Written ca. 2002.
Cedar Hills, Illinois, 1995. One might say that it’s not unusual for it to rain on suicidal afternoons. That is, if one even contemplates suicidal afternoons. Of course one might ask if suicidal afternoon is even a phrase at all. For that is, in fact, exactly what Charles Draper was thinking that Tuesday afternoon. Indeed, it was raining. And indeed, he intended for it to be the last afternoon of his life. Now, the reader may also wonder how the narrator can talk of such things so lightly. In answer to that, the narrator asks, how can anyone take anything seriously at all?
The rain was falling hard. Charles heard it through the living room windows of his parent’s house. The house he had been raised in for the past eighteen years. Not a bad house, really. A rambler. The living room was tidy. The floor recently vacuumed. The carpet was thick and soft where he sat. Beige carpet, though, old carpet. It looked lame. Lame, like the matching beige curtains with brown diamond patterns on them. After Mrs. Draper had put them up she’d asked Charles how they’d looked. He’d said, “They look fine, mom.” She’d responded by saying, “You’ll make a good husband someday, Charles.” He’d wished he’d said that they looked ugly instead. He wasn’t going to make a good husband someday.
Charles wasn’t sure why that particular memory came to his mind at the moment. He’d never even really thought about how the carpet matched the drapes at all before. Maybe it was because that carpet was the last place he’d ever sit. He liked sitting on the carpet, his back against the couch, and his legs stretched under the coffee table.
High school graduation had been two weeks prior. Next up was college. Community college had been his plan. Something to at least appease his parents into thinking his life was going somewhere. The plan was to live at home, and why not? It was about as pragmatic as it could get. Darcy was leaving Cedar Hills, going to UC Berkeley. UC-fucking-Berkeley, it wasn’t even in the same state! That’s why she’d dumped him. That and the fact that she thought he was foul.
There was a razor blade and a twenty bag of cocaine on the coffee table in front of him. A glass surface on the table seemed fitting. Cocaine felt good. It seemed classy to him. He’d read in a detective novel that you can function on cocaine. Do it every day, go to work, and nobody’d be the wiser. He’d started doing it his senior year, it hadn’t even been eight months. It was the same old story, meet a cool guy, he lets you get high a few times, then you have to pay for it. He liked it. Darcy didn’t like it. That’s why she thought he was evil. She’d tried weed like everybody else, but she didn’t even like it, and cocaine was crossing a line for her. Academics were important to her, though. They weren’t important to Charles. Maybe they should have been.
He grabbed the razor blade and sliced open the twenty bag. Just like in the movies, he thought as he used the razor blade to form a thin line on the table. Everything about it was cool to him. Cinematic, even. So much so, that his planned suicide at the end kind of seemed anticlimactic. What he really wanted to do was to get so high that he’d literally fly up into the air.
It took all of a second for the coke to shoot through his brain. Like a bolt of lightning. Perhaps not even a metaphorical bolt of lightning, maybe lightning had struck somewhere nearby. His mind went blank. Well, almost blank. Suddenly he was all the more aware of the storm outside. It wasn’t just rain, but wind too. That’s why it had been so loud against the window. Trees too. He heard trees rustling. He wondered how bad the storm really was. Were trees going to get knocked over? No. That was probably just the high speaking to him. It felt good. It felt exhilarating. It seemed like the perfect moment to go outside. To run around in the rain. To say hello to the neighbors. He could really go for a party right about now. Too bad the graduation party didn’t last for two weeks.
He’d been there. At the party. He’d been high pretty much the whole time. It was a glorious moment for him. As far as he could remember he’d been a riot. Well, he couldn’t remember that much. There was the part where he’d pretended he was a stripper and that Janette was a stripper pole. Darcy wasn’t too happy about that. Everyone else thought it was hilarious. He thought it was hilarious. He vaguely remembered making out with someone too, but he wasn’t sure who it’d been. Probably not Darcy. Darcy had dumped him the next day. She would have dumped him regardless, though. She was going to UC Berkeley, after all.
This was it, though. The high was wearing off. He wasn’t even sure how long it’d been. Three thirty, that’s what the clock on the wall said. He was proud of himself for reading it. It was an analog clock. It was ticking too. He hadn’t really noticed that before. Well, not to the same degree he’d noticed the rain on the window. He knew that the clock ticked all the time.
