“Waking up is a shock, a flash to reality I do not desire, a pain put simply. I keep my eyes closed, just like I always do. Blackness is preferable to the greyness of life. And just as it always does, the fan with its choppy hum brings the whisper to my ear. What had once been affection is now a stab from the knife of everyday life.”
Waking up is a shock, a flash to reality I do not desire, a pain put simply. I keep my eyes closed, just like I always do. Blackness is preferable to the greyness of life. And just as it always does, the fan with its choppy hum brings the whisper to my ear. What had once been affection is now a stab from the knife of everyday life.
“What did you dream of?” it would whisper.
A wince would always follow, and through closed eyes, my dreams would reply. And a lie would sputter out of my mouth.
“Stars…” I would whisper back.
Lies always helped. Denial felt preferable. I couldn’t admit it, for was it really true? Was it a dream? And whether or not it was real or not, I would relive the night again. The night my life took this turn into despair.
It was a night like every other night, curled up with some book or another, sitting on the sofa, facing the bright lights of Los Angeles. The telephone rang, and I picked it up slightly annoyed, for I was at a good part.
“Good evening, who’s calling?” I casually spoke into the phone.
A sob followed, strange in truth, but I remained on the line. Then the voice picked up, and I reeled in confusion.
“Hello… This is Logan Abernathy… I am your wife’s cousin…”
The breaks into silence were weird, and so were the sobs, but Margaret’s family, through their hatred of me, had always been a strange one. The fact that one of the Abernathy’s had even decided to call me was a shock, and no matter how much it made me want to chuckle a bit, I held it in, for I had won the stalemate we had held for years.
“Yes, Logan, why is it that you have called me?” I responded in a calm tone.
“Two days ago there was an accident. The roads here in Montana are icy now… It was instantaneous…”
It was a punch in the gut. Worse, it was inconceivable how it felt. Disgust, hatred, depression, fear, shock. Every feeling but happiness all at once. Pictures flashed through my mind: when we first met at the pier, our wedding day, our honeymoon under the sun in Mexico. Brief flashes of my life, and my life which was forever changed.
I pulled off my spectacles and held back my tears…
“When will the service be? Where will it be, Logan?” I responded in a calm tone, as sobs and winces broke through my demeanor.
“It was yesterday…” he said in an almost sorry, consoling tone.
I did not say anything back. I just sat there, tears falling down my face in silence. I put the handset down gently onto the telephone. Sitting there, with the same feelings tearing at my insides, I felt everything, but happiness, all at once. How would life go on without Margaret… Rage took over. All sounds and all colors drained from the world. Lights dimmed, and all seemed grey, dark, unforgiving, like a motion picture without the emotion. I grabbed the phone, taking it from its cord, and threw it against the large windows. The windows shattered through the silence, and I flashed back to real life.
The whisper of the fan ends, and my dream is always the same, but Margaret is not here to listen to it. She is not here to console, to listen, or to be there for me, for her absence is the root of my problems. Her death had killed me, and yet I remain with nothing left. A big house, a good job, food, water, a feather bed, for I own it and have no one to share it with. I feel like I’m drowning and can’t die, like my suffering will not end, and I can’t bring myself to the surface.
All the while, I stare at my ceiling, and I cannot even remember the color that it is. There is no reason to care. All these things I own but do not want, and I must keep them in my possession. I sit up and begin my routine, another day at work. It goes like this:
I shower, brush my teeth, dress in the required attire, grab my camera, my suitcase, and the papers I have graded. Jenny has already made breakfast. She will be back in a few hours, but she will be gone as soon as I arrive home. How ironic that the only person I share my house with is never in it with me. But I eat and exit the door to another day at the university. All these tasks are chores, just as I feel my life itself is. My dreams from when I was a young boy have come true, but I was more happier as a moody teen than I am as the successful adult. My neighbor stops me, and I chat, agree, nod, laugh, and smile. Ms. Smith is always kind to me, why should I have a broken face then?
“Are you okay today? You are looking a bit glum, sweetie,” she says, her sweet, old lady voice, full of concern and worry for her neighbor of all people.
“Yes, I am quite alright, Ms. Smith. Just had a bit of insomnia is all, but I am sure it will all subside in time,” I respond cheerfully to her.
Sighing under my breath, I sit down in my car.
She walks up to the window, taps on it, and says, “Well then, have a great day!!”
Waving goodbye, I wave back with a smile and let it go. I am alone again, left to my thoughts.
