Maybe our relationship still seems terrible, like a push-and-pull of endless strife with no affection. Again, maybe that’s what it was. But I can give more insight, if it matters.
We were only about a year and a half into coping, and lived in a shack off of the edge of town. Frantically paranoid, we tried to avoid as many abandoned structures as possible, before realizing that living amidst the ruin and at least feigning the image of belonging in civilization was worth the extra risk of being surrounded by constant hazards. The small cottage was centered in one main room with an elevated area for a bedroom, an attached kitchen, and a separated bathroom and very small storage space. I spent a lot of time on the front porch, staring at the empty city. It was somewhat cathartic, I think. It allowed me to pretend that it was bustling with activity, especially while I was high. I had been outside for a couple of hours, and walked into the central room, over the landing step, to see Brett facing me. He was sitting in a wooden-framed chair, leaned forward with his hands clasped tightly together. A small square table was in front of him, and another chair was set facing him, clearly intended for me. There were two revolvers on the table. Half of me felt an urge of panic, but I knew that Brett would never harm me, and the increased serotonin levels I was experiencing wouldn’t allow a “fight or flight” experience either way. As calmly as possible, I pulled the chair back and sat down, looking at him in the eye.
We sat for what seemed like a few minutes in silence. He stared at me, and I felt inclined to break eye contact, but forced myself to stare back at him. He raised his index finger against his cheek, with his thumb cradling his chin. More silence.
“Why are we doing this?” he finally said.
“That’s dramatic,” I responded sarcastically. Despite my remark, I was legitimately frightened at this point. Brett was almost never, ever concerned with existentialism or issues surrounding it.
“Noland, we’re waiting for death,” he said. He looked down at the table. “I know we’ve agreed to not talk about it, but I know you’re in constant fucking pain, and you know I am too.”
I inhaled deeply. Brett, unlike me, was very emotionally stable. I wasn’t particularly concerned with my safety around the guns, but I was with the conversation. How I responded to him would likely affect us in the future.
“Weren’t we just waiting for death before?” I asked.
“Don’t give me that bullshit.” He flared his deep, brown eyes at me, still with his hand cradling his face. I could see the worry–the contemplation–physically weighing him down. Like gravity, it was forcing him down in every aspect.
“If you don’t want a bullshit existential answer, don’t ask me a bullshit existential question,” I said, allowing my emotions to surface. “What the fuck are these for?” I gestured to the guns. “Were you going to suggest we kill each other?”
“Why don’t we?” he answered. I stopped, only for a moment, because I knew that this would be the topic of discussion. He had never brought this up before, but it was clear that suicide had crossed both of our minds. It would have crossed anyone’s.
I remained silent for maybe a minute. Brett carefully watched me. It was evident at this point that he was clearly disturbed; this was extremely unlike him. I wasn’t sure if something had triggered this response, or if it had been a buildup of contemplation.
“If you had been alone, would you have offed yourself?” I asked.
“Immediately,” he said, without thought.
“So you’re suggesting that the reason you haven’t is because you have a companion? That’s the only difference, right?” I asked. He stopped to think for only a moment.
“And you? What the hell would you have done?” He completely deflected my question. Again, I stayed quiet while he stared at me.
“You know, yeah. I would have. But I haven’t. I’ve done things I never would have wanted to, or thought I could. For you. Only so that we could survive together. Isn’t that the most pathetic fucking thing you’ve ever heard? And I still feel the same way. Knowing that I’m not alone, and that I have you–Brett–with me, is the only thing that keeps me from not grabbing this,” I pulled up the gun and pointed it at my temple, “and pulling the fucking trigger.”
Again, Brett just stared at me. I saw him start to bite his lip, and his breathing became deeper.
“Noland. I fucking lost it all. I know you did too, but I think of it every day, even though we don’t talk about it.” His hand moved from the side of his face to cover his eyes and forehead. “Fuck God. If he were real, would he really care if we used these?” He gestured to the gun in front of him.
I looked away from him, knowing that it would make him uncomfortable if I watched him get emotional.
“Brett, listen to me. I will never make this decision. But if at any point, you decide that this shit is too much, take us both out. Just don’t warn me ahead of time. Just fucking do it.” With that, I left the table, walked to the kitchen to roll a joint with the little marijuana we had left, and went back to the front porch to watch the city again.
“Well since you’re not bedridden anymore, take a shower. We need groceries,” he said. I stood in the back of the house, allowing the water to pour out of the punctured holes in the bucket forming our makeshift shower and cover my body in an attempt to feel renewal. Buying groceries, at one point years ago, was fun, in a strange way. Deciding your fate, to take it to extremes. Which fad diet will you follow? Which day will you eat this pre-frozen meal? Now, we dreaded it. I stared forward, at the wall of persistent bamboo that we had included in our garden for variety and its resilience, not expecting it to ravage through the surrounding plants, causing death to many of its neighbors. We just never had the motivation to rectify it and remove the bamboo completely. It symbolized permanence, in a way. I focused on the bamboo–daydreaming was likely more of a commonplace than was living in the present, allowing your conscious to reign over your every thought. I didn’t hear the door open behind me. The water was pathetically lukewarm–although differences in water temperatures weren’t something we took notice of unless the climate forced it.
“Are you done yet?” I heard from behind me.
“Have I been a while?” I asked, gazing forward at the bamboo.
“Dude, it’s been like twenty minutes. We’ll have to reload the water tank.”
“Sorry, I’ll be out there in a sec,” I said. Brett walked back inside. I walked to the wrench that connected the main pipe, composed of a water hose and a lever leading into the bucket, and shut it off.
