High Flying Birds Going South and Back Again

I

Are We There Yet?

That a man would find a friend once over millennia is no more than we knew already. But that he could be fortunate to find multiple trusted friends in a single lifetime is a boast to all insurgents forever.

Days and nights like those Otto and Taren were living were extremely rare in both their lives. They had found each other and chose each other to keep companionship in a day and age when everyone everywhere was struggling to find meaning, connection, and community, but most, would not even realize what it is that their deepest and longest desires were actually looking for.

It all started in one afternoon, two months after Taren switched to the later shift. They would never see each other anymore, but it didn’t matter back then. They were not friends, and they did not know it could be possible to find such strong connections in a work environment that brings together all sorts of people, for better and for worse. For better because it rightfully fomented diversity in a way that was needed and right to those times they were living in. For worse because you suddenly had an immense group of people with different perspectives and desires and interests. Actually, in a rewatch, that was the greatest strength of that community of employees and what made them so god damn special. But not for Taren. He could not find any real interesting connection in such an environment. So when Otto passed him by in the street and invited him to attend a bar hangout later that night, he felt like he should struggle to make that happen. He knew how much he needed friends. He understood how much he needed to connect to other people, any group of people. They might not offer the strong emotional and intellectual connection he was looking for, but that didn’t mean he could not find a place in his life for them. This is why he sent Otto a text, five hours later.

“Is the bar thing still on, or have people fallen on their enthusiasm?”, he wrote, apprehensive to send it, and yet he did.

Now, Otto knows people have fallen on their enthusiasm, but has decided to lie just a little bit to convince this random weird guy that nobody knows a lot about to meet up with them. A whole day has gone by and after having lunch with Tom, they have decided to go home first and meet later that night to drink and dance at the bar which will also be a club by nine o’clock. Some people are coming, some are not. It doesn’t matter. Nobody needs to know that and as long as people ask Otto about what is it gonna be like, he’s gonna lie saying everyone is coming. So, he records an audio message.

“Not everybody is coming to the bar but a bunch of people are. Gonna be fun, you coming?”, he sent back.

Days and nights like these prove that life and love connect in the strangest forms, and use the weirdest concepts to bring two heartbeats as one in the compass of eternity. A boast to all insurgents forever.

“But isn’t there a thin line between friendly and romantic connection?”, the therapist asks Otto.

She looks him in the eye with attentive care, her wide eyes glooming towards the troubled twenty-seven-year-old that barely understands what he’s going through. He knows he’s not “in love” with Taren, that idea has gone by months after that first night at the bar which was also a club by nine o’clock. And yet, this makes him question everything. His mind travels at the speed of light trying to connect the multiple dots, Chekhov’s guns, and all possible episodes that felt like some romanticism between them. Was that romantic at all? Is that what she means by that? What is love anyway? The opposite of love is indifference. Or is it loneliness?

“I’m not in love with Taren.”

Otto has said that multiple times those past few weeks. Between that and “Taren and I are not a couple” or “Taren is straight”, he has surprised a bunch of people who otherwise would just gossip behind their backs. That a good man would have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already. Why do people always romanticize any connection they see between two people? That doesn’t seem to bother Taren. He’s just god damn satisfied he’s found someone to walk with him through that time. The week between the first and the second drawing flew much faster, but also a lot smoother than the week leading to the first drawing. He already kinda knew what he was going to draw about. And after going out Thursday night with Otto some things were much clearer, even with his currently clouded mind. He knew what was his goal. “Ten drawings till the end of the semester”, he kept repeating in his mind. He got home as fast as he could after going through the materials shop. He bought every single piece of material he could imagine he would need and thank goodness, he was off for a better start this time. He had to make it work, otherwise, the two films he and Otto decided to watch over the weekend could be jeopardized by him, again.

