I was already gloomy when I first received the letter. The room was silent except for the slight humming noise of the water filtration system in the kitchen. And I was standing beside the rustic table in the living room, Blake’s letter in my hand. The feeling I had was, I was in the edge of a cliff, about to vomit before I fall and the end would not be pretty. The room was not a mess but a sense of orderliness was missing; three computers, chargers on top of chargers, and a key… I needed to remove something. I wanted a quick relief from something I couldn’t understand.
“With all disrespect, I have spite towards you so called creators. What are you doing thinking y’all are some mystics? Everybody has thoughts and yours are not exceptional. Isn’t that obvious? Why on earth would anyone put any of you at the same category as Tolstoy or da Vinci? Those were the only legit guys of art, by the way. (Picasso had some of the best artworks, but he was an asshole.)
“Any artist I can think of had some sort of oddity about them. And this is what I don’t understand; you are a problem. Your ideas aren’t useful, especially yours. On a deep level, I think y’all are entitled, so absorbed in your unfinished first drafts that you don’t even see what’s in front of you.
“Look, man, let me try to make myself perfectly clear. You were in my life for as long as I can remember, and you’ve been this way since the beginning. You were not good at math or anything. You speak different languages but you know I can outperform you if I choose to. And you admit that you’re clumsy. Why do you think that is? It’s because you don’t put up with the work, any work. What are languages for if it’s not going to put more money in your pockets? You still don’t get that you should capitalize on that. My God, won’t you learn? How can you be content with your life when you have nothing to show? I’d give you props if you’ve been doing good, you know.
“Look, I’ve met teachers whose life I envied. I’ve met architects whose life I envied. There are engineers, bus drivers, consultants who are leading decent lives; secretaries, politicians, entrepreneurs… the list goes on. How come I don’t ever want to be an artist? How come you are still that caught-up-in-his-thoughts guy? You need to introduce some reason to your life, that’s what I’m telling you. Time’s not waiting, and you are not special.
“Seems like all you want to do is take things easy and slow. But you can’t keep up with the demands of real life. You don’t know about making real decisions. You don’t know how to keep this society functioning. You still didn’t learn how to integrate well into society.
“Anyway, we’ll talk about this in person, I’ll be in capital at the end of this month. Just wanted to speak my mind.
“Hope you’re taking care of yourself,
Even after I’ve read it for the second time, I didn’t know which direction to go to in my thinking. I just stared at it, and the stare turned blank after a moment. I thought we were past arguments and debates of that sort. It looked like we reached a sound conclusion and we both agreed. For a good two-years, our lives were free from falling outs.
The tone was the same as I’d used in my letters in the past. Stress and worry’d get the best of me and I’d start writing longer-than-usual, judgmental, exaggerated ones; it didn’t matter if I believed in the things I’ve said or my observations were accurate, we had a problem and it was their job to figure out. I did that out of spite and resentment. And those two things make communication grueling but necessary. Grueling because there’s so much work to be done on the side of at least one party, and necessary because the monsters under the bed get only bigger over time, if you didn’t want to abandon the house, that is. I didn’t know if that was the case with him now.
I knew him since first grade. (In fact, the first day of school, he sat right behind me.) And we’ve gotten close towards the end of high school, like the last 2–3 years. He was known to be a trustworthy guy by all, in and outside school. Blake seemed to be involved in everything, so easygoing, too. He was the goalkeeper of the A team, he attended the physics Olympics and he was the class monitor for the most part. But that changed when me, Blake, and two other guys have gotten close.
The four of us were not included in most of the gatherings then. When we were, feelings of secrecy, putting on an act and unease were present. We went to a beach vacation this one time, and that was a defining moment for me. Cory said the others bought beer for themselves. I had to believe him because they had handled the finances and we were running out of money even when all of us slept in a small room (nine of us, one room). No arguments were done on our side. And when we were back, small arguments were enough to divide us; who drank the leftover 7Up’s, what jersey to buy for the team, and whether or not we needed a new ball. They thought us bookish, we thought them dumb. They made fun of us, we tried to humiliate them. And that was our last two schoolyears.
