All the Black Is Really White
There were a lot of things about him that stick out to me now but I really remember the exact moment that drove me to try to get to know Anton Ensam. For the first few weeks after I moved into my new apartment, I would go down the stairs to the back of the building to take out the trash and/or recycling and somehow I'd always catch Anton dropping off his trash and/or recycling as well. He always brought out two bags: one full of folded boxes of Count Chocula with the back-of-the-box activities all filled in and the other full of empty bottles of Red Stripe Jamaican beer. He looked to be pretty young, around my age, and as far as I knew, he had no friends or family living with him and he was always wearing one of those Russian winter hats with the big earflaps, even when he was only in his pajamas, usually covered by this long, ratty bathrobe. Needless to say, I wanted to get to know this guy.
It took me a good couple weeks of observing Anton in his routine before I actually said anything to him. I'm not sure why I talked to him the particular morning that I did. I guess I didn't want to break the cycle he seemed to be living that kept me so intrigued. And maybe it had something to do with the fact that my girlfriend Azalea had walked out of my bedroom without any intention of ever returning. I don't know. She had left on other occasions and I had too, but this new apartment was the first place I lived without her for over a year and she wasn't exactly happy about that. Regardless, when I talked to Anton, the conversation was remarkably brief and really all that I learned was his name before he hurried back inside. It seemed more like he was just surprised that anyone was talking to him at all, rather than being annoyed about it. I don't know what it was that kept me so interested in this guy. He just had this way about him; he was closed off as hell, sure, and seemed to have this eccentric streak, but he just didn't seem like he gave much of a shit. At the time, it was just so damn magnetic and I didn't want to pass something like that up.
I didn't see him again for another couple of days. I was pretty pissed off that particular Friday evening since all of my friends had decided to pull a Harry Houdini on me and become impossible to reach, so I was in the hallway outside my apartment searching my phone's library in vain for someone to call. Something about the way the names looked up at me made me feel like I was being mocked. That combined with the fact that my battery died at that moment caused me to profess loudly that the phone was a piece of shit and to chuck it into the wall, causing it to break into two neat pieces on the carpet right in front of me. A silence hung in the air for a moment before I realized that someone was staring at me from down the hall, and that someone happened to be Anton. I looked over at him.
"Little pissed off?" he asked me.
I kind of smiled and said, "Yeah…could you tell?" I stared at the remnants of the phone in front of me, thinking for a beat before asking, "Okay, like…you ever get the feeling that you're being snubbed, y'know, left out by your friends?"
Anton laughed now, a lot heartier than I expected out of him, saying, "See, that sounds like a perfect description of heaven, actually. That's really all friends are good for, you know? Pissing you off and abandoning you." This cynicism just appealed to me so much at the time. A thought occurred to me.
"Hey what're you up to, man?" I asked. His look changed and seemed awkward all of a sudden as he jabbed his thumb behind him, gesturing.
"Oh, I was gonna go check out the movies playing down at the Lagoon actually," he said, "I mean…" He stopped, thinking. "I mean…I guess I've seen everything there already, though."
"Well, you should come down to the bar with me, man," I said. He still looked uncertain, but like he was actually considering his options. "C'mon," I said almost like I was daring him.
He sighed, looked at the opposite wall for a brief moment and said, "Okay. Hold on, lemme get my boots on." He went back into his apartment, leaving his bag full of beer and ginger ale bottles next to the door.
We went down Lyndale Avenue a couple of blocks to get to the CC Club and got there at about ten or so. After saying hey to the ID-checker that I knew, we grabbed a spot at the bar near the end with the taps.
"So whattaya drink, man?" I asked him, adding, "I don't think they got Red Stripe here."
This made him laugh a bit before he said, "Well honestly, if it fucks me up, that's good enough, y'know?" I nodded, laughing.
"For sure." I ordered us a pitcher of Summit before asking, "So what do you do? Like for a living?" The bartender plunked the pitcher and two glasses in front of us, so I started filling them up. "You still go to school or something?" I asked.
"Nah," he replied, "graduated from Madison about three years ago. Kinda moved around the Midwest for a while before I ended up back here."
"You from here?"
"Sadly yeah." He smiled, more to himself.
"Cool, man." I finished pouring the glasses and gave him his. "So where you working, anyway? Using your major?"
