• George Brown


Updated: May 5

When they find me, they’ll think this was premeditated. How could they not? No one sneaks off from his own birthday party his friends hosted for him into the bathroom to swallow enough Percocet and Klonopin to kill himself three times over. When they find me, they’ll be angry. They’ll think it was a slap in the face. Annie especially. To do this in her house? In her bathroom? To leave with no warning, with no note, with nothing but an empty pill bottle, the label long since ripped off, sitting neatly on the faucet counter with the lid screwed back on. When they find me, they’ll be confused. The young well-to-do man, on the fast track to corporate success at his first gig right out of college. Exuberant, passionate, full of “spunk,” lying dead on the bathroom floor of his very own workplace sweetheart. A young man who seemed to have everything going for him, a career railroaded straight to the top, a seemingly “well-adjusted” mindset, and an almost cinematic office romance that suggested something like love. When they find me, that’s how most of them will remember me.

I turn the shower on to drown out the muffled kick of 808 drums from the speakers and the non-specific shouts and slurs that come after about the third hour of heavy drinking. I strip out of my clothes and the tacky dollar store “birthday boy” hat and sit on the floor of the shower with my legs curled up to my chest. If you’re looking to maximize the numbness and detachment from your substance of choice, here’s what’s always worked for me: run the water hot, sit on the shower floor, close your eyes and curl up fetal. Float in prenatal repose and wait for the drugs to kick in.

Some of them might have had a clue for a while. An inkling of a suspicion tucked in their subconscious that they refused to recognize. The smarter ones might figure that I was probably just too weak to beat this thing. And they’ll get that part right. Joey sure will. He’s got a cousin who was hooked on

H for five years, and now he’s been clean twice as long. If he could stop sticking a needle in his arm, there’s no reason I couldn’t stop throwing pills down my throat. They’ll think I gave up, and in a way I guess that’s the truth. It’s giving up in the same way a soldier puts a gun to his head rather than being captured, he’s already lost, it’s just a matter of how he’s going to end the game.

Clean Percocet always starts from the neck. The first wave of warmth feels like a tickle, and sometimes makes you writhe, more so with anticipation than pleasure. Clean Percocet makes you itch and sweat, and hot showers don’t do any favors. But stepping out and lying on the tile floor does just the trick. Clean Percocet does its job, and so does Klonopin. Fatal depression of the central nervous system; of all the ways drug abuse can do a person in, it’s one of the more merciful.

Here’s something nobody knows about dying, when you’re close you start attributing meaning to all sorts of trivial things. Everybody’s religious at the end, even if it’s in a superstitious sort of way. You start taking notes of all your lasts: your last shower, the last outfit you’ll ever wear, shit like that. You look around at your surroundings, trying to extract some sort of meaning or significance out of them, some final lesson to be learned.

The hard ceramic tile, the manic patter of water droplets hitting the shower floor, surely now long devoid of any heat. More 808s from the boombox, softer, fainter now than before. The laughter had subsided, replaced by fatigued groaning and the crunching of cans into overflowing trash bags. The clank of ceramic against the stainless steel sink. Tabby insists on doing the dishes after every house party, there’s always a big fuss over it.

I need you to pay attention now, because there’s not much time. CNS depression sneaks up on you quick, you think all those poor blue-faced souls in the projects would’ve rolled over into their beds if they could feel what was happening to them? So I need you to listen close, however it is you’re hearing this, because I’m going to go ahead and tell you how this story ends. Tabby, in her vodka-induced stupor, stumbles over to Layla and complains that she’s got no hot water, and that’s when Layla hears for the first time all night the faint rumbling of the water running through the pipes in the walls. Almost cinematic, isn’t it? If it wasn’t so awful. That poor girl had the sight of me slinking off into the bathroom in the back of her head throughout the whole party, but was too kind and timid to come check on me, to draw attention to and maybe embarrass me. At least, that’s how I hope it went down. I’m lying on the bathroom tile, slowly losing the ability to breathe remember? I have absolutely no clue what it feels like to be in her head any more than she knows what it’s been like to be in mine. And with the night winding down, and everyone’s attention wandering to either dark and more sentimental topics or to the front door, Layla slips away to check on me, and Tabby, with a sudden look of realization on her face, runs after her through Layla’s bedroom and into her bathroom where Layla’s frantically knocking on the hollow wooden door and calling my name with equal parts concern and hopeful inquisitivity. Then her knocks turn to raps turn to bangs and her voice fills with suggestive cracks and squeals as premonitions flash through her head. Then Tabby’s boyfriend, Trevor, rushes in and repeatedly rams his shoulder into the door with a vain, but well intentioned, sense of urgency, and he breaks through the flimsy carpentry and reaches a bloody arm through and turns the brass doorknob and...well, you can’t expect me to know what happens after that? But what happens after that, that’s not important. It’s what happens right before that, right before Trevor steps into Layla’s bedroom and drops what would turn out to be the last alcoholic beverage of his life, a brown bottled Miller almost down to the swill, but just enough to leave a stain on Layla’s carpet in just the right spot that, no matter where she rearranged her bed, either the battered bathroom door or the light brown beer stain would always be in view.