I will miss you most, Ms. Smith…
I open the glove box to my car, grimace, and pull out the revolver, with no rounds in the cylinder. I practice how I will do it later by putting the barrel against the roof of my mouth and pulling the trigger. As expected, a click follows and I am still there, but soon it would be different. I will miss you Ms. Smith… But soon all this suffering I have will end, all with a click and a bang.
All the way to the university, I practice with the barrel of the revolver against the roof of my mouth. Again and again, I pull the trigger to hear the click and no bang, and I still remain in the car, driving into Los Angeles, with the sun’s light slightly piercing over the hills to his right. Every so often, someone notices the gun in my mouth and the pulling of the trigger. Their puzzled looks turn to horror, but back to confusion when the gun doesn’t fire. And, every time, I would flash a grin to them. For today is the happiest day I’ve had in a year. Today I will finally be rid of all the suffering and would return to Margaret, wherever she may be in death. Today will be carefree, and everything I see will be the last time I saw it. Even if my grey world is still grey, I feel it brighten to know when and how I will die. I will have no fear in my last few moments, only anticipation. Pulling into the university, I feel a bit of sorrow as the students pass me, some smiling, some waving to me. I realize that perhaps even my smallest ounce of joy was poured into those students, or at least the ones who cared to pay attention.
I sigh to myself, take one last look at the key to my escape, and close the glove box it sits in. I grab the suitcase, the camera, and take a look at the photo that sits on my dashboard. Margaret sits in the grass, simply smiling. I smile back at the photo.
Not even glimpses of before can ever be in color… Soon I will be with you.
I open the door, straighten my tie, and begin my walk to the Arts Wing of the university. Students, teachers, and visitors sit on the green, smiling in the sun, chatting away, and laughing with each other. I throw some waves at people I know, shocking them, for did I ever once appear happy to them? Can they see the flaws in my facade this day? Can they see that, this day, I appear happier than most? I walk at the same pace, perhaps even gloating about this strange enthusiasm I feel. Get through the day, and it will all end.
Just then, a scrawny, shy boy appears next to me. Oh no… It’s hi–
“Professor… Professor! Please wait up for me!!!” he shouts, chasing after me.
It is John Titor. He is, perhaps, the worst student in my class. All his talent, all his potential, and he does not express it. He failed on purpose, and I never had the energy to try and reach out to him. But the fact that he walked up to me is weird, and exciting, breaking the monotony of everyday life for me.
“You surprise me, Mr. Titor, coming up to me on a day like this, when you could be skipping class…” I tell him in an irritated voice.
I am almost sure he wants to break my peace in his own special way, and I do not want to bother with this wasted talent, especially when my time is soon to pass.
“Professor, please, it’s not some joke or anything…” he pants from his run. “I know it’s late… but I have the project to turn in to you.”
He hands me a photograph, along with the paper that is meant to go along with it. I reluctantly grab the papers from his hand and take a glance. It’s probably the same as the others, a failure in photography.
“Come to class on time, Mr. Titor. You are lucky I am taking this from you,” I reply with a sigh.
“Thank you so much, sir… I’m sure you’ll like it!!!” he yells, running off to some other place.
And so I continue on to my room, and my mind wanders as I walk in. The hot air is a smack in the face as I pull off my jacket, loosen the tie, and sit at my desk. I sit there, flipping through photos, repeating the critique over and over in my head.
The school spends thousands of dollars on these cameras, and they waste them on family photos and pictures of trees… I will be rid of these students soon.
Flipping through them, and throwing them aside, I reached one for one that catches my eye. There was no happy family, or no trees, or beaches, or pet dogs. It was simple, yet heart-
wrenching in its own way. An indigent man sat on the ground crying and huddled in ragged clothes. Close to him, two well-dressed, wealthy-looking people stood up, eating ice cream, and paying this poor man absolutely no mind.
This person… Whoever they are… They deserve a perfect grade… This… This captures life… Its morals… Its truths.
John Titor walks in, and soon everyone files into the room, looking at the shock, despair, and awe on my face. We sit there for minutes, and everyone looks in an awkward demeanor around the room, except me, still staring at this photo.
Minutes later some random person calls out in question.
They are clearly uncomfortable saying anything.
I stand up from my chair, pick up the photo and hold it up. It is too small to see, but it is a master piece in the darkness of my life.
“What did I name this project? Anyone, tell me please,” I said, in an inquisitive, driving tone.
“Glimpse into life,” someone called out.