Anton let out a loud "ha!" before taking a swig. "Well I majored in cultural studies and filmmaking so naturally I'm working at a shipping warehouse."
"Hey man, don't worry about it. I get to work in the bullshit development office for the University here, so my psychology major is getting put to excellent use. Doesn't matter; I kinda bullshitted my way through school, you know?" I paused before asking, "So what made you move around, anyway?"
"Well I guess I tend to move a lot," Anton replied, "I usually get to a place and after some time goes by, the hangover that is life sinks in and I usually have to go."
Amused by this, sipping my pint, I said, "'Hangover that is life.' Whattaya mean, though?"
Anton shrugged. "Well, wouldn't you say that a hangover is a reminder that things that were so great the night before came at the price of having horrible gut rot the next day? Life is a hangover, man."
I smiled, processing this. "Yeah I get that…I really do. I'll have to use that." I paused then said, "That's kinda what happened with me and this girl I was dating. She just realized that I wasn't worth spending her time with anymore or something. I dunno. The hangover of life set in for her, I guess." Anton nodded, taking a quick gulp of Summit. I continued, "I dunno…that and shit with my friends not being around or whatever…you know how they're supposed to be there for you when that kinda shit happens? They always seem to suddenly disappear when you need them most." I shrugged, taking a sip of beer, kind of laughing to myself. "Basically took it out on my phone, as you saw. I think I need a hiatus from them or something."
"Honestly, that's kind of why I came out here tonight," he said, smiling. "Anyone with random violent tendencies like that has to be cool."
I chuckled at this and replied, "Well, cheers to that, man," I held up my glass. Anton rolled his eyes.
"Goddamn, I hate cheering anything…" He looked at my outstretched glass for a second before picking up his and saying, "But fuck it."
The conversation continued on like that for a bit, the whole "getting to know you" kind of thing while we finished our first and second pitchers. We ended up shooting a game of pool, arguing the finer points of what aspects of pop culture pissed us off most (mine being unfunny sitcoms and his being "that unconscionable abortion of reality TV, Tila Tequila"), worst girlfriend stories (mine: probably the last one, his: "some bipolar member of the fairer sex whose hobbies included complaining, partying, and blowing other guys"), and our favorite albums of the previous year (mine: "Cross" by Justice, his: "Year Zero" by Nine Inch Nails). The moment I decided that this guy was one of the more clever people I had met in a while was when some girls started talking to us and when it became abundantly clear that they were just flirting for the sake of flirting, Anton proclaimed loudly that he needed to get home to check up on his World of Warcraft game and wondered if they would like to come see how his Level 48 Paladin was doing. They said no.
About three hours later or so, we stumbled back to the apartment, joking around about one thing or another. As we got to the door, he stumbled over one of the steps and I made the mistake of pointing out his level of intoxication and he stepped back a couple inches and jabbed his finger into my chest claiming that he "wasn't as think as I drunk he was," something that made us both laugh with enough timbre to incite the rage of the old woman living near the entrance. Ignoring her, we went upstairs to our hallway. Anton started fumbling for his keys, eventually grabbing them from his pocket. Looking at my watch, realizing what time it was (only midnight or so) and not feeling particularly tired or too drunk, I asked:
"Hey man, wanna keep hanging out?" Anton stopped fiddling with his lock and turned and looked me slowly with what can only be described as a look of utter horror and disgust on his face. There was a beat of silence that hung in the air for a good few decades before he finally said, expression unchanging:
"Dude…I'm not fucking gay." This phrase clung to the pervading silence that I all of a sudden didn't know how to break except to laugh nervously. His expression remained unchanged for another beat before he turned, opening his door and slamming it behind him. I stood there for a beat in complete disbelief before turning and walking down the hall back to my apartment. Then Anton's voice hit my departing back:
"Hey." I turned and looked at him hanging out his now open apartment door, holding a Red Stripe bottle in one hand, a maniacal grin on his face before he started laughing.
"You're a fucking douche-bag, man," I said, grinning.
"No man, I fucking rule," he replied, "Wanna help me kill some actual douche-bags in Team Fortress 2?" He tossed the Red Stripe directly at me, which I caught and followed him inside.
