"I've got nothing to live for. Looks like nothing's gonna come my way." This tune has been stuck in my head since breakfast. I've searched in my memory for the title of the song, but couldn't seem to remember it. I can't even remember when I listened to it. Maybe when I was a kid? I don't know. It's just that I can't get the fucking thing out of my head. I don't know where it comes from, but it fits just perfectly with my mood. I've got nothing to live for. It's wrong though, because I've got Holly. Her eyes when she visits me should be enough to give me the strength to go on. It does, most of the time. She's got this look, she watches me with the faith I don't deserve. I'm sorry I'm such a terrible daddy, baby. I'm so sorry. She asks "Why did you go back? Why didn't you stay with us?" watching me, and I don't know what to answer. I tell her that I behaved stupidly. That I put my faith in someone who didn't deserve it. She's on the verge of tears, and she tells me "Is it bad to hope this person is burning in hell?" I don't know, baby. I don't know if it's bad, and I don't know if hell even exists. I hope not. Lately, I've come to hope that there's not even a god and that death really gives us an eternal rest, and oblivion. Some of us could use this.
Last year was a tough one. We spent 10 months in that other prison. New routine, new guys. Nothing very exciting, but at least, thank God, I could take a look around and see nothing which could remind me of the past. I was able to rationalize the situation. After all, that's what we're taught in Harvard. I began to think about what I could expect. It wasn't much. Freedom in 5 years, at best. But freedom and the glimpse I've had of it is good enough to hang on to this particular hope. The kids: they're the most important thing in my life, they're the reason I've made it so far. And, as angry as I can be, I can't avoid the awareness someone chose to give up his life to set me free. There's not much I can do about it, but I'm not so mean that I can't respect such a sacrifice. I'll die, and allow you to live, because you tell me it's the only way – his last message to me as he fell. Thank you; I'm trying.
It didn't go so bad, and given a choice, I think I'd have preferred to stay there. Being back in Oz, though, I'm trying to cope and it's sometimes tricky. There are places you'd prefer never to see again, scenes you want to stop replaying in your head. Questions you want to stop asking yourself, like, when did it all go to hell? And you find no answer.
I'm sitting here on the stairs, just below the guard station. I observe the other inmates sitting, watching whatever shit plays on TV. They were here last year, they'll be here next year; well some will be dead, probably, and I'll watch some new faces, but new faces are not different faces. They all look the same, in the end. I watch them: O'Reily, Pancamo, Rebadow, and god, I feel like I want to puke. Do these guys ever change? I thought O'Reily had changed, because of his love for Gloria Nathan, but I can see this love is slowly fading, as if it was doomed from the beginning, and O'Reily has resumed his scheming, protecting his stupid father the way he used to look out for Cyril, making business. Maybe it's the only way for him to feel alive. Maybe you could say Alvarez changed, too, though not for the best. But I'd rather believe that despair and drugs changed him. Poor guy, he's one of those here who deserves better than all this shit. Nothing good can ever happen in this hell, it's cursed.
Sometimes, I want to stand up and yell "Come on! Life changes! The times are changing. We should be changing, too. Stop acting like ghosts in the never changing land of Oz!" That's part of what I hate about prison, among many other things. Whatever you do, things don't change and whatever you go through, in the end, it all remains the same. In such moments, I miss Saïd more than anyone else. More than my dad, or... Well, Saïd could find the words inside him and give me hope.
I know they talk behind my back. I know everybody's talking trash. They say I've changed. Well maybe I have. It's a strange change, I suppose, but they've seen me go through so much, how can they still be surprised? They're shocked that I wasn't charged with Keller's death, that Murphy testified it was suicide. Later, he told me that he was not a hundred percent sure about it, but that he never liked Keller anyway, and I didn't deserve to be back. I suppose I should be grateful.
I see O'Reily approaching. He sits beside me, watches me and frowns. "Strange that you're singing that song." He says.
"Why? What was I singing?" I didn't even realize I was singing.
He laughs, looks a little stunned and asks, "You don't know?"
I shrug. "Can't remember the title of the song."
He gives me a strange tiny smile, not the real O'Reily smirk. "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. I got a version by Dave Edwards band in my pod. Would you like to have it?"
I watch him and snort . "O'Reily, are you telling me *you* are going to *give* me something?" It sounds angry and scornful even to me.
He stiffens. "Hey, Beecher, I already did. Remember, the tits?"
Yes, the tits. He never asked for anything in trade, which means, I suppose, that he gave me that shit. Or maybe he expected me to go crazy and get Schillinger out of his way once and for all? I remember. I nod. "You'd give me this CD? Why?"
"Because I don't want to hear you sing this all day long, that's the first reason. And the second one is because the CD's not mine."
He watches me, waiting for something. "Your brother's? You stole it?" I ask tauntingly.
O'Reily rises, huffy. "I didn't steal it, and my brother didn't listen much to music, you know that."
Yes, I remember, and I feel guilty. I'm sure he still feels the pain, even now.
I watch him stretch. "Actually…" he explains casually, his eyes not leaving my face. "Actually, I borrowed it from Keller two years ago. It was his favourite song." He smiles quietly. "He never told you? I just never returned it. He never asked for it."