“Yes. Yes. Glimpse into life. I tried to challenge you, my dear students, to do just that, to show me a glimpse into real life. To show the emotion, the challenges, the real aspects of life in a single photo. To tell one million stories, in one moment, that you can capture in time with this device.” I held up the camera. “But all of you… all of you failed. You took family photos, tree photos, beach photos, anything that you thought looked pretty. You captured that moment in time with this precious device. A photographer is useless if he cannot capture in time what makes life life. Your family does not display life, trees do not display life, the damn beach is definitely not life.” I describe, my voice rising.
I take a pause, letting that sink in, and continue.
“A photo should tell one million stories. I should learn some moral from your snapshots and looking at this damn beach snapshot 20 times over from different people tells me nothing. All of you failed… All of you. But you, Mr. Titor, you pass the grade. You pass. A-plus for you, dear friend. You are an artist. Take your snapshot, show it to the world, and let everyone learn what you did. And all of you, besides Mr. Titor, enjoy your F, and have a great rest of the day. ”
I grab a stack of photos, throw them in my garbage can, and throw my lighter in with it. It catches fire. I walk up into the row of desks, and I hand John his photo very quickly and awkwardly.
“Congratulations…” I mutter, before storming out of the room.
Walking down the hallways is a blur. Anger, disappointment, happiness, and awe… they all fill me at once, take charge, and lead me directionless around the campus. Where am I going? What purpose do I have now?
The dean runs up to me and pulls me roughly on my shoulder.
“What the hell were you doing back there, Professor?”
I relent and punch him in the nose, my feelings in control.
“Telling those shits the truth is what I’d call it.”
He pinches his nose to stop the blood, and curls over in pain, the red liquid pouring down his face.
“GET THE HELL OFF THIS CAMPUS, YOU’RE FIRED!!!” he yells, as I stomp off to my car.
Sirens ring off in the distance, as a small tower of smoke rises from the Arts Wing. Crowds of people pour out in front of the building, panicking, crying, in complete shock at the madness that just occurred. In front of the crowd, I see John, standing completely still, just staring at me, his eyes wide with awe. I rip the door to my car and slump down into the seat. With a frown on my face, I began to sob, the pain on my soul too much. I slam the door closed and rip open the glove box. As I sob away, I pull up the gun and the heavy steel feeling almost natural in my hand. I try a few more practice shots on myself. I’m almost there… I’m almost there, Margaret. I slam on the car horn as I tear out of the parking lot. I catch one last look at John, as his shocked stare pierces deep into my soul.
“Professor, get down from that ledge!!!” John desperately shouts at me.
Somehow the boy had found me, standing on a concrete ledge next to a small bar, on the edge of the Los Angeles River. My gun is loaded, and the least I want to do is get drunk before I off myself, but somehow, he had followed me all the way here.
“Get the hell out of here John!!! Just leave me in peace!!!” I shout back in slurred speech.
“Professor! Get down from there… You’re crazy… Just talk to me and let me help you!!!” he argues back.
I down another large sip of amber whiskey from the bottle and wipe it away with my sleeve before shouting, “Look who’s talking, how dare you call me crazy… you… you–”
“Professor, am I the one holding a half-drunk bottle and a gun, standing 100 feet above the LA River?” he says in a calmer tone.
I can sense his game. He wants desperately for me get off the ledge, but I won’t let some stupid kid ruin this. I was finally going to have peace.
“Don’t mind me, John. Just go. I’m not your professor anymore. Just go home, please… leave me in peace,” I sob, dropping the bottle and slumping down to a sit on the ledge.
I hold the barrel of the gun against my temple. The cold, steel eggs on my release from the mortal plane. But… I can’t. I just can’t no matter how much it tears at me.
He sits down at my side. Just sitting there. He sits in pure silence as I cry. I lose all understanding of time. All that exists is the two of us and that ledge.
After what seemed like hours of my awkward crying, he opens his mouth. In a very calm voice, he asks, “Professor, what’s wrong… what happened… why are you like this?”
I sniffle a bit, and almost laugh, for an ignorant child had talked me out of my month-long plans. I open my mouth stating, “This… this is where I met her… well, not here, over there in the parking lot.”
I point into the lot, and the day, 15 years ago today, rings through my mind as if it were yesterday. I am still fresh in love with Margaret.
“Who, professor?” he said.
After I explain, he contemplates my words.
“This is where I met Margaret, the love of my life.”
“What happened to her? She was your wife?”
“Yes, yes, we were married for 10 years, and she died last year in an… accident.” I manage to say before tears stream down my face again.
John sits, contemplating, and while his look is of concern, and sadness, I can almost see a hint of understanding in his eyes. That look where you understand everything that is said, but can’t bring yourself to say that you feel the same way. For it is too hard to admit that you feel exactly the same.