We took turns playing and when I played, Anton started making hilarious commentary about the other team and whenever some kid started talking into his headset which could be heard on our end, he would grab his off the floor and proclaim them some sort of cheater, and tell them that he would literally hunt them down and shame them in some way. After playing the game for a while, it became abundantly clear to me that this guy was intriguing me and entertaining me more every second I was around him. Like I said, it was just magnetic. It was when I saw the look on his face when he was playing this game; he had this look of complete and serious immersion but behind this look I could tell that there seemed to be this sense of wonderment; we were both playing the same game, but he seemed to see it differently. That was when I decided that I needed to be friends with this guy.
We went on like this, having a few more beers, listening to some music in addition to playing for a while until I realized it was almost two AM and I was starting to get tired. I turned to Anton who was playing a Capture the Flag match and I poked his arm to get his attention and said, "Hey dude I think I'm gonna head home." He didn't say anything and kept playing, his expression unchanging for several beats before I got up uncertainly and said again, "Okay well, I'm gonna head home I guess."
"Whatever, man. I heard you," Anton replied, not even looking up. I didn't know how to react at the time so I just stood there for a moment and Anton looked over at me and asked, with an icy tinge to his voice, "Well? Aren't you leaving?" and turned back to the game. I frowned uncertainly and said, "Yeah…well dude, let's hang again soon."
I awoke the next day at about eleven AM, my head spinning from a slight hangover, to a phone call to my landline from my friend Julia. She sounded way too chipper for her own good so I tried to wrap the conversation up as quickly as possible (especially after she assumed that I hung out with Azalea the night before), not really feeling the need to talk to her or anyone else that blew me off the night before. I got up and went about my day and that night, I went by Anton's place, thinking maybe he felt better or something, but he didn't answer the door. Since I wasn't really in the mood for going out, I stayed at home and rearranged parts of my living room area. A couple friends came over at about eleven and we hung out, playing some games on my X-Box 360 for a bit, and while I didn't really mind the company, I just wasn't having that much fun, so I called it a night and they left.
It was about 2:30 AM and I was standing in my pajamas and brushing my teeth when I heard a knock at my door. I turned around and leaned out of my bathroom, some Crest foam dripping onto my bare foot, and I heard it again. Dreading the sight of Azalea with tears on her face, saying sorry, et cetera, I hesitated to go open it, but I spit out the foam, rinsed, and opened the door to see Anton standing there in his long, ratty bathrobe and Russian hat, so naturally I started laughing in surprise.
"What're you doing up, man?" I asked him, still laughing. He shrugged, staring at the floor for second before smiling and asking:
"I dunno, just wanted to see if you wanted to hang out or something." I looked at him in a bit of disbelief.
"It's like, two thirty or something," I said.
"Yeah, man…and you're still awake. Wanna hang out?"
I shrugged, saying, "Sure, man. Uh, whattaya wanna do?"
Anton shrugged as well. "I just got Rock Band 2, so I figured we could try that out for a bit." My eyes lit up.
"Hell yeah!" I said, "I've been meaning to check that out."
We played about half the songs till around 4:30 or so, occasionally ratcheting up the difficulty whenever Anton made some comment about how we would never be real, actual rock stars if we kept playing on easy or medium, while taking sips from bottles of Red Stripe, smoking the occasional cigarette, and having the typical witty banter that seemed to be becoming established (such as Anton claiming that his ability on Rock Band 2 was reflective of his real music ability if he "was a retarded Republican," which didn't make much sense but the way he said it with such mock conviction just killed me).
It went on like that for the next few weeks. I would occasionally get called by another friend of mine like Julia or whoever, but I just didn't feel the need to spend time with them. Instead Anton and I would hang out some evening, and then I wouldn't see him for a small stretch of time, but sure enough, as soon as I thought about stopping by his place, he would come by mine at any time between midnight and three in the morning to hang out. I'd like to think that it was just a sort of strange sixth sense we both developed. I occasionally would walk down the hall to his place and knock on the door to see if he would answer. Sometimes he did and sometimes he didn't, but when he didn't, he usually came by about an hour later, explaining that he "had a massive shit or a website full of pornographic material that had needed my undivided attention." Eventually, knocking became unnecessary if our doors were unlocked, so it essentially boiled down to us learning the other's schedules (his never seemed consistent). Occasionally friends of mine would call while we hung out to see if I wanted to go out and party with them, but I usually just quickly told them I was too tired or something and go back to hanging out with Anton. A couple times I asked him if he wanted to go out with them when they called, but he always just snorted in contempt, to which I found rather amusing at the time.
