Tag: gideon


This is the last post I will write about Gideon, because I have the feeling that he is fading—not out of life in general, but out of my life, specifically. A tremulous line of salt on the craggy blue rocks, dissolving as the water comes in. The last triumphant note of a hundred-member orchestra, evaporating into the air of a bronze chamber. Tears cling to my face—tears neither of suffering nor joy, but some third thing that unbolts like a chest in an attic.

Time is a forest and Gideon and I briefly walked one of its branching paths together. I recall emerging, blurry-eyed, from a far-off den, and seeing him across a field of purple heather, through the thorns. We were brought together by the similarities in life experience, the proximity in our ages, and the coincidence of our encounter at the crossroads. Though we had little in common, initially, beyond the circumstantial, we both possessed a dark streak that we felt set us apart, and that made us distrustful of anything dew-sweetened in the gardens of our pasts—those potions, clouds, and roses. We suspected already that knowledge—sometimes an antidote, sometimes a poison—would trickle back through the forest, settling in those gardens like an oil spill, revealing the potion to be syrup, the clouds, smoke. The roses, fanged and carnivorous.

In a coffee shop on a main road, we compared notes. We traded vulnerabilities, and didn’t. We learned, and didn’t. On a frozen street in midwinter, we tried to console each other. We tried to make the moment more than it was. I held Gideon’s two gloved hands in both of mine and promised we’d keep in touch, though I understood that we would not. My breath was a plume of pewter-colored smoke. His face contorted with pain, but I was privately embarrassed by the hugeness of his feelings. Another part of me, secreted within the depths of my ego, was crushed, too, because I knew his tears were not shed on my behalf, but because of his fear of the upcoming end to our age of innocence.

Ah, I’m not writing about Gideon anymore, am I? Not the Gideon that I know now, in any case. Not tall, dark-eyed and depressed Gideon with the painstakingly gelled hair and the perfectly tailored suit. It may be that in each stage of my life I meet a Gideon—someone who shares my propensity for cynicism, my terror— and we move each other, like twin red stars locked in an inescapable orbit, but without ever coming close to telling each other the truth.

Now, crawling through the dark moss, I raise my eyes and see Gideon. He is hidden in the dense canopy, one eye of blood-streaked amber visible through a shroud of gold-edged leaves. I blink and he vanishes. My breath is a bruised fist in my chest as I wade through a stream of chilly, translucent blue. The water doesn’t rid me of the thorns, but it lessens their sting. On the other side, I find soft hollows left by footsteps, where spores of something unknown and scintillating have taken root.

Contrapasso of the butterfly

With a disconcertingly cheerful chime, my phone announces the arrival of a text from Gideon. I shift my attention over to the rectangle of light, underneath the bed covers, that glows like a predatory fish at 20,000 feet. The text is encased in a chest of forest green that appears as soon as I pick up the phone; I open it with a press of the thumb and absorb, rather than read, its message. Its few lines catapult off the screen and fall over me in a dark wave. The words are disfigured, somehow and, in reading, they disfigure me. Gideon has had a panic attack.

It’s not a good time for feelings. At present, I am in the wallowing in the damp, chilly swamp between the moody pool of sleep and the acrid desert of wakefulness. I am refusing to enter the labyrinth of the rest of day which will involve: coffee, news, coffee, e-mail, e-mail, e-mail, coffee, self-loathing break, PowerPoint, e-mail, e-mail. Possibly I have understated the prevalence of email in that list. If I have time for Gideon, it is only in the splinters between one task and another, when my attention will falter and catch on the thorn of my recollection of his message, and I will think of him pacing his bedroom, or forcing himself to eat lunch, or scrolling aimlessly through Instagram, or lying on the couch with his face pressed wetly to the dusty cushions.

His trust in me terrifies me. He’s told me about his panic attack, apparently without any thought to what I could do with the information. In the past, I might have felt perverse pleasure at receiving such personal revelations. A missive handwritten in blood and addressed to me is proof of my success as an advisor, a confidant, a companion. It’s proof of power—power to plunge my hand through a mask of flesh and expression and extract the broken shards of a confession, a secret, a promise. To be trusted with vulnerability is to be well-regarded, respected, cherished as a friend. But reading the text from Gideon now feels like being handed a nail bomb. Its jagged edges pierce the palm of my hand. It escapes my grasp and pinballs relentlessly around the bare corridors of my mind. Its power is obvious and frightening.

He’s had scary thoughts, he says. He’s sought out professional assistance, and it hasn’t helped. I am not surprised, though I am still disheartened. “I am working on it in therapy” is a sentence I cannot parse, even though the phrase is deployed so casually now it’s easy to accept it axiomatically, as a basic truth of our modern world. I think of a therapist as the Virgil to a patient’s Dante; they may record, console, reassure, even guide and reframe, but they cannot change the fundamental principles of the underworld. A guided and annotated voyage through Hell is not a useless exercise, but it is also not useful in the way Gideon, self-aware and self-hating to the end, needs. But then again, what do I know about what he needs? I am still searching for the sequence of words that would unlock his peace of mind, though I know, from the cruelty of experience, that I have never possessed the ability to summon the angel, to hasten the healing, to produce the cure. Each attempt only manages to cause more harm.