It was a good party. He’d rather enjoyed it. He enjoyed all the parties he’d been to in high school, and that’s why it was time to go. The party was going to end. He wasn’t going to college, and if he did, it was going to be community college. Community college! Where the kids that live with their parents go. There weren’t going to be any parties there. End on a high note. That was his motto. He formed another line of cocaine with the razor blade.
It was bliss again. He picked up the razor blade, only this time it wasn’t to form a line. It was truly time to end it on that high note that he so dearly wanted this suicidal afternoon. Holding it against his wrist was a little surreal. He pondered deeply, well, as deeply as he could, that pushing down on the blade was all between life and death. He even acknowledged that it was a little silly, overly melancholic, and yet still seemed like a good idea.
He pushed the blade a little. His flesh split apart. A thin line of crimson flowed out of the crack. Pain struck through his body. The drug had only mildly dulled his senses. “Fuck it hurts.” He said aloud, and dropped the razor blade. It clinked on the glass table. He laughed a little too. Just a little more pressure, he thought, half an inch in should probably do it.
The phone rang just as we about to pick up the blade again. Or at least he thought it rang at that moment. Truth be told, he had lost almost all comprehension of time. The big hand on the clock showed four, it’d been at least half an hour, and he still had little more than a paper-cut. He did his best to ignore the phone. Whoever was calling didn’t matter. Probably it was someone calling for his mom anyway. She wouldn’t be back until six. It was the ringing that got him to stop, though. It was unbearable. He could barely stretch his hand forward to get the blade with that annoying ringing. It wasn’t like the rain. In reality it had only rung twice by the time Charles changed his resolve. “Damn it,” he shouted as he stood up.
He worked his way to the phone. “Hello,” he answered, not even trying to hide his anger.
“Charlie is that you?” The voice at the other end of the line asked. The voice was female, he couldn’t tell who it belonged to.
“Uh, yeah… Who is this?” He incuriously replied.
Janette? He couldn’t place a face to the name.
“Janette from school,” the voice replied to the silence.
Janette, he now recognized the voice. Duh, he’d just been thinking about her. Janette who he’d been grinding on at the graduation party. Janette who also happened to be Darcy’s best friend. He’d known that she wasn’t going to UC Berkeley with Darcy. It was the same old story. Two BFF’s go to different schools. Then they aren’t BFF’s anymore. Why would she be calling? He didn’t really know her that well. She’d been around a few times when he was with Darcy, but they had never really spoken. She was attractive, though, he at least knew that about her. He wasn’t even going to lie and say that he didn’t have a little crush on her. “What’s going on?” he had wanted to sound exited, as if to say, What’s happenin’ babe? Instead he sounded more like a high school counselor asking why she wanted to change classes halfway through the year.
“Oh, I was just at home, and it’s too rainy to go outside, and I thought maybe you wanted to hang out. I mean, I know you broke up with Darcy…”
“Are you fucking kidding me!?” he replied without even thinking. “Umm, I didn’t mean to sound so rude, but with you being friends with Darcy and all are you serious? Wouldn’t she hate you?”
“Yeah seriously,” she said, “She broke up with you after all. I don’t think she’d care who I hang out with.”
He had to reflect on this for a moment. He was still high. He wanted to party. He wanted to be around people. And one person was better than no persons. He wanted to respond in such a way as to make himself not look desperate to be around other people. He was going to have to craft each word in his reply with care. “What the fuck. I guess I’ll come over, but only because you’re hot, and just to be clear I don’t want a relationship or anything.”
Janette laughed uncontrollably. “I don’t mind.”
Good enough for Charles. He could take care of this suicide thing later, it didn’t even seem that important at the moment. He was a man on a mission. A hot chick was in need of some company, he might as well bring a party to her.
“I’ll be right over,” he decided. “Where do you live?”
She gave him the address. He hung up.
He looked down at his wrist. It was bleeding. Not really the paper-cut that he thought it had been. Blood had run down his hands and fingers. He already had a stain on his shirt where his hand had brushed against his collar while he’d been on the phone. “Fuck,” he thought out loud. A bandage from the bathroom would stop the blood flow at least. But he couldn’t show up with a stain on his shirt. He’d have to change that. A Nirvana t-shirt seemed requisite in that moment, but he didn’t have one. A t-shirt with a soaring F-16 would have to do.
