Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Noose

It was this weekend four years ago; I was home in Milwaukee, staying with my parents over the Easter holiday. Spring and Easter breaks were always my favorite, usually coinciding with the weather turning for the better, they were the signal that the school year was, at last, coming to an end. I could taste summer vacation as I spent the long weekend hanging out with my high school friends. The perfect recharge before the stress of the end of the term and finals began.

Most of the weekend was spend with my two closest friends. I hadn’t seen them since my last trip home over Christmas, so they were excited I was home. Excited enough that one of them had decided to buy a half ounce of mushrooms for us to take in the creepy barn behind his house on the south side of the city the night before I left. I hadn’t eaten mushrooms since being dosed in Cincinnati the year before, I had tripped on other drugs since then, but never mushrooms. I was scared that my night might end up like the one the year before had, but I was in my hometown in the company of my best friends.

“What could possibly go wrong,” I figured.

I don’t remember much of the trip and if I did it wouldn’t make any sense for me to explain it to you. You either know what I’m talking about or you don’t, it’s that simple. We talked circles around each other, the light of the lantern casting eerie shadows throughout the barn filled with the product of years of spring lawn sale hunting. Being surrounded with the knickknacks and oddities from decades of his father’s packrat tendencies made the barn the ideal place to sit in near darkness and debate the fate of the world while tripping your face off. We sat up there for hours, shouting like madmen and scribbling the secrets of our enlightenment on little scraps of paper to read when we were sane again. I was still tripping when I looked at my watch and realized it was sometime after one in the morning. I had a six hour drive the next morning and the incredibly difficult task of falling asleep on mushrooms to deal with so I said my goodbyes and climbed the ladder down to the driveway.

I remember it being very blue that evening and the sensation which ran through my body when I sat down in my cold car and pulled down the driveway. The streets were empty; I decided to take the long way and give myself some time to straighten out before going home. I don’t remember much of the car ride except when a fox ran across the road in front of me, forcing me to slam on the breaks and come to a jarring stop in the road. I sat there for a second, watching it run off into the park before I decided it wasn’t a good idea to be parked in the middle of the street.

The rest of the drive home I couldn’t stop thinking about how strange it was seeing that fox, it had to be a sign or something. I had never seen a fox outside of a zoo in my life. I couldn’t quit thinking that it meant something.

It was a few minutes past one thirty in the morning when I caught the red light at the corner of 124th St. and National Ave. Nothing was any different than the hundreds of times I had caught this light, only 24 blocks from home. The after hours lights from the Speedway on the corner cast a faint glow on the intersection. I noticed a brightly dressed man in a t-shirt and running shorts on the other side of the street, in my state it took a moment for my eyes to focus on him.

“Who the fuck jogs at one thirty in the morning?”

The situation was growing odder by the second as the man slowed from his jog and began to stumble back and forth on the corner.

“Is he fucking drunk?”

The light turned green and I pulled forward slowly, getting halfway through the intersection before I saw him collapse on the corner to my right. At this point I had no idea what was happening, was it a joke? Some kind of prank? A junkie? When he didn’t get up I thought for a second and pulled my car into the Speedway parking lot. I got out and headed across the lot. My head was spinning as I jumped up onto the retaining wall and across the lawn to where he lay on the sidewalk.

I can’t remember if his eyes were open or not but I can recall his face with absolute clarity. I never found out if it was him or the drugs in my system, but he did not look human. He wasn’t responding to my shouting and when I started shaking him he didn’t move. I remember the shades of black on his face, it was contorted and it looked like a cheap Halloween mask. The skin was wrinkled and blotchy with spots of red, painting a terrifying contrast amongst the black streaks. He was making sounds that I cannot bring myself to think about, let alone describe, to this day. His breath was heavy and his chest was heaving.

He did not look human.

I had been standing there for a good thirty seconds before it struck me. He was dying.

I was in shock instantly, the mushrooms made each movement seem as though it happened underwater. I managed to get my phone out and dialed 911, fighting the trip as my eyes went in and out of focus. I walked in tight circles as I spoke to the dispatcher. My words came out slowly and deliberately:

“There is a man dying on the corner of 124th and National.”

I hung up the phone and stood there, staring at his face, the image searing itself into my brain. I had no idea what to do, I stood there and watched. There was no one in the gas station and the street was deserted, not a soul on that block but the two of us. It was the most intimate moment of my life but also the most terrifying. I have never felt as helpless as I did that night watching that man die.

Five minutes passed before I heard the faint sirens growing closer. He had stopped moving two minutes prior. Tears ran down my face but I was not crying. The realization of what had happened hit me so hard that I was in complete shock. The sirens grew louder and louder and I slowly began to grow paranoid, wondering if I would be found out. The cop walked me over to me as I sat down on the retaining wall, trying to tell him what happened. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the stretcher going into the back of the ambulance, the white sheet drawn over his face.

I lay down in my bed that night but I did not sleep…I didn’t sleep for a while after that.

This is the noose.

The noose is no longer a physical object of death robbing the life from my lungs. It is something different. I bear events like this on my conscience and few days pass that one does not come to mind. I’ve been thinking about this one lately as it happened this coming weekend. I realize that four years later I still feel like I didn’t do everything in my power to keep him from dying at my feet on that cool night. I am well aware that it is completely ridiculous to blame myself for that man’s death, but I can’t help thinking that if I wouldn’t have been tripping I would have been quicker or I could have given him CPR or something. Maybe I could have done something; maybe I could have been more comfort to him as he died.

I don’t know.

I never knew his name and I never knew what killed him, but what I do know is that I carry his life on my conscience. It is part of the noose that chokes me back to the ground whenever I get back on my feet, forever serving to remind me of the past. Whether it be justified or not, I have often felt it was my fault that I couldn’t save him. If only I was faster, smarter, stronger.

If only I was……if only.

I can’t live with the grip of that noose around my throat. This guilt I have chosen to bear will eventually drag me into the undertow. It has to be let go. I will never forget it, but in order to function I must learn to give this memory and the others like it their leave. I have carried these weights for too long, they must be let go. I just have no idea how. Where does one begin?

Where do I begin?

As I get older the noose gets tighter, more guilt joins the rest. Unless I learn to let these burdens go will kill me. My own mind is the most dangerous weapon, more dangerous than any bullet, rope, pills or cliff.

If I let it, it will kill me.

So glad to see you have overcome them
Completely silent now
With heaven's help
You cast your demons out

And not to pull your halo down
Around your neck and tug you off your cloud
But I'm more than just a little curious
How you're planning to go about making your amends
To the dead

Recall the deeds as if
They're all someone else's atrocious stories
Now you stand reborn before us all
So glad to see you well

And not to pull your halo down
Around your neck and tug you to the ground
But I'm more than just a little curious
How you're planning to go about making your amends
To the dead

With your halo slipping down
Your halo slipping
Your halo slipping down

With your halo slipping down
Your halo slipping
Your halo slipping down

Your halo slipping down to choke you now

"The Noose" A Perfect Circle

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