I’ll Follow You Into the Dark

Days like today always make Ben’s track marks a little sore.  Something about the weather, or the music, or something, makes them crave that sweet, sweet sugar he spent so much of his life giving them.  As he handed his old, beat up disk to Jimmy,  he couldn’t help but think of that fateful day when that song almost came true.

Arya stood up and made her standard weekly announcement.  “Hey everybody!  This week’s selection comes from Ben.  It’s a song from Death Cab for Cutie called “I Will  Follow You Into the Dark.”  Ben sat back and reminisced about his life before college in the drug dens of Pittsburgh with Emma.

Ben and Emma had been friends for as long as he could remember.  Their mothers often held play dates for the two while they sat and gossiped in the kitchen.  Needless to say, that friendship developed into something much closer as they grew up.  So when Emma came to him one day and told him she had a secret she wanted to share with him, of course he followed along.

Being teenagers in the inner city of Pittsburgh, they’d done their fair share of drugs:  weed, shrooms, acid, ecstasy.  But never anything this hard.  Somehow, Emma got her hands on some heroin, the really good kind.  And of  course, she wanted to try it.  Ben couldn’t say no to her, so of course, they shot up.

And did it feel amazing.  Ben had never felt so relaxed in his life.  Like nothing mattered anymore.  And with Emma by his side, in complete bliss as well, it felt like this was all he needed.

And then it was over.

He needed more.  And so did Emma.  They refilled the needles, and shot up again.  And again.  And again.  Until it was all gone.  They skipped school the next day to find more.  Then the next day.  And the next.  Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months.  Emma was stealing from her parents to pay for more; Ben began running cold medications for meth cookers.

Eventually the track marks became too tough to hide, the thefts and broken promises became too much to bear.  Ben and Emma were kicked onto the streets on their own.  They began floating from crack den to crack den, getting their fix whenever they could.  And as their tolerances built up, they needed more and more just to ease off the withdrawal.

It didn’t take long selling her body for drugs before Emma just gave up.  She told Ben she wanted to die, wanted to rid herself of the pain, the shakes, that need for a desperate fix.  And Ben agreed.  They’d pool everything they had left together and bought as much of that sweet sugar as they could get.  Emma turned on the Death Cab for Cutie CD and prepared their last syringes.  They held each other’s hands like they did that first time, filled their veins, and fell asleep for the last time.

But Ben woke up in the hospital a few days later.  Emma’s dose was enough, but his wasn’t.  Heaven or Hell had decided they were satisfied with only her.   But he was supposed to follow her.  She was there for him, and him her, but now he was alone for the first time ever.

It took Ben a while to get clean and learn to live without Emma.  But he did.  The last time he had a needle in his skin was a year ago.  He tattooed her name across the track marks and went off to school to study biochemistry.  And he hadn’t looked back since.

The last chord rang across the room as the song ended.  The tracks relaxed a bit, sated by the memory of Emma.  He’d follow her into the dark someday, but the time for his sleep isn’t here yet.  Until then, he’ll have the memory of her and the strength to teach those whose shoes are not quite all worn down.

The Sound of Silence

Paul somewhat unwillingly handed over his old MP3 player to Jimmy and headed back to his standard spot for the meeting.  Why haven’t you done it yet?  Just kill her already.  It isn’t like waiting is making things any better.  The voices were starting to come back, but it wouldn’t be long before they were gone again.  He sat back, tried to relax, and waited.

“Hey everybody!  I hope the last week has been good for you.  This week, our submission comes from Paul.  It’s Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sound of Silence.'”  Arya cued Jimmy to start up the track.

As the first few notes rang out into the room, the voices started to die down.  Paul had always had the voices in his head, chalked up to imaginary friends at a young age, diagnosed as schizophrenia when he got older.  He never truly heard silence; they were always talking, asking Paul questions, telling Paul to do things.  Sometimes they were distracting, sometimes soothing, sometimes just background noise.

Then one day they started becoming more aggressive.  More yelling, more screaming, more demanding.  And they all wanted one thing:  blood.  Everywhere he went, the voices asked for it.  Kill that guy.  Just do it.  You know you’ll like it.  Paul started carrying a knife with him everywhere he went just to somewhat appease the voices.

Once he got to college, the voices seemed to fixate on one particular person.  Paul saw her in several classes,  around the halls, everywhere he went.  She was kind of cute.   He thought maybe he would ask her out sometime.  If the voices would shut up about killing and dismembering her.

Kill her.  Kill her.  You know she wants it.  Give her the reprieve from her life.

The voices got to be too much to ignore.  He came across her in the library, and the voices began roaring.  He drew the knife.  Walked up behind her.  Raised it.  Brought it down.