Blake didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone when we graduated and went off to college. He didn’t write to anyone except his family and this made him a myth to most of our classmates. “Maybe sometime later,” he’d say, “I don’t think I’ll hear anything interesting anyway, to be real.” The ones that met him said they didn’t recognize him at first. For me, the changes weren’t so apparent since we lived together the last couple of years, but when I really tried, it wasn’t hard to see. I guess sometimes we just forget about some people’s existence.
I woke up feeling thirsty. I reached for my bottle, eyes half-open. It felt light. So little water was in there, it didn’t come close to satisfying my thirst when I started to drink from it. I made it to the kitchen walking past my roommate who was asleep with textbooks in his hands (the usual sight), poured from water tankard, and opened the window to feel the breeze in my face. I checked the time; 5:39. Then I pulled the white stool and felt the smoothness in my bones as I sipped from my bottle. I finally got the relief I wanted.
It was silent outside. There was no movement except the four women in the kindergarten territory. They were street sweepers. The one closer to the street had a bucket with her, the other three only had a sack each. I could hear she was putting stones into it. She stood straight after some time, took the bucket and her sack, and started towards the others. She was limping. I couldn’t tell if it was because all those were heavy or some other problem. Working while the million are in deep sleep for minimum wage, how many people have to put up with things like these? This isn’t New York, that’s not enough to feed yourself, let alone the kids. And these people probably have the worst bosses, I thought, bosses that are indifferent to their wellbeing, at least. How unlucky do you have to be to live that life? That’s like the ultimate lower class! It didn’t matter if they earned the same amount as me, or anyone I’ve ever had a conversation with, there’d be a difference, because of our experiences, means, and background.
I thought back to the place I was renting earlier this year. One of my roommates said he’s been working in this glass company for around three years. He was making almost double the money I’m making now. While we were talking, though, his demeanor said that I’ve already won in life; I was in an enviable position. In the back of my mind, I thought that I was the one who’s privileged. Yet everyone gets their share of headaches, I guess. Even when I could see people that are worse off, my paranoia didn’t seem to waver.
Moments later I heard the phone ring. I walked to the hall, turns out it was Blake. “Hey, man, had to come earlier. You got things to do today?” He was calling from a booth at the station. I went to the kitchen and stood by the window. The call to prayer started and ended as I described where I was living. “Got it, yeah, okay. I’ll let you know if I can come today because I got an appointment with the doctor in two hours or so. It’s kinda far from you, so, I’ll call you,” he said, “or else I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He called me from his hotel room the next day, at around 10 in the morning. “So I had to spend the whole day at the doctor’s yesterday, you know how things are here. Then I figured I might as well stay at a hotel because I need to go again. But it won’t be long, I’ll get my belongings from the room and go to yours right after.”
I went to the market on the corner to get some potatoes and cooked. Just as I was done, there was a knock on the door. It was him. I always admired his reasoning and finding his way through matters, but I was once again surprised how he accurately navigated to this place. I was expecting him to make some errors considering his forgetfulness. But I should’ve known, I thought to myself, he does those things.
We hadn’t seen each other for six months; that’s a lot of time for a close friend. We hugged. Blake is one of the select few whom I don’t feel strange when hugging. People these days give a hug to those whom they barely know when they greet. For me it’s as insincere as it gets, I can’t get myself to believe that it’s a good thing. It feels empty if one party’s putting on a show. You know genuine acts when they happen. But still, I can’t be the one who initiates the hug even if I feel close to someone, with the exception of people like Blake.
We put his backpacks in my room. The food needed heating when he made himself comfortable at last. We talked as we ate, about people in our circle; Cory, Dylan, and others. “So Dylan said he’s going to join the military, huh?” he said.
“Hahah, yeah, was you expecting that?”
“Actually, yeah, I think. Considering how he’s been the last couple of years.”
