For Jim Murdoch
Isn't it really ridiculous when we turn around and realize how many faces and snakeskins we have lost along the road? Do you remember the time when you were so passionate about those political options you were ready to argue for, or the time when a certain rock band was able to blow your mind away and whose lyrics had the ability bring you to a state of ecstasy? Or even that time when you believed in something else so fervently that was something completely different from what you stand for today.
Having survived the war I have had a chance to meet many interesting people with incredible and unique experiences. One of the guys I used to know, a very dear person to me (presently living overseas), told me once about his unique experience of dying.
As a very young man he volunteered for the army and had been through some extraordinary situations. He was only a couple years older than me and went through some unbelievable circumstances – like being under the crossfire of heavy artillery in the frontline of the battlefield or having to drink muddy water from the dirty ground.
But apart from all that, I found the most interesting story to be his explanation of what it feels like to die.
After the war had ended the city began a new life; the city’s was no longer under attack but there was something more to it. Basically most of the survivors were struggling with sudden normalcy now – it was not easy to adjust to the cessation of four surreal and brutal years of hell during which the city was under siege and civilian casualties and deaths were an everyday reality.
So my friend began drinking excessively, and he was slowly but surely falling into a state of complete disorder and loss. One day, after emptying bottles for six months, every single day, he woke up one morning and got scared by the face reflected in the mirror.
He did not look like himself anymore and that’s why he decided it was time for a change. From that day on, there was to be no more drinking, no more waking up in strange places or even in the street, no more Poe-like adventures of living within a dream or dreaming while awake or the opposite or maybe all of that together somehow. No more. So he decided to get himself together and instead of visiting his drinking buddies that evening he headed for the movie theater.
It was supposed to be his first night of sobriety after six months. Everything was all right, the movie started and just when he was about to finally relax and detach himself from the shaking insecurity and tension that were threatening to overwhelm and attack his ‘sobering’ experiment, just at a moment when the things looked normal and promising, a sudden and unmerciful attack of panic swept his mind like a tornado. He started to sweat excessively, got up from his seat and went outside into the warm August night. The movie about nine months of pregnancy starring Hugh Something was not meant to be seen.
He felt like everything inside him was about to explode: his hands shook, his heart was beating like hammer strokes. He thought that he was dying and all he wanted was to reach his apartment and die there, in the privacy of his home, instead of on the street, like a dog. He didn’t even think about calling for help or maybe visiting a doctor. Such was his resolve – he was absolutely sure that this was the end and that there was no turning back.
Somehow he managed to reach home. He saw the faces of the people passing by. Everybody was staring at him until he had reached the doors of his apartment; the streets were crowded, it was summer time, and nice girls were passing by in summer dresses, families with kids were walking and enjoying the evening, and as he said even the kids were staring at him – at the man who was about to explode, who was walking quickly through the streets and who felt like he was about to sink underground, who was fighting with all the power he had left just to make it home.
After he closed the doors of his apartment he fell on the floor; he was ready to die. He started to feel waves in his head, as if an ocean was carrying his body and mind away during the worst storm. The waves were punching him brutally, the storm was actually the most vicious hurricane ever, but yet, he was only there, lying on the floor of his apartment.
Even in that kind of condition, he said that in some perverse way he was enjoying all this, because aren’t we all curious about it, about the closing of the final curtain, aren’t we all eager to find out what it is going to look like once we have crossed to the other side? He knew that every person in the world will have to face this, there are no exceptions. If it was his time for the final rollercoaster ride – so be it.
And then started the most interesting part of his story – the actual process of dying.
He let it go, he gave in, and now it was time to finally see what it was all about. Suddenly in his head he started to see the pictures of his early childhood, he started to see the very first thing that he loved – it was a pair of crayon pencils. And then it was comics, various comic book heroes were flashing before his eyes, his second great love. And right after that – basketball. I cannot recall what the other things he mentioned were but what it boils down to is that while he was dying into his mind came all the things that he was eagerly passionate about during his life. Only things that he loved passionately were popping out like on a movie screen. I asked him was there any person involved, maybe a girl he loved sometimes, and he said no, he didn’t think so. And later he corrected himself saying that he was not so sure about it after all.
So the first night of soberness after six months of excessive drinking almost got my friend killed.
He survived that night. He did not go back to booze; he had a religious period that lasted about six months after that. Later on, he gave up on that as well, because he was not satisfied with what religion had to offer for him. For most of us, the kids from the nineties, it was all about comics, books, basketball, and fooling around. He decided to go on with his life in a way he always had, as before the terrible siege had started and turned the dark on. My friend is working now as a waiter in a restaurant in Chicago, he has a lovely Puerto Rican girlfriend and they are about to settle down together. I wish them all the luck. He is enjoying comics and even dares to draw some. He enjoys drinking wine occasionally. Sometimes he sends me an e-mail like he did today – and asks me if I still remember his death.
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Wednesday, August 20, 2008
For Jim Murdoch