Thursday afternoon . . .
I woke-up to the smell of pepperoni and mushroom pizza. And not that frozen stuff either, this was Dominoes. My vision was blurry from being asleep, or being dead—still not positive which is more to blame.
My first word was, “Kristen!”
“Easy, buddy,” Ricky said as he blotted my head with a warm cloth. “You’ve been out for almost twenty hours. Your body had had enough last night when you crossed back. You looked at me, all lazy-eyed, and said, ′she loves me’. And then you were out.”
“We kissed,” I coughed out. My throat was scratched and burning like never before. Like I’d been gargling razorblades.
Ricky looked at me with pity in his eyes, “I swear, Jack. If I find out you have been risking death for some morose wet dream, I’m going to be pissed.”
“No, no,” I explain to him. “This was all the proof I needed. Whatever these people need done, it’s my responsibility to do it. It’s my fate. My destiny.” I was mumbling at that point, and he just crossed his arms.
“You want some pizza, or you wanna keep talking about some dead chick you’ve got the hots for?”
I reached for a piece of pizza, opening my hand and fingers.
“You can get up and get it yourself,” Ricky said, walking off towards the kitchen nook. “Damn it, Jim! I’m a witch doctor, not a waiter!”
I looked at him like he’s retarded.
“Dude . . . Star Trek? Dr. McCoy? Captain Kirk?”
I sit up, shrugging with my eyes. I don’t know what he’s talking about, but it sounds stupid.
“Boston Legal? The guy from the Priceline commercials . . . the Negotiator?” he tries.
“You are really starved for good cinema,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “Completely lacking in the finer things. Let’s eat.”
And so I made my way over to the kitchen nook and grabbed a warm slice of probably the best tasting thing in two dimensions. Well, a close second to the Quarter-pounder with cheese.
That first bite I took, it was the single most pleasing thing I have ever done. I can’t describe it. I guess, since I haven’t had sex—ever—I think it would be something comparable to that. And Ricky and I sat there, scarfing down pizza and telling crude jokes until two large pizzas were gone.
We washed it all down with cold milk—not, obviously, the ideal pizza companion, but pretty darn good anyway. It also made my throat not hurt so bad.
After we had finished drinking, and had long since run out of raunchy jokes—which I think Ricky gets in Maxim magazine—there was a moment of silent reflection between us. We had grown to be good friends, he and I, in a relatively short period of time.
We’d known each other for nearly my entire remembered life. So for me, it was like he was a brother. For him, I’m not sure, but maybe he thinks of me like a brother, too. We don’t have to prove anything to each other. He’s not judgmental about the ideas I have. In a way, I’m kind of like the friends he wishes he had in school. If it’s true—all that stuff about him being a trust fund baby—then he probably had a hard time with meaningful relationships.
I don’t know much about the world today, but what I read about in the magazines and see on television makes me think that having a bunch of money can be just as bad as having no money. Ricky says that rich problems are much easier to deal with than poor problems because you have means. You can be rich and unhappy, or poor and unhappy, but if you’re in the rich group you can sit around your yacht, sipping expensive Champaign and eating the finest lobster and shrimp while you consider how unhappy you are.
It’s that part of Ricky that I like. The logical, if brutal, side to his mind. He is very good at cutting through the shit and letting you know where he stands. Lots of times he says the things I wish I had the courage to say.
But I wonder what he gets out of our friendship, other than just a companion. So I asked him as we’re sitting back, nursing our fat stomachs.
He looked at me, picking his words carefully, “Jack . . . I like you because there is no underbelly to your words. You don’t have a hidden agenda. You say what you feel, without thinking about the way I might look at you. You have an honesty about you that makes me want to be a bit less of an asshole in my life.”
“Surely,” I say, “you had good friends in the past? Other honest people, I mean.”
“Okay,” he said, “maybe I’m not being clear enough.” He leaned his head back as if the words he needed were on the alien landscape of my ceiling. “You give me humanity. You give me hope.”
“That’s interesting. How so?” I wonder.
