We alternated mostly between sleeping and crying across the waters of the Puget Sound. Ashleighs station wagon had seats that folded down, so Jessica cleared a space for us all to lie down, to rest, to put away our anxieties during the short journey. We couldnt have pretended that everything was okay if we had tried. Bags eclipsed our happiness, dark moons that shadowed our closed eyes. Our skin was waxen, differentiated by degrees of stress and sweat. The preceding week, we had all torn through our lives, the photos, the phone lists, the flyers, desperately seeking evidence. Evidence of anything that would help. Mike was family without him, none of us would have met. True, we wouldnt have gotten in so deep: he gave us all our first pills. My downward spiral was given its first encouragements by Mike, leading me forward to take my first few steps. He was like our Godfather.
We continually collapsed into tears during the week, knees giving out from underneath us. We were not there to prevent one other from falling we were all too slow, too weak, too tired. Together, carefully, we helped each other up back into the uneasy disquiet that had become our lives, utterly devouring us with what was only yet a rumor in the community. A hairline fracture of stress had exploded within our fierce love and crackled over the transparent surface of our mutual grief. I was shattered inside, my grief a crack that would keep spreading, branching out until it had touched everything. Our search had turned up nothing. Questions of loyalty tinged the outside of our hopes for each other. How could Aaron so easily break the bond of friendship and turn over on Mike? A year as friends and roommates had apparently built nothing in Aaron but the selfishness of prolonged drug use. He had broken an inherent rule. Never turn over your friends. And now we were looking for something on Aaron it was the only way. He couldnt be considered family anymore; we had disowned his friendship or what he had called a friendship.
It left us empty, fragmented: the betrayal, the lies, the search. We had come up empty handed; our bare palms clasped only each other and tightly pressed even the void between our palms out of existence, filling it with a hope that just barely subsisted. With sickening speed, time had lurched ahead toward this day. Our discontent exhibited itself like a ghost, apparent only in the bluish, exhausted tint of our eyes.
The ferry ride was smooth, safely delivering us across to Bremerton, but the idea of where we were going, and the drugs still trickling through our blood woke us repeatedly. More so, where we dreaded Mike would be going. He was supposed to have been with us the night before; he should have been with us, dozing lightly in the sun. But instead, together, we were going to him. He would never have forgiven us if we missed this party it was supposed to be his party. A 4-20 birthday celebration that none of us would forget. The party itself wasnt the memory this time, though. Instead, it had become our shared coping mechanism for our common loss, for his loss. We all felt it tremendously.
* * *
The party was in Chehalis, and had barns for separate rooms. I remember them so hot, the ceiling sweated on us, the walls ran with tears of sadness, of delight. People dealing with people; with themselves, with each other. We danced until a brilliant band of horizontal light announced morning against the slick paved floor. Evidence of the nights events illustrated by the silted pattern on the floor. So many footprints. Discrete movements were indistinguishable we came as individuals, but dissolved into bonds of friendship, love a unified community. None of us recall who was there, or who played, only the solidarity of our little family, and the clear absence of Mike.
He should have been there to pick me up and give me a good spin, like he always did. I learned to never expect it until his hands dangled down over my shoulders in a playful threat. I was so small next to Mike, but he made me feel monumental. I had memories of parties viewed entirely from the perspective at Mikes height, jogged and jostled, with my arms, suddenly childlike, wrapped attentively around his neck. His absence was a vacuum. We tried to overwhelm our agitation, tried to stop looking over our shoulder, our arms filled with each other, but lacking a piece, we were a weakened structure. Pieces of our glass house would twinkle in the light as they fell to the earth. Our solidarity was compromised, we were fragile. We felt it at the corners of our mouths, plastic smiles melted at the corners, pulled downward into frowns of translucent emotion.
Our knowledge sat in the bottoms of our hearts like scalding, molten lead, too hot to touch under normal conditions. Letting go of ourselves, and forming a unified self one love, one family, we supported one another while these emotions expressed themselves, luminous, weightless, through our movements. The music, normally comforting to me, was a reminder that Mike wasnt here dancing with us. I danced closer and closer to the immense wall of speakers. The music that roared in my ears was an avenue, a way to overwhelm the thoughts screaming in my head. I considered what Mike was thinking, praying for, wondering at, and fearing most.
Like a gnashing, caged beast, my ideas of his thoughts ravaged my mind. I wanted to take his pain away. As a best friend, I wanted to carry his burden, carry it wrapped around my neck to the ends of the universe to dissolve like a specter. I drowned my thoughts with music, inching closer to the source of my escape. Choking on my fears, I swallowed them, a lump in my throat that could only move down to infect my heart. Louder. I danced for Mike in a radiant silence that burned my ears, a lithograph of his absence etched in my memory.
I would assume we took a lot of drugs that night: acid, ecstasy, mushrooms. Not so much for us as for him we poured our thoughts into the universe, into the music, into each other. They were a conduit, projecting to him prayers made of colors, intricate patterns whose beauty language couldnt quantify, a pure light that would reach him in his dark place. Dancing was spiritual for us, we moved together; we kept each other safe, protected each other. How else could we reach him now, who would defend him? Mentally, we huddled closer against the blistering cold of isolation. And knew that by pulling closer, we were somehow turning away from his hands, hands that held the cool, painted iron that separated us from him.
* * *
Eyes fluttered behind closed lids as shafts of light inspired dreams, nightmares. Muscular tics showed the fading signs of the nights melancholic celebration. I could feel Jessica shake slightly, a tremor of the breath transferred by the arm I had wrapped around her. Her chest had heaved her heart precariously set between clenched teeth. If she bit hard enough she could keep that feeling from escaping. She was clenching so diligently, keeping sentinel. The pressure at her jaw line, the tremor between her soft shoulder blades: Her intense burden traveled down her spine and silent, searing tears cascaded from me. I pressed my face between her shoulders, and she weaved her fingers between mine. It was a dreamscape that none of us had pictured. The icy reality of consequence was not one we had expected.
Delivering us, the ferry docked and Ashleigh drove us out to meet Mikes mom. Her face was pale, her skin olive, but bloodless, heartless she had put it away for the day. This is a box she would have to unpack later, on her own. She knew what we were up to; as his friends, we had been a part of what had gotten him in this trouble. She was distrusting, but sympathetic Mike was always getting into trouble, and just as we felt for her as his mother, she felt for us as his friends. The journey there was an empty slate we couldnt fill it with anything: music, conversation. We felt nothing but the vacuum that pulled our spirits into seclusion. The marble halls echoed our fears, assaulting us from every angle, but we put on the face Mike would have wanted to see as we sat down on the cold, hard seats. Through a blur of law speech, barely decipherable, we waited for something good. Something we wanted to hear.
Invisibly, my ears bled. Tinnitus screamed in my head and drowned out the astonishment of my friends. Tears blazed salted paths down a face full of burst capillaries, a face that knew remorse. One last time before they took him out in that orange jumpsuit, I looked at Mike, and he looked at me. And we knew that when he got out, nothing would be the same.
* * *
We sat in the stillness of the moment, breathing hushed whispers on the trip home, holding hands. Sharing embraces, sharing tears. We all knew our glass house was crashing down around us. A spectacular, tragic implosion of our hopes. For this one last time, we enveloped each other in a love that reverberated, even glittered in the light.
© 2005 by Michelle Ferris