That was funny. People seem to know them as the guys who watched a bunch of movies. That was a big misconception, to say the least, the worst cliché yet. They have watched three movies up until that point in what seemed to be a two-month friendship, only. Of course, they got to know each other a little at the office Christmas party when Otto dropped beer all over Taren and someone coined the term Otto’s Baptism, which was a reference to the fact that Otto used to be a pastor before being disgracefully set apart from church for coming out publicly as a gay man a couple of years before that. The majority of the people in the building and at the bar that night would never think Otto could ever have been a closeted Christian gay. And that is why Otto was willing to believe Nina might be right when she said Taren was not only gay, possibly bi, but was into him. He would be delighted, Otto, I mean. He never thought about Taren in that particular way and never felt like he could be a little bit interested in him, and Otto, by his own account was willing to try it out. What’s there to lose anyway? Well, he couldn’t do it. Taren took seriously the invitation to drink and drank a lot, and between drunk and sick he was able to put together enough sentences to tell Otto how important it was to him to be out that night, his first night with anyone else after his girlfriend broke up with him, because, but not only, he, Taren, had no other friends of his own. That stung enough to make Taren consider bringing a bunch of random people into his life, but two months after that, on that Thursday night sitting on the porch bench, neither of them said they could see it happening. It was just too off-putting. They seemed so different on the surface, and yet so similar and so complementing as soon as deep called to deep. And that’s what Otto was thinking when he tweeted the thread that he used to thank Taren for the paced birth of a beautiful friendship, in gratitude for being chosen by the person he chose.

Days and nights like these reminded both of them of how their souls could entertain such greatness, instead of struggling to find reasons to believe or someone to blow the wind so their spirits would soar up to heaven. They have found what they were looking for, even if there was so much more to look for ahead. And that is a boast for all insurgents forever.

II

Serendipity when I need a friend

They knew it was too late to catch the trip home. Somehow it is just how it goes. There is mercy and understanding every time the burden feels like an ocean in a teardrop. Otto has never been the type to shed a single tear, and yet both could see the shining light in their eyes as tears would try so hard to form.

“I want her to suffer as much or even more than I am now.”, he said, so brave and unapologetic. Of course, he was talking about emotional suffering and would never wish her any physical harm in any way. Still, they knew it. It felt like the end of the beginning, and that’s as rare as a comet crossing the night sky in plain sight. Lightning strikes twice, sometimes. And they knew they could never recognize a star, constellation, or planet in the dark night sky.

“I always know when it’s time.”, Otto joked about it, handing Taren his own cigarette. That’s just the way they did stuff. Otto would light a cigarette. Taren would take any opportunity to use the “You smoke, dude.” meme on him. Otto would wait for the right moment to offer and they would share it, usually by the mark of several hours of conversation, whenever they hit the striking note of sorrow and vulnerability. Vulnerability is a risky choice for some with much to hide. Taren never seems reluctant when the time comes. That seems to be a recurring theme for them. After the infamous baptism, they shared drinks and cigarettes on the first night, keeping the cigarette a tradition, every single time. Sharing smoke. The orange light bathed their faces as that orange color tinged the paper on that paint Otto called “the Blade Runner” at the watercolor exposition. The big expo room was all empty except for some twenty paintings on the wall, some small, some gigantic, one looking like two dinosaurs at a certain distance. They could smell the same, they would never notice.

Serendipity. Otto would use this word a lot after the first time he read Taren say it in a text message. It meant a fortunate stroke of events. Luck. He was lucky, he felt fortunate. He could not believe how lucky he was to have found such a strong feeling. Life felt like it had a purpose. And you can really use serendipity. Taren decided he needed someone and Otto decided to stay for him, so why not? After all this time they would finally talk about the apartment issue. They could not do this together yet, Otto needed to try it for himself, but damn, wasn’t Taren sending all good vibrations into the universe so Otto would find it soon, that way they could go out in a time young people do instead of seven o’clock straight from work cause of distance and bus hours. Otto could not go back home, apparently. I mean, he would, but that meant spending forty-five bucks on a Uber trip, which meant three fewer movies watched at the theater that month and that was unacceptable. His father, Otto’s, had already agreed to help financially, maybe buying him a bed if it would be necessary. He did not know about that. That would clearly depend on a lot more serendipity to happen in the right way at the right pace. Otto was almost finding a place, maybe a week or two more and they would be able to meet at nine or ten and stay out until they felt appropriate.

