In the Milk

7 Aug

I composed this short story in December 2011, for a friend who overdosed. I wrote it to remember him, and to process the sorrow & anger of his sudden death. Now I feel ready to share it, and as it is my personal elegy to him, I felt the most sincere way to dedicate it was with a midnight recording in Lima.

The video goes out of sync in the last minute, so if that’s confusing, you’ll find the script below.

One night, you dissolved the way you slant your body to one side when you talk; you dissolved your proud collection of soul LPs; you dissolved the raunchy laugh with your head thrown back – and all that was left was the spilt milk on my floor. You left behind a skin of tattoos, a handful of angry friends and a debt of joy. There were still two bottles of Christmas beer in your backpack and a yellow syringe in the front pocket of your coat.

What the hell were you thinking?! Lend me that night, lend me that scream.

Did you see the people who passed before you? Did you touch their skin in wonder and say: “You look exactly the way I remember you. Like marble, alabaster, like all those temples in Morocco. I remember the junkies we met there. You know I always dropped some beer on the ground when I drank in your name.”

Did they reply? Did they reply? Did they say: “What the hell are you doing here, I thought you were going to make it man…”

It was cool for a while. You played in the right: “My mate’s in prison, he didn’t do nothing.” To feel in-tune like a womb and burst out laughing in the middle of the street because no one was onto your game. You had the look of a scruffy schoolboy but your eyes had the look of exhausted witnesses. I can’t remember their colour but I remember their age. They were beat, they were damn tired. I held your face and said: “Your eyes look like they’ve seen things they never wanted to see.”

But I thought you were going to make it, man. I thought I’d turn a corner and sight a 40 year old drunk at noon, mumbling to the ground with yellow eyes and brown fingers. Perhaps it’s not much of a future but I really thought you’d have it. Instead, you’re stuck inside my elegy and I’m sorry I’m pinning you down but I won’t apologise for my way of saying goodbye. There was more in the garden than roses, and it’ll be more than roses that I will remember.

Met you at a bar. My instinct told me to leave you alone. But, hell, I was younger then and fascinated by the dark. I could never understand why people walked around it when there was so much of it in the world. I wanted to be its anthropologist. So I worked the dark, one shadow at a time, walking with its people through the tunnels. But I never took on its mark. I never let it into my eyes. Yes, I was there on business and when I emerged a year later, I had stories I never told and places I never returned. The only man I knew down there was you. Now all that’s left is spilt milk. What an exit.

Is it what you wanted? You told me once (I don’t know if you remember): “I’ve seen the light so many times. This junk will never kill me.”

So we were followed, begged and threatened into giving you money. We helped you to bed after finding you passed out on the bathroom floor. We wondered every morning if you had survived the night. We listened to your lies of firm honesty: “It’s for shoes, some beer, man I had to sleep under a bridge.” We watched you pass out while promising you would stop.

So you woke up and wondered why your mirror wouldn’t look at you anymore. Why all your friends said: “I don’t cry over spilt milk.” Yes, those days taught us to lick the sugar off an apology. Thank you for teaching us to be a little bit harder.

You drank your beer like an old man; you picked up girls like an old man – but you laughed like there was no tomorrow – until that’s how it was.

You tried rehab and horses, but that old habit, she found you anywhere and whispered everything. You took the dose you thought was yours. I went to Peru and saw Lake Titicaca. It was so blue and I couldn’t stop thinking of you. You decided to miss this?! I looked at it for you.

So I guess you may feel some pride at having joined such a talented line of people, all of who took it out the same way. Go on: I know a part of you must be thinking of it like that. “Oooh, live fast, baby, I’m a violent delight, a rare bird shot down in midflight.” It’d be a great line in a bar if only you weren’t dead.

What the hell do I know? You lived like there was no tomorrow, perhaps that’s what you wanted. An end to the pain, an end to the crying. No one knew how much you fought yourself, or the cruel ways you treated everyone when you were high; or the nightmares that were nighttime cold turkey – such fever!

Ssshh… Are you relieved it’s over?

You can see old friends now. I hope you watch over the girls who loved you and now receive the call. When we summarise our lives, we’ll say you flashed by like lightning and left a mark on every rock.

I opened a new place in my mind, a place you inaugurated when you died at 29. I’m nostalgic enough to keep some truth with the mythology – but this one is my favourite memory:

The boy who woke up laughing loudly because in his dream, he was running eagerly towards a music festival. He was running ahead of everyone, telling them to hurry up: “It’s starting! It’s starting!” And suddenly, as he ran, he took a great leap, one that shot him up over the trees. He shot into the sky with everyone on the ground shouting excitedly: “He can fly!” And you laughed from the sky, leaping over trees, flying towards the colours and music of the festival. When you told me about the dream, I thought: “This is you underneath.”

It was a beautiful dream to have.

You weighed yourself down. I rarely saw you fly like that. But every now and then I saw you wake up laughing.


3 Responses to “In the Milk”

  1. Gerhard August 13, 2012 at 2:31 am #

    This story and the way you recorded it is very powerful and showing strong emotions at the same time. I can understand that it took you a while to digest and being ready to share.
    I`m sure that even today a lot of questions remain and the answers are left behind as there are no real ones.
    The question that comes up to my mind when a friend decides deliberate or not for an exit of life:
    What would we do if we would get the chance to turn back time and standing next to him?
    Are we experienced enough as anthropologist and know what to do? Can we handle the dark? Is there a way to escape with him from the inevitable? Are we really teached to react harsh or even brutal in such a situation? Can we really influence adult persons even when they are friends?
    Instead of giving money for evident misleading actions why don`t we buy him a ticket and kidnap him to Peru where he should be forced to stay with the Quẽros remotely and learn to survive with nothing and learn to grow. No girls, no alcohol, no dope. He should live there like in prison. After a year you could go with him to Lake Titicaca and show him the blue colour of the lake. The color of sanity, endless deepness and mental stability. Maybe then the mirror of the water surface will look at him again. But even then it`s not granted.
    It sounds naive but is there really no other way than the one he has chosen?
    That`s something I`ve never understood.
    It`s hypothetical – it`s too late. And that is what makes us angry and sorrowful.



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    […] Apart from this, I cannot imagine a more beautiful way to return to Ulm. To be able to get back onstage the minute I return, is an opportunity I am very, very grateful for. I’ve missed reading, missed performing, and consoled myself by making these odd little vlogs – or filming myself reading my short story In the Milk. […]

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    […] the Milk, and filmed myself reading it while I was in Lima. You can find the video and transcript here. I received intense feedback from people who had lost friends to drug overdoses. Some said that In […]

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