Hey Nate. It’s Ben. I’m sorry to say that I’m in your room. Quiet in here. Feels like you just left, like the last thing you said before you stepped into the hallway should still be ringing in my ears. I bet if I lifted your pillow, I’d find some of your curly hair. Sorry, weird thought. Could be useful for cloning you in the future though. There’s still an empty Cherry Coke here on the desk. No homework out, which scans. The window is closed and the shades are down, and the magnetic darts are still hanging bullseye on the back of the door.
I can hear the wood under the hallway carpet; mom walking out of her room and into the bathroom. It feels like we were just jamming and it was your turn to pee and you’ll be right back. I can hear mom peeing, but maybe it’s you. Maybe the muffled creaks will come this way instead, heavier and slower than how her feet move, and you’ll open the door and come right back in.
What would it be like to live in a house where you couldn’t hear everyone pee? Scientists say we may never know.
The bass is out of tune. Something you’d never accept. You wouldn’t just tune the strings to each other, you’d break out a quarter-inch and the tuner in case we wanted to play along to something from the speakers. One of those boxy Gateway beasts was still on the first night, that quiet hiss that you don’t really notice until the red light goes off and the room is some new kind of quiet.
Can’t smell your dumbass cologne, which is nice.
Pile of clothes in the corner, more on the floor of the closet. A pile of your shirts on the bed—From a Second Story Window, Cattle Decapitation, From Autumn to Ashes. God, none of the bands we listen to have short names. Might claim a couple, maybe wear one to a show.
I’m supposed to be packing up your stuff. I don’t think mom and dad can do it. Asked me like it would be a real treat, cornered me while I was eating Captain Crunch up on the counter with my back against the cabinet. Came in the room together from some kind of private parental summit. I think they would hire someone, but we’re basically out of money. There’s a bunch of cardboard boxes in the hallway blocking the way to my room, and dad won’t shut up about how expensive they were. They weren’t that much, just more expensive than you’d think boxes would be.
You’ve been gone for seven months and we have no idea where you are. Because you’re seventeen, the police said it’s likely you just fucked off. “Fucked off” being a technical term here. Even though you had been talking to mom not thirty seconds before you disappeared. Even though your duct tape wallet is still right here on the desk, cash in it. ID. ATM card—I remember cracking up that BoA let you choose some random NASCAR dude for the background. Maybe you had a wad somewhere I didn’t know about. If so, kudos, I guess. Cops asked us if you had a beeper, which was worth a laugh. People keep implying that you jumped into a gorge somewhere. Either that, or there’s some truly expert abductor on the loose.
Mom convinced the police to throw a search party, which I know you would have hated, and we even did that movie thing where we all trooped through the woods behind our house in a line. Someone found a mitten. I tried to tell everyone you’d never worn a mitten in your life; you’d just blow hot air into your cupped hands and clap them together like dirty shoes.
I have a hard time picturing you getting shoved into a van, so I guess you’re probably dead. Sucks, man. I never heard you talk about suicide or being sad, but apparently that doesn’t mean much.
It feels physically smaller in here for a reason I can’t figure out.
When the cops found your shirts, they walked around all heavy waisted, shaking their heads like a sad guy in a play. Like that settled the whole thing. Angry music; sad kid. If I have to listen to one more person say this, I myself will walk into a gorge. I can’t believe adults are this stupid. I listen to most of the same bands—found out about most of them from you—and I’m not about to jump in a quarry. Oh yeah, they think you’re in the quarry. No joke, the police department hired a psychic who had a vision of a quarry. They even sent two amateur cadaver divers—this husband and wife who showed up from West Virginia once all the media was here. They said they were body recovery experts, had all their scuba gear with them in their minivan. Honestly, check those people for depression. I’d be way more likely to kill myself if my hobby was finding other people’s soggy kids at the bottoms of quarries. World’s most depressing marine biologists.
Fuck, man, so many weirdos showed up. You would have gotten a kick out of it. It became one of those stories, I think because mom stepped into the other room to answer the phone, and then you were gone. Gone without a trace—tonight at ten!
The police are truly inept. They assumed you ran away until they found all of your money upstairs. Then they seemed to think maybe mom or dad killed you, so they brought them in. Luminolled our entire house. Never asked me, the losers. I was at school for the dance marathon, so I suppose I have an alibi. I thought maybe you had dipped out to come tag in. Would have been more helpful than just totally disappearing, to be honest. The dance marathon was exhausting, and then I had to be around the police and then the news cameras and then the murder show people while being indescribably sore. Seriously, every muscle in my body. Muscles I would never repetitively use, like my upper neck and toes.
When no blood turned up, they circled back to your posters and shirts and that’s when the suicide talk really picked up. The psychic, who the police department paid actual taxpayer money to, said you were a “disturbed young man.” I don’t know any serene young men.
Anyways. They haven’t found you in the quarry. I don’t think you’re in the quarry. You were not a guy who showed any interest in quarries. And it’s a weird theory, if you ask me, because kids jump in there for fun all the time. It’s not high enough to kill on impact. So you’d have to jump in and drown yourself. Could do that anywhere. The river.