But what about coffee breaks? They were now famous at the office for the ten-minute coffee break they would take together. Otto would stop working by noon thirty, the same time Taren would start. Otto would then have lunch and wait around, talking to every random single one till two o’clock, when Taren would come out and they would talk lively in the kitchen, a coffee mug in hands, before deciding if that night was the best one to go out. They never really had a plan, but at least went out to see the two movies they set out for that weekend, and what a blast. Then Otto wrote a very strange review for the second film, and for a moment there it felt like he did not even see it. As Otto put it, if Bogdanovich had directed this it wouldn’t be that much devastating and a lot more fun. But then, what would the aftermath look like? He cried several times, especially during the monologue in the second act. They smoked what looked like four cigarettes in such a small amount of time and the way the main character would just keep holding them was inspiring. Otto just wishes he could yell to the protagonist that he was suffering for things self-imposed, in such a strong way he would rather forget the goodness he lived through those three years, but he felt he would be extremely hypocritical and couldn’t honestly say he was not doing the same. But then he would also add about how much the protagonist could count on him to help and to listen as much as he needs. Of course, the first act cracked some good jokes but by the end, it was heartwarming as those beautiful hand-drawing eyes would pop into the screen as a reminder of all the danger they’ve been through but also as a powerful milestone of how far they’ve come. This felt as vulnerable and real as life itself and they honestly couldn’t wait for the sequel. And this is why it felt like a completely different film. I mean, those weren’t just funny movies, they were hilarious, for sure. And they knew that a friendship could not be built upon the rock of movie-going experiences alone, but aren’t they there yet, at least at a place they can look back and understand how much of this actually matters the most for them.

So yeah, they tried. And they did it, that was something to be quite happy about. They trusted each other, they could be vulnerable enough to make the other tear up and hide the urge to actually do it. Comeuppance. Every time they would say goodbye they never actually did it. It was always something like “see you tomorrow” or “let me know”, this one meant “let me know you’ve arrived”. They could’ve done better, but believed quite rightfully, that they were doing just fine.

So when the therapist asked Otto how he felt about thinking of a friendship to become romantic, he was very confident to answer the way he did. “That would be the dream, but not him” — he meant Taren. He had a reason for that. He believed every romantic relationship is doomed to end at some point. And yes, what is two months to wish something would last forever and to even affirm that as a possibility? But he could never put what they had on the line. He would have to learn to read the exchanges in the coffee shop. Is that guy actually looking at him like someone that he could try to spend a few years together before they grew to hate, and yet, respect each other? How he would remember this kinda thing? That was something Taren had quite the expertise of. He was trying to transfer his responsibility for remembrance to the drawings he was failing to do. Every single week he would have to convince himself to keep going. He would even use Taren’s terrible, yet effective, memory saying “Hermes landed on Horizon and hurt his finger”. That was Otto’s way to remember to put a pause on his systems and register every time he would go out to the bathroom, to smoke, or eat. Taren would use it to remind himself why he decided to draw this in the first place. Serendipity alone could not do it. He needed a way to better carry his burden. That is exactly how Otto felt every time they would smoke together. Like every grasp of smoke and every blow would have the weight of their hearts on them to also be shared and carried together. So delightful.

Whatever it is they had, it was too great to not believe. The first time they did pot together there were a bunch of other people, but they did not feel the same way as they did. Otto sat down on a bench, Taren talked about how he felt about every first thing they were doing for the very first time but also that he was doing for the first time since his break up, and doing it with that new “it boy”, like Otto called himself as a terrible referenced joke. And yet together, they were just trying too hard to let go of their past and into the future. In hindsight, they already have walked a ton. You could see it if you try. And that is why he lost his bus, the trip home. Otto was yet to find a home as a literal space to be, but somehow, both Otto and Taren had found a home on the streets they would walk and talk like an Aaron Sorkin kinda script. He had a trip to make and made it twice as long for losing the eleventh-hour bus, and yet, Otto was just feeling too good to bother. And that’s what matters, Taren thought. That’s all that mattered.