“Yeah, me too. But, bro, it’s Dylan, yo. Can’t believe how he can’t see that it’s not for him. Not at all. Like, yeah, anyone can see it’s getting hard and all, but joining the army just to have acquaintances here and there… that’s just one-dimensional thinking. He’s not even thinking about the pros and cons, I tell you.”
“You know, at the end of the day, I think he didn’t have a good circle. That’s the whole problem. It all comes back to that.”
“Yeah, so, when I seen him that time, we talked for like 20 minutes, half hour, maybe, you know. I said to him, like, yo, do you really, honestly believe you are up for this? I said it means you’re selling your soul, straight up like that. There’s no better way of saying it. Being at work from early morning till late at night, getting up whenever they call you, it’s draining. Not even that, his conscience, it’s not going to let him do that. What I can’t believe is how he can’t see that it’s gonna be the end of him.”
“Right. And once you make that sort of mistake, there’s no coming back from that. You’d think a person would know himself at least that much, this thing called self-awareness is nothing small, man.”
One of my roommates appeared at the door at that moment. I asked him to join us for food. After I’ve introduced them, there wasn’t much talking except about the technical aspects of their work. We finished and he got dressed to go meet with his girlfriend. He never shared such things and we had a lot of our serious arguments because of that. When he was ready, Blake told me about the girl. It was being a year now. He was so used to not sharing he didn’t even realize he’d told me about it last summer. I couldn’t help smiling.
Once he was gone, I picked up Notes from Underground from the shelf and started to read laying in between the window and the bed. Ignoring the world was easier this way. And this was all I did in the last couple of days. All of my time was reading time because I simply couldn’t get myself to do anything else. I couldn’t think of anything significant or exciting other than reading; reading this book, that is. It was amazing how a guy who was alive more than a century ago thought exactly what goes through my mind on the daily. This is my book, I said to myself. But I knew I wasn’t going to say much to people about it. People are too concerned with choosing their way and not giving way to anything else. They protected them with all their might. Not doing so made you indecisive, weak, and not serious. That “I don’t know” attitude gets you nowhere in the social world.
And this is my problem, I think. I’ll feel like I’m lying if I don’t express what I fully believe, and since contradictions never end, having a decent conversation with me was as rare as a broke person taking vacation. Even if I feel like walking up to someone and chat some days, that’ll be short-lived and soon I’ll be back in my bubble. And every time I stay there for some time, I’ll either become too conservative or too liberal, too energetic or too exhausted, too insecure or too arrogant… Yes, thinking too much was a disease. By the time you could simplify your life to a degree that you can move a little, others would be close to the finish line — yet another reason to feel alone. But I didn’t even know if I wished I would take a simpler route. Every now and then, I got the feeling that I was closer to the truth, but after a short while it would fade and I’ll see that, once again, I have complicated it all even more. And sometimes I would be completely okay being this way until the end of time, and there are times where questioning why did I have to be a broken soul worry me to the point of tears. It’s a draining, beautiful cycle.
When Blake was back it was almost midnight, but I didn’t mind because we’d stay up late talking. And some of the best conversations you have start mostly around midnight, so it was nothing to worry. When he was gone, I didn’t do much except going to the toilet and drinking water now and then; I was laying when he came in, reading.
“What’s up? Everything alright?” he asked.
“Yeah, just chilling. Not so tired, are you?”
“Man, I walked like mad today. Went down to that garden and visited my cousin after that.”
“Dined there, too?”
“Yeah, I had dinner. You? You ate anything?”
“No, I didn’t feel hungry. We’ll have some tea, that’ll do. Let’s have one now before we get thirsty talking, right? I mean, you know I got a lot to tell you… This book I’m reading now is goddamn beautiful, man. Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground. It’s funny, the way it’s making me think. I can’t put this thing down, it’s been several days.”
“Oh, yeah? Damn,” he said, smiling a little. “Yeah, fine with me. Some tea wouldn’t hurt. I also brought cookies and them things, by the way. You’ll see them in kitchen.”
I was impatient to talk. I guess he could see my eagerness on my face. And I’ve prepared the cookies I bought and the pot when I went to the kitchen to have some water before. So, I was back in the room in what felt like two minutes with the trey.