It was when Julia called me to invite me to a party she was having on Halloween that I realized that I needed to cease this hiatus from my friends, so I invited her over. It was then that she met Anton when he came barging into my apartment, ranting about "this incompetent boob who didn't seem to understand the fundamentals of looking where he dropped a box" and almost seemed to stumble to an abrupt stop and actually stammered upon seeing her sitting there.
"You okay, man?" I asked, laughing.
"I, uh…yeah," he started, looking at me, occasionally glancing back at Julia who was smiling as this unfolded, "like I was saying, this guy, um, he just, he was just, uh, stupid."
"Did he drop a heavy box on your foot or something?" Julia asked him, smiling.
"Oh, uh…yeah," Anton replied. Pause. Then, "It sucked."
"I can imagine," Julia said, smiling at him.
This seemed to loosen Anton up a bit and he smiled nervously and he sat down on the other couch diagonal from the one Julia and I were on, sighing.
"This guy," he began, shaking his head. "This guy is the living embodiment of Homer Simpson. And I mean literally. The man looks, sounds, and sadly, acts like Homer Simpson."
"Please tell me he says 'd'oh' or something like that," I said. Anton shook his head.
"That would be too fucking creepy for its own good."
"So did he just not look or something?" Julia asked. Anton glanced over at her for a second and then nodded, smiling.
"Yeah, this man could not have been more incompetent. And he didn't even seem to realize that that might've, oh I dunno, fucking hurt. Just looked at me blankly and said 'sorry' like it was a question. Fucking moron. Who the hell says sorry in the form of a question, anyway, especially when it concerns a fifty-pound box connecting with a foot?" He paused, shaking his head again and then continued, "Oh, and steel-toed boots? They don't protect shit." This tirade was quite amusing to us, which just seemed to get Anton more and more worked up, ranting about one thing or another, getting quite into it, almost like he was a stand-up comic. Following his rant, he ended up leaving pretty quickly with very little explanation, but he seemed to have made an indelible impression on Julia.
"So who was that?" she asked me.
"Oh that's this guy I've been hanging with lately; name's Anton. Real character, right?"
"For sure," she said, "he's really cute too…how come you never mentioned him?"
I shrugged. "I dunno. I only met him about a month ago, like right after Azalea and I broke up. He's the kinda guy that just shows up at the right time, you know?" I paused and smiled to myself. "Lets you forget about the hangover that is life."
"Well," she replied, "you should tell him that he should come to the party on Friday."
"Oh Jesus," I said in response, "I somehow doubt that's gonna happen. Not really a people person, it seems."
"Why?" she whined at me, "tell him I want him there. Won't that be enough?"
"Well…he does seem to like you okay," I replied, thinking. "I'll try."
"No, no, make him come," she said, laughing. "Just tell him it won't kill him to be around people for one night. It'll be fun, seriously!"
"Okay, okay," I said, "he'll be there, whether he wants to be or not."
The next day, I went over to Anton's place and as I entered, I called out:
"Okay man, we're going to a party on Friday night."
"Okay man, fuck that," Anton replied, imitating my tone, from his kitchenette, the sound of the microwave's finishing ding following.
"C'mon," I said, sitting on his couch, "it won't be that bad. Julia's having it. It'll be fun." Anton came around the corner and sat down next to me, eating a Hot Pocket, a Red Stripe in his other hand.
"Well," he said, his mouth full, "lemme ask you a question."
"Will there be people there?" I looked at him, laughing with confused disbelief.
"Uh, yeah, man. It's a party."
"Then it won't be fun, I tell you," he proclaimed, washing down his bite of Hot Pocket with a swig of Red Stripe. I laughed, knowing he would say something like this.
"Well," I said, "truth is, Julia told me to tell you that you had to be there. In other words, she wants you there."
"So?" Anton replied, eyes fixated on the TV and the person he was killing on Team Fortress 2. "You think that's gonna get me to go?"
"Uh…I thought you liked her?" I asked, confused.
"Well I don't dislike her…I mean, she's cool—fucker!" He shot a sniper with a rocket, killing him. "She's cool, I guess, but that's not gonna get me to go to some dumb college party." I rolled my eyes.
