(The following is an excerpt from Heroes in the Dark in which the main character, Steven, faces death)
Let’s see what’s down here. He drove for another ten minutes. Any time he arrived at an intersection, he would choose from the three directions that which looked least familiar. This street looks cool. Brown Street. Pretty sure I’ve never been here before. The sights distracted him from his desolate state. Restaurants and coffee shops lined both sides of the street. On his left he passed an ice cream parlor. On his right he passed a music store with records in the window. The car crawled through the busy street. All around, young people frolicked under umbrellas or pretended to seriously study. Gossiping girls filled the shops. Steven watched their pretty faces go by. He passed through a final intersection and the shops began to dwindle. Finally, the road curved sharply to the left, and there was a small park in line with Brown Street. Steven pulled into the parking lot and turned his car back toward the strip so that he could look back down both rows of cafes and restaurants. He powered off his headlights but left the windshield wipers on. Between wipes, he could hear only rain and see only Brown Street.
Water splashed from the tires of every passing car. Water glazed everything. Water dripped down from his tired eyes. Occasional tears intensified into the bitterest of weeping. Sometimes tears are therapeutic or even curative, but on that night, Steven felt a little worse with every salty droplet that fell.
“This is all meaningless.”
All of it. I know now that every achievement is worthless in the face of death. It’s obvious. If my body and everything I do decays away into nothingness after a few years, why should I try? That’s not the worst of it, I think. The worst part is that there’s no connection. I can never really connect with someone else. I can only be with someone on a shallow level. I have to use words, and I can hardly even talk right most of the time. Since there can never be any true connection, then I’m totally alone in this universe. I’m stranded here inside this body. That’s exactly how I feel. Even though I want a girl so bad, I know even that won’t help. Why’s it matter anyway? No girl would ever date me.
He whistled The Minstrel Boy. The song also made him think of two movies, Black Hawk Down and The Man Who Would Be King. The latter movie was a favorite of his dad’s. Both movies prompted thoughts of adventure. I’ve always wanted to fight in a war. Maybe I want to be part of a team. I wanted to do something great, but I never will. I’ll work in an office and run through the motions until I die.
Steven ran his fingers through his greasy hair, scratching the dead cells from his scalp. The bountiful tears from his grimacing face fell like the rain outside. For the first time in his life, Steven considered suicide. No, it’s for cowards! Plus, I always figured you’d have to give up on life to kill yourself. Now, I’m not so sure. Maybe it’s the right path once you see the way. If I can never achieve anything, and if I can never connect with anyone, then this life is nothing. Extending it is stupidity. In fact, wouldn’t it be better to end it than to experience even the smallest discomfort? If there can be no lasting good, then why not stop anything bad? For me right now, well, I’m not just in a little bit of discomfort. I feel horrible. I’ve never felt this … worn down. I feel like somebody’s taking sandpaper and grinding me away. I don’t see a way out. I can’t … I can’t take it anymore.
Violent images swirled through Steven’s young gray matter—methods and tools. The neurons formed thoughts, thoughts of how to stop the thoughts. He worked through different techniques. His neck-hairs bristled at some. A few caught his interest. If the point is to end the pain, then the most painless method would be best. Tonight I’ll get in to the medicine cabinet. Between all of my parents’ pills, I’ll have plenty to kill me. I’ll take them all at once. That ought to do it. I’d better write a letter to them first. The image of his crying mother nearly dissuaded him. She’ll blame herself. Guilt billowed. That’s almost enough to stop me. I hate to think of my mom suffering, but she’ll be dead soon, too. So why does it matter? Her pain will only be temporary. Then she’ll be in the nothingness like me. Tonight’s the night. Why would I wait any longer? It’s settled, then. I end it tonight. Once more, he felt in control. I wonder …
Steven clicked open the glove box. A bottle of antidepressants, a bottle of painkillers, and a mystery bottle all rolled to the new nook in the bottom of the compartment. Steven chose the bottle of antidepressants first. He poured all eighteen pills into his hand. Next, he poured the painkillers. With a few shakes, the textured circles mixed with the smooth, two-tone cylinders. The number of circles far exceeded that of the cylinders. With a final pour of the mystery medicine, Steven completed his cocktail. He shuffled the capsules to mix in the final ingredient. His cupped hand could barely hold all of the pills.
