There must be a number of ways to convince your family and friends that you’ve suddenly died.
You could send a letter to them, making damn sure to use that batshit print scrawl used by the Zodiac killer. You could include a blood-spattered square of your favorite childhood t-shirt and a cipher. The cipher, when cracked, would read “My headache told me to hurt your son.”
I chose a different way to convince everyone that I’d died.
Winter weather in Texas is schizophrenic. One minute it’s spring, the next there’s an Ichabod Crane moon and brown, windswept leaves everywhere. This particular November in Dallas, the latter was true.
I wanted to make sure Rachel had my full attention.
My phone buzzed with a couple of messages. I imagined slinging it off the roof. Instead I went inside, turned it off, and stuck it in my desk drawer. I wanted to make sure Rachel had my full attention.
“Have you heard from Nick?” Mom didn’t ask. Mom didn’t ask Dad because they totally don’t talk to their son regularly.
Why do you spend so much time worrying about him? Dad doesn’t say. “He is a grown man with lots of grown thoughts and grown things to do.”
He didn’t say that he hadn’t heard from him in a while, and he didn’t say that he was actually worried.
“Let’s not text Nick’s brother again to see if he’s heard from him.”
Nighttime in New York City is an alternate universe. The waxy, wet sound of tires on the street and honking horns are forever present. Nick’s younger brother, Saul, lays a steak on the grill at his tiny Upper West patio. Saul got a text from his parents about Nick. He hadn’t heard from Nick in a while either.
Weird. I’m sure it’s fine. Flipped the steak. Cracked a cold beer.
I remembered I hadn’t even spoken with anyone else in a while. How long? Weeks.
I’d been dating Rachel for a few weeks, a new relationship that upended my life in the best way.
Spontaneous rooftop beers (always Fat Tire for Rachel), concerts, and pepperoni pizza suddenly became main characters in my life. Our relationship was in that glistening-new phase where routines are alien concepts that you give no credence. It was the stage where you drop off the map a little.
Downing the rest of the beer on the rooftop, I remembered I hadn’t even spoken with anyone else in a while. How long? Weeks. Wasn’t I supposed to meet my parents for an early Italian Sunday dinner tomorrow?
Rachel worked with me at a local alt-weekly newspaper. Her job was to review nightclubs and bars, taking in the scene and writing about it. Knowing we needed to beat it out of town after a punch-to-the-dick schedule, we filled up the fridge with six-packs of beer — we knew we’d need amber beer later — and jetted to Fort Worth.
She had to review a metal bar that was seriously called “Hot Fack.” A huge open-concept dive with pool tables and a stage. Smoke hung from the ceiling like LA smog.
WHISKEY COCK. They were incredible.
We had whiskeys and played pool. I was unplugged, just like the guitar duo on the Hot Fack stage: Two heavyset twins that went by the name WHISKEY COCK. They were incredible. Rachel and I danced and drank more to the leathery tunes of Whiskey Cock.
Over in Baltimore, Nick’s best friend Quint was taking a deep breath in the bathroom, trying to calm himself after a week full of intense family dinners. He got a text from Saul, Nick’s brother:
“Heard from Nick in the past few days? Weeks?” asked Saul.
Quint thought through it. It’d been a while.
Quint instantly imagined the terrible-hilarious things that could have happened in order for Nick’s brother to text: What if Nick is dead in his apartment, moss growing out of his open mouth, bugs darting over his butt? What if Rachel’s ex shot Nick in the face with a double-barrel?
Back from Fort Worth, Rachel and I were buzzing, dying for tacos and more cold beer. There’s something about Fat Tire that goes perfectly with shredded cheddar and sour cream things.
We stumbled up to the rooftop of my loft, the six-pack in tow. Past midnight, it tastes even better. We cracked a couple and played a few songs on her phone and danced.
Why was his phone off? Are they the ones being insane?
The next day, Nick’s mom and dad were more than concerned. Would he have just turned off his phone? Another call to voicemail and another message. In the silence Mom made up little deaths.
It was something like this: He was face down from a thunderclap of an aneurysm. Blood in a halo around his head.
On the patio with his father-in-law, grilling, Quint was silent for a minute as he checked Nick’s social media accounts. He found no indication that Nick was alive. No check-ins. Nothing.
Quint drained of color, and Quint’s father-in-law asked, “You OK?”
“No. I think something happened to my friend? I’m sure it’s fine, right?”
At this point, brimming with concern, Nick’s mom and dad were driving down to confront him at his apartment. They were supposed to meet him for dinner that day, and they hadn’t heard from him. Why was his phone off? Are they the ones being insane?
They drove in silence. They imagined all the ways a son could die when living alone.
Slams on the door for a few minutes. Slams.
You know that sensation? When a real-world sound jabs into your dream? I felt the sounds of my front door slamming in my bones. It was early afternoon.
I walked to the door, wearing only plaid pajamas.
Opening the door, I saw my mom and dad. It quickly became clear: Seeing me proved that I was actually alive. There were tears, laughter. Jesus. Jesus. So, I’m the most selfish person in the world.
Someone said, “I’m just glad you’re OK.”
What had everyone been through? Was it worth it?
Yes. Yes? I’m sure it’s fine.