III

High Flying Birds

“You decide.”

Otto was not good with decisions, or at least that was one of his favorite recurring jokes. He would actually be the one to always bring ideas and decide things. Taren looked deeply into his eyes, waiting, longing somehow. He brought the drawing. They might not have the time. He still doesn’t know how much he’s ready to share.

“Rock, paper, scissors then.”

Otto loved this game. Would play constantly with his little brother over the years. Taren told him to just decide it. No more relying on luck alone. Otto stayed seated. That was the sign of a decision. They would still talk about Spider-Man movies, Japanese animation, and indie comic books before Otto tried to light a cigarette. Unexpectedly, he had no more fluid on his lighter. That was unacceptable. This is the cigarette moment they have all night they go a little bit deeper. Taren suggests looking for fire with someone else, his own lighter not with them at that crucial moment. Otto is reluctant but decides to do it. They get up and walk to the hot dog cart. He lights the cigarette. They change to another bench. It’s getting colder. Still walking Taren starts his monologue. He started sharing some insecurities before hitting on the story of how he and Julie broke up. Otto cried. The story is long and painful and Otto can feel it. Taren can feel it. They light one cigarette after another with the ashes of the latter. Taren holds two finished cigarettes, one in both hands, like one of the writers of that funny movie they watched the other night.

They never laughed so much in public. Walking up the street after it they made up a story about how they thought the writers wrote that unstoppable funny script. They could only imagine the four writers sweating in a room, a little table fan, one wearing a sunglass over his glasses, another holding a cigarette in both hands and trying to write with it and throwing ashes all over the place, someone wearing an unbuttoned shirt having a bourbon while the last one yells “What’s up doc, like she’s bugs bunny”, and a producer in the back says “we’re not paying WB for that”. They did not even notice the path they chose would not go through the park. Taren felt disappointed. Otto tried to redeem it. That was literally impossible. They looked as if they would fly away any minute now. They talked for hours, one day after the other. Otto thought Taren should keep drawing. Taren thought he would eventually, but it was too painful. And that is why Otto was crying. And that is why Taren was thankful. Words can be meaningful and sometimes speak more than a thousand images. They knew how much every single word they said was powerful for them. How vulnerable they were to each and every single word. Otto’s favorite story would come into solution in words, not in plot. Taren’s favorite story would come into solution whenever the eyes of the beholder would glimpse into oblivion and eternity.

Vulnerability is a risky choice for those of us suffering from anxiety. Hiatus had just begun and Otto could feel it in the air. It is not that he hoped they had closed the deal, for the apartment, I mean. It was actually closed. That’s how these things work. If you talk about it and make arrangements about using the kitchen, the separate bathrooms and the TV hours it is kinda what closing the deal feels like. But anxiety needs no aftermath to tackle. As soon as Otto sent a message requesting the bank account to transfer the rent money, and already having packed all his life into a big suitcase, several bags and even more boxes, every minute waiting for the answer felt like an eternity. He had things to buy. A bed and mattress, a desk and shelves, many many shelves. He could only buy them after he could tell them to deliver to the new address. That would only be possible whenever Otto heard from the guy.

Taren was also apprehensive in his own way. He was expecting the meeting that night to go right. He was also expectant for the therapy Tuesday night, so he could talk about all the crazy things that happened so fast in the last three days of that season. The finale was small, cozy, and hit as a good closure would. They both had closure for the arc they were living, the things they were pursuing, so why is it that Taren felt like he was stuck in the same place? He did not know if he would continue to make those drawings and definitely did not know how or when to make them. Did he want to keep pursuing those compartments? To place his feelings and the remembrance of them over these drawings did sound like a good idea in not such a distant past. But now, he knew as much as nobody else about what it is that he was feeling.

Fear and anxiety need no aftermath to make us feel bad for our failures, for our hopes, for our expectant existence.

