The days are made of light: bright and dark, black and white, blue and yellow. Days roll into days, a luxury that allows me to wander at will, along a cliff, often among the cracks and tiny caves of the hillside. At night, the wind snakes over the cliff and twists itself around the house in a reassuring embrace. The ocean wind is king, it owns the land and it is relentless. It smothers all talk. And when I no longer can hear his voice or feel his presence, I write. I don't know for whom. I don't care who reads any of this. It's a strange feeling to write for no one. All of my life, my reluctant professional life, the market, the audience appeared first and waited for me to fit the words to their desires. Now I write to capture images, to bring into focus events and memories that, once down on paper, exist without the need to be read. It is only the present that exists and the past that shadows it.
When the wind is particularly high, the nights roll into nights. It's been that way for the past week: no other sounds. Inside its embrace, underneath its blanket, I can write about him. Alec! I hear his name exactly the way it sounded when he first told it to me — angular, clean, thoroughly self-defined — as he is, as he was when he leaned toward me with an intimate smile on his face. I've never been able to reproduce that smile, that mask. It hangs on the wall of my memory like a coat of arms.
We were standing in one of the last good taverns left in San Francisco — a large, dimly-lit, disconnected place with a long, friendly wood bar. Outside, the Hollywood-set of hills and bay and sun remained unchanged. But the decor and faces no longer reflected the city I first came to explore and couldn't leave. Even in its smug days, when the city tailed its kite with the flag, "world class," it managed an ancient ether: deep colors and textures that penetrated its provincial and myopic view of the world. Now, except for a few hideaways like this and some soon-to-be-forgotten alleys, the city had become an image, just a piece of film you could rewind and watch over and over again.
I drifted into the bar occasionally to escape the noise, or the "deafening lack of nostalgia," as Alec called it. That was one of the immediate connections we found in each other. We both migrated to San Francisco around the same time, and we both lamented the loss of flavor, of artifacts and icons that first attracted us to the city. But the similarity ends quickly. I lament, I feel sad. Alec shakes sadness off like drops of sweat that are meant to dry and cool the memory.
We drank and talked for hours that first night. I was surprised and pleased how easy it was to begin a friendship with a man who was obviously satisfied with himself, aggressively expressive, commanding in his professional success and apparent wealth. He was no more attractive-looking than me — the same build, the same shadowed features, the same age. But inside, he was wound tight, like the coils of an electric motor. And his energy was focused, directed in a steady beam at whatever he came into contact with. He could magnetize any one. I couldn't. He could spin himself in circles around any one until that person was dizzy and defenseless. My god I had always wanted to do that, desperately wanted to do that, to be free of having to hold people face to face in order to believe that they were hearing me, listening to me.
We talked for hours, both of us, and I remember thinking, some months later, how fascinating it was that on that first night, not once, not for the flash of a moment did I ever sense an innuendo, any intimation from his physical way of communicating.
Alec touches, caresses any one who responds to him, who feels his nearness and warmth. Yet there was no tension in me, no sexual overtones or undertones or inferences in his sensuality. He intended none, nor did I. What did we talk about that night? I can't remember, it's buried in the later stream of conversations, in the flood of words he deposited into my mind. We talked — and it affected me for days, it blurred my inner voice.
I saw him a few times in the next weeks late at night when I convinced myself that I needed a sentimental drink in that sedimental tavern. Each time, the smile, the touch, the generous acceptance, but nothing more. He was always in a hurry, and after a few minutes of banter he would rush out. He was always dressed corporate with expensive, conservative clothes. It was unusual only in that it was so late at night. And each time, he paused for a moment just before he left, glanced at me and nodded. It stunned me in a small way as if a tiny bell had rung in my ear. I should have let that bell ring until it became an alarm, until it jarred me awake, until I asked myself why I became distracted every time I saw his face, every time he looked at me. Instead, I dwelled on my life-long compulsion for odd phenomena, a pursuit of voyeuristic trivia. I mulled and pondered the intricate question of where he was going, costumed for a business meeting, after midnight. I never found out, even though I know more about him now than he ever knew about himself. Fool — I refused, once again, to look into my own mirror, a life-long pursuit of everything but myself.
"Distraction seems to be what we are all about," a long-gone good friend of mine once remarked.
It must be true: We are a species of creatures that enter the world shelled, non-sentient, unaware of anything but the urge for pleasure and its propagandized gift of comfort. When the shell dissolves, each of us, as a young human, is shocked, stunned, shook. We tremble in the clarity of our own self-image. We become dazed with the knowledge of who we are and where we are and what it is we are doing. Then it strikes, a tremor from deep in the mind's mountain, a vision of the end. It ends, this life ends. The thought, the sensation chokes us. We struggle to break away from it, to breathe free. It flows back again, smothering us. An endless loop, a sense of futility that becomes a wind as solid as a wall. So we put our heads down and launch ourselves like small, migrating birds, furiously flapping our wings, sometimes in great glassy-eyed flocks, often alone, eventually alone, until we drop — dead. It ends. It is distraction that keeps us flying, the candies of religion that we shove into our mouths, the herd-grown palliatives that we stuff up our nose, the finger-paints that we smear across our eyes and into our ears. What are the questions? How? What? Where? When? Anything to keep us from lifting our heads and looking into the face of Medusa, rendering into stone the only reality, the only question: Why? It is the distraction that keeps us flying, and I was one of the great experts in pursuing thought-numbing distraction.
In the last days of his life, my long-gone friend uncovered a provocative revelation, one that for a moment soothed his fear. His age-stricken body was already decayed beyond repair though his sense of humor remained intact. He joked his doctors into prescribing a tonic that kept young memories alive: a very dry martini, in fact, two, every day before dinner. The first skidded through his narrow arteries and harangued his tired heart into pumping a little extra blood. It flooded him with unaccustomed warmth, and he sang, "I'm dropping my pants to the world," as he sat back in a muddle of giggles and tears. The second seemed to completely bypass his coronary system and in an astonishing bit of alchemy the alcohol generated a temporary cavalry of disciplined neurons — he became clear-headed and articulate. He proclaimed: "I've been this close to knowing the purpose of it all, the answer to the only question that matters, 'Why?'. This close. And I want to live until I've got it in my hand, in my mind. But I won't."
He began to cry and after a moment he smiled, his face red and small and wet. "You know," he whispered, "I'm going to live forever, in the memories of other people. That's right, that's how I'm going to live."
Is that true? Do we exist as long as someone remembers us?
If it is, then Alec is an assassin, a cold, self-invented killer of other people's immortality. He has the unwavering ability, sharpened like a razor's edge, to slice someone out of his life, out of his awareness, to quickly and completely cut out every trace of that person from his memory: dead, no longer exists, never existed! I know. Because I am... his memory.