“Around you there is this seemingly normal-guy aura. But it’s more than that. I’m not sure if you even realize it. You have a kind of goodness in you. I don’t know if you would call it tolerance, or altruism, um . . . unselfishness?” He shrugged, his eyes coming back down to meet mine, “You have grace. I can’t think of any other way to put it.”
“They think I’m their savior, you know?” I said half-heartedly. “Can you believe that? Me, a savior?”
Ricky nodded slowly, “Yes, Jack. I can see that. All of this is just too much for it not to mean something. Me,” he said tapping his thin white t-shirt with both hands, “I’m a man of science. I was. But now, seeing all of this, and knowing you . . . I’m not so sure. If there is something out there—and I’m convinced that you’re not making all of this up—then we need to do whatever it takes to uncover it.”
“Even,” I said, “if it means risking our lives?”
“Especially it if means risking our lives. That is what a journey is all about. This may be our time, Jack. We—you and I—a prodigy burn-out, and a mental patient, this is exactly the way that it should work. You and I have no reason to cook the books. Neither of us needs belief of a deity or faith to survive. Matter of fact, it’s something that we don’t even bother with. So who better than us to usher in a new era in thinking.”
“Hold on,” I said. “They just think I am their savior. I ain’t done nuthin’ yet.”
“Do you love that girl, Kristen, you’re always talking about?”
“Yes,” I say without hesitation.
“Do you have anything here worth losing her for?” he asked.
I can’t come up with one single thing.
“Then you go back there, Jack, and you find out what you are destined to do.”
“Geez, Ricky,” I say, “You are more passionate about this than I am.”
“Then maybe you need to wise-up a bit, Jack. You need to take a stand. Do you know what the Romans did at a funeral when somebody they loved had died?”
“I’m being serious here.”
“Sorry, I read about it in National Geographic.”
“They didn’t sit around crying about their loss, dressing in black, and mourning like we do these days. No, they asked one question of that person. They asked, did he have passion? Nothing else mattered to them. Only passion.”
Ricky was right. I was still trying to sit on the sidelines. I had to get into the game, take a few hits.
“I think,” I say to him as I straighten up, “that I have passion.”
Ricky smiled, crossed his arms in front of him and said, “Alright then, what next?”
I briefly recounted what happed, what Kristen and Rupert had said, and our pending meeting a week from now. He thought that would give us enough time to get me back healthy enough for another crossing.
When I told him about the spook hive, he said, “See! I told you that place was haunted.”
I also told him that they had offered me a chance at getting my memories back. But oddly, he didn’t seem as enthusiastic about this as I thought he’d be. I asked him, “What’s wrong?”
His arms still crossed, his eyes curious and speculative, he says, “I don’t know, Jack. What if you don’t like what you remember?”
“What if I do, though? How can I rest knowing that the answers to my forgotten past are just a stone’s throw away?”
“I just think that’s a two-edged sword. On the one hand, you may have a family and a beautiful life waiting for you. But then, where does that leave Kristen?”
“What do you mean?” I asked. But I knew what he was asking.
“Suppose you have a wonderful wife and kids. Then what about Kristen, are you willing to write her off?”
“I don’t know.”
“And then there’s that other razor’s edge I was talking about. What if you find out you weren’t the man you hoped? What if you were a drunk? Or a wife beater? Or a divorce lawyer? Or some janitor in an insane asylum?” He shuddered as he said the words.
“You mean like a tard-farmer?”
“You know what I’m getting at. What if the answer to the question isn’t nice? It’s possible that you might be better off as Jack Pagan, and not the man you once were.”
I shook my head. “No,” I said, “I have to know. That’s what all of this is about. My quest is to save them, free their souls. And my reward is my memories. Those memories that are hidden away, echoing an eternity in a place I cannot hear, unless I succeed.”
“Anyway,” Ricky said, “. . . I just think you should give that some thought.”
I looked at him, a slight grin forming on my face, “Would you really put tard-farmer on your list of horrible people?”
He took a breath, relaxed his shoulders, and yawned, “Yup. Probably near the top.”
Yeah, that’s my best friend.