The mechanical garage door opened. The old Toyota Corolla had basically become his since he’d turned sixteen years old. It wasn’t a bad little car, it just wasn’t that good either. Not exactly classy, but no one in high school had classy cars. Most of the kids didn’t have cars at all, and that is why he was one of the cool kids. Rain was blowing into the garage. It was quite windy indeed. The reality of the storm seemed even more piercing with Charles heightened senses. It was real now too. Not just a sound pounding on the windows and roof, but actual drops of water touching his body. It was a good thing that his parents let him keep the car in the garage. He’d have been soaked just from the walk to the curb.
The windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the rain. They hadn’t been replaced in a long time, but they weren’t squeaking like they would in a light shower. There was too much water for that. He wondered why she had called him. They hadn’t really known each other at all. The most he had said to her at any given time was a few words. Maybe it was Janette that he had made out with at the graduation party and now she wanted more.
As far back as Charles could remember, he’d been a suicidal loner. Even at parties. True, he’d been the life of the party, friends galore. He rather enjoyed making people laugh. They’d laugh at anything, too. He’d just say what someone would normally say, but in a funny voice or accent, and suddenly he was a riot. It’d always been that way for him. Women came easier too. Like many of his peers he’d been deflowered at fifteen. It was with this girl, Charise. They’d deflowered each other. It had been as awkward as imaginable, but a good experience none-the-less. Naturally, after the first time they had to see each other every day, to try to get things working a little more smoothly.
Darcy had basically been his dream girl, though. Hot, sexy, fly. She was smart too, though. He didn’t like that. He didn’t like smart girls. That was kind of his folly. He’d ignored her smarts in favor of her body.
No one ever said that Charles was a good kid. He had a reputation. He was a party animal. The preps hated him, because the women loved him. He had smoked his first joint at eleven, and it wasn’t his last. It was his first time getting caught though, by his father, and he had taken a pretty big beating for it too. Charlie had been in Juvenile Detention a few times, usually for drugs, but occasionally for shoplifting. He wasn’t a criminal by any means, just an addict. He knew he was an addict, he could at least admit that to himself, but he certainly didn’t want to give it up. Cocaine was the best he’d done so far.
Not even a few blocks away he found the car hydroplaning toward the curb. Slow down, he thought to himself, don’t want to have to get towed before I even get to the party. He double checked the address Janette had given him. A couple more blocks away.
He pulled up in front of the house. Only a single light on in the living room, the rest of the house was dark. The street was dark for that matter. It was dark out, but not that late, so the street lamps hadn’t turned on yet. He hated the town, he hated having grown up in the same house all his life, going to school with the same kids his whole life. The neighborhood was okay, he’d raise his children in a neighborhood like this, except that he never wanted to have children. He looked at Janette’s house and thought about driving away. What did he care about Janette? He couldn’t remember why he was so excited to come here to meet her when she had called ten minutes ago. Hell he had completely forgotten about the razor blade, except that he had to put a bandage over his wrist. Speaking of his wrist, it was soaked red. He didn’t know how much blood he had lost, not enough to make him pass out. Oh yes, he remembered, he wanted to party. That’s why he’d come. During the call, partying with one other person had seemed like a blast, but with the high wearing off he wasn’t so sure anymore. Maybe he should ask Janette to call some more of her friends.
He got out of the car, forgetting to turn it off, and walked up to Janette’s door. Nice house he thought to himself. It was two stories so it looked bigger, and the neighborhood seemed a little nicer. In truth it wasn’t any better than his own, just a different style of house in a different neighborhood. She opened the door. The first thing he noticed was the neatly organized curios. The second thing he noticed was Janette. She was hot as hell. “Nice place you got here.”
“Thanks, I guess,” she said.
“Well you called, and here I am.” He knew he sounded rude, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care about anything anymore. He didn’t know what she wanted. He didn’t know what he wanted for that matter. To fuck her, maybe, but somehow he didn’t figure that was going to happen.
“Come on in.”
He stepped out of the rain. “Should I take my shoes off? They might be a little wet.”
She looked down at his feet. “Oh… Yeah, that’s a good idea I didn’t even think about that.” She laughed. He crouched down to untie his shoes. “You do anything exciting today?” She asked.
Two years ago he would have made up a lie to sound cool. “Not really, just watched some TV and stuff,” he said looking up to her.
“Yeah,” she said, “not much going on between now and college.”