I’m not selling you this sense of urgency for my sake, I’m dead as a doornail, buddy. I’ve got nothing but time for endless digressions. No, this is for your sake: living, breathing, blood pumping through your flesh. What do you think of the whole, “life flashing before your eyes” cliché? Because I’ll tell you the last thing I ever learned before I died that scared the everloving shit out of me. Your life doesn’t flash before your eyes, there’s no film reel, no shining light or loving embrace other than the empty one from whatever opiates you might have put in your body before getting to this point. You probably could have guessed that much though. No, there’s no highlight reel, but you do get memories. A few of them. Your childhood cat curled up in your crib, tail batting against your face. Being called down to the principal's office where your mother sits with the look of pure fed-upness that only mothers can experience, a snotty-nosed little boy with dirt streaks on his cheek and his clothes, an uncomfortable but still assuring hand of his father on his shoulder, standing behind him with an oddly effeminate posture, a pot belly hanging out of his salmon dress shirt, tucked into his Walmart bought khakis, even though he worked from home it turned out. The guy generally looking like just as much, if not more of a pushover than his son. And you glare at the father and think to yourself, with all the world weary certainty that third graders possess, that this guy’s wife had left him because he was gay. Not meeting until later, after death, his wife who’d actually succumbed to throat cancer the summer before, which the oncologist had diagnosed as early stage two, and therefore very much manageable, and she’d of course communicated this to her son, that it was nothing serious, mommy was pretty sick but the doctors were gonna fix her up, although it might take a while and she might look different and things will be a little tough in the meantime. But of course, you know where this story is going: mommy lost some weight, then some hair, then some more weight, then the rest of her hair, and dad had to learn how to feed their chihuahua and walk her during the middle of the workday, and eventually he was able to convince his good-hearted boss to let him work from home temporarily, because he was just sitting at a computer in a cubicle all day anyway. And so then he was able to walk Sierra and have time to bring McDonald’s to his son and eat with him at lunch, since he’d started sitting alone, and the dad would even bring lunch for a couple of his son’s friends, until a bunch of the other boys in the class caught wind and started sitting with him, acting best buds, hoping to score a Big Mac that they’d only ever take a couple of bites out of. And for a couple days, Ben Witherspoon was the most popular kid in school, until the fights broke out over who his real friends were, and it became such an issue for the teacher assistants who walked the kids to and from lunch that the principal had to step in and tell the kid and his dad if they wanted to eat together they could do it in the teacher lunch room, and of course the poor boy dropped right back down to being one of the least liked kids in school, and he’d sit in the teacher break room table across from his father, stern and silently starting at his Big Mac with a tiny bite in it, the father in an unconscious display of stress rubbing his hand along his deeply receded hairline that he made a halfhearted effort to comb forward because the alternative, if he shaved it off, is the poor baby-faced fella would look like a thumb.

And they’d sit in silence until the father would ask a meek and inoffensive question and Ben would spew venom with the accuracy and disregard only kids have, and storm off with his superhero book that the dad had bought from the hospital gift shop, but given to his wife to give as a gift, from her to her son. And Ben Witherspoon would storm off back to his old table in the cafeteria that had been commandeered by some pretty girls from the grade above, but Ben would sit down and bury his head into his book even as the girls would whisper not so quietly, wondering where he’d come from and what he was doing there. And when they’d ask he’d say, “This is my seat” and go back to his book. And the girls would make a show of mocking him, crossing their arms and in a hyperbolic voice going “This is my seat!” One of the girls saying, “Hey Ben, wanna be my boyfriend? You can come sit next to me?” Followed by an “Oh wait, that’s your seat.”

So the father and son lunches stopped, and Ben got bounced around cafeteria tables like a ping pong ball, up until the day Ben’s dad came to check him out, and Ben was out of school for two weeks, and the TAs let him sit at their table the rest of the year. Yeah, you don’t need me to tell you what happened after he met his dad in the lobby and heard they were going to the hospital. I’ll spare you any more details, but here’s the sad irony: that entire time, Ben’s father had his own polyps inside his stomach that wouldn’t be caught until they were stage 4. The point being that Ben’s father and I are going to have a hell of a laugh once I die and are outside time about how just juvenile, naive, and completely off the mark my first impression of him was, and more importantly how ridiculous it was that this is what I’m choosing to think about in my last moments.

That’s right. Ben Witherspoon. I’m down to my last few hundred seconds and all I’m getting are flashes of Ben fucking Witherspoon. A reject throughout public school, no mom, and then no dad. Ben Witherspoon had a hell of a rough time inside, almost certainly far worse than mine. I have people who love me and care for me, and all the suffering I’ve ever endured has been self-afflicted. Yeah, it all sounds cliché and nausea-inducing, doesn’t it? Another well-to-do privileged son-of-a-bitch who couldn’t reconcile with his faults and ends up killing himself, whining about how he doesn’t know how to love. Trust me, I hate the scene just as much as you do, but clichés are clichés for a reason, there’s something universally human hidden inside them, and apparently, I’m a poster-child for this particular cliché.

This is what Mr. Witherspoon and I are going to be laughing about, or have been laughing about if you really want to get down to how time breaks down after you die. The absurdity of spending your last few moments reliving haunted memories from elementary school and regretting snap judgments you made before you were ten, and then agonizing about how you’re wasting your last few precious moments, which in turn wastes even more precious moments.

It would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic. And all the answers as to why I’m like this are locked up here, in this weak and fading brain of mine. Locked up along with twenty-four years of images and I only get one, maybe two more to relive. But here’s the hard part, the one part you didn’t want to hear: you have to choose too, and not just someday; the clock’s already started. We’re right here at the end now, they’re pounding at the door. You knew how long this was. So what’s it gonna be?

George Brown

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