I walk along the path alone, in silence but for the sound of my breath and the murmur of voices. They trail along behind me, tethered by the thinnest threads of unbreakable silk. They’re the lost ones. The dead. Friends, foes, acquaintances, randoms. They’re the heroes who battled side-by-side with me, each in their own wars, lonely soldiers fighting to their death, their only weapons needles, bottles, pipes and ashes. Warriors with steel doors between their heads and hearts that they’d long ago lost the key to, who never found themselves able to set the tiny delicate flame of their spirit free again after being crushed under the blind world’s sole.
So they took up arms for their war.
They trail along behind me as I walk, a wafting, wavering, murky cloud of dust motes, bobbing along this way and that on a shifting breeze. They don’t leave me, ever, not completely. But I notice them less now as I trek and trudge farther along away from my own battlefield. Most days, I don’t think about them at all.
Most days I forget to be glad to be alive.
But then in the murky random surprising quiet moments of life I think of one of them, and suddenly they all come rushing in, jostling for attention.
And then come all the others whose names I’ve forgotten. Shame on me, that I can’t remember them.
And then come the ones I think must be dead by now, too.
I think they must be there to remind me of how lucky I am. How I’ve been chosen. How, somehow, I get to live. My heart speeds up when I think of them. It races as if to say, “Hey! I’m still here!” And it races with fear, the fear of what almost happened. Of almost being one of them. Of losing more of them. Of knowing it’s still waiting for me, the bastard reaper, the minute I pick up the fight again with my needles, bottles, pipes and ashes. He’s frustrated and impatient at my lack of cooperation with his plans, all the times he had me in his iron grip but instead somehow I wriggle away just in time, leaving him hungry and drooling. Always wafting along like a motherfucker, trailing right behind my dead on their silk threads.
They all died at his hands. Exploding hearts and ruptured esophaguses. Steak knives and suicides. And especially the very particular and uneventful slipping away to heroin, so peaceful, and lonely, and blue.
The dead follow me around so I remember to be alive. “Don’t forget,” they say, their breath cold on my neck. “Don’t forget us.”
And sometimes I still feel the cool blue gruesome long-fingered delicate caress of heroin on my neck, doing its best to love me, to lure me, to lie to me. Leading me back to the reaper, back to see my friends. Seductive. Ephemeral.
So full of shit.
I have to look at the earthy ground to remind me where I am, my boot prints in the dirt. I’m on the path, alone, silent but for my breath. Then the wind sings its songs through the trees and I hear their voices again, “Don’t forget us.”
Then God’s voice whispers through the infinite leaves and says, “Stay here, with me. Sing their songs into the world for me.”
Then I remember. It’s why I’m here, why I’m not one of them, a dust mote tossed about on the thinnest thread of unbreakable silk, bouncing on the relentless breeze. I remember, and so the sound rushes up from my belly and thrusts itself into the world and I sing a song so sweet and strong and beautiful it must be true. I sing for them, and for those who still fight.