When by the end of the night Taren took the drawing out and showed Otto it felt miraculous. The first drawing, the one out of the ten he still doesn’t know if he’ll ever do. Those first eyes to see it on paper as it is. That was the first time ever he showed Otto anything he drew. That felt like a massive first thing among every first thing they were doing for the very first time. That felt like a miracle, a miracle that rose from the depths of them, felt like they were lost before, but now deeply found. It felt holy.

“You know you can count on me, right?”

They don’t remember who asked. It wouldn’t really make a difference to remember. Both knew they could count on each other. That’s what they’ve decided.

They also decided to go on hiatus. After the finale came and went, Taren had closure for his arc by telling her she wasn’t the worst person in the world but she could’ve done better, Otto had closure for his arc, by finding a place to live and the courage to go out in this new adventure. They did decide to not rush into a whole new season. Let people out of it. Keep living for a while without anyone to see it. They’ve decided to discuss plot points for the new season later, that would come after hiatus, perhaps, discuss casting, new characters, and new activities, they would be on each other’s corners by comparison. No more eleventh-hour bus home. Some things just felt possible in a different way. They could make it. In reality all that meant taking the toll of understanding that period of their lives was over. These first few months were gone and those two guys really struggling with it, they were done. They’ve done it. They became friends, developed trust, and stepped into their individual nearby future, individually but together, helping and supporting each other. They could move on. I mean, they should move on. What would hold them back now? And that did not mean having everything figured out, but definitely ready to leap into the unknown with some courage in their hearts. What would that be like?

They proposed a toast, three different times. Taren lit Otto’s cigarette with his own lighter, an electric-inducing zippo lighter that would have lightning beams instead of fire. They named it after Thor’s hammer, Mjollnir. Taren lit it and toasted it up. “To hiatus”, he said. Minutes later, Otto did the same with another cigarette. That was the season finale coming to an end, right there. They could feel it. The toll of moving forward and leaving behind the idea that someone’s watching, that somebody else could see themselves in their story as they could see themselves in so many different stories. As they could see themselves in Boyhood, Daytripper, The Oslo Trilogy. Otto toasted a third time, with the same second cigarette, moments before the last bus home came. The last bus home. Now but not yet. “What if season three never starts?”, Otto asked “Will we be alright if hiatus never ends?”. The answer is they would keep on living. But none of them said that. None of them said anything else. They were listening to four minutes and midnight, two very weird songs, weirdly magical, as they left it all behind. They’ve stepped into it, the future, this time with no cameras and no one to watch it.

“We’ll be alright, regardless.”, Taren replied, after all. And that has been decided.

IV

The Only Hoax to Believe in

“I’m here”. Otto texted.

He was just about to say the quite opposite one hour before. But once he realized how many things had to go wrong for them to have the possibility of meeting up, he simply could not say no. Taren and he have not seen each other for so long and neither knew where to start. So he said yes. After canceling the bar hangout, the orchestra night with his dad, and a bonus of Taren’s surgery being postponed a second time right at the moment it should start. Plus, going like this, no plan, no previous schedule, just lifting up from that comfortable gaming chair and going to grab a pizza.

“Why not tomorrow?”, he asked. “We don’t even know if it’s gonna be open.”, Taren replied. “We don’t know if it is now.”, Otto returned. Taren was talking about the holiday. Otto was quoting the joke they had about arriving in that pizza place one day and it would be closed as it was indeed giving out their spot. It was a good joke, like so many they had already. So much has happened since that coffee. Otto sent a message in the middle of the afternoon offering a latte from the coffee place they liked. “You are really willing to come here in the middle of the afternoon just to have coffee?”, Taren thought about asking, but felt like that was rhetorical. It would not be the first time Otto stretched to be there. They barely talked, there was not enough time or words to it. Taren did not know where to start. He did not really know what he was feeling. Otto just wanted to be looking at his face when he tells about going out with Savio. It happened that Friday night Taren passed. Taren was passing and canceling a lot. They haven’t been to a movie since the Multiverse one, but they knew they could not be the movie guys forever. They grew out of it, bigger than that. What they had now was weirdly relatable to many, and yet rare as kingfishers catch fire.