"C'mon man, it really won't be so bad. Seriously, it actually might be fun. It's over on campus, yeah, but there'll be good people there. I mean, you won't even have to talk to any of them. I don't think Julia will mind if you just spend the night talking to her." I laughed. "I doubt she'll complain." He didn't say anything and kept playing. For some reason, this just caused any built up frustration with this guy to emerge, so I said:
"Okay dude, what the fuck? It's just one goddamn night and there's a really cool girl who really seems to like you wanting you there. You should just get over whatever insecurity or bias you might have about 'college parties' and try to enjoy yourself. I mean, it's not that bad, is it?" The sniper Anton had killed earlier shot him through the head and he growled an obscenity under his breath and tossed the controller at his feet and sat back, rubbing his eyes for a moment. Still pissed, I continued:
"I mean, what problem do you have with my friends? Or people for that matter? I mean, you never wanted to go out when they invited us out."
"Invited you out," Anton replied. "And you didn't ever want to go." I was silent for a second, knowing he was right. But I sighed, still kind of angry, continuing:
"Doesn't matter, man. You don't even know that you wouldn't like them. So—"
"Fine," he interrupted with an air of defeat. There was a long pause. "Fine, I'll go." He didn't say anything else, his eyes shut. I looked over at him, confused.
"You okay, dude?" I asked.
"Yeah. Don't worry about it."
"You sure, man?"
He opened his eyes and glared at me. "I said I was okay. Jesus…" He took another swig of Red Stripe and said, "Your turn," gesturing at the TV.
The week went on and I didn't really see Anton until that Friday in the morning, making his usual deposit of recycling outside while I was out there smoking a cigarette. We chatted for a bit and then both went off to work, planning to meet up that night after we both returned. When I finished getting ready that night, it was about ten o'clock and I still hadn't heard from Anton so I went over to his place. The door was unlocked so I went inside and immediately saw Anton sitting on his couch in the dark, playing his PlayStation 3.
"Hey," I said, "what's the deal? You coming?"
"Yeah," Anton replied after a moment, not taking his eyes off the television. He didn't move for several moments before I said:
"Hey man, are we going?"
"Yep," he replied, tossing his controller onto the couch next to him, picking up his coat as he stood.
We got to the party at about eleven or so and there were already a good fifty to sixty people there, something I could tell was just digging into Anton, which, admittedly, gave me a sense of sadistic pleasure. If he was going to mope, it wasn't my problem at this point. We got there and immediately Julia, very drunk already, saw us and screamed in delight. She ran up to me and gave me a big hug before she turned to Anton and kissed his cheek.
"I am so fucking glad Silas got you to come!" she yelled over the din of the party at Anton who shrugged, kind of smiling. Julia finished the big bottle of Summit in her hand and continued, "Oh shit, so you're gonna have to meet some of my friends. They're gonna love you, I swear." She took Anton by the hand and led him away from the entrance toward the center of the house through the party. He looked back at me with a look that spoke the words, "I will fucking kill you for this," and I waved cheerfully at him. Rolling his eyes, he disappeared into the crowd. Laughing, I followed behind them to the area where the kegs were, grabbing a red plastic cup along the way.
Throughout the course of the party, I would intermittently see Anton surrounded by Julia and friends of hers. He seemed to be pleasant enough, occasionally smiling and even having them all listening to one of his stories, to which they all seemed amused by. I figured that he was okay by himself after about fifteen minutes. I realized, as I moved through the party, that it was good to finally be out, seeing old friends and meeting new people, and I ended up talking to this girl for a while that seemed interesting enough until Julia came up to me asking where Anton had gone off to. I had no idea, so I asked the girl if she would wait a second and began searching for him. I eventually got out of the living room area to the hallway that connected it to the kitchen and went down the stairs into the basement where the kegs were. There were at least twenty people in the small, cramped space and the noise seemed to intensify and press in around me as I descended and almost immediately, I saw Anton plastered against a wall, beer in hand, staring around him. When he saw me, he didn't show much emotion, but raised his cup in greeting. I weeded my way through the crowd next to him and shouted over the noise:
"Hey man, Julia was looking for you." He shrugged.
"How much longer are you planning on staying here?" he asked. I shrugged.
"Till whenever, I guess. Dude, why aren't you talking to Julia? She's looking for you."
"I know, you already told me," Anton replied, still looking around at the crowd, something behind his eyes I couldn't pinpoint. Exasperated, I said, noticing I was kind of drunk as I did:
"Dude, like I said, she's into you. You could actually have a good time tonight if you talked to her more--" Anton threw his head toward the ceiling in disgust.
