It has been referenced in my writings on numerous occasions that my seventh lover Bradley is a licensed funeral director. He is certified by the state of New York to preserve the dead. Most children have dreams of growing up to become firefighters, policemen or writers. Not Bradley. He has had an academic interest in corpses since the fifth grade. Shortly before settling down with me, he left the funeral directing business with no real reason as to why he abandoned his childhood dreams. He claims that he didn’t like the people he worked for, but I know that is not the real reason he turned in the keys to the black hearse that he once drove around Brooklyn, picking up his clients, for a final trip to the beauty parlor.
“You could make so much more money if you only returned to your profession. I wish you would leave that job at Starbucks. Why not try working for a different funeral home? They can’t all be bad businesses. We could really use the money B.”
“You don’t get it. I’m tired. It was exhausting adding double shots of embalming fluids to those bodies. I was on call 24 hours a day. They never appreciated my talents anyway. I’m famous in Brooklyn. Embalming is an art, Charles. There is more to being a mortician than making our clientele look good. I know how to make a corpse look alive again, unlike others in my profession. They have no faith in resurrection like I do. The job requires so much more than preservation. Loved ones cried in my arms almost every day. That was a lot of stress. Those days are over. I like working the frother at Starbucks. It sure beats trying to inject just the right amounts of fluids through veins and arteries. You know how the people on Park Avenue look forward to seeing me at my coffee machine during morning rush hour. Life was dead before you and my new job. Working alone in a basement with nobody to talk to was horrible. In a strange creepy way, they thought I could bring them back to life. I can take only so much. I’m not a plastic surgeon.”
“What do you mean they thought you could bring them back to life? Oh, never mind,” I said, realizing that he talked to dead people while working as a mortician. I changed the conversation. “Well then, you need to market your artistic skills. Why not freelance and make your own hours. There can’t be a surplus of talented funeral directors in a city of 9 million. I’ll design a brochure for you and you can drop it off at funeral homes here in the hood. We can even send mass mailings to the elderly, guaranteeing slow decomposition. Why are there so many funeral homes in Brooklyn anyway? There is one on almost every corner. You could make us a fortune and charge by the hour. Do not settle for being just an employee of a funeral home. Be your own boss. You can name your own hours and price and work on just a few bodies a month, if that is what you prefer.”
“Freelancing never works out that easy. They’ll have too many last minute requests anyway. I remember what life was like when I pickled bodies for a living—driving to the hospitals, loading up the bags, draining them and doing everything I could to put them back to their original state. I always asked the next of kin for a recent photograph. You would be surprised how the corpses shined- up after I performed my magic on them, and I didn’t have to use heavy make-up to do it.”
“If I die first, please do not pickle me, B. Just have me thrown into the ocean somewhere, like in Puerto Rico. I’d rather be eaten by sharks than embalmed.”
“I could never let you die before me. What would I do without your love, Charles? If you think I’m hard to live with now, you should have known me before when I was working at DeKalb Funeral Home! I’d watch Jerry Springer in the morning, get stoned off my ass, laugh my head off, and jump in that hearse. That ride was the shit! I’d put Notorious B.I.G. in the tape deck on my way the grave yard. Biggie was my lover then. I’d send my rides out in a good way. I was like a DJ on the road to heaven. That job lasted 24 hours a day. There was never time to sit down for a home cooked meal like the ones you make for me. If I go back to the field, it’s the end of us. You don’t want that do you? You changed me, sexy. I don’t want to go back there.”
I thought about the winter months ahead and our outrageous heating bills which will start to pile up in the mailbox a few weeks from now. I wish that whatever has made him angry at funeral directing would go away. I pay more than my fair share of the bills in this relationship. It has been that way for six years now. At least he steals Starbucks coffee for us and we have more collectible mugs than a coffin has air. I’ve always assumed we would both get better paying jobs, but like a body without caffeine flowing through its veins, there has been no real change in our lives or relationship without a much needed increase in our annual incomes. If he only made the salary of a funeral director, my life would be almost perfect.
“You need to make more money, or else!” I shouted at him recently.
“Or else what? What the fuck, man? Where would you be without me? You were practically dead when I found you walking around the streets of Brooklyn that day. You were zoned out man. You sure looked dead to me. You looked like a zombie, Charles. Where were you going that day I found you stumbling down Nostrand Avenue?”
I never told him where I was headed, walking around in the hood in a confused state of mind. I barely made it down Nostrand Avenue in the summer heat. I wasn’t drunk or stoned then. I had been turned into a Zombie. Thank heavens he saw me. I could have easily ended up in the Hudson River that day.