Something inside me suddenly stiffens. I just can't say a word. All I can do is watch him walk away. Fuck you, O'Reily, I think. I didn't need this. I probably deserved it for being so cold, but I didn't need it.
The only sure thing is that I'm alive, and sane. Maybe saner than ever. Sometimes I think *this* is the thing bothering them. Everyone seems so surprised that the pain didn't take my sanity away. The inmates, Sister Pete, McManus…Surprised that I showed so much indifference to my new sentence: 7 more years, and no possibility of parole until 5. 5 more years inside, that's approximately 1800 days and nights here. Well, I didn't go crazy. I don't talk to ghosts, I don't cry so often at night, I don't act strange, I don't fuck or bite anyone, I'm alive and fuck you all.
But this… This thing about *his* favourite song, it's painful. It brings back memories I thought I had buried deep enough. No, I didn't know. Did I ever bother to ask? I don't remember. Maybe, and maybe he didn't answer. He never really answered a question like this one. Maybe he listened to it during the lockdown. Maybe earlier, during the first months we spent together. It's quite an old song. I know he listened to this kind of music. Blues, old stuff like that. He had very diverse tastes in music, after all.
I gave Sister Pete money for his funeral, a lot of money. I owed him that at least, I guess. You owe that kind of things to someone you once loved. Making sure they don't end in an anonymous grave. Making sure his ex-wives can go cry somewhere. Sister Pete went to the funeral, she wanted to tell me about it. She wanted to show me pictures of the grave and give me all that had belonged to him, because that's what he wanted. I didn't want to know, didn't want to hear or see anything related to him, and his belonging were sent to Bonnie. It always seemed to me that she was the one he loved most. The one he never hurt. Guess it must be a sign. Bonnie thanked me for the money, wanted to visit and talk about him. I said no, it's useless. Nothing is going to take away what he did to me and what I did to him. They don't understand that, I guess, the way I put him aside, locked the door on all the memories, the good ones, the bad ones, decided to consider him like a closed chapter of my life.
The truth is, the only time I remember that somewhere inside me is a heart that still beats is when I see Holly. But let's face the facts: when I get out, she'll be around 17. What the fuck would she do with a father who did hard time, ruined her life as well as his own, and caused so many people to die? Is this the kind of father you want to tell your friends about? Fuck, no. I'm even surprised that she keeps coming back. Even Harry came once or twice. And Angus keeps on writing to me, like mother. I see them when they bring the kids. I still have a family, I guess, but this doesn't quite keep me from being cold and dead inside.
And now, what O'Reily told me just reminds me that I didn't cry for him. I cried for Gen, I cried for Gary, I cried for Dad and Saïd. Not for him: I tightened my lips in a hard line, hardened my look, stiffened and moved on.
I'm about to get up and leave when someone stops by me again. I know him. He's one of those guys who always seem to hang around here, but who you never really notice. Pancamo's man, or bodyguard maybe. I remember talking to him once, telling him something flirty about his shirt. He gave me a strange smile. A knowing, amused smile. It was long ago. Way back when… Well anyway, it's the same smile now. He stands near me, watching the table in front of us where Alvarez and Torquie are sitting together, face to face, their hands barely touching.
"That guy" he said, pointing at Torquemada. "He disgusts me."
I watch him. "Why? Because he's gay?"
He shrugs and watches me quietly, long enough to let me know that the gay thing doesn't bother him. "No. But what he's doing with Alvarez… The way he drags him down. Seducing him with tits, get him hooked on drugs and fucking him. Stealing his soul day after day." He shakes his head. "He's a prick."
I'm still watching Alvarez, who sits, eyes lost, pale and much too thin. I watch his left knee jolt restlessly, I recognize the way he licks his lips reflexively, and I know it won't be long till he needs it. Needs the fix to keep despair at bay, keep on going and I'd swear Torquie sees it too, and gets a kick out of his lover's distress. He owns him, he knows, everybody knows. I don't think Alvarez gives a shit about the guy, but fucking him is probably the price to pay. Or maybe it's not. Maybe there's something between them that I can't understand. My gaze travels back up to the Italian's face. I smile. "Nice shirt!" I say, just to know if he remembers.
He laughs good-heartedly, sharing the memory. "Sure, thanks. My wife makes them for me. She works in a clothes factory. Wearing them, it's a little like having her with me!" He smiles gently. "Know what she does? She wears them just for an hour or two before she brings them here, so that I can smell her on them. Nice, eh?"
I don't know what to say. I feel stupid, and sad, god only knows why. I blush. He smiles again, then walks away.
Later, I go back to my pod. I'm still alone here, I don't have any podmate. Shit, I don't know why! Maybe McManus is afraid that I could kill the guy? Make him go mad? I don't really complain, but sometimes, talking to someone after lockdown would be good. I sigh, and after a moment I open the locker. Hidden behind my stuff there's a plastic bag. I've carried this fucking bag everywhere I've been. I paid the decontamination guys to let me keep it, not destroy it. Such are the things money can buy. In the other prison, from cell to cell, and back here in Oz, I kept it. I never opened it, but I knew it was there. Like the drug you never take, but keep with you, just in case you'd need it. And I think I do, now.