We pulled the few grocery baskets that we’d managed to keep oiled to avoid rust, and started pushing them outside. We planned to hit a strip of gas stations that lead to a family-owned pharmacy that we could raid, if we had enough time. We made our way down our street in silence. I started daydreaming again, seeing the soccer balls that the kids hadn’t been kicking because they were too busy inside playing video games and skyping one another, and the trees that had once been thriving, swaying with the wind that had been once blowing calmly.
“Are you high?” Brett asked me.
“No,” I said laughing. “I’m in a good mood.”
“You’re weirdin’ me out,” Brett said.
We walked about a half a block and noticed a slight rumbling sound. I stopped, and grinned like an idiot.
We rushed back to the house, barely beating the rain. I was extremely excited; for whatever reason, it seemed like as time went on it rained less and less. I’m sure Brett could give me some kind of scientific answer as to why that related to population erasure and the activities of humans that he may or may not have made up to make himself seem smart, but I had no interest in asking.
“Our guys might grow,” Brett said, looking out of the window next to his stool and chair at our garden. I braced my back against the wall, not wanting to sit in the couch I had grown to hate, and twisted the lid off of the bottle of Jim Beam Black I’d been drinking.
“You should play,” I said, gesturing to his guitar.
“Why don’t you?” he asked, turning to me. His eyes seemed even more glazed than usual.
“I seriously can’t bear to hear it so out of tune,” I said, looking regrettably at the neglected upright piano in the corner.
“Get a book and learn to tune it,” he said, sitting in his chair and propping his legs on his stool.
“I’d rather drink.”
Brett interlocked his fingers and rested them over his stomach, and closed his eyes. He usually had a hard time sleeping, but it was easier for him to sleep in the rain. I stayed quiet, wanting him to get the rest he needed. I swigged the bottle, and dimmed my eyes as I felt the whiskey burn its way down my throat. The rain did seem very calming; it felt like a reminder that there was more–more than us. It sounds stupid and esoteric, but after so long, you miss it. The mystery, knowing that people around you had their own contexts and stories. The rain had its own prerogative, and there were absolutely no expectations hanging over me to discover it, or even care for it. I started to allow myself to think of life before, a mistake. I swigged again, picturing my little sister. I took a deep breath, and forced the image out of my head. I felt a knot grow in my throat and burned it away.
“You alright buddy?” Brett asked. His favorite question. He was looking at me through very lowered eyelids, seemingly fighting to stay open.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “I just really like the rain, you know?”
“Yeah, I do. I know, Noland. Just keep drinking. You’ll forget them,” Brett said. His eyes were so strong. I allowed the escape of several tears. I tried my best to cry quietly, although I don’t know how successful I was. Feeling guilty, I went to stand up and go into the bathroom, or at least one of the empty rooms.
“Don’t. I don’t want you to be alone,” Brett said, gesturing for me to sit back down. The martyr. The images rushed back to me. The birthday parties, my graduation, the parties I was robbed of and my sister’s graduation she’d never get but deserved so fucking much. She worked so hard, for nothing. I slid back against the wall and took a deep, painful swig. I started to feel myself elevate. Brett’s eyes were closed, but I doubted he was asleep. The rain beat against the window.
Brett watched Noland as he fell into a deep sleep. He hunched over, and the bottle fell out of his hand, and rolled, spilling its contents on the rug neither of them really liked but didn’t hate either. Brett’s breaths became uneven, and for one of the few times, he allowed himself to start crying too. He leaned forward, placing his head in his hands, and the tears soaked his palms. He saw Noland’s pain. He felt his pain. Noland always, always thought he was so weak. He tried to push the memories away, afraid to show emotion in front of Brett. He hurt so fucking much, and tried to stay strong. It was unfair to him, to both of them. Long ago, Brett had realized that for whatever fucking reason, whether it was the universe, or an asshole God, he needed to protect Noland. He ended up at his side, and maybe it was for the better. Brett was always looking over, seeing the man that thought himself incompetent and weak, constantly bitching about everything, giving Brett a reason to not stop. Who was really coping? Who was strong for whom? It was clear, though, that they both felt pain. The alcohol, pills, marijuana, cocaine, none of it could numb it. Noland loved the rain more than Brett did, and it was fortunate that he was able to at least feel a bit of happiness, drinking his favorite drink under a soft rainstorm.
“Just fucking do it” Brett heard Noland’s voice. He did it. That last instance, Noland stifling his tears for no fucking reason, so that Brett could sleep, tore at both of them. Brett wished that he had cried loudly. Fucking let it out. They could cry together. Stay in the room with me, don’t fucking leave. The bottle had rolled completely across the floor and emptied its remaining content. I won’t warn you ahead of time, buddy, Brett thought. Slip it in the bottle while he’s showering. Take him to the pharmacy and get him all the fucking pills he wants, let him get so fucked up that maybe he won’t hurt anymore. Bring him back and he’ll drink, maybe they’ll drink together. This was a better end, maybe. He really liked the rain.
Noland’s body fell over on the floor. Brett walked over to him, stumbling, and propped him against the wall, squaring his shoulders, giving him the strong stance that reflected how strong he didn’t think he was. He pulled the revolver and the bullets that he kept underneath the seat in his recliner, and loaded it. He walked to Noland, and knelt in front of him, the tears hadn’t stopped, and he felt as though he was going to vomit. Not of fear, or even guilt. He was coping. They had coped.
“You got me to this point, bud. I needed to get you here.”
Brett pointed the revolver at his temple and pulled the trigger.