“What up, Harlem?” He shouted as I walked past the John Wesley United Methodist Church between Hancock and Jefferson Streets.
I kept walking, not remembering who he was right away. I figured he was just another black thug from the streets, looking to stir up conversation, perhaps just to bum a cigarette. He followed me to the subway station where I went downstairs to catch the A train into Manhattan. I was still slightly paranoid from Schizophrenia and my recent hospitalization for psychotic delusions. I didn’t connect the sound of his voice with the sex I had with him. I only knew Bradley as a fuck buddy at the time. He’s a down low thug and our conversations over the years had only taken place in a bedroom. We never talked on the streets– even on the day we met. Conversation was short and sweet during our initial hook-up.
“That’s a juicy ass for a white boy,” he whispered the night I first met him while walking out of the subway on 125 th Street on my way home from a club.
“Want some of this sweet ass?” I asked while rounding the corner of St. Nicholas Avenue and 125 th Street. He didn’t answer. He just followed me to my basement apartment in a brownstone on 121st Street, just around the corner from the Lenox Lounge. Little was spoken. He came to my place unannounced over the next two years and rang my bell on bootie calls whenever he grew tired of pretending to be a heterosexual. We hardly ever talked. Perhaps that is why we got along so well as sex partners. I didn’t want to pressure him in anyway or make him feel uncomfortable for making love with another man. We went straight to my bedroom and got into the doggie style position.
I lost touch with him after I moved from Harlem to Bed-Stuy to be with Shawn. I thought of him often, but never believed I would ever see him again. I didn’t have his phone number so there was no way for me to call to say good-bye. Shawn and I had plans to move to Los Angeles anyway. I was prepared to leave all of my New York lovers behind and start fresh on the West Coast where I would be a new, unused face again.
“Yo man, I came to your crib in Harlem and you wuz gone. The place was empty. The curtains were gone and so wuz you. Damn baby, I thought I lost you forever.”
“I didn’t have your phone number, so I couldn’t tell you that I was moving.”
“It’s so good to see you. I thought I lost you.”
To my schizophrenic mind, he sounded just like Shawn.
“I just got out of the hospital. Do you want to hang out with me today? I’m going to a movie,” I offered.
“Hell yes. Today is my birthday, Charles.”
“For real? Can I take you to a movie and to dinner for your birthday?”
“That would be cool.”
I found it odd that he didn’t ask why I was in the hospital. He was obviously just happy to see me again.
He left the friends he was chillin’ with on the street behind. He didn’t return to tell them that he was leaving them. He followed me down the cement stairway to the A train at the corner of Nostrand Avenue and Fulton Street.
I immediately felt better and my sight returned when we got out of the sun and down in the subway. The psychotropic drugs were still controlling me. It was hard to even smile at my old friend.
We boarded the A train, the same subway line on which we had met. The air conditioned silver car felt wonderful. It is a ten block walk from Kosciuosko Street to the A train station on Nostrand. The air outside felt like melted butter. It had to have been at least 90. I was drenched in sweat, a side-effect from the anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers that an Asian psychiatrist from Trinitas Hospital in New Jersey had men and women in white coats watch me take.
“Let’s see under your tongue, Charles.”
“Why not shove your little dick in there while it’s open?”
“Were going to strap you down, Charles.”
“Oh, pretty please!”
I was so happy to be released from that place, but I knew that the drugs they had forced upon me still held me psychologically captive and I believed I may never feel normal and free again.
They invisibly tore out my frontal lobe, leaving me emotionless with no sensation remaining in my soul. I had no desire to live on after learning of my illness. I never believed there could be a disease more heartbreaking that HIV. They told me it would take a while for the drugs to work properly, but back then, I couldn’t remember how to tie my shoes. I decided to stop taking the pills the minute I walked out of Trinitas Hospital. What good is life without the ability to dream? Those drugs erase our dreams. They are as torturous as electroshock therapy. We grind down our teeth to mere stubs during the little sleep we manage to catch. Sure we look better to the outside world– no longer foaming at the mouth or spinning our heads in a 360 degree circle.