"What, are you my fucking pimp now? Jesus Christ." He swigged down the rest of his beer and tossed the cup off to the side and stormed upstairs, leaving me to stand there in surprise for several moments, not really sure of what just happened. I went back upstairs then, still taken aback, looking around, not seeing him anywhere. I went into the living room, seeing Julia sitting in an armchair, talking to some friends of ours. I went up to her.
"Did you see Anton come through this way?" I asked. "I somehow pissed him off, I guess."
She nodded. "Yeah, he came up here and when he saw me, he came up to me, kissed my cheek and said something like 'I'm not worth it' or something like that and then he left." I nodded, but I was confused, and told her I'd be back, and that I was going to go find him.
I found him standing out front, smoking one of his Lucky Strikes, staring at the street and the people passing by, going to other parties in the neighborhood. I came up to him and said:
"Hey, man, I'm sorry about all that shit back in there." He said nothing. I said, "Look, dude, if you wanna get outta here, let's get outta here. I'm sorry I pushed this shit on you, or whatever."
"It's cool, man," he said finally, tossing out the remnant of his cigarette. "The hangover that is life seems to be kicking in, you know?" he said after another pause. He looked off into the distance to our right.
"You know there's some train tracks over there?" he said. "Pretty cool stuff, I guess."
"Cool," I replied, following his gaze. "Wanna go check 'em out or something?" Anton nodded, not saying anything.
"Well c'mon man," I said, starting on my way. "Let's go."
About two blocks down there was a hole in the fence that Anton seemed to know about that was next to the steps going up to a foot-bridge. We squeezed through here and as soon as we did, I noticed the large freight cars stopped on the tracks in front of us.
"Dude, we should totally smoke up there," I said, looking up at them.
Anton shrugged. "Sure."
We climbed up the side of the car, using the ladders in place, eventually getting to the top where we walked to the end, sitting at the edge, so we could see down the dark expanse of track, the footbridge towering above us, our feet dangling over the edge of the freight car. I produced the joint I rolled before coming out tonight and lit up, taking the first hit and then offering it to Anton who just shook his head. I shrugged, taking a few more hits, letting the silence set in, minus the sounds of nearby parties. Finally, I asked:
"So, uh…what're we doing over here? I mean, this is like, cool, and shit, but--"
"I was listening to this song by Nine Inch Nails today," Anton said suddenly, still staring down the expanse of track. "And I can't…get these lyrics out've my head." He kind of laughed.
"Which ones?" I asked, sucking in on the joint.
Anton paused, thinking. Then he said, "'and the sky is filled with light / can you see it? / all the black is really white / if you believe it / as your time is running out / let me take away your doubt / you can find a better a place / in this twilight.'" I sat there for a second in silence, and then kind of laughed.
"You remember all those?" I asked. "I mean, that's like, cool…but why'd you remember those?" Anton shrugged.
"I dunno…just did. They're not important. They're just…good, I guess, since I remembered them." I nodded, inhaling on the joint again, but coughing, causing me to laugh a little.
"Sorry, man," I said, as soon as my coughing fit was over. "I'm just too high and drunk right now." I blinked a couple times. "But I hear what you're saying," I added. Anton kept looking down the stretch of tracks, then down to his shoes, before saying, kind of laughing:
"It's cool. Don't worry about it."
Nothing much else was said at that point and we eventually got down off the car and walked back to the party. Neither of us talked much, him because he was off in his own world, me because I was high as hell. Or maybe because there wasn't much else to say at that point. We got back to the party and it still seemed to be going strong, but at this point I had about as much desire to keep partying as Anton did, so I ran in, said bye to Julia, telling her I'd call her later and Anton and I walked to the nearest bus stop and transited back to Uptown. At the apartment, we got up to our floor and when we got to Anton's first, he just turned, fumbling with his keys and opening the door, saying nothing. I watched him for a second and said, "I'll come on by soon, okay? We'll play some Team Fortress 2; drink some beer, the usual. Sound good?"
"Sure," Anton said, turning, nodding. "See ya." He went into his apartment and shut the door, leaving me alone in the hallway. I walked down the hall back to my place, where I popped in my copy of Eyes Wide Shut into my DVD player and fell asleep on the couch.
