm, "…having a conversation with a tombstone!" My voice resonates in the dead cemetery air.
The guitar that I propped against the headstone slides over the icy granite and settles in the snow beneath with a hollow echo. I stare at it.
I shake my head and laugh, mocking the goosebumps that have risen on my arms. Roger isn't here, dumbass. There is no ghostly activity. This is all in my head, the result of blame and trauma.
There are no voices from beyond the grave. No spiritual guilt trip. I just know Roger too well for my own good.
I feel the onset of tears but instead I scream. I drive my fists into the ground and prepare to run away.
This is closure. Finish it. Fix it. What else do I say? What else can I do?
"Do you want this?" I ask no one, nudging the guitar.
The wind whistles in the desolate trees, clacking the branches together. I can hear the purr of Collins' car. My escape, my rescue. I could just get up and leave right now.
You're not done yet.
I want to be so damn belligerent right now Roger. I want to throw a fit. I want to cry. Please just let me cry. Let me go! I want…I need to turn back time. I want to save you.
I find words. The right words.
"I miss you." I admit. It's a confession. An apology.
I rethink my avowal.
"I'll miss you."