Harley, one of my best friends over the last five years, has passed away. When I met Harley in the winter of 2009, he was a weird homeless guy who refused to wear pants, but he quickly became a part of my family.
Two years ago I began having nightmares about Harley dying. Each morning when I would wake up, I would call Harley to make sure he was okay, to make sure he was breathing and laughing and being goofy. He always answered.
About six months ago I wrote down the nightmare. I had no idea it would come true so quickly.
I called the nightmare Whiteness.
There he is.
Rolling between white walls, over the top of white squares of cold tile, his left arm hanging limply from the bed––everything so stale, so antiseptic, the smell of cleaner irritating my nose, twirling into my head.
His body writhes. White coats lean in with concern.
I shouldn’t be here.
Through a cracked door I see a bedraggled man kneeling at the side of an unresponsive woman.
Death has a smell, a cold scent of things having stopped.
I turn and search for––I see him, there, surrounded by white coats pushing him into a room.
We are watching him, they say.
I step into the room and see feet. Emerging from a stiff blanket, extending past the metal frame of the bed, bent outwards––they are too loose, too dis––
The feet shake violently.
Two white coats walk in smiling, having just shared some inside joke, some moment, both obviously inconvenienced. They push buttons on machines. Administer something into the IV. They are gone.
I hear them laughing outside the door.
Shivering with fear, I pray jumbled prayers hoping they scare death away, but all I hear is laughter, laughter.
White coats, do you understand?
I look back at his feet, at the trails of dirt trekking up his left heal, at his toenails crumbling like rocks from a mountain, falling, falling, his ankles purple, swollen. They appear detached from his feet, a separate body part.
He’s at the bottom of the sea.
Drowning, each breath a gargle, his chest rising up some ladder before falling abruptly, too abruptly––it’s not supposed to do that, is it?
White coats are back. They huddle.
What is that coming from his mouth? Saliva. No, it’s too thick, too coagulated, too––I see the pursed lips of a white coat. I see chins rubbed.
Cough. Gargle. Rise. Fall.
A laser of sunlight cuts through the hallway, splitting the white in two. The sun is never aware of my pain, always shining, falling into a kaleidoscopic explosion, so inconsiderate.
HIs jaw dangles from his head like an old ornament. Beep. Beep. Beep.
Beep––I’m laughing with him on a park bench downtown. An explosion of lines emerge from his smiling eyes as he tells me the story of how one winter he refused to wear pants. He convinced the world that pants hurt his knees. People believed. Sympathized.
We are laughing because it is all so absurd, so ridiculous. We are alive, blood in our veins––Beep.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Dangle.
You’re asleep when the shine of your cell phone illuminates the room, ring, ring, ring, your cell phone says, and the clock reads 2:35 AM, and you know––you know because none of it adds up––late night, phone call, unfamiliar number––you know, and you consider running, jumping into your car and driving in the opposite direction, away, anywhere away, down the interstate to the airport, deciding you’ll fly to another place, to another time, and you’re telling yourself the moment will disappear, somehow it will go away––
Wait, he’s going to be okay. He’s only forty two, has six children that love and miss him. He has so much time! He is strong, a manly man, and he’s teaching me to be a man, teaching me what it all means, teaching me––
He had an idea. Yes, an idea. He told me about it yesterday. He’s going to make candles from scratch, pouring wax into molds he would create from found objects on the street. Homeless candles, he was going to call them.
This will help him make money, get off the street, get his wife and kids back––the idea! Candle making! Genius!
So there’s the candle making waiting for him, and there’s no way he would leave that opportunity, leave everything that opportunity means––money, the chance to recapture the hearts of his family––so yes, he will be okay.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.
The LCD screen speaks, faster, faster, too fast, slower, slow. White coats hurry in and gather around, but I’m caught in some blur, some other dimension, so much white, so much movement.
A tear trickles down his left cheek, breaking away from a pool of water in his left eye.
No! Do something! Put those things on his chest! Jump him back to life! Stick him with something––all this medicine, these needles, this education, this money, this technology, these machines––hook him up to the machines! Are you even a doctor? This man is only forty two, and he was teaching me. Do you understand? He was going to start a candle business!
Lay hands on this man! Call the chaplain, the nuns––the beep slows, slows, slower, slower, no, no, move line! Create mountains! Create waves!
His body shakes and everything ends, and I can almost hear him floating above the hospital bed, rising above the city, the world drawn for him, up into the atmosphere, watching me as I slide into the whiteness of the hallway.