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ways to die

In the rats floating belly-up in the storm water drains and the cats we'd shoot with pellet guns and leave lying, heads bust open on the side of the road. And in the smells, the piss and the garbage and baking tar, gutters glutted with chicken bones - dogs at the bin bags again. It was in the red tide that washed in from the sea, bringing dead fish - rotting and stinking and attracting flies and gulls in a feeding frenzy with tangles of intestines hanging out their beaks. In the broken bottles on the street in the morning, the buses and the taxis exhaling filthy exhaust fumes and smog that turned the sunset brilliant orange then red. And the colours, so much brown, we used to joke: every shade of shit - red-shit and ochre-shit, grey-shit, off-green-shit. And in winter when it rained, in the grey drizzle, the endless haze punctuated only by the odd red or green - neon signs, traffic lights, dustbin fires. The sounds as well, especially at night, I'd lie awake and listen. The level never diminished, if some sound stopped for a while, others filled in the gaps - hooters, shouts, traffic, glass breaking, hollow bass thuds from the passing cars and the endless sirens, day and night, getting shriller as they approached, louder, then fading into a soft whine.

It came in the form of alcohol. Leaving bodies washed up on the pavement, twisted, bowels wrung like rags, squeezed dry. In the woman found lying outside the 7 Eleven. You didn't need to be a doctor to know the autopsy results: stomach empty, liver enlarged, old bruises blooming on her neck and face. Or the guy who was disembowelled by a wire coat hanger. This happened on the street, right outside my block of flats. I saw the blood all over the pavement in the morning, they mopped it up but the stains remained, red patches that turned shit-brown then dark brown and then black forever.

And in the drugs. The downers, the way they make you warm all over first, then you start to buzz, a low hum from limb to limb like your body was a giant cosmic receiver. Or the uppers, the meth, speed. Or the crack that sucks you down like a slow descent into a cool pool, everything receding, until you want to hold your breath tight and never exhale again. And the heroin, like a blackened hand with claws deep inside your guts. Shoot too much and unconsciousness is instantaneous, breathing slows to about 2 to 3 respirations per minute, pupils pinpoint, blood pressure plummets, skin grows clammy and the blood supply to the brain dwindles, pupils yawn wide open as death wraps its fingers around you.

That was Nick. OD. DOA. I'd been out with him the night before, both too broke for anywhere decent we ended up in some shitty bar, a dark place with an old linoleum floor, no decoration, no music, some bar stools, some tables and chairs, nothing to do really except talk shit and get drunk. At some point we had an argument, something stupid about who had bought the last round and he left in a rage. In the morning I received the phone call. I picked up on the second ring. Somehow I knew. The doctors said it was an overdose but no one could say if it was accidental or not.

And then the drug-related deaths. When drugs don't kill you but you die because of them just the same. Like Jamie. He was with his girlfriend Leah at the time. Driving home from a house club in town, stoned as usual, speeding and the car skidded out of control in the rain and crashed into the oncoming traffic. Leah was lucky, the door flew open and she fell out, she got concussion and a broken leg, but Jamie, he got his head torn open, bashed up so badly that it started haemorrhaging inside. Christ, when I think how many times it could have happened to me. Arriving home so fucked I couldn't remember how I got there, someone parking, fumbling with the key in the lock. Or getting into the car with someone tripping off their face. Or getting fucked and then just driving for the hell of it. Like that time Kelly was so goofed and speeding, 180 km or something down a dark road in the middle of the night. I don't even remember where we were going, just the car swerving from side to side. We must have been fighting again because I was screaming at her and she was crying and giving it back, pushing her foot down flat as we swerved right, left and then at some point I grabbed her hand and twisted it back, telling her to stop the fucking car and let me out. And then she did. She slammed on breaks. I went flying forward and hit my head on the dash board and she was wedged right up against the steering wheel as the car slid through the dirt, eventually skidding to a stop just before the barrier dividing the road from the cliff and then the ocean. We could have both died then.

Or suicide from drug-induced psychosis or depression. Like Kevin from our block of flats who did too much acid and ended up in some psychiatric ward. I never went to visit him but Kelly did. She said he seemed tired and uneasy, he had difficulty sleeping, the moment he shut his eyes he would hear fragments of conversations, when he laughed it felt like it was only with half his face, while the other half remained sinister and sulking, his two cerebral hemispheres were parting ways, he could feel the cleft, a wedge through his skull. Finally the voices were too much and he flung himself out a window. He was in the hospital for a year after that. It bankrupted his parents, then his Dad disappeared with the car one night, didn't come back. A week later his mom gave the authorisation for the plug to be pulled.

