As I sat at my keyboard, desperately searching for a topic to write about but finding only trite aphorisms and hollow observances, it struck me. It finally struck me, I should say.
The answer I have been searching for my entire life.
The answer to a question not yet asked, never posited nor even contemplated. A question of self. A question of simultaneous grand importance and of gross insignificance. A question too important to ignore, but impossible to answer.
A man is only capable of finding this answer at the end of a long journey. A journey of sprit, mind, and body. A journey of innocence, of love, of discovery, of disappointment, of heartache, of redemption, and of ultimate sacrifice.
One does not embark on this journey lightly. It is of the utmost import that the journey be fruitful and have a meaning. The journey must not be in vain.
What struck me at that moment was a vivid memory. A memory of my brother.
I was 27 and he was 36. I hadn't seen him for quite some time. Going on a year and a half, which was an eternity for us. He and I were inseparable. Wherever you found Mark, I was sure to follow.
From an early age, I was transfixed by him. Things seemed to come so easy for Mark. He got the girls, had nice cars, plenty of money. It was only when I became an "adult" that I realized that, despite outward appearnces to the contrary, he was as flawed as anyone else. Perhaps even moreso.
We spent many years together developing the drug addictions that would one day take our lives. Some people would say they were taken the moment the addiction began.
I am one of those people.
When I was 27, I saw him again. It was three in the morning, on a Tuesday. I was awoken by my cell phone ringing. My first thought was "I need a new ringtone" followed immediately by "Who the fuck is calling me at this time of night?"
"Mr. Cliburn?" an almost apologetic voice asked.
"Yes. Can I ask who this is?"
"Yes, this is Mandy Robbins. I'm a nurse at St. Luke's Hospital in Bedford. I have you listed down as emergency contact and next of kin for a Mark Cliburn. Is this correct?"
"Yes, but my brother has lived in Florida for over a year now.... So, may I ask what this pertains to?"
"Certainly sir. But I must ask that you come to the hospital. All I can say over the phone is that Mark is very sick and you are the only person he has been asking for. He refuses to to talk to anyone. Not even his wife."
"I'll be there as soon as possible. Please tell him that. Thank you Miss Robbins."
My arrival at the hosptal was greeted with ambivalence by Mark's family. They were of the belief that it was I who was responsible for his problems. That I enabled him to the point where there was no turning back. No recovery. No redemption.
This was, of course, asinine. I didn't enable him. We enabled each other. That's how codependence works. That's how addiction works. You seek out like-minded individuals who are just as fragile and tormented as yourself, and you make them your life. They are your family, as sad as it sounds. They are your perceived reality, for nothing is real in this world. All relationships are predicated on one solitary fact-- We need to get high.
I was brought to his room and was aghast at what I saw. My once vibrant brother prone, motionless, gaunt. I wanted to cry.
He awoke to me sitting by his bed reading, as I always did when he was in the hospital. An addict's second home is the hospital.
He smiled a painful smile. His teeth had nearly rotted out of his head. He couldn't have weighed more than 150 pounds. I don't know what it is he had been doing, but it was killing him.
We spent a few minutes catching up. And then he asked me the question that would haunt me for the rest of my life:
"Arch... Archie, will you kill me? Please. Just.... Please. I just want it over. Please."
How does one respond to that?
He spent the next thiry minutes pleading with me, listing the reasons for me to do this. The crazy part, some of them made sense.
"How?" is all I could say at that point.
His hand unrolled, and two syringes fell onto the bed.
"It should only take one. But just to be sure..."
"Arch," he said, the quavering in his voice was heartbreaking, "Arch, please."
We spent the next hour figuring out how to tell the families. He was pretty well prepared for this, I must say.
I took a few paces around the room. I lit a cigarette for us to share before the time came. It was more for him than me. My lungs were so constricted at that point, I could barely breathe.
I approached him slowly, picking up the two syringes. I inspected them carefully. Morphine. One syringe had enough to kill a man three times. And I had two of them.
I brought the needle to the IV stand, looked at him, and began to cry. He cried as well. I managed to tell him I loved him through the tears.
"I love you too."
I depressed the plunger. He shot straight up from the bed, almost into a sitting position. He looked at me again, his lips began to move, but there was no sound. I brought myself closer. With his lips to my ears, I heard his final words.
"Live, Archie. Live whatever life you want. There is no changing the outcome. You can't escape it."
My keyboard catharsis was directly related to that moment.
I realized I still had that other syringe. And it needed to be done.
I laid down on the couch to think about things for a minute.
It felt cold. I sat straight up, gasping for air.
You can't change the outcome. Live the life you want, not the one you are expected to lead.
As I laid there, dying, I looked at the needle hanging from my arm. My head felt heavy, so I laid it down on the edge of the couch. As I drifted away, I heard the faint sound of the front door opening. The last image I remember seeing was a pale, gaunt, shadowy figure, who couldn't have weighed more than 150 pounds...