“When you was out, I was reading this the whole time. It’s like I don’t want to be away from this book.”
“Whoa, haha. I can imagine.”
“Look, look. This part, for example, I’ll read this to you:
In every man’s remembrances, there are things he will not reveal to everybody, but only to his friends. There are other things he will not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and then only under a pledge of secrecy. Finally, there are some things that a man is afraid to reveal even to himself, and any honest man accumulates a pretty fair number of such things. That is to say, the more respectable a man is, the more of them he has. At least, only a little time ago, I made up my mind to recall some of my former adventures, but up till now, I have only skirted round them, with, indeed, some uneasiness. But now, when I am not only remembering, but have decided to write them down, now I want to test whether it is possible to be completely open with oneself and not be afraid of the whole truth.
How sick is that? And wait, you got to see this.
I said a man takes his revenge because he finds justice in it. That means he has found his primary reason, his foundation, namely justice. Thus he is easy on all counts, and consequently takes his revenge calmly and successfully, being convinced that he is performing a just and honourable action. But really I can’t find any justice, or any kind of virtue, in it, and consequently, if I take my revenge, it is purely out of resentment. Resentment, of course, might overcome all my doubts and hesitations, and might therefore serve quite successfully instead of a primary cause, precisely because it isn’t a cause. But what can I do if I don’t even feel resentment?
“Wow, this is like the real, real literature, huh? You know those poetic, make-you-think and kinda depressing words and stuff like that. This is that, man.”
“Dude, yo, I know, right? I really see now why people talk about Dostoevsky so much. Like, imagine being the writer of such works, like, being able to do things like that. Think of the skillset you gotta have. Years ago, someone thinking all those things is so strange.”
“Yeah, so you reading another one too, I guess?”
“Oh, I’m reading like mad these days. The books I’m reading these days gotta be close to 10. Feels unreal to be saying that, but, look. Notes from Underground. In Search of Lost Time, look, how crazy is this, it’s 9000-something pages. This book is the longest novel ever written.” I was getting more and more excited as I was talking.
“God-damn!” he exclaimed. “Sheesh.” Didn’t know if he was fascinated by the book or the fact that I was reading it but it felt good to be talking about books anyhow.
“I mean, maybe it’s different in other versions but I heard it has like a million words. Freaking amazing! Unbelievable, man.”
“Dude, that’s… that’s, wow! The thesis we wrote was 8,000–10,000 words. Fuck! What’s it about even?”
“Yeah, just thinking about it is… oh, I’m just speechless. If I’m not mistaken, it’s like the guy doesn’t write anything for years, and when he finally does it’s like he has a lot to get out his mind, you know? Just like in the name. And it’s kind of three books. In each of them, he talks about different things. He’s searching for truth and meaning or what. So at first, he thinks like it’s all about connecting with celebrities of his time, you know, like aristocrats and people like that. He was born into a rich family so he does that, and he’s like, no, this isn’t right. Then he falls in love, he talks a bit about that. I heard that he can’t stop thinking about that girl for 300 pages. 300 pages, yo, imagine that! That many pages is a book with lots of information. A lot of our people see 120–150-page book as thick.”
He was nodding. And his expression told me he was engaged. I wouldn’t say him being interested in such conversations were rare, but it wasn’t as many as I’d want in the past. And I thought that he was interested in this particular moment because I didn’t say much about such things as of late.
“So on the second part, he thinks it’s all about love, you know, the romantic one. By the way, some details I’m telling you might be off, I just heard about it, you know. I’m only in the beginning. So… where was I? Yeah, so, he don’t even have a relationship with the girl or marries her, just thought. At one point, she lets him touch her hair, I think. No, he hugs her. That’s it. Like what can you tell about a girl’s appearance for all those pages? Plus the hugging moment. So, anyway, then it either fades or the girl disappoints, I don’t know, but he’s now interested in art, you know, the paintings and stuff, and with it, he realizes that, being alive, appreciating ordinary things makes life beautiful. So interesting. I don’t know, even six months ago, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d think this way. But here I am, freaking loving what I’m consuming, enjoying it all, in case I don’t get to have these moments next month. Oh, also, the author of this book is Marcel Proust, right? So, there’s this thing called A Proustian Moment, it’s when things like a smell or a taste reminds you of a place or experience. Special moment is named after him. A Proustian Moment… I think somewhere in the book, he drinks a cup of tea with something like honey, and it brings back memories. Then, I don’t know, these artsy, intellectual people probably loved it so much they now call it A Proustian Moment.”