“I feel like… I feel as if I am drowning, trapped underneath the waves. And everytime I try to escape, I just sink deeper. And no matter how much I want to escape, I can’t. No matter how much I want to drown and end this torment, it won’t happen. I’m trapped. Trapped by 10 years of marriage. I loved her so much, John, I really did. She was my life. She was the beauty in this world. Without her here, I have nothing, I am nothing… No big house matters, no money, no material matters, lest we can share it with those we love… And me, I have nobody to love… So… So will you please leave me to my fate, John? Will you allow me to finally be rid this feeling, this hatred, this–”
“Give me the gun, professor…” he mumbles, his head still pointed towards the ground.
“Leave. Now… Or I’ll take you wi–”
“GIVE ME THE DAMN GUN!!!” He shoots up from the ledge, his fists balled, and his eyes popping with rage.
I could see the tears in his eyes too. He felt the exact same way. I did not know what it was. But everyday he came to school, put on his face, and struggled to interact. No matter how deep his depression, here he was, shouting in my face, talking me down from giving in to my wish for death. While any day he could have done what I was doing now. He endured. He stayed strong.
He jumps forward in a rage, ripping the pistol from my hand, the loaded rounds sliding out of the cylinder. My only chance for escape, spills on the ground, and into John’s hand as he draws it back. It’s a fluid motion — the snatch and the throw, arching back at a sharp angle, his arm sailing forward, and the gun flying out into the dark of night, to the concrete expanse of the LA river. I lose sight of it as it flies into the black, and the only hint that the gun had hit its target is a far off plop into water.
He lets out a sigh, and slumps back down onto the ledge, his face buried into his palm. I slump down next to him, staring dead forward, in a daze, not dreaming, not thinking, not knowing. Where would he go next, how would he carry on? What would he do now? I turn my neck back, and look out into the black, the edge facing out to the river, plummeting immediately down into black. I look down and scoop up my half-bottle of whiskey. I take a long swing, the golden liquid burning the inside of my mouth. But I feel completely numb, still completely empty. I tap John on the shoulder with the bottle
“Drink.” I mutter.
He grabs it, takes a long drink from it too, and gives a refreshing gasp when he stops gulping down the amber whiskey.
“This your first time drinking?” I mutter. “You could be a professional drunk from the way I see it.”
We laugh exhausted laughs out into the night as the dim lights create a relieving, yet almost unsatisfied mood. I only feel worse.
“Let me get you something, professor, we’re right here.” He points to the bar.
The taint of alcohol iss on his breath and slurs his speech.
“Another bottle of whiskey and a pack of camels for the road,” I mutter out, in a sort-of drunk and carefree chuckle.
He gets up from the ledge, and begins to stumble over to the bar. When he is halfway there, I call out to him, in the same drunk chuckle as before. “John!” He looks back at me. “Thank you for everything. ”
“It’s no problem, Professor!” he calls back before stumbling off to the bar.
When he enters the bar, and the door swings closed, I stand up and step up onto the edge. First, I look off into the black expanse, at the street lights across, and then down, to the darkness below. I sigh and close my eyes. The pictures flash before me. I see Margaret, when I first met her, in this parking lot, our first dinner together, the first time I pronounced my love to her, our wedding day, and our honeymoon. Relaxing under the Mexican sun. The last time I saw her, walking her out of the door. Stopping at the car door.
“I love you, David,” she whispers to me.
“I love you, too,” I whisper back to her.
We kiss each other, but only for a second. If I could have stayed there, stayed there forever, I would have. I would die and live again a million times to go back to that split second. That one moment of eternity. I would kill, I would murder for her. For Margaret. She gets in the car, and as she drives off, I see her for the last time. We lock eyes. She smiles. I smile back, and she is gone. Gone forever. I would never leave you, Margaret. I will be there soon.
My arms are out. I feel the wind in my hair, on my body, blowing me away from the darkness where I will go. I open my eyes to the night.
“I love you…” I whisper to the wind as it buzzes in my ear.
“I love you too,” the wind whispers back.
I look down one last time, take in the last sight I will ever have in life. The lights across the river. The cars driving by. The Hollywood hills standing imposingly over this city.
“PROFESSOR!!!” The shout shatters all of silence there had once been.
I look back. John is there, standing at the doorway. His left hand is clenched around the neck of the whiskey bottle, and his right is holding a pack of cigarettes. His face is in pure shock, pure awe, pure pain, and anger, and everything in-between.
I turn my neck around, facing the black again, and fall forward.