I didn't see Anton again for a few days after that. He never stopped by and I got the sense that he didn't really want anything to do with humanity after the party, so I decided to give him some space for a day or so. I didn't really wonder about where he was or what he was doing, though, since he kind of pissed me off that night and made me feel like an asshole. After about three days passed I got sick of waiting and left my apartment after returning home from work and went down the hall to his. I knocked on his door out of courtesy, but I tried the knob and of course, it was unlocked as usual, so I went inside. The first thing I heard when I went in was the television playing some college football game, the volume turned pretty high up. Anton wasn't watching it (though I didn't know why he would in the first place) so I called out, "Hey man, what's up, it's Silas. Just wanted to stop by and say hi." He didn't say anything, and I noticed the bathroom door was shut, its light coming out from underneath, so I smirked, realizing that he was shitting and probably wasn't too happy about me being present for that. I went over closer to the door.
"C'mon, Anton," I said, "sorry I came in when you were taking a shit or whatever, but you shouldn't leave your fucking door unlocked when you're doing it." He still didn't say anything, so I just shrugged.
"Well, dude, like it or not, I'm gonna stick around till you're done," I called back to him as I walked back down the short hallway to the living room, noticing how clean his apartment now seemed. "I'll just play some Team Fortress for a bit and we'll talk when you're done." I plopped down on his black couch, switching on his PlayStation 3 and loading up the game, starting with a Capture-the-Flag match. I played for about twenty minutes before I realized that Anton was still shitting or ignoring me or whatever, so I shouted, "Dude, c'mon, I'm sorry about the fuckin' party, but I haven't heard from you in a while. What's the deal man, c'mere!" I rolled my eyes and paused the game just as my Medic character got shot and got up and walked back down the hall.
"You better've eaten some shitty leftover curry or something, man," I called through the door, knocking on it. Still no answer. I got this weird feeling as I waited for a beat and realized that he might not even be in there, so I opened the door. I first noticed the floor was wet and that Anton wasn't sitting on the toilet and then I saw that the bathtub right adjacent to the toilet was full to the brim with red water and Anton was sitting in it. He was fully clothed, but I could tell from the one arm that wasn't submerged, sitting up on the edge of the tub, with the black hoodie sleeve pushed up to the elbow, that the exposed wrist was completely hacked open, its contents long gone. A small steak knife sat next to the tub on the floor in a pale red puddle of water. I took this all in almost instantly before I realized what I was looking at and exclaimed, "Oh Jesus fucking--" and backed up against the wall where the sink was, not taking my eyes off Anton. For a second, I thought he might not be dead, that it might be an attempt, but his skin was too pale and there seemed to be a slight foam build-up on his mouth. Aside from that, he looked exactly the same as the last night I saw him when he walked in his door. The same dingy black hoodie. The same t-shirt with a band on it. The same work boots he wore every day. The same disheveled short black hair. The same everything. It was as if he had frozen in time. I stared at him for an uncertain amount of time, my breathing becoming shorter and faster and eventually I collapsed onto the wet floor, shaking, saying "What the fuck?" over and over again, tears trying to make their way to the surface for what seemed like a decade before they finally did. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to will the image of Anton sitting there away, but when they opened he was still there, continuing to stare into the crack in the bathroom wall in front him.
The paramedics hauled him out of the bathtub about an hour later. As they packaged him up in one of those long black bags with the zipper down the middle, I sat on the couch, staring at the pause screen of Team Fortress 2, half-answering questions directed at me by the police officer standing nearby, holding a small notepad. I eventually stopped saying anything and when he asked me if I needed a moment, I just asked him if I could go. He said okay.
The memorial service happened about five days later. There were more people than I expected, most of them from Anton's family, but it wasn't a large service. Julia came with me and we showed up just as the service was starting, so we sat in the back. I didn't want to sit close to the front anyway. She started crying at one point, silently shaking next to me. Some people, mostly family members, went up and spoke about some aspect of Anton's life and when it was open to anyone to speak, I thought about going up for a moment, but I didn't, just staring straight ahead at the church's hymnals and Bibles, my mind blank.
