Why would he sit there?
Look at him, sitting on a rock.
Sitting on a rock beside the lake, he stares into the center of the lake where the moon is a perfect sphere glowing like a dentist’s lamp.
It glows for his eyes.
He is alone.
The others are sleeping.
Most of them are sleeping, one of them is crying.
The crying man deprives his friend of sleep, as his friend listens from a neighboring tent to sounds that he first mistakes for a rodent in distress.
But please don’t pay attention to the crying man.
He is unimportant, for now.
Instead, look at the man sitting on a rock by the lake.
He stares and he thinks, blind as he thinks and void of thought as he perceives.
It is impossible to think and look at the same time.
His eyelids shut, lightly though, so that the moon-lamp glow brushes their insides the color of summer fruit.
Now his imagination has room to grow.
One thought weaves into another and together the thoughts move without seams, pulled in a line beautifully, as if hitched to a single string and tugged across his mind.
He thinks and he sacrifices.
What does he sacrifice?
If you asked him, What do you sacrifice? he would respond, Everything.
All the things that can be sacrificed in life, he’d say, I have sacrificed.
You reading this.
You are imagining this man sitting on a rock by the lake, and to you he looks a certain way, which is different than how he looks to me, which is different than how he truly looks, but, in any case, we have our judgments.
We see him and we judge.
Maybe, to you, he is overweight.
Maybe that six hundred dollar dress shirt he’s wearing is ill-suited for camping, you imagine.
Maybe, you think, he’s not quite middle-aged, not yet, but he’s getting there—god, he’s awfully close.
Maybe there’s something about him, as subtle as a whisper, that tells of loneliness, not just now, but always.
Maybe this is why, you think, he’s sitting on a rock by a lake.
Maybe this is why he loses sleep.
You wonder why he’s not asleep like the rest of his friends.
Maybe you see him move; is that his body wavering, forward and back?
You wonder: Does he look like a man who drinks?
Do men who drink look a certain way?
Possibly; in any case, he looks a certain way.
So now you perceive him differently, not with empathy, but with a special kind of contempt reserved for people who behave in manners you yourself wish you could behave in.
You wonder what it is about drinking that makes it such a bad thing to do.
It is discussed and written about ad nauseum.
Any narrative seeking gravitas: [insert drinking here].
Why is this something everyone wants to talk about?
Our fathers drink.
Our mothers drink because of our fathers.
Our siblings drink because they learn about our mothers and fathers drinking.
Our friends stop drinking and demand we stop as well.
The television drinks, and the people on the television who look like nothing bad has ever happened to them—they drink.
Except they do it poorly and give it a bad name because they run their cars into the sides of buildings, trash hotel rooms, start six different families, and end up wet and shriveled in random corners, like swamp-soaked socks.
But you don’t drink.
You don’t drink, really.
You don’t really drink until you drink alone.
And then you realize what a drink is.
Why did it take me thirty-seven years, you’ll ask, to discover this incredible gift?
“…incredible,” said the man sitting on the rock by the lake.
He spoke to himself, his chin tilted up toward the moon, air turning to vapor as it left his lips.
The bones in his right hand trembled.
He held a bottle of amber liquor to the moon.
Confusion had set in.
Sixty-five percent of his memory was sure that he’d urinated into the liquor bottle as a prank.
But the liquid inside the bottle was the color of perfect scotch, and the bottle contained the heft of perfect scotch, and he could not discern from the smell (he put his nose to the top of the bottle and inhaled the way people do on the summits of mountains) whether the liquid was urine or alcohol or safe or poisonous or just what.
The prank (if there was one) had been intended for the man now crying in his tent.
An hour before the prank was to be conducted, the man (who is now crying, but was not crying then) received a phone call on his emergency line.
His son’s voice came through.
is all it said.
The phone cut out.
An hour’s time and much anxiety and deliberation proved the call was about the soon-to-be-crying man’s sister, who was babysitting the soon-to-be-crying man’s son, and who was apparently, ‘lying there with her hand across her belly and her tongue out and swollen like a blue slug and her skin cold like frozen grapes.’
This was about all the information retrievable from the young boy, whose psyche was now fractured like the sidewalks in his neighborhood, which had been ripped apart by the roots of trees and splintered by subterranean forces that elsewhere on the coast had swallowed entire cities and burped up debris.
A sign now dropped over the boy’s head, a sign that read IRREDEEMABLE, covering up the previous sign that read something like POTENTIAL.
It’s cheap for me to tell you that he will kill himself.
The boy will.
But you already knew that.
As soon as you read the word:
you imagined instantly this boy at twenty-three years old, the nails on his hands and feet painted purple, his purple-painted toes swinging from side to side, almost soothingly, as his body suspends from the center rafter of the garage.
Why were his nails painted purple?
In any case, they weren’t freshly painted.
Filaments of purple nail polish speckled a white note the boy wrote for his father—he’d scraped the filaments off of his fingers as his body filled with nervous energy, which he did not know what to do with.
You pictured the note he left his father.
The note contained two words, one of which was his (the boy’s) first name.
And then you wondered, naturally, where he’d left this note.
Where do people leave death notes? you asked.
You considered the risk (as did I) of the father not finding the note, and then of the note becoming an artifact, language detached from its curator, listless, fated to outlive (certainly its maker) but also its intended receiver.
There it is, the note, breeze-blown into some forgotten corner of the garage, tucked in the crevice beneath a water heater, shielded from the eventual leak that will spring from the copper pipes, preserved in near perfection except that the iridescent white of the paper dulls to a yellow the color of American dust.
And there it remains for nearly two hundred years, until the house is torn down, the water heater removed to be discarded, the note still clinging to its bottom as if fighting all these years for the abandoned life of its curator.