But before he could reach her, she accidentally unplugged her headphones, and the melodic sounds of Simon and Garfunkel echoed though the stacks of books.  “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again…”  The girl looked up from her book, finally noticing Paul’s presence.  He quickly hid his weapon, the voices going completely silent for the first time in his life.  The girl turned around.  “Oh, hello.  I didn’t notice you there.  Do you need something?  I’m Arya, by the way.”

Paul smiled, finally free from the anger and chaos he’d lived with his whole life.  He held out his hand.  “Hi, I’m Paul.  I’ve noticed you around; we have a lot of classes together.  I was wondering if maybe you wanted to study together or something?”

Quiet reigned over the classroom.  The voices were returning, but now that he knew how to deal with them, they were easy to remove.  Jimmy brought over the MP3 player and Paul put an ear bud back in.  The melodic tones returned, and the voices dissipated.  If it wasn’t for Arya’s stroke of luck that day, Paul would have a murder charge on his hands instead of a marriage proposal.

Lacrimosa

The familiar sound of a scratchy record comforted Arya’s ears as she sat down.  Though the vinyl was getting rather worn and the quality was a bit sub-par, this was the version of Mozart’s Requiem that she was most comfortable with.  Yes, there were definitely better and higher quality performances, but each little nuance in conducting and imperfection in the vinyl brought forth unique memories.  Memories of a time much simpler, memories of her home in Chechnya, memories of her father, memories of that night, now long past, but still haunting her dreams.

Mozart’s Requiem had always been her father’s favorite piece of classical music.  He often would come home at night and put on the old vinyl he had gotten while traveling Europe when he was younger.  The vinyl was scratched and worn even then, but nonetheless, he played the record, and Arya would listen as she fell asleep.

Arya didn’t really understand what her father did until she was much older.  Sometimes she would overhear clips and phrases here and there about the Russians.  It was always Yeltsin this and Sergeyev that, names that meant nothing to a little four year old Chechen girl.  Sometimes the sounds of bombs and gunfire got a little too loud and her father would get her up and carry her into the little hidden room underneath the stairs.  Sometimes he would get a call and run out, rifle in hand.  Mother was always worried on those nights and often held Arya close until father returned dirty and a little bloody.

One night he came back a little more worse for wear.  He was covered in blood, though it didn’t appear to be his.  The fighting was still going on outside, but it didn’t sound like it was coming from the right direction.  Mother asked about it, father nodded, and mother began crying.  Father put needle to vinyl, sat in his old armchair, and instructed Arya and her mother to get into the room under the stairs.

Someone began beating on the front door.  The sound of the needle abruptly scratching across vinyl shortly followed, then the beginning notes of “Lacrimosa” sang clear into the night.  The door opened, there was some shouting, father said “Not here,” more shouting, then “they’re gone,” more shouting, and the the scuffle of shoes through the front door.  All the while Requiem could be heard intertwined with the shouting in the room and the gunfire outside.  Arya and her mother stayed in the hidden cupboard until morning, mother’s tears dripping down on Arya’s head.

The next morning Arya’s mother hastily packed.  While her mother wasn’t looking, Arya picked up the old pitted record still sitting on the player and stuffed it in between a couple dirty shirts.  An oddly marked car was waiting in the street for them, which carried them through places Arya had never seen before.  There were lots of stops; a bunch of people asked her mother questions at each one.  Sometimes they would ask Arya how she was, and she would just nod, never speaking.  Sometimes they changed cars, sometimes they hid in the trunk.  Somewhere along the line she fell asleep, and the next morning she woke up on an airplane above the Atlantic Ocean, bound for the United States.

The crackles and pops of the record subsided, and Arya snapped back into the present.  That night was fifteen years ago, but the screams, shouts, gunfire, and haunting sounds of “Lacrimosa” still sometimes woke her up at night, heart pounding fast and drenched in sweat.  And those nights, the only thing that makes her feel any better is to put the needle to vinyl, just like her father did so many years before.

The Lost, the Broken, and the Beats

Arya stood at the center of the classroom looking over the motley crew that had gathered for today’s meeting, the first of the year.  The regulars that hadn’t graduated were occupying their normal seats, and most the remainder will currently filled by new faces, mostly freshmen.  It was a good turnout for the first meeting of the year; seeing freshman faces at the first meeting was usually a rarity.

“Welcome to Music Appreciation club!  I’m this year’s president, Arya.  As a reminder, we meet here in the choir room once a week to listen to and discuss a single piece of music or album.  Suggestions are appreciated and encouraged.  Listening to something important to you is just as good or better than listening to something that some critic thinks is a classic.”

Arya turned toward the soundboard and motioned Jimmy to start the music.  “As is tradition, as president, I have chosen the song we will be listening to this evening.  Mozart’s ‘Lacrimosa.’  Sit back, relax, and listen.  You’ll always have company and good music among what we lovingly call the Lost, the Broken, and the Beats.”