Mom and dad hired a PI. This guy had seen better days. Ratty leather jacket, weird smudges on his glasses. His hair was short and stringy like a wet little dog’s. Was a sharp dude, though. Sat with us in the living room, asked good questions, like if there were any unaccounted vehicles we might not think of as vehicles, like broken bikes or roller blades. Probably interviewed more of your friends than the police did. He smelled like you, man, sweat and smoke. I liked him.
He worked it for a couple months. Nothing, pretty much. Was expensive, I guess, I don’t know. Dad stopped going in and he still has a job but he’s not getting paid, is my impression. He sits around, never fully drunk but never truly sober, a clean one to two beers every eight hours. Mom’s still doing her shifts. Well, now she is. Not the overnights anymore. One of them always sleeps downstairs. Don’t know if they’re in a fight or if they think someone needs to be down there in case you walk back in the house. You know, to tell you off for being late.
I’ve been largely ignored. It’s been fine. I got some tight hugs and then you know, it’s been mopey town around here.
Honestly, man, just miss the hell out of you. It was a tedious summer without you. Only 1P on games. Realize I suck at guitar without you taking the lead on stuff. You were a quiet guy but when you spoke up, it made an impact. Even if you were being kinda snotty, you had a way of making fun of the right stuff. Don’t know how to put it.
Dad read a book about losing a kid, and one of the chapters recommends packing things up. Apparently, a lot of the parents leave these tombs, holding out hope that the kid will come back and everyone can pick up where they left off, as if packing up their stuff is the thing that actually kills them.
God, this sucks. It’s so weird being in here. You owe me.
The police asked me a hundred times if you’d ever talked about going somewhere. Thought maybe if I said something good, we could get a vacation out of it, like, “Oh, he always talked about running away to the ruins of Belize.”
We didn’t talk much about stuff like that. We talked about tours, about how Brigham’s made the best grilled cheese, about certain teachers’ odd haircuts, about the weird books you were reading like Energy at the Crossroads—I read a page of that book and my brain melted off. I think you’re too smart to get kidnapped. We’d dissect sets, you’d tell me about paradiddles, about the different ways drummers would hold their calves for double bass, what the agreed fastest ways were, who was basically the best, etc. You’d talk about the lineage of different genres, about At the Gates and how many bands they inspired, about the old Tampa scene and English grind and the tape swaps and zines. It’s funny that they thought the music made you sad because you were never more alive than when you were talking about it, listening to it.
Let’s get real though. I have spent a lot of time staring up at the ceiling, trying to think of places that meant something to you, where you might go if something happened, but the only ones I could think of were places someone would see you. Roof of the school. Annie McNerney’s basement. My room, without my permission.
We never talked about where you would go. If we did, shit, I didn’t pay enough attention.
I remembered that one time we went way out to Danvers to that old fort you found on UrbEx New England, how peaceful it was just rotting away. I drove out there without cops and was able to find my way back to it. This was in October, and it was already cold as hell. Kept my hands in my sweatshirt the whole time. Lots of good leaf crunching. Nothing out there, though. I felt both bored and terrified, like it was a waste of time and I was about to turn a corner and see your frozen corpse. Anytime color popped on the ground, my heart about stopped. But it would be old trash bags, a tarp left to rot. Nothing there but stone walls, open to the sky, the roof long ago taken by nature or ooched by thieves.
Standing out there, squirrels laughing at me, freezing my ass off, I’ll admit, I cursed you out. Like, fuck, man. What the hell? You left me here, you left mom and dad here. Weak. We’re pretty wrecked. If you were depressed, you know you could have told me anything. You know that, right? That I would have dropped anything to help you? If you needed to go, that I would have gone with you? I would have skipped exams and ducked out on all my friends. I would have helped you get money together, whatever you needed. I would have done anything for you. Still would.
I threw a tantrum. Stomped around like a little baby until I kicked a stone and hurt the side of my foot. Scared some birds. Felt better once I got some french fries in me on the way home, but this anger I have for you, it rushes in and it makes me want to wallop your sides and then it sneaks away like a wave and I’m left just feeling so sad you’re not here.
I looked for you in my closet, the day after, like you were lost keys, and I was retracing my steps to find you.
Then a few weeks ago, it hit me. Just like that, I knew where you’d be. The show to end all shows: Converge at the United Methodist Church in Wakefield, November 15th. Intimate basement set, no stage—you loved that. Just a sloping hardwood floor, low ceiling, and white walls. The Blood Brothers opening, along with Give Up the Ghost and A Life Once Lost. Two of your favorite bands, two more bands you loved. You’d been talking about it since the moment you saw the tour announcement on Lambgoat, came into my room with this crazy grin on your face, asking me to guess who was touring together. This must have been a week or two before you went missing.
I knew if you were laying low in some nearby motel, you wouldn’t be able to resist. I knew if you were tied up in the back of some sicko’s van, that’d be the day you’d finally bite through that last restraint, and you’d be there.
