“He was an Ordinary Guy, until Lately,” —-The Dream Syndicate, Until Lately.
The Ghost inside Harold was stirring his foot like a soup ladle over the bridge railing. If he’d been at his black void job, the Ghost inside Harold would be obsessively clicking his pen. If he’d been driving, the Ghost inside Harold would be air drumming the steering wheel to White Stripes. If he was with his girlfriend, The Ghost inside Harold would be blankly staring at a TV while she complained about her own black void job.
But he wasn’t. Harold, naked, cupped his balls, scrotum skin contracting beneath his icy fingers, his penis turtled inside. He leaned slightly forward into the late October midnight air. The city lights twinkled out in the distant horizon. A tugboat bleated. Water rushed a few hundred feet below.
Well, he was here. It was now. He wasn’t at work, driving, or with his girlfriend. He was here. It is now. Now is the time. This is the time. In a few minutes, he’d be too cold or a car would drive by or The Ghost in Harold would subside. Now, now, now. All goosebumps and adrenaline.
He’d never heard of anyone dying on this bridge. He never heard anything about this bridge at all. It’s just where his car stopped. Random chance or fate, didn’t matter either way really.
Breathe in, exhale out, simplify. Go clear. Close your eyes. Enjoy the crisp night. Bend your knees. Breathe in, exhale out. Simplify.
Might as well….
“I’ll be dead soon,” Harold thought every time his eye twitched, every time his shoulder ached, every time he threw up for no reason, every time a bone or joint popped, every time no thoughts came at all. He imagined there was a groove on his mostly smooth brain engraved with the with the words, “I’ll be dead soon.”
Harold had read an article claiming 42 was the unhappiest age in a lifetime. Not 13 when the hormones are raging or 70 when the body has completely failed and all that’s left is regrets, but 42. The age you realize you’re a failure. Harold had just turned 43 and felt no happier. In fact, he felt like a failure. No future and an unremarkable past.
“I’ll be dead soon,” was his consolation, his salve. But one day in September a new groove emerged, “I’ll be dead soon” followed by, for the first time “Then live.”
Then live, never occurred to Harold. Then live, seemed too simple, dumb even. Then live, The Ghost inside Harold became known.
The next day The Ghost inside Harold broke up with his girlfriend. He thought the inertia of the long relationship would create pushback, but she went easily, like she was just waiting to go, waiting for the request. The only regret, who would Harold watch TV with? The answer was simple, stop watching TV. The Ghost inside Harold dumped all his streaming services, internet and even his cell phone. He got a library card.
Next, get rid of everything that didn’t ‘spark joy.’ The joy-sparking flint must have been wet, because most of his stuff, a lifetime of stuff, just went to charity and he felt lighter, a weight cut from a helium balloon.
Now, create a bucket list and check it off. The Ghost inside Harold finally used his stored vacation time, a total of three weeks for most of October. Every night the first week, he went to a different nice restaurant, no more home cooked or fast food slop. He took trips to every museum he could drive to in a day, every national park, every monument, amusement park, zoo, and ended the evening at a different bar.
After finding his dead brother’s drug dealer, The Ghost inside Harold went on a drug tour for the second week of his vacation, a new drug each day all day: clove cigarettes, pot, mushrooms, oxycodone, speed, mescaline, and acid. A journey to the back of his brain. Not much in the way of enlightenment, but The Ghost inside Harold’s body enjoyed the sensations.
For the third week, more sensations, a sexual adventure. The Ghost inside Harold tried a prostitute, went to different bar every night, overspending to ensure he’d go home with different woman each night, practicing lines he’d heard on TV with a confidence he didn’t have. On the last night of his vacation, The Ghost inside Harold slept with a man., a nice-looking man. He didn’t like it, but didn’t regret the experience, either. Skin on skin is still skin on skin.
The Ghost inside Harold slept for three days and awoke to find himself fired from his black hole job. So, he packed his car and drove.
“Live, because I’ll be dead soon.”
Harold’s credit cards were maxed out. He’d traded in his normal, regular, five-year old car for a bigger, crappier beater retro camper, one he could live in. He cashed out his savings, 7,000 dollars, bought survivalist gear and pre-packaged food and headed out to find some isolated woodlands. Just the essentials. Just the essentials.
Harold consciously cut all ties with the outside, more ordered world. He read and wrote and wrote and wrote. Harold’s body ached honestly, cleanly. He laid still, slightly sinking into the earth.
“I’ll be dead soon.” Harold drew in the dirt.
The bridge. Harold saw a light in his periphery, a car horn blasted and he lost his balance, stumbled forward, then caught it again, his weight centering.
Harold and the Ghost inside Harold jumped.
And it was glorious.