He liked it when someone watched him shoot up. Insisted on it, begged and badgered for it. Thin hair dropping over his sunken left eye, G. would inevitably be smiling up at me from the toilet seat as if to say that now — with this act — he believed that I loved him.
(Hadn’t I crossed over, betrayed my own taboo about needles, for him? Violated myself? Wasn’t that love?)
He was going to do what he was going to do, I reasoned, knowing even as the vein wall popped what clumsy footing I was on. That there was no excuse for “helping” tie him off after I had snorted my share, for allowing endorsement. But neither one of us was such a mystery.
When I heard the crackling voice of his aged mother skulking outside his door demanding to know where his paycheck was or who was with him, if he had drunk his Ensure for the day, when I thought about his own drug-addicted father across town who only took time to bond with him after years of silence by shooting up with him, when I thought about his rape, he made sense. His insistence that someone should betray themselves as others had betrayed him made sense. To mistake this for love.
What was the needle observed by another? My company as I balanced on the lip of the tub?
“You love it, right?” he would say anytime for any or no reason, his head lowered, face curling at you seeking out your eyes, a tight, leading grimace. And he probably said it now.
The right answer was always a positive one.
G. was quick to put up his fists, but he swung wide and wild. It was easy to maneuver around him and put him in the asphalt if I needed to. One weekend skirmish left us both with visible scrapes we captured in a photograph our friend took for a junior college class assignment. In it, we’re both wearing yarn tams, rolling our eyes in opposite directions (he smiling, me growling), the already-scabbing welts running around around our eyes and touching our cheeks.
A friend like G. I could fight, comfortable in my speed and cool assessment of postures and speed of hands. I knew damages exerted either direction would be measured by intimacy, of play, and most likely brief. A venting of the fast-passing wind of passion. It was how we danced, celebrated. But it proved different for me with strangers. These I could “front” well — using language and body expression to dismantle most challenges that required a response, few people really wanted to fight, after all — but my defenses collapsed as soon as the threshold crumbled.
I seemed to possess neither flight nor flight. There was only a freezing in place, a cellular anticipation (or defining memory) of the worst that was in store and later embarrassment and shame.
G. serenaded me with Morrissey lyrics, never getting through a line or two of verse before falling into laughter and tapping my knee, searching for my acknowledgment of the gag. You couldn’t turn away or retreat within, in everything you were a participant. He’d take time to remind you of this.
He preened in the mirror, chasing hair grease along a comb in short, slow strokes. He made faces, sometimes imitating the lurid over-the-shoulder glance of a mascara model or arching an eyebrow with exaggerated insouciance. And he could rap through Ice-T’s hit “Colors” with surprising fluidity. He’d probably appreciate being remembered for that as much as anything.
I am a nightmare walking, psychopath talking/ King of my jungle just a gangster stalking/ Living life like a firecracker quick is my fuse/ Then dead as a deathpack the colors I choose…
I drove G. — again, after hours of futile resistance — to meet his girlfriend’s new lover in a fenced backyard for a dance of honor. It was over quick, his daper head locked tight in the curled bicep of the other, a fist raining down over and over onto the side of his head. It was brutal. Those of us watching had to overcome our own shock at the severity and rapidity of the blows before some hollered that it was over. (Was I among them?) And I took him to the emergency room downtown.
That’s what friends were for.
It turned out that the bone over his eye had fractured, swung loose, separated, making his eye seem sunken, shrunken. I always assumed the defect cut into his time in the mirror, but I really don’t know. I moved away, as I was wont. And I didn’t look him up when I returned the next time.
Or the time after that.
I was out of town when the news reached me that G. had been shot dead by police inside his mother’s house. Months earlier a mutual and dear friend had died of an overdose in his room. I could only imagine what it must have been like to live on in that space after. The haunting.
On this night G. was raging. Property destruction. I don’t know if he had threatened to kill himself before his mom called the police asking for help getting him calmed down and to the hospital, but that was the challenge once they arrived. A steak knife in his hand turned inward — then turning outward as he leaped at the officers, the report claimed, and he was met with bullets.
A picture of his mother holding his portrait in the newspaper. A public complaint followed by the passage of time.
Asked by a co-worker what I “about” back then, I responded that I was merely “treading water.” It shouldn’t have been, but it was, a revelation as I considered it later.
For all our antics, we were never so mysterious, I thought. G. saw my willingness to engage our recreational pursuits on his terms as proof of my love for him. I believed it reflected something else: my defeat, an indifference, an inability to care or see how my actions, positive or negative, could affect what was to come. It was determinism, and a fatal one at that. It was depression.
I thought my love was found in my reluctance, that it was love that first had to be negated or short-circuited to reach G.’s needs. Love was the resistance. It was what was being stretched and mangled between us. The tension being worn down with each violent outburst. Love was not in the final capitulation.
Today part of me thinks differently. Today I know that everything I did with G. was an element of my love for him. I saw his pain and confusion as my own. To comfort him I would have done so much more than assist with the twisted bandanna or strap of leather.
I would have gone into addiction with him. I would have shared needles. I would have fed him, never allowing him to lift a finger in pursuit of his high. I would have dosed and dosed and overdosed him to keep him from the torture of those final months. And it would have been love, too.
But to bring him back from death I’d stab him a thousand times more. I’d climb up on his chest and plunge needles through into his sightless eyes. Collapse his other supraorbital with the side of my fist. I’d beat on his bruised heart until I felt it fight back. Kick my boot in ribs until he rose again.
All is love.