It’s time to face the music, he thought. Tears dripped down from his face onto the pills below. He felt nothing except the power of will.
Steven filled his mouth with pills. He didn’t know whether to chew or to swallow. The capsule coatings dissolved, and he could taste the bitter flavor. All sound was rain. All feeling was humidity.
And then, something inside, something deep inside, something deep within cried out to be heard. Steven’s essence, his very soul screamed a wholehearted plea. That’s me, he thought. The thrill of life returned. I am not this body. This is only my house. I’m that voice down there. I’m that spirit. I’m that soul!
He swung open the car door and spit out the pills with all his breath. The intermittent air and passing pills created a fast pulsing sound. The drugs scattered on the concrete in all directions. He threw out the bottles to be with their contents. Steven leaned over and evacuated all of the saliva from his mouth. The cool raindrops fell on the back of his head. He returned to an upright position and closed the door. For a moment he bowed and meditated.
Steven then raised his head and looked forward down Brown Street. Splotchy fog covered the corners of the windshield, blurring the view like a vignetted photograph. The canvas of the scene had been primed a glossy black. The yellow streetlights, the neon bar signs, and the traffic lights smeared down the length of the wet street. One of the traffic lights changed from green to amber to red. Powerful and tragic red streaked across shiny, encompassing black. It’s the perfect combination. Look, there! The sight demanded his full attention. Nothing else mattered. Steven watched as the streetlights cycled. The closest would change, followed by the middle, followed by the farthest. He learned the timing and began to anticipate each turn. He marveled at the green, but waited in anticipation of the red on black. It gratified him when it came. Those two colors together—they’re stunning! The dirty windshield furthered the effect. Old wipers smeared a fine mist over the windshield such that every light source extended the full height of the glass from top to bottom. Each drop in the shimmering deluge reflected the light in quick bursts.
I need to drive through it. I need to drive through it with my eyes open. The engine turned over easily, ready for flight. Steven flicked on the headlights, illuminating the falling rain in front of him. He pulled from the parking lot and drove back down Brown. Coming the other way, Steven had noticed the pretty girls only. Now, they faded into the scene. Now, every person and object comprising his environment became important. He examined them individually without losing sight of the whole picture.
The black night is the foundation, Steven thought. And then, the rain. The rain is nearly as important as the darkness. Next, there’s the shiny pavement beneath me. As he drove, the tires made a sizzling sound on that pavement. The buildings are like a frame. They limit what you can see, but that’s a good thing. They hold my eyes’ focus down the middle and, at the same time, each is unique. Each building contributes something. This one over here is taller than that one. This one’s made of brick. The people and the cars are the movement. They’re so familiar that they’re a clutter, a little extra on the edges, but the scene wouldn’t be right without them. Steven stopped at the first stoplight, which had turned red. These are what make this street beautiful, the lights against the shiny black. The red light from the three stoplights streaked down the length of the shiny blacktop. The streetlights augmented the effect, adding their own goldenrod accents. It’s the best sight I’ve ever seen.
The stoplight changed to green and Steven regretfully rolled forward. He exited the neighborhood after a few minutes. I almost want to turn around and take a picture, but it wouldn’t be right. The camera on my phone doesn’t work well at night. That’s not really the problem, though. It wouldn’t be right even if I had an expensive camera that could take a perfect picture. A photograph, or even a video, misses something. How many of those people out walking around were seeing exactly what I was seeing? All of them, but I doubt they saw it the way that I did. Maybe one other person did, out of all them, but I’m not even sure of that. They’re probably all too caught up in the worthless nonsense that fills our lives. I only noticed because of the feeling.
The Void had shrunk, but only slightly.
No, that moment will stay a moment. It’s better that way. I’m going home.