Or like Michael. He found his father's gun one night, him and Lester, high and fucked on coke and vodka. No one knows exactly what happened. According to Lester it was Michael's idea. "Russian Roulette", he said, then pointed the pistol at his temple, pulled the trigger. Later Lester told us how he heard it first, like a car backfiring at close range. This was ages ago but I still remember Lester's face as he spoke: it went white, eyes glazed over as if he was reliving the whole thing, moment by moment, the bullet hitting Michael's eye, then his head exploding, a fat column of red, hot red that gushed down his face and onto the floor. A year later it was Nick. He hung himself off his shower rail with a belt. Apparently he'd been up all night chasing the dragon then in the morning he tried three times. One: a failed overdose that he threw up in the toilet; two: failed hanging from the light-fitting in the passage; three: success on the shower rail. He was Susan's boyfriend and I didn't know him that well but it was a shock just the same. He always seemed so very quiet. Then a few days later another guy we knew, Sean, also committed suicide. It was all very confusing. I heard it through Kareena. Apparently through some means involving a plastic bag. This was just after Nick's funeral. I remember when Kareena told me I was stunned.
"I need a drink."
"Pour me one too."
Somehow found two clean glasses in her kitchen and we sat next to each other on the couch in her dirty, tiny flat drinking Jack Daniels. Later I fucked her. I don't know why. I wasn't attracted to her. It just sort of happened. I was thinking how shit she must be feeling about Sean and how I should say something to cheer her up but that wasn't what was happening, instead I was kissing her neck and her chest, fumbling with the buttons on her jeans. Her legs were bare and she had white underwear on, off-white actually, with elastics on the legs that squeezed around her thighs. She looked nervous and I kept telling her that she looked really hot and the walls were covered with damp from the rain and the humidity and the carpet we were rolling around on was the colour of rust-shit and my fingers were inside her and her tongue was in my ear. Then she changed position, swivelled her ass around so she was grinding down into me and our skin was hot and sweating. We were grinding pressed together like that hard and harder and she was riding me and her tits were bouncing up and down. I was trying to focus on her tits to stop myself thinking about Sean with a plastic bag over his head or Kelly at home waiting for me probably getting more and more stoned but my dick was getting limp. I pushed it up into her quick but it crumpled back on me but even that was okay because Kareena was so wet, literally dripping and bouncing around on top of me and feeling that made me hard again and as I got harder she moved faster, then one final grind and her juice slid down my leg and I pulled out and came on her tits. In that moment I saw her face, it was all twisted with pleasure but I could see the pain in her eyes, like her heart was breaking, literally dissolving into a million tiny drops and slipping down her chest. And that was a kind of death too.

And Xavier who tried to give up buttons three times and then the last time, after three months clean, his lungs collapsed. An asthma attack that caused the rupture of air sacs leading to respiratory failure then death. His brother said afterwards that by the time they got him to the hospital his whole chest was lop-sided, sunken in on itself like his ribcage had been swallowed up. And Anton. With him we were all expecting it. He owed his Nigga something like thirty thousand and was on the run. When I saw him again half his face was covered in bandages where they had beat it in and the hospital had shaved off all his hair for the stitches so you could see a deep, white-welted scar commemorating some earlier fight that ran like a crack across his skull. With him it was really only a matter of time.

And then Paul. We had been best friends all through high school. We had lived just down the road from each other in identical squat, shit-brown houses with tiny yards tied together by a maze of asbestos fences and concrete driveways with weeds growing between them. He was smarter than the rest of us. While we were out in the streets or next to the railroad tracks catching rats, sentencing them to death, and executing them, he was at home lying on his bed reading. He was the only one that got out in the end. He went to some fancy university overseas. At first we emailed. Then we lost contact. You know how it goes, I was too busy failing out of university and fucking Kelly and getting stoned. The next time I saw him was when he came home to die. AIDS related complications. He never said how he contracted it, my guess was unprotected sex or sharing needles, either way it was fucking stupid, too fucking stupid for Paul.

Kelly couldn't understand why I was so angry, "Why are you saying that? Just because he has AIDS doesn't mean he has to die. They have drugs these days."
"Yes and half the time the drugs kill you before the disease does."
"Everyone has to die."

Towards the end he got really weak, chronic diarrhoea, he couldn't even swallow water anymore because it just shot straight out. The last time I went to see him he looked very pale and fucked up. He was in one of the single dorms they moved people to when their condition became chronic, a tiny cube with a big window that looked out on the hospital grounds and then the city beyond. There was a tube going up into his nose and another one in his arm. I wanted to say something but I knew if I tried I'd choke and anyway, there was really nothing left to say. It'll be okay? I'll miss you? It all falls so pathetically short that it's better to just keep your mouth shut. Before I left I gave him a shaky smile. He tried to smile back but he couldn't because every time he moved his mouth his lips cracked. That was the dehydration. The doctors explained: secretions decreased, crying is no use, you try but no tears come out, your saliva is so thick it sticks between your teeth and gums up your tongue. It is difficult to speak. The mucous membranes of the mouth and lips crack as they dry out. As it progressively gets worse, blood pressure will drop, heart rate will pick up, blood will get thicker. In the end he was so severely dehydrated that he died of a stroke because his blood got so thick that it couldn't move through his veins.

After his funeral I walked to the hospital where he had been staying. It was a Sunday. He had been dead 48 hours. I stood on the pavement and looked up at the building. It was this massive shit-red brick building set in a large, mostly grass-less lot surrounded by a wire fence. I blinked against the sun. For some reason I wanted to find the window of the room he had been in before he died. But somehow it seemed like there were too few windows, especially on upper floors, only tall and narrow openings, like squinting eyes; and lower down, small squares that were crudely barred up.