There was a reception of sorts afterward in the church's basement cafeteria, but Julia and I didn't stay for it. We left out the front doors and on the front steps she gave me a long hug before she went off to her car. I breathed in the autumn air for a moment before lighting up a quick cigarette, taking a few drags, staring at the neighborhood. After a couple moments, I noticed another person on the steps; this woman in her late forties or fifties, also smoking a cigarette. She saw me and said hello and I noticed she had deep red rims around her eyes, moisture built up as if it would never go away.
"You knew Anton?" she asked me. I paused and then nodded, taking a drag, saying nothing. She nodded.
"I'm his mom," she said, almost sheepish, smiling awkwardly, dragging on her Camel.
"Oh," I replied. "I'm Silas." She nodded, not saying anything, and went back to staring straight ahead.
"He never really mentioned anything about his family," I said off-hand. She sighed, looking down.
"I can't imagine he would," she replied. Another silence.
"When'd you last see him?" I asked.
"Oh…I couldn't even tell you," she said, looking skyward for a second, thinking. "I tried calling him. It was…maybe a week ago?" She stopped, wiped her eyes, sniffing. "He told me that he couldn't talk and even if he could, he wouldn't and that he had to go meet his friend. And he just hung up." She paused for a beat before continuing, "And…the funny thing is, I didn't care that he hung up on me. I mean, it wasn't the first time, but I just focused on that last part." He eyes welled up, her lip quivering. "Anton, he…he never really had friends. Not since he was a kid, you know? Never suited him, I guess." She kind of laughed, looking down, ashing her cigarette, before looking up again, finally at me. "Was he talking about you?" she asked.
I looked down, studying my shoes for a couple seconds before shrugging, saying, "Yeah…" There was a pause. "I'd like to think so, I guess."
After that, life essentially went on. Julia and I didn't really talk about it because there really was nothing more to say. I didn't really bring it up with any of my other friends, and while some of them knew and offered awkward apologies as if they were the ones who did it, it just never came up or became an issue, probably because I never let it. Somehow Azalea heard about it but when I picked up my phone and heard her voice I just let her linger for a moment before I hung up and unplugged my landline.
A couple months passed. Obama won the presidential election. Thanksgiving happened and I avoided the subject with my family. Julia finished up her final semester at the beginning of December and she, some friends of ours and us went out to celebrate at the CC Club. We put at least ten bucks into the jukebox and played songs by Gogol Bordello, Dillinger Four, VHS or Beta, and Flogging Molly, drinking good beer and shouting festively amongst ourselves, smiling, laughing. I got a promotion at work as well as a Christmas bonus, which surprised me since I didn't think I had been doing anything to deserve it, but I didn't complain. Christmas came and went; gifts, hugs, and well-wishings exchanged. Then Julia and her housemates had a huge New Years Eve party, gathering up a good eighty people. We all drank good Summit from the keg and exchanged stories from the past year, leaving things about the earlier fall months out. I met a girl at the party who thankfully wasn't too drunk and at midnight we kissed and after talking to her for another hour or so, she gave me her number and told me to call her, and she went off to find another party she was invited to. The party wound down at about three AM and I passed out on the couch in the living room for a few hours, hearing the thumps of people passing by, leaving, intermittently.
I woke up at roughly seven or eight AM. The dawn light was peeking its way through the blinds and I blinked a couple of times before I got up to go to the kitchen for a glass of water, trying not to trip over a sleeping couple who were huddled together under a blanket on the other couch next to me. In the kitchen, after pouring myself a glass of water, I sat down at the small table, waking myself up, blinking again. When my eyes refocused, I noticed a bottle of half-drunk Red Stripe sitting in front of me. I stared at it for a few moments, a lead weight building up in my chest until I couldn't take it anymore, so I downed my water and returning to the living room, putting on my jacket and boots and leaving, trying not to wake up anyone else downstairs.
When I got down the street to the wooden footbridge going over the tracks, I was somewhat relieved to see that the hole in the fence was still intact. I climbed through and looked in both directions down the tracks for a few moments, my breath floating out of my mouth like smoke. I noticed about fifty yards down there was a set of freight cars, waiting to be picked up for later delivery. I walked over the snowy tracks to them, not really sure what I was doing or hoping to accomplish, but I climbed up on top of them anyway. I slowly walked to the end of the last car and stood at the edge staring down the tracks in front of me, the sun's rays poking over the trees into to my left, the cold air grazing across my face on my right. For a second I thought I could see a moving train, disappearing into the distance down the dark expanse of tracks, but when I looked again, there wasn't anything there.