of pall malls and catharsis

I looked at Stephen from the other side of the kitchen, listening to him confide in me every part of his existence, what made him hate himself. Bare chested, intense, he was a forlorn young man of fourteen who seldom ate. I was glad to even see him drinking, not that alcohol was nourishing.

He reminded me so much of myself that humid evening, spilling his heart out on the kitchen floor for none but me to see. He looked to me because I'd been through much of the same ordeal and from what he could see I appeared to be handling it well.. Where young love had ripped a hole in his heart, I did my best to stitch it up with encouragement, hope, some good humor, and a couple of six packs. It was the only way I knew how.

He was so melancholy, a romantic. Hopelessly so. "Lauren's like Juliet, and I'm Romeo and she doesn't even know." His eyes turned gray and he crossed his arms across his body, ice cubes clinking in his glass of stolen brandy. "One day I'm going to find her dead and blow my brains out, and then she'll wake up and make herself some scrambled eggs like nothing ever happened." He shuddered, suppressing a sob. His sleek form doubled at the waist and buckled at the knees, and he slid down the side of the counter. "Maybe nothing did happen. Maybe I'm nothing," he lamented, sipping on his brandy.

I didn't know what so say, so I did what I knew to do and threw a Pall Mall at the floor in front of him, then lit my own. He put his glass down on the floor and tossed his hair to one side, tilting his head completely back to light his cigarette. And with our first hits of that cancer, it was over.

Eventually, w retreated to the living room after downing the last of our poison and started a campaign on Halo I. The sun set on the humid day and my cell phone rang obnoxiously. It was RESTRICTED—Chris—calling to tell me he'd had sex with Ariel or he'd decided he could only love Erica. Something that would break me down. I didn't answer, and when Lauren called, Stephen ignored her. This was about him and me and taking our anger out via-Master Chief on covenant grunts. This was about lung cancer and alcohol poisoning and hemophilia and the cold stagnancy of the night air—not them.

That night was a summer ago. Over the course of a year I died with the death of Chris, and was reincarnated with the hope of Richard. I did my best to rid myself of old vices, to detoxify myself into the strait-edge life I live today. But Stephen? He became what no teenager should ever become—burnt out on life, seeking refuge in nicotine and reefer, more cold now and lifeless than even I was back then.

The Fourth of July was drawing near, a night we would spend abusing ourselves and everyone around us. This night was the calm before the storm. He and I were haunted by the ghosts of Chris and Lauren, their memories parasites on our souls; debilitating us. July 4, 2005, was the night we would lash out in violent masochism for what we'd done to ourselves.

But not that night, not yet.

Three in the morning rolled around all too quickly. My last cigarette was at seven and I was craving a fix, and a storm rumbled outside with all the fury of the heavens. I sent Stephen down to the basement for a couple of YeungLingh beers and looked outside to see that the tarp covering the patio had blown over. Lightening ripped chasms into the night sky with ferocity. There was no way we were going farther than the porch, and even then, the cold rain was blowing with the occasional gust of wind dampening us from the waist down.

I'm not sure weather it was the feeling of cold desperation or the influence of the beer that persuaded us to lay flat on our backs in the torrential downpour. But for whatever reason there we were, side by side, laughing about nothing and marveling at the way the lightening lit up the yard around us like some otherworldly being was messing with the light switch.

Finally, he turned to me with a serious tone. "Chris… even though he does so much to you… how do you love him?" Alcohol had severely limited his usual vocabulary and ability to articulate. He spoke slowly, carefully, trying not to slur his words.

I thought about it. I'd known and loved Chris since I was thirteen, and at fifteen I was still holding on to the last little bit of hope I had for our relationship to survive after a year of estrangement. I shuddered, half from the cold and half from a vein attempt to suppress a sob. I said something in reply, something I can't remember and I'm still not sure I was even aware of at the time.

In the middle of my sentence a single flash of lightening ripped through the empty void of the night sky and struck a tree not fifty yards away splitting its trunk down the middle, jarring loose a few dead limbs which crashed to the ground. My back tingled from the conduction of a weak electric current through the water-soaked grass. Stephen shot strait up where he lay and stared in amazement at the tree. His dad ran outside to see the damage having heard the tree split, saw us, and quickly rushed us inside so we wouldn't catch cold or get injured in the storm.

These events transpired so quickly that it left me dazed and confused enough to not even care when my uncle laid into us about safety and how reckless we were. Stephen hunched down by the counter and lost consciousness to his stupor mid-lecture, and with an exasperated sigh my uncle retired to his room promising me we'd talk about this later because he had to work in two hours.

I sat in the living room for hours, days, weeks, years—or maybe for a few minutes—and mulled my life over in my head, a topic that was becoming increasingly pointless to analyze. With the rising of the sun, the storm died down and I lit a cigarette on the stoop of the front porch, smoked it to the filter, and laid back to listen to the birds until sleep took me.

-

author's note

A year later I still sit up in my room and analyze myself from time to time. Lauren and Stephen finally dated and went their separate ways like I knew they would. As for Chris and I, he was involved in a car accident August 15, 2005, and lost the use of his body from the chest down. We dated for a few months thereafter, but that last hope I'd held onto for nearly two years finally died just short of my sixteenth birthday. Though he still lives on, he drifts from the hospital back to his broken home like a ghost, thus I have accepted his fate as dying that day by the side of the road. I've withheld a small glimmer of hope for myself and for Stephen, but with each passing day I feel as though my little cousin is slipping through my fingers and into a self-perpetuated hell he's created for himself. As for me, I'm trying to move on with my life, but I'd still do anything to go back to those reckless weeks I spent with Stephen just one more time. Maybe to try to fix things, or maybe just to relive that feeling of reckless abandon.