Maybe the time has come. I'm thinking about what that guy, the Italian, told me earlier. I unfold the clothes. Old jeans, a sleeveless shirt, a sweater, the one I like, dark blue. And the fucking socks. And as I hold them in my hands, it happens. I've dreaded it since the day he died, and hoped for it at the same time. Now it's coming, god, it's coming down fast. I feel the pain inside my chest, my throats tightens painfully, my heart aches, I can't seem to breathe anymore, my eyes are filled with tears, and I fall on my knees, holding the clothes pressed against my face, because even after so long, I can imagine they still smell like him. I can smell the scent of his sweat, the scent of his skin, of his hair, and it's like a sea I'm drowning in, deep, deeper, until I can't breathe anymore. I hear a helpless sound fill the pod, and I know it comes from the depths of my body and the pain overwhelms me. I'm kneeling near the bunk now, and I can feel the others watching me, but I don't give a damn, it's just too much to bear, too much to stand. I'm relieved when I feel tears rolling down my face, hot and salty, I lick my lips, and it's like licking his tears. I'm sobbing my heart out, now, and it's so good, I can't understand why it's so good kneeling there just crying my pain out, and maybe it will never stop, maybe I'll have to cry forever, let go of all that has been haunting me since he died. But when it finally does stop, ages later, a wave of exhaustion washes over me. I close my eyes, and lie curled up on the bed, trying to breathe again. Under my closed eyelids, I can see his face; in my ears I can hear his voice and inside me I can feel him, everywhere, feel his love, his heat, and I stay there, motionless, enjoying him, revelling in the bliss of being able to love him again.
After a while, when I'm sure I can stand up, I take my clothes off, and slowly, I put *his* on. His shirt, his jeans. His tight jeans are a bit too long, and a bit too large at the waist, but it'll do, I'll just use a belt. And I put on the socks, the fucking socks I bought for him and fuck, it's good, it's like having him there, around me, like being buried inside him. I feel comfortable and sad. I feel relief and mourning, and it's just what I want. It's just what I wanted from the beginning but I couldn't sense the pain, because it was buried so deep that I couldn't reach it, like a splinter which has gone so far in the flesh you don't even know it's still here, but one day, it begins to suppurate and hurt and the splinter comes out, and it's a physical pleasure as well as an excruciating pain.
The pain of your loss pours out of me, wave after wave, washing away the remaining anger, the guilt and the disgust which haunted me for so long, and something comes to fill the void left inside me, and this something is you. The memories of you, bad and good, the burst of your laughter, the hypnotic fixity of your gaze, and the million different smiles you could give me. The "don't fuck with me" smile, the "fuck me" smile, the twisted, "look what you just made me do" smile, the warning smile, the knowing smile, the loving smile, the crazy smile, full of tears and pain and regrets and fear I saw in the end, just before you gave up the fight and jumped. And this last one, god, how it hurts just to remember it, how good it is to hurt and think of you.
And at that moment, standing in the middle of the pod, dressed in your clothes, I know I'll go and see sister Pete, ask her to show me the pictures of your grave, and tell me about those funeral I refused to even think about. I'll call Bonnie to talk about you, and I'll take the things you loved, if I'm allowed to. Your bike, baby, it'll just have to wait, but later, I swear, when I'm out, I'll take Holly on it for a ride. I'll listen to the music you liked, and take O'Reily's record. And I'll talk to Pancamo's guy, god, I don't even know his name, because I think he might like to fuck me. And I'd like to fuck him. I've always enjoyed sex, since the moment I discovered it in your arms, and I don't think this can bother you now, wherever you are, because what we had, this painful thing, this deadly thing, this wonderful thing, nothing here, and no one, will ever take it away from me. No one can take *you* away from me. And nothing could ever take *me* away from you. Guess you knew this in the end. Guess this is why you had that smile. It took me a long time to figure it out, but I know now.
Everything's changed, now. And I can speak your name again. Chris. I love you.
Name: STRANGE CHANGE
Artist: Mother Superior
Everybody's talking trash
They say I've changed well maybe I have
Even my brother's been putting me down
But only God can judge me now
Let me go, mi corazon
Never felt so heavy or hung so low
I've been walking, and talking to myself
And the New York wind's been whistling
I ain't no junkie but I'm looking for a fix
It's a strange change
It's getting harder just to get my kicks
It's a strange change
Don't criticize my way of life
My feet are planted firmy in the sky
It's all right to go hungry sometimes
Helps you realize what you've been missing
'Scuse me, I cannot guarantee
That we'll see eye to eye if you're looking at me
I've been stuck in this prison too long
It's time to escape from it
Everything's changed (2x)
My friends are changing
My my mind is changing
My life is changing
My look is changing
Everything's changed (3x)
The season's chaging
The times are changing
The music's changing
The world is changing
I'm satisfied, I can see the light
Got my wants, but I know my rights
Don't waste my time with your sudden death
To tell you the truth I'm not impressed
What a strange change
It's a strange change