“It’s freezing out here”. That’s what Taren said that got them late in the first place. He would go home to get some winter coat. He did. It was not enough and he only froze the entire time. He played with the newly bought zippo Otto brought. It was a fire zippo like they are supposed to be, so Taren was not afraid of burning himself like he would be around the plasma one with its Thor lightning. Otto started with some funny stories and complained a lot about the new Stranger Things season. Taren went with the wave and made a few jokes and a lot of mean comments himself. They ordered a beer and decided to not eat just yet. Full moon blown up in the sky and the cold June wind just risking the whole thing. A beggar got too close to the table just holding a cup that Otto filled to the brim. “I would never have noticed he was asking for beer.”, Taren said once the man left. Otto kept on his rant for a few more minutes. He told how Savio had blocked him on every social media possible. That was just too much. He was feeling just alright, Otto. Nothing really to complain about. Just warming up to the moment when he would ask the very feared question.

Both of them felt how the whole environment changed once Otto asked that question. The street was noisy and people were all around. It was like a Friday night on a Wednesday dressed as Thursday primetime. It is a holiday eve anyways. Body of Christ. This is the body that was broken for all. Taren would try to get some sleep for the first time in ages. Otto would work to make some extra buck. Nobody would think about Christ that day. Otto dedicated some time to talking about how Folklore was a great album, despite being definitely a Taylor Swift album. Taren opted not to listen, it could do more harm than good where he was. Where was he? Who’s to say. He knew without knowing. This is why he would only think about how to answer the question once Otto had done it. He did, and Taren still did not know where to start.

“Should I go chronological order?”, Taren implied.

Otto thought about that Cicero song. Taren started ted talking about the Tim Bernardes album, his period sick at home, the frustrations, the fears, the drawings he made of couples he saw on the street and posted on the twelfth. Otto knew already how he actually felt. Taren would still say it, admitting he missed her, as a friend, as a companion, the unique connection they had. He said about how their talk at the end of it all just humanized her and put him somewhere where he could appreciate the memories, where he could hold on to those moments, and he felt — damn, he knew — like she felt the same way. He just could not prove it. No one could prove anything. Otto thought about the Haim song. Thought about where he would be in the grand scheme of things. Thought once again about how many things have had to go wrong so this could happen. They were there, sitting at the pizza place table, eating no pizza for too long of a time. But still felt like they were not there yet.

“I find it weird that I’m not the one on an emotional roller coaster.”, Otto said a few hours later in the line to pay the bill. Taren wanted the relief of telling and forgetting. “I hope one day we trade places.”, he said. This whole time apart served to teach them both one thing or two about how powerful this whole thing could be, about how fortunate they were for just being in different places right now, both physically and in their emotional journeys. Otto had the whole house set. Taren was finishing him, the curtain was still missing. Otto did not want Savio to just leave. He wanted to try, a slow pace trying. Savio was just too fast in the journey to him. Taren would not know that for a couple more weeks. It did not feel like the stakes were high enough to bring it up that night. “Tonight, I’m just comic relief.”, Otto said, not so relieved. Who would be relieved for any reason anyways? That stupid guy keeps finding ways to stay apart and at every new repetition of the Last Time song, Otto would just feel it crushing in his chest, the fact that he had loved him, that he knew that last time that Friday night would indeed be the last, but at the same time, not so much, they would keep doing that, but in a different note than the song predicted, they shouldn’t stay apart, they could give it a try to stay together. But how? He just kept on leaving. That’s inhumane. And still, too low stakes for a pizza Wednesday night.

Otto and Taren had both seen this film before and didn’t like the ending. They would get there in the end, that other song said, but that wasn’t a relief if you think about it. That son of a bitch Tim Bernardes. This whole thing was a hoax. The only hoax they would dare to believe in. They were either being honest, but uncomfortable, or comfortable but not honest. And why would they replicate that with each other?

