BY JACOB KNABB
Do you remember the night we each dropped two hits of acid, Tulley, and climbed up Falling Run Road to the Discount Den at dusk to get a box of whippets and four 40s of Mickey’s Ice for the comedown? Shadows were breathing by the time we got back to my apt over the Papa John’s on Beechurst so we turned on all the lights and started The Downward Spiral and we laughed at how purple our faces looked lit by cheap fluorescent bulbs.
We turned the lights back off and the room was writhing, furniture silhouettes pulsated and Jarrell’s speakers were so loud we could barely hear each other over the layers of slithery vocals and synthesized drums pounding out the top of our skulls from the inside. We screamed “you’re my beautiful liar” and “nothing can stop me now cuz I just don’t care” at one another and lurched around laughing until we needed to see how much more we could erase ourselves.
We did whippets with a cracker we’d snaked from Jarrell’s closet and I swear I fucking died on the fourth or fifth one, Tulley. I saw a man in a red corduroy suit take an axe and hack a hunk of earth loose and it flew up above him and then plopped down onto his head. He fell beneath its weight and a bell dinged when he hit the ground and then I was back in the room.
You were above me, holding my balloon because I dropped it when I fished out and I loved you when you handed it back. I don’t remember how that night ended except to say we ritually dulled our minds with malt liquor and sang “doesn’t it make you feel better,” which we thought was so hilarious.
Had you been thinking of The Downward Spiral when you tried to call me the month before you died, Tulley, even though we hadn’t spoke for nearly a year? Your name appeared on my iPhone screen and I hit ‘decline call.’ That must be almost five years ago now. Maybe six the way time goes. Were you remembering that night before you slipped in the shower of another Morgantown apartment, two decades later, your blood full of hurt, long after I’d stopped messing with anything stronger than craft beer, long after you’d led two marriages deep into the forest where they abandoned you in the leaves beside the murky creekbed?
Your brown eyes were always too bright and became harder to look into as years passed until I didn’t look into them at all, didn’t answer when you’d call, didn’t want to know what old friend was waiting for me on the other end. Did you find a warm place on the bathroom floor where you bled out into the shower drain?
Did you know I visited the graveyard where you were laid to rest on the side of Corridor G three years after you died to tell you about my son? It took forever to find your grave marker in the dusk, in the masticating cricket pulses, in the wet gloam of West Virginia darkness, a cold mist falling into fog as I walked row after row after row of headstones until I stood over you.
I didn’t think of The Downward Spiral when I knelt in the damp grass and cried, but I’m thinking of it now, of how funny memory is, of how I swear you died that night too, of watching your body convulse on my putty-colored carpeting, your balloon flitting around the room a little too fast to grasp. I felt my lungs fill with liquid treble then push your name out in a flicker through my vocal cords, husky and frozen from nitrous, calling out to you, Tulley, and knowing you would never hear me.
Jacob S. Knabb is a social media and communications specialist for a large not-for-profit. In a past life he was editor-in-chief at Curbside Splendor Publishing, editor-in-chief at Another Chicago Magazine, and taught publishing and creative writing at Lake Forest College. Follow him on Instagram: @hambonehambone & twitter: @jacobsknabb.