I will begin at the end, but the end is much like the beginning. Things have a way of coming full circle: from dust we were born, and into dust we shall return; from nothingness the universe was created, and into nothingness it shall someday dissolve.
So here I am, for now, breeze stroking my face and oceans rumbling beneath. Pigeons roost in the crags of the cliff or cruise seamlessly through the air. The sunlight is warm as it spills out from behind a cloud.
I feel free because this is where I belong, because the Earth is my mother and she understands me. Every atom in me swam in that ocean before coming together to make me. And today I will give myself back to her, and she will accept and caress me until she too breaks apart in a billion years.
I do not feel sad about this. I have made this choice. Everything ends; that is inevitable. Possibly it is sad that everything will die, but it is not sad that this is my time.
A wise man once said that death is the great equalizer, only the way we die makes us unique. My death is an expression. It is the pain from a punch to the gut and the ecstasy of a lover’s kiss.
It tells a story I have told myself often enough, but every storyteller needs an audience. This story is not told in a traditional sense. There is no silver screen, no stage, no lights, no music, no actors, no script. The set is my apartment room and the props are my possessions: photographs and trinkets amassed over a quarter-lifetime.
I can imagine the way my room looks. Before this morning, I barely left the room except for food and such. Besides that, the door was always locked and windows always drawn. Today when I opened my room, I saw light from Mrs. Riordan’s room creep out below her front door. She had lived in that same room since I moved in, and when I introduced myself to her that first day, she seemed nice enough but somehow uninterested. All she did was stare as if I had to say more than my name to be welcomed. I was taller and stronger, but I froze up anyway. It wasn’t her fault, but maybe that’s what made me realize I was more comfortable alone. I never knew what to say, and I could not bring myself to say goodbye to her except by waving.
My front door and windows are wide open now. Pictures and journals are displayed on my living room coffee table. I made the rest easy for the movers. Lamps are boxed, clothing and small furniture all packed. I want people to focus on the highlights of my life.
There was an old, framed caricature hanging on my wall. I had debated throwing it away for years, so it spent several days lying face down under my couch until I longed to see it on the wall once more. So then I hung it up yet again, and hated the sight of it, so I removed it. This went on several months, up and down, up and down, until I compromised. I hated looking at it, but I needed to know that I still had it and would always remember it. I laid it on my couch, covered it with canvas, and taped it. But the canvas pieces were too small, so I covered the rest of the damned thing with tape. It was sloppy, but it did the trick. When I could not see the image anymore, I hung it up for a last time. I still thought about it frequently, but the covering pleased me. The memories that image conjured worried me less, became a little less present in my head.
The caricature had been hanging like that for several years before last night, but of course everything dies. The tape gave out sooner than expected. The canvas layers started peeling back, and the image revealed itself once more.
I know I could have bought more tape or a bigger piece of canvas but I didn’t bother. I don’t think I wanted to. I could have tried the hiding trick again, but my failures couldn’t be contained by canvas or tape or by anything. I don’t belong, and this was failure’s way of telling me the time had come.
Last night I opened the blinds for the first time in – I can’t even remember how long. Street lights glistened off blacktop below, wet from what must have been a drizzle. There was no one on the street, but then I didn’t know how late it was.
I crossed over to the caricature and grabbed the peeling end of the tape. I yanked it, and the corner of tape came off. I tore off a piece of the canvas, but too violently. The drawing slipped off the wall, and an edge of the plastic frame smashed against the wood floor and shattered the glass. The paper was still intact, but I was furious, not at the dying tape or peeling canvas, but at my carelessness.
The caricature of a couple peered through the shards. A girl with curly brown hair and accentuated gap teeth grinned. She had her arm around me – some weird looking kid with clunky glasses and a humongous nose. I guess I’m not that gawky in real life. After all, it was just a caricature from a carnival booth. But so was her arm around me. I remember it, but it must not have been that sincere; we got close, and then said maybe fifteen words to each other after that. I hate that caricature of Rachel and me. It stirs up too many memories. I stormed over to the window to take my eyes away. The street light across the way had burned out since I last saw it, but maybe I imagined it. The Earth is such a lightless place at night.
Rejection became the norm after Rachel left, and no one filled the emptiness. I had two other close friends, but they moved away for work. There is one photo lying on the coffee table of a childhood friend who was killed by some punks from the city. The killers were never found.
I knew him better than Rachel, but she opened my eyes to things I never would have noticed. The wonder of a sunset’s warm farewell; the magnificence of a bluebird’s caw, barely audible overhead; the beauty of a purple flower swaying in a breeze, as the one at my feet is doing now.
I remember saying goodbye to her and watching the train round the bend out of sight. The world she had showed off lost its magic, and the caricature became only a reminder of the world I want to give myself back to.
Sartre writes that hell is other people. I think that hell is made up of the wrong people and heaven is made up of the right people. I don’t have friends from either side. And now I’m looking at the sea ripple far below me. This is it.
I understand my time has come. I do not resent it. Some people find comfort here; others do not. I wonder how people do find comfort here. I wonder how my life would have been different if I had left the doors of my apartment open all the time and tried to make at least one connection. Memories I could not revisit tortured me and kept me from even wanting to try.
Would a life with the windows open have given me more will to go on? Or would I have thrown my life out of it sooner?
I almost wish someone had knocked on the door or pried my window open, had kept a lookout for his fellow man. I want to blame the negligent for everything. But I have only myself to blame for this fall.
And anyway, how many will even linger in the room I left open? People will come and go, glance every which way, leave their own messes and never really understand what I left for them. Rain will pour through the windows and puddle near the door, giving life to mildew in the carpets and mold on the walls. People who come after a downpour never stay long. Wind will destroy the roof, and snow will enter easily; floors rot, walls crumble, foundations collapse; furniture breaks, mirrors crack; photos fade, journals wash out.
Mrs. Riordan will live on that floor for the rest of her long life and never even enter my room. She had no connection with me during my life and she won’t have one after it. And when the next tenants inevitably move in, and if they trouble to ask about the man who used to live there, she will shake her head and mutter, “He was A Most Peculiar Man.”