Yeah, college, he thought. That was the last thing he wanted to talk about. “You were planning on going somewhere right?”
“I start at U of I at the end of the summer.”
“Yeah? What are you going to major in?” he asked, as he stood up, leaving his shoes next to the doorway.
“Economics and maybe double…” He phased out almost immediately. Very interesting, he though, of course she was doing a double major. Who wasn’t double majoring? Everyone was just so smart. Darcy was going to double major, too. Poly Sci and Physics, she said. He didn’t even know how those went together, but somehow it was possible. Whatever. He knew UC Berkeley students were smart. “Do you think that’s a good idea?” she asked.
Oh great, he wasn’t even really sure what she was asking about. Was it about double majoring? That’s all he’d hear her say, but what if she’d gone off on whether or not she should live in the dorms or in off-campus housing or something else entirely? What could she have possibly said in the few seconds that he’d lost concentration? “I dunno, you gotta do what you gotta do,” he said. A nice safe answer. He nodded too, to add a little effect. A kind of circular nod, so as to be neutral.
They sat on the couch in the living room. Side by side. The sense of her arm against his felt good. Cocaine did that. Though he wondered if they might be more comfortable sitting on the floor. Like he’d been sitting at home.
Janette’s living room had a glass coffee table too. Some dull paintings on the walls. One of a dog. A relative must have painted it. It wasn’t that good. A grand piano in the corner. Maybe Janette played, he wondered. Janette’s purse was on the floor, she reached into it. Charles half-expected her to pull out a condom. Maybe they were going to fuck after all. Instead she dropped the object she pulled out of the purse on the coffee table between them. A small bag. White power inside.
“What the hell is that?” he said.
“Oh, I think you know.”
Yeah, he knew. “I mean what the hell are you doing with that?”
“Nothing right now, but I plan on getting high with you.”
“Oh, I see how it is. I’m here in case you get caught, that way you can say it was my idea, and my stuff, well fuck that! I’m outta here.” He stood up and headed to the door.
“Fuck you Charlie! I wanted you here because I have a crush on you. I thought we could hang out and have fun together.”
He stopped. “Yeah, right.”
“Yes, right. I’m serious.”
“Have you ever even done that stuff before?”
“Yeah, plenty of times.”
Plenty of times, he could tell just by looking at her, that it was two maybe three times, tops. “You know that stuff rots your brains, I can’t remember my middle name anymore.”
She held back a laugh. “I’m not too worried about that.”
“It also makes you a loser, like me. I mean look at me,” he held up his wrist, “just before you called I was about to kill myself.”
She hadn’t noticed the bandage till now, but it didn’t bother her. “You’re not a loser Charlie, you’re like the most popular kid in school.”
“Was the most popular,” he corrected. “I got nothing now. No parties to go to. I’m not going to college. I gotta become a working stiff or something. You have a decent life, and a future to look forward to. I’ve got nothing. That is why I’m such a loser. High school is over. The party for me is over. You shouldn’t be throwing your life away.”
She looked at him almost confused. “You’re the last person I expected to be saying this to me. Anyway, it’s just a little high it’s not going to ruin my college career.”
He was to the front door, bending down to grab his shoes. “Hell, I think you’re a lot better off not doing this. I do drugs to get rid of pain, but I’ve been doing them so long, I can’t remember what pain I’m trying to get rid of.” With his shoes in hand he turned to face her, looking her in the eye. “You think I like being a loser. You think I like waking up in the morning and seeing myself in the mirror. I hate seeing myself in the mirror.”
She had a frown on her face. Her eyes couldn’t meet his.
“Hell if you had wanted a fuck, I’d given you one,” her eyes met his for a moment, “but drugs, hell no. It’s just a bad idea.”
He marched out of the door and hopped into his car. He laughed to himself when he realized he’d left it running. He didn’t want to bother putting his shoes on so he tossed them onto the passenger seat. What was wrong with Janette? He wondered if he’d had any effect on her. Probably not, but he sure felt good about it, for once in his life he felt good about something. He knew, right then, that he would never do drugs again. In fact he’d start his life over, he would for sure go to community college. Maybe he’d become a counselor at a youth center to help kids have good drug free lives. In that moment he truly felt good about himself as he drove home.
SMACK! His car slammed into another car hydroplaning along the road. He found himself in a ditch, and felt something warm pouring down the side of his face. He tasted blood, and waited.