With B now next to my side, I started to allow myself to reflect upon my inpatient stay in a psychiatric ward, although I didn’t want to tell him about my little problem. As the train pulled into the Hoyt Street Station, I remembered the screams of a woman in the hospital room next to mine. The subway car screeched to a stop. The metal wheels of the A train sounded just like the woman. They pumped her full of the torturous drugs too. B kept smiling at me while holding onto a metal strap. He had no idea what I was thinking of at that moment. He was thinking about my ass, I’m sure. I kept hearing that poor Black woman scream in my mind. It occurred to me that B didn’t hear those faint screams like I did. Perhaps I was just imagining things again.
Sparks lit up the dark subway tunnel. I felt protected with my gold-toothed lover next to me. The voices were fading. I didn’t tell him about the hospitalization or the fact that I was crazy now. I saw the lust in his eyes and was glad that I was with someone that wanted me, for something other than my mind.
The screeching sound from the subway car started again. I almost held my ears.
“It’s okay, Charles. Just stop thinking about that place. You are not going back there. You are with B now. Remember how you loved making love with him.” I whispered to myself as the train stopped at Canal Street. “That screaming woman is gone now. You can relax,” I said to myself. Is it any wonder I could not get any sleep inside of Trinitas hospital with all those screaming lunatics. I wanted to pop one of my pills on the train, but I didn’t want B to see me. I didn’t throw away all the pills. I kept the bottle with filled with the tiny yellow tablets and carried a few in the pockets of my faded jeans, just in case the voices started to return.
It felt good to be riding the train. I was back in society. I was proud of myself for escaping that place with my charm and wit—
“Yes, I’m feeling better today, Dr. Chin. Yes I understand my illness now. Yes, I’ll take the pills. They are making me feel better already. If I could only get some sleep, I think I would be much better . I can’t stop walking the floors of the hospital. I just can’t sit still. Help me, please. I’ve lost my soul.”
“I got something to help you with that, Mr. Taylor,” she offered while smiling, although knowing that addictive sedatives are not always the best thing to prescribe to homosexual Schizophrenics. “I think you can leave here in a day or two. I’ll be sure to give you a prescription to take home with you. The Xanax pills were the only medication I did not throw away when I got home from the hospital. They were and still are my favorite candy.
B and I exited the subway at the Union Square station. A thunderstorm was roaring above lower Manhattan. We grabbed our movie tickets and waited outside. The show was still thirty minutes away and it was pouring outside. We sat on two plastic milk crates against the Ciniplex Odeon Theater and were protected from the downpour by a roof that had extended slightly beyond the walls of the skyscraper. We watched the rain. He lit up a joint and we smoked it as the harsh winds secretly carried off our possible guilt, long before anyone nearby had the opportunity to make contact.
There were no police nearby. I really didn’t care anyway. It felt good to be stoned while still pumped full of anti-depressants. I don’t remember the movie we saw. I only remember holding his hand in the dark theater soon after we both popped a Xanax with our popcorn and washed it down big cup of Mountain Dew.
“What did you say that pill was?”
“I don’t know. They gave it to me while I was in the hospital. I’m crazy, B.”
“I am too, Charles. Who isn’t?”
He insisted on going back to his room that evening.
“I have a roommate. We can go to my place if you want,” I offered
“No, I got my own room. We’re going there.”
The sedating effects of the marijuana and Xanax were of no help when we got back on the subway. My anxiety kicked in again. I wasn’t sure I wanted to have sex just yet, but B was in no condition to be told no.
My entire body trembled when he touched me after we made it back to his room in Brooklyn.
“What’s the matter? You don’t find me attractive anymore?”
“No, it’s not that. I keep hearing these voices and one of them is the sound a friend of mine who died recently.”
“Oh, I know how to shut up the dead, I’m a mortician.”
“Yes, here, smoke some of this.”
The delusions started again, but this time I allowed myself to relax and I let those voices say everything they wanted to say to me. I felt myself floating across the cosmos. The universe was silent for a moment. I became God again. I don’t recall the physical love making that night. It was all a blur, but it felt good. I only remember seeing B’s gold tooth above me as he smiled and came numerous times within me.
Morning came and the voices were gone. No longer was I missing Shawn so much.
“Wow, what was in that joint?”
“Don’t tell anyone. It was dipped in embalming fluid. See, you are not the only crazy person in the world, Charles. Welcome back to this place called reality.”
B was right. I had no right to insist that he leave his job at Starbucks to go back in the funeral directing business and besides, we still have at least two gallons of his secret embalming fluid potion that removes the curse of the zombie in just one or two hits. He saved my trapped soul. I had no right to threaten to leave him because he works at Starbucks. I just wish he had not given away his Voodoo secrets to his bosses at that popular coffee chain. Now everyone is on this stuff. We could have been rich.