In the meantime, Taren’s dad came around. He told him to not do anything he did not want to do, anything just for someone else. Some selfishness can be a lifesaver sometimes. You got to be clever and kind, strong and polite, a serpent and a dove. Days and nights like these reminded both of them of how their souls could barely entertain such greatness while struggling to find reasons to believe or someone to blow the wind so their spirits would soar up to the dark night sky. But the moonlight was somehow visible, in the midst of a thousand bars and people and noise and music mixing with one another. And yet, no one could honestly say they were there yet. Not even close to it. But the journey had barely started a few years before. It would have been fun if their so-called exes could have been the ones if that can’t be much more than a concept. If one thing has been different, anything could be.

“It’s funny what comes to mind after some time.”, Otto wrote. The moment you said your life was turned upside down after you changed your shift I gagged, cause that was the year-round Stranger Things week. One moment after that I thought to myself, “maybe he shouldn’t have changed.” And then it hit me. None of this would be real if it was such. And like anything before and after that would, this pain was not supposed to last forever. That’s not how life works. Life is finite. Everything should end at some point. Everything should just become memories at some point. The very question we had to go through now would determine what we would remember of all this.

“Just ask it already.”, Taren said, somewhat patiently.

“Are you alright?”, Otto finally asked.

“I’m not there yet.”, Taren replied.

Neither of us, man. Neither of us.

V

Friends in high places as kingfishers catch fire

A bird falls dead on the sidewalk. No one notices, no one steps it. It simply stays, waiting to be taken back to earth, to be eaten by a wild cat, to be noted by two friends that are suffering.

“I have no words man.”

Otto looked very attentively at the picture Taren just sent to him. The picture doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Otto knew they should go out on a bender and get drunk and stupid. They did it. They got drunk and they got sober and drunk and sober again. All night long they were out there, out in the streets of the city they’d chosen. Back in the day, Taren came to town for college. For a while, he had the life he envisioned all those years in the small town he grew up in. He had a place for himself, did not share, had a balcony, and lived in a pretty up-standard neighborhood. He’s a college dropout, just like Otto. Both were college dropouts until re-enrolling to it. Otto never lived out of town, but that was the first time he was living in the heart of the city. They walked a few minutes to the pizza place, and for the very first time, Otto was not the first one to arrive. Their lack of words did not last. They both had so much to say. What mattered the most out of this, they did not know. Taren was tired, he wanted to be held accountable, he wanted to let all that story behind. They spoke a lot on TV terms.

Why must they keep on repeating the same old tune?

Tuesday night they all sat down to listen to that unfathomable album. Great albums should sound weird and strange on the first listen. One thing they all knew, track 10 would keep hitting them unannounced, even if they knew it was coming. It would be unexpected, this life. On Friday night they’ve both forgotten about the movie in the theater in order to take some alone time. Taren knew she was listening and seeing everything he was doing. Otto knew that stupid little prick did not forget about him so easily, and still, knew it was a shot in the dark. Would leave him a comment on a YouTube video, the only place online he did not block him? You’ve lost everything if you’ve got nothing to lose. Is that how the saying goes? It would be lonely, this night.

But not Saturday. Live in the city, they would entrust each other even more, as they’ve never trusted anyone before. At some point in the night, Otto offered a hug. They’ve never hugged so far, and it just felt like a good moment for this. Otto hugged Taren like any straight guy would, in the side, and then made the joke about how any straight guy would hug like that. Taren laughed. Then Otto hugged him for real. The laugh became sobbing. They just stayed for a while, abiding in each other’s arms. Otto would repeat overnight that Taren was his best friend and that he cared for him and was there for him. Taren would repeat overnight that he was not going to leave him.

“I think I will remember you forever.”, Taren said at some point.

“I hope you stay close to the rest of my life.”, Otto replied. “I’ll need someone to take care of me when I discover I have cancer at 67 before I die for it at 68.”

That morbid cancer joke was a repetition. They’ve done that joke before, that day in the coffee place. Taren was doing this design side job that would take forever. He started it with her a couple of years before. It wasn’t difficult to finish because of that.