He gave me that “You are an interesting guy” look with a smile that looked like a laugh. “Interesting. Seriously,” he said, “What else are you reading? Let me see.”
“Here. So, from the classics, The Brothers Karamazov. I read maybe like a hundred pages. This Tolstoy book. Some psychology book in French; I read it aloud to better my pronunciation, I don’t understand much. Sonny’s Blues; almost done with this, it’s a short story, like 30 pages. This economics book; this one’s really good, I think you’ll wanna read it at some point. This is poetry; after a long time, I’m reading poems again with my will.” A nervous laugh followed.
“And the next thing you know, you’ll be back to writing poetry like you did in primary.”
“I’m actually open to doing that now, let’s see. But I don’t think I have special talent. When I feel like it, I might attempt a poem or two.”
“Anyway, and how ‘bout this. Is this for your cousins or what?”
“No, actually, I’m reading that too. It’s kind of a new release; Dairy of a Wimpy Kid, the first book. It’s kinda interesting, but I won’t read the others. I gotta find some other children’s book. I’m thinking maybe Charlotte’s web, you heard of that?”
“Umm, I don’t know. A familiar name but… not sure.”
“Yeah, anyway. I wanna read everything, bro, absolutely everything. But all that aside, I’m really curious how this Underground Man ends up. Because, I don’t know, it feels like it’s me talking all those words, right? And his ending is mine, so…”
He didn’t say anything, but the silence was not awkward. He glanced up, and then to the left with one eye closed; he was thinking. “You know what,” he said, smiling, “you really need a girlfriend.”
I laughed. “No, you might be right.”
“I can see things piling up in you, so, you know, being in a relationship won’t hurt. And I don’t mean like banging girls or finding one as soon as you can. But you know, you can open up a little bit, make friends here and there.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” I said. “I also say to myself sometimes, like, maybe it’s time.”
“But you know, this past year, I just wanted to abstain, reflect, and all that. My priorities were fucked up, I thought, like, I needed to tame myself and understand. It really made no sense going on without knowing what kinda life you want. Yeah, I see some growth in myself and all, and then people notice this and that, but still, I don’t know, it always feels like I didn’t even get started, like, I’m just warming up, barely.”
“That’s the thing, it never is no perfect time. Besides, relationship is growth, I mean, it’s part of life. And if you find someone for yourself, why not? It’s not stopping you from anything, it don’t have to.”
“I mean, yeah, of course, I agree. I see where you coming from. But you know, it’s always hard for me to communicate what’s in my head. And it’s like, get this communication skill thing out of the way first and then you’ll look, you know?”
“Nah. That’s not logical. I understand you, bro, I really do. But you know what I mean. This is not the way to go. Not when it comes to this topic.”
“Yeah, I know I’m not making much sense. Ugh, I guess I’m too deep in my comfort zone. This place I came to, to reflect and all… maybe I did it too much.”
“That’s what I’m saying. You are ready. And we’re not only talking about finding a girl here. In general… you’ve been keeping to yourself. That’s why I was writing to you, like, you know, get out, meet some people.”
I looked up. Even the thought of meeting people, talking, cracking jokes made me uneasy, as I was to meet them all right now, at the same time. I knew my psyche was lying to me, that was not how it’s going to happen, but I felt like my next mission would be to fight a giant. Blake’s eye met mine at this point, I raised my eyes and eyebrows as if to say “such is life.” And he did the same, except his face had that “yeah, I got you bro” look.