The night of the show, I got there early. No one in the parking lot yet except the tour vans, the white twelve-seaters with the gear in the trailer hooked to the back. I stayed in my car next to the plow pile, ate three plain McDonald’s hamburgers and a large fry while watching the door, scanning everyone entering like the Terminator.
Once the sun went down, I went in. Got the X’s on my hands. Give Up The Ghost had their gear out and ready, and the rest of the bands had set up their kits further back, so the room would get bigger as each band broke down their stuff. The bands themselves were unloading merch. I didn’t recognize a lot of them, but Nate—I met Jake Bannon. Jake fucking Bannon. I shook his hand while he was laying out merch. I wish I could have got something, but scraping together for the ticket, gas, and Mickey D’s was hard enough.
Watched the door. Everyone in black tees or hoodies, jeans. It was like fucking Hoth outside but no one had coats, because you knew the basement would be a sauna by the time Converge finished. Saw a few familiar faces. Irish cap guy. Big Indian dude. Buzz cut guys who might be twins. But not you.
Give up the Ghost was solid, the breakdowns got people moving. A Life Once Lost—wow. Really tight, man, like some factory-sized industrial earth mover built to grind polyrhythms and spit out antipathy. Better live than on the record. The new stuff absolutely ripped. Like, the new songs were moshable even though no one knew them yet.
I stayed towards the back, keeping one eye on the door. In khakis and my red RATM shirt, the one with the Zapatista on the front. My go-to show shirt, once I realized how sweat-soaked and ripped anything would get, packed in there, hands clutching, people crowd surfing. Drinks flying everywhere, trapping the smoke from the room into the shirt. Mom said we smelled like degenerates every time we came home.
The Blood Brothers were about to begin. I knew you would know somehow when their set would start. They hoisted up a square poster behind them, plugged in the keyboard. Five minutes of level checking with the guitars.
But they came on, the vocalists screeching their caterwauling disco hardcore, and you still weren’t there. I got into the set, shouted all the words, and it wasn’t that weird being towards the back because everyone was losing it in there.
While Converge did their final sound check, I started pushing up to the front, peering into the hooded faces as I passed just in case you’d snuck in the back somehow. I got this queasy feeling in my stomach, and I had this vision that I’d get to the front, recognize some broad shoulders, turn them around. What would I say? Would I hug you or sock you right in the gut?
But before I could even get all the way to the front, Converge began. No house music coming down, no synth intro, just a four count on the drum sticks. They started with Drop Out and it was like a bomb went off. Arms, legs flailing. A ceiling tile came off and got ripped to shreds. Bannon was in the crowd the entire time, Nate. Mobbed with people shouting the lyrics into the mic with him, his bald head shining in the shitty fluorescents, all veins and screams. It was the most insane thing I’ve ever seen. I don’t know how anyone in the back could really see, the pit opened up and swallowed the whole room, the entire crowd windmilling.
Deeper into the set, they played “Jane Doe”—the song, not the full record. Lots of X’s on hands held up to the sky like a revivalist tent. I was on the edge of the pit, keeping my elbow up like a guard rail, but everyone seemed to know not to bowl into me, because I’m a kid, I guess. They played all twelve minutes of Jane Doe.
I really lost it. Knocked something loose in me. Screamed my throat dry, cried a little. Knew I was hurting my vocal cords, but it felt good. The song peaked, you know what part I’m talking about, that long chugging buildup, the drums getting faster, the guitars rising and rising until they explode with that high, dissonant riff, and Bannon shrieking over that spine-tingling melody, and I was screaming too, the whole room wailing together, and without thinking I stepped into the middle of the pit and there you were, man, right there with me, showing me how to two-step, holding me up to crowd surf, showing me how to pick up a guy who had fallen. Showing me what it was all about, the ethos of the whole thing, like you’d coalesced out of the moisture in the room, all of our exhalations coming together to remake you. I was remembering you the way you remember old summers, the way they glow because you can’t go back, and I knew somehow then that you were gone for good.
I kept crying during the encore—The Saddest Day, not a joke—and no one noticed or cared because it’s that kind of thing. You showed me that. Froze my ass off shuffling back to the car, the sweat in my shirt immediately freezing. Blasted the heat and sat on my hands. I wore ear plugs like you always told me to but there was still this hum, the aftershocks of the movement of the show. Maybe it was the two Red Bulls I had.
I drove back, past midnight, even though I’m not supposed to with my permit. Drove slow so there was no chance of getting stopped. Even though I hadn’t told mom and dad when I was going to be back, when I rolled in, dad looked up from the couch, mumbled something in his sleep, and plopped right back down. Maybe they figure if I’m gonna go, I’m gonna go.
Anyways. I’m going to pack up your stuff now. All of that’s to say: I know where you went. Sorry I couldn’t come with. I’ll see you when I get there. Thanks for everything, love you, man, for real.
Rick Andrews is an improviser, instructor, and writer living in New York City. He has writings published/forthcoming in Ninth Letter, The Normal School, and Emrys Journal, among others.