“I don’t wanna talk about her anymore, I don’t wanna go through her street when I come home, I don’t wanna care about her.”, Taren would repeat over and over again that night.

They’ve got drinks and smoke a ton of cigarettes. But it somehow felt like the story wasn’t going anywhere.

“Talking about stories”, Taren said. “It’s weird, cause I thought she wouldn’t do that anymore.”

“It is weird. I thought you wouldn’t do that anymore too.”, Otto replied.

Taren believes he is capable of loving someone romantically forever. They talked on that topic for quite the long hour. Otto had some valid arguments but love doesn’t come down to the arguments, but to the actions.

“But if you don’t believe in destiny, then why should you feel like this was meant to be?”, Otto asked at some point. Taren did not know how to respond. He was just so tired of all the pain.

They’ve walked a while making jokes about random things. They would not remember those. They talked bout their sexual preferences and experiences. “Lots of HBO material.”, Otto would remark.

“What would you say if you could not remember your name?”, Taren asked.

“Hi, I’m Brad Bird.”, Otto replied.

“I’ve always thought about a bird made out of bread.”, Taren wondered.

“French bread, I hope. American just not good.”, Otto thought out loud.

“There’s so much that I’ve done with my life since I OD’d.” Otto stopped, looking down at the dead bird on the ground. He started sobbing. Taren looked at him with some sort of care. They were in sync, all the time. Not once nor twice, Otto send Taren something Taren was about to send him on some social media, they would feel the need to talk or watch some nonrelated show on TV and have related jokes about them.

“It’s been seven years since I OD’d.”, Otto continued.

Taren would have hugged him, but he needed to speak. Otto recounted the painful night his mother found him passing out on the balcony of their rental like the one Taren had back at the beginning of all times. That night, Otto could not remember his name. His mom would be a force of nature while calling the ambulance and taking him to the hospital just in time to save him. Otto checked his heart, it was beating. Taren already noticed his friend’s tick back to reality, how he would count his fingers, mumbling the numbers, to make sure everything around was real. They were drunk but coming back already. Taren’s eyes would spark with tears, Otto seemed to be dying and coming back again.

“I always remember the date”, Otto said, eventually. Some years he doesn’t even remember it is an anniversary and then after a very strange day, something reminds him one more year has gone by and he’s still alive.

“How can someone live knowing they’ve tried to take their lives?”, Taren asked, a cold distant reminder of a TV show character and his own experience with attempting suicide. This is how he knew he would be fine this time, he was still alive, he did not try again this second time.

“You’re not alone this time.”, Otto said a few hours later, sitting on a bench in the park, early in the morning. “The only activity you can not improve with repetition is suicide.”

Time was flying all around, but that night felt like it was going forever, taking its toll and allowing them to live each minute to its fullest. It was like time stopped, a moment set apart in eternity so they could reflect on the dead bird and how their souls should effort to fly. The thing about time is that it is relative in the experience but linear in how the moments flow. You might not be able to understand a situation when you’re going through it, but looking back after the event, you can see where the light was.

“Looking back now I see where the light was.”, Otto said. The light was shining through the pain, a pain you feel when you are finally washing the wound to put on some healing balm after a few days of letting it rot. The wound is where the light shines through. A light that could bring a bird back to life.

“Help me, Clarence, I wanna live.”, Taren would later repeat, quoting the most memorable line of the old movie they went to see days after that. Someone should bring the bird back to life.

Memories can be engraved in overthinking. But would insist on forgetting take it all away? I write what they want to forget so they would remember forgetting.

“You can talk to me about him, you know that right?”, Taren said. Otto felt it deep inside, he knew he could, but he did not know how to.

“I don’t know how.”, Otto replied.

It’s late, they would not know if it was too late to call and say goodbye again. That other goodbye, either way, is just not enough. There they are, caught in the disillusion of a love long gone. And yet, there is healing when the heartache weighs a mountain in the grieving of a love lost.

For the first