After some sipping tea from our cups and biting cookies, I said, “Do you remember, I was telling you that two of Jacques’s friends committed suicide like a week ago? One’s a dude and another is a girl. And both in, like, 2 weeks almost. I mean, they were his classmates but, you know… and the dude was his roommate. Imagine. Last time he wrote to me, he told me he feels guilty; he didn’t keep in touch with him much, and he was telling me, like, his death fucked me up. I was speechless, bro. God only knows what state he’s in these days. But, you know, everyone’s going through something, and I guess this is a phase, but it’s gonna be tough.”
“Yeah, yeah, you told me that before. I remember. It’s a tricky topic, man. You gotta approach it carefully, when thinking about such things. But mostly, I think those who are our age, those who are younger, they look at things like bad things only happen to them. Of course, you are going to feel horrible when you’re suicidal, but it’s not the answer, it don’t really solve anything.”
“And both of them were Muslim, dude. That even tells a lot about our community. What I’m trying to say is, these things are more common than we like to think. And there isn’t much talk around it. Everyone’s trying to hide things under the carpet and show how happy they are when they’re all pretending. Then people keep to themselves and all of a sudden you see there’s a lot of mess. You feel lost and all that.”
“Yeah, that’s another side to it. And do you know, like, even if things are that bad, one needs to be able to have some patience with it, right?”
“Of course. I agree, people are jumping to conclusions all the time, but a suicidal person doesn’t think like that. There isn’t something like a timeline that you can look at. It feels like it’s been going on for too long, from the beginning, even. Maybe you’d say to yourself, like, ‘oh I was never satisfied, I always had that brokenness in me,’ and that goes on and on. Me and Jacques was talking about this. He said, like, especially in believing families, parents are like, ‘Here, this is God; you talk to Him, you pray to Him, follow his rules, otherwise you’re going to suffer,’ and that’s it. They call it guidance. You never see someone opening up to their parents or anything. I know, of course, you’d tell about God as a believer, alright. But what about the relationship part. It’s almost absurd, living under the same roof for years and not knowing their inside. And we call each other closest people. That’s too dumb.”
“Oh yeah. A lot needs to change. A lot…”
After a moment he told me how people who are depressed, suicidal overlook a lot of basic facts. He said:
“It’s easy to say that there’s no justice in this world. There’s nothing more than evidences of that. But if you used a little bit of common sense, I think it’s apparent, there has to be something behind all this. Just think about the mistakes you’ve made. They’re all so dumb, right? It’s obvious we don’t have all that intelligence. So why would one think they can fully understand God, cosmos, universe, all that. We don’t even know everything there is to know in our professions; experts take the most absurdly dumb paths and we still say to ourselves, like, ‘oh, I know this.’ People could use some humility; at least some patience with this all. I mean we’re not going to figure everything overnight, are we?”
I felt sleepiness taking over me. I was yawning once in a while the whole time. When I checked the time, it was four in the morning. Still, we didn’t go to sleep. We talked about this and that. We talked about the meaning of life, God, wants and needs, our dreams; smallest details kept coming up to my mind as we talked. I remember my cheeks were hurting from laughing. This was not the first time; I think friends can make you burst out laughing more often than anyone, voluntarily or not. I told him about the movie I’ve watched where two old guys who were about to die try all sorts of things.
“There’s this one scene where they go racing. And they’re shouting to each other. One drove a classic Dodge; I can’t remember but I think it was Dodge. And the other is Mustang. In that exact scene I said to myself, yo, I wanna do this with Blake once we retire. It’s so sick! These Morgan Freeman movies are freaking good, bro. We’d watch it in the room if we was in college, but let’s see if we can find a cinema that shows is sometime.”
His face brightened up when I was talking. But soon, though, we were silent. Blake, especially, seemed exhausted. I turned to face the wall. After what felt like five minutes, I said:
“Yo, I knew I would regret that shit when I did it, man.”
He didn’t give any response. I turned to see if he was sleeping. Yes, and it was a deep one. The last thing I remember is he was snoring when I was about to sleep.