And in its desperation it is carried off to a wasteland of metal instruments in a large flat muddy ground, where still the metal of the water heater protects it from rain and mist and other elements, and they lie there together and witness in dull fascination one unsuspecting day as the sky blazes a hundred magnificent shades of red, and fire consumes everything.
But alas he could not decide where to place the note to assure his father would find it, or if he should leave a note at all.
In this daze of indecision, he climbed the chair and slipped his neck through the looped rope.
He just wanted to be over and done with it.
He was still holding in his hand that small paper.
Unaware that he was holding the paper, he kicked away the chair and allowed his body to drop.
You and I are sharing this image—a young man dangling by the neck, choking blue.
His legs kick wildly, and from his throat issues sounds as if trying to expel something lodged there, but in fact (as we both know) he’s trying to take something in.
Let us consider for a moment why we are picturing this young man dangling from the ceiling.
Do we want to picture him this way?
Or do we not have a choice?
What I mean is, does the vision fall on us like bad weather?
And, if so, what are we thinking as we imagine him?
If we are to imagine his death (as we must), and if we can’t look away (we cannot), then we must at least gain something from the experience, turn fruitful his suffering.
Imagine this young man in his disaster:
To be fair to him we must assume his circumstances, for otherwise we will be onlookers and despicable and sick, and so we think: this young man made a decision and that decision was final.
Now he is dealing with one of life’s few irreversible (unless you factor in the chance of the miraculous—of course, [it is possible, say, that a fragment of rock dislodged from the asteroid belt could smash through the garage’s ceiling at just the precise angle to tear through the rope and send the young man’s body crashing to the ground (it is possible), as are thirteen trillion and one other things]).
But we are tasked with thinking not of what might save the young man, but what is dooming him.
The rope around his neck does not break the bones there, but it does trap blood around his brain and in reality the time from when his body drops until the time he loses consciousness is 6.22 seconds.
But we are not interested in these seconds as they appear to us (as if we were there watching him), but instead how the young man experiences them.
In the split second before he blips out a sensation rises in him, lifts him beyond the grasp of time.
Time does not freeze; he just steps outside it. And the young man’s faculties turn crystalline.
The entire hidden spectrum of things now rushes into sudden color, the air, particles, iridescent and chaotic, they smash, refract, deflect, hum and buzz, burn in neon shades of color strange and unfamiliar to him. He steps outside of himself.
Now, imagine, that you (and I) are in this garage with him, watching.
He stands beside us and watches as his body dangles like a pendulum from the rafters. Soon more duplicates of himself seep out of the dangling body until the garage is overflowing with duplicates of this young man, silent, staring. Slowly, deliberately, they begin to applaud. You and I join in as well.
An impossible number of duplicates, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of millions, crowd in the garage, with you (and me), applauding, vocalizing a single harmonic note that feels like heaven crashing to earth.
He, the young man, leans into your ear and whispers, Have you ever felt this happy? But you don’t hear him. You look to me. We applaud.
But all of this, (if it ever happens), will happen in thirteen years.
So what does this have to do with the now—the man sitting on a rock by a moon-scarred lake?
It has a great deal to do with him.
For one, the note the young man will leave will perhaps not be found by the young man’s father, but instead will be found by the man sitting on a rock by the lake, who, thirteen years from now, as his best friend, will be tasked with watching the young man as the young man’s father travels on business.
The young man requires supervision because of his tendency toward self-inflicted harm.
So the man by the lake agrees, makes assurances.
And things seem to be going fine. They’ve had a great weekend together, the young man and the man sitting by the lake—they’ve gone hiking and played Scrabble.
But the man sitting by the lake will get a headache. To fix the headache he will take a pill.
He will wash the pill down with scotch, because scotch will remain his favorite pastime, and he sees nothing wrong with downing a few drinks and watching television.
But the pill he will take (which he thinks is Norco) is in fact Ambien. The last thing he will remember before falling asleep is a sound: the thud of a heavy log dropped on wood chips.
I don’t need to tell you that the man sitting by the lake will find the note intended for the young man’s father.
You know he will.
It’s contrived, but true.
You also know he will hide the note.
And of course he will chuck the bottle of scotch in a high arc over a backyard fence and into a dead creek.
He will say he fell asleep (which is true) and that the young man was also asleep in the same room (which is false), and that there was nothing he could do, that he’d done everything, made all the right precautions—that sometimes things happen drastically out of our control.
He will say he is sorry.
All of that might happen.
Or, you imagine, he might drive away without a word to anyone, the note shoved in his pocket and the bottle of scotch banging around in his trunk as he does 115 on an empty highway, heading east, to nowhere.
But that’s all conjecture.
What we know for sure is that now he’s sitting on a rock by the lake.
The hour is late, the air dark and cold.
His shirt costs a hundred dollars per button.
A deep blue veils the sky.
The lake mirrors this shade of blue, and it mirrors the stars (what few there are) and the enormous moon, which seems to only grow in size as the night gets older.
Amber liquid, when held up to the moon, appears almost holy.
You imagine the man sitting there on the rock, holding the bottle of what may, or may not, be scotch up to the colossal moon.
The bottle glows.
Everything is incandescent.
“…have you ever felt so happy?” the man asks himself.
In the morning he will leave this place and head back to the city.
But for now he has never felt so happy.
That’s why he sits on a rock by the lake, while all the others sleep in their tents, and one of them remains awake and cries.
He tilts his chin up to the moon.
“…here’s to you,” he says.
Navid grew up in West Hills, California. Everything he writes comes from that place in one way or another. He is a senior at UCLA. Most of his time is spent either writing, or worrying about not writing enough.