Death is the moment when everything becomes static. It’s when you become the person that everyone thought you to be, and your life is retroactively lived only in moments remembered by others. No one will remember how you felt radioactive after taking all of those Robitussin and the world was all shivering atoms, or the night you stayed home from a family dinner pretending to be sick so you could take a long shower and masturbate to the dream you wanted to have the night before, about the girl on the soccer team with the wide mouth that danced on the hood of her car to Chelsea Dagger one summer after practice. No one knows how you imagined striking a jagged stone across the face of your pastor, not because you hated him, but because it seemed so unthinkable that you had to think about it. No one remembers your apologies to God.
My friend Darrell was a habitual apologist, but not anymore. Not for several years, now. He came to my room this afternoon and told me about how he tried to commit suicide once, and why he doesn’t apologize anymore. He sat in his pristine tub, in steaming water, bathed in crisp Philips light, holding a toaster above his head, because that’s how people committed suicide. He had bought the toaster that afternoon on his way home from work, specifically for the occasion, and had he left a note to his wife that read, simply, I’m sorry, upon which he had stapled a photograph of her infidelity and the receipt for the toaster. As he sat in the tub, he watched a single drop of water streak down the tiles and disappear into the steam, and he wondered how God could ever keep track of everyone. He wondered why anyone should have to apologize for their sadness. Now he laughs when the pastor reads Revelations and doodles on the back of guest cards. I wonder if he was doodling this morning when the pastor asked the congregation to pray for me. I wonder if he’ll laugh during the eulogy, and if I should think that it’s all right.
I asked him why he laughs. He says he laughs for the same reason that hyenas laugh. Even Darrell’s sardonic laughter seems to saturate the mauve-taupe hospital décor, which is soothing in the way that the stale odor of cigarettes and lingering fabric softener reminds me of my mother. She comes to give me Bible passages on slivers of bleached paper, and to smile with stained teeth, reminding me that love is just as much a nicotine yellow as it is a cardiovascular red. She is sixty-three years old. She started smoking at the age of ten and has never had a heart attack. I smoked one cigarette in college and coughed up everything but the cancer. Darrell brought me a pack of Marlboros and said that I may as well pick up the habit. I try to have a cigarette every night before bed, but sometimes one of the nurses will catch me and tell me that I may as well pull the plug.
I dream very small now, and never of people I know. I see a kid playing Battlefield, and that’s all. I see someone complaining about pickles on their sandwich, and that’s all. I see a girl hanging a poster of a j-pop artist above her bed. I see two guys in a bar complaining about the president. I see a woman putting on make-up, and that’s all. I wake up every morning and vomit into the trash can next to my bed, and I think about Darrell’s glowing, bloated face spitting up whiskey because I made him laugh while he was taking a drink. I lay back down, fall asleep, and dream of traffic.
When Darrell lays here years from now, I will be a doodle at church. I will be a glowing, bloated face full of whiskey. He will laugh at prayers, and my death will be an ink stain from tomorrow’s newspaper, washed from his fingers and driven from his mind, because he will only remember pickles on sandwiches and bad presidents. He will only remember his wife’s make-up, and he won’t apologize for telling her that she looked like a whore. When he dies, he will only dream of traffic.