I wish I could tell Gideon this: I don’t ever feel life is worth living, either. But it doesn’t matter, because that’s the wrong question. I don’t look at a black and yellow butterfly, shredded on the concrete outside my front door, and wonder if its life was worth it. A butterfly leads a life lacking in fate, purpose, or worth. It flies past the archangel Gabriel and doesn’t recognize him. Its life and ours are different but fundamentally the same, in the way all shapes of the weather emanate from basic properties of the sky. Does that help you to feel less unworthy—the notion itself that “worth” itself it not worthy of consideration?

I know it doesn’t. I know it strikes you as a flimsy, indulgent rhetorical exercise. A cheap square of plywood when what you need is a bridge of solid oak to cross a black gulf. We stand there, together, at its opening, where the dry earth forms a trembling lip that threatens to crumble and then cascade down into nothing. We stare down. We belong to that darkness below but it does not think of us anymore than the ocean thinks of the fish that belong to it. We hold our lives—yours, mine, and the butterfly’s—in the form of palmfuls of red sand, held tightly in the undecorated chalices of our hands. I am trying to convince both you and me to tip the red sand back into the vials in our pockets and experience what we can in this wasteland of occasional beauty. I am trying to summon the courage to touch your arm. To be a comfort to you when I cannot be a comfort to myself. In the end, we will be lost to the mouth of the wind, and whatever dust we leave behind will never tell the complete story.

Ambulance ride

In a chain coffee shop on a busy street, sitting in booth seats upholstered in wine-colored imitation velvet, the babble of strangers around us like a shield of white noise, Gideon tells me he’s been thinking about suicide. He doesn’t say it in so many words, but he makes his meaning clear. I realize that the next thing I say will be vitally important. The thought is excruciating. He stares at me expectantly—I choose to say nothing. I don’t engage on the topic beyond a sad smile. Now, I replay that tape of the two of us, seated across from one another with mugs of flavorless coffee in our hands. I reexamine the arrangement of my face, reevaluate my performance: did that smile languish, even briefly, into bitterness?

Gideon is perceptive; he notes my discomfort and lets the conversation flow away naturally. But he is still hurting, and it’s only natural to pick at a wound. Eventually he paddles back to circle that point in the murky water. He peers into it, balancing his body against the edge of the canoe, getting the sleeves of his white t-shirt wet, while I watch from the shore. My feet sink into cold, coppery sand. The long, thin reeds that grow along the bank come up to my neck; stripes of amber gone purple in the twilight, their dry touch swiping across my jugular. When Gideon looks up at me, his expression is gentle, apologetic, almost tender; he must suspect this is not easy to witness. I know he is thinking kinder thoughts toward me than toward himself. But he doesn’t know this isn’t my first rodeo. He doesn’t know a more innocent friend would serve him better here.

Eventually Gideon calls to me, asking, in a tone that manages to be both mild and desperate, if I struggle with mental health myself. I take a breath and speak at length, drawing out words like stitches over skin, keeping my voice light, as balmy as a warm summer evening. I talk about the challenges of my childhood, the idiocy of my early twenties, the mistakes made out of insecurity, fear, and, sometimes, love. But I don’t answer the question. I don’t say “yes” or “no.” Gideon, always focused and attentive, nods, but we both understand that I am holding back. The disclosure of vulnerabilities he desired can’t happen. Some small and starry-eyed part of him slips, stumbles, and falls away. I hear the splash he makes as he makes contact with the water.

Later, I Google “what to say when someone wants to kill themselves” and panic at the thought that I did the wrong thing, again. Did I push him into the hole? Did I help him dig it? Did I chuck a shovel at him from the flatbed of a truck, and then drive away? Emotion wells to the surface then, in tiny, painful bursts, like blood through a pinprick-sized hole in the skin. I bury the feeling without looking it in the face. But it returns to uneasy life, waking me up at four in the morning. In the bruised, poisoned violet half-light of this room, I see Gideon standing there, at my bedside. His eyes are ringed in wet-looking shadows, like the circles of condensation left by shot glasses abandoned on a table.

I imagine driving through the night, my hands steady on the wheel, down a road through the wetlands. The puddles on the asphalt shine like mirrors. Parking on a wide shoulder seeded by raggedy weeds, I unfasten my seatbelt and emerge into the kaleidoscope of my life and its million mysteries. I lean back against the car trunk, warming my hands with my breath. Gideon hands me a paper cup of gas station coffee. We watch the pink-and-blue portal of the dawn sky slide open. He laughs at one of my wry jokes, and I can’t help but smile, with huge and unfeigned joy, even though the childishness of my emotion spoils the punchline. The early morning air is a treasure of light. It tastes like a potion of healing. Like something uncomplicated and pure. Something that grants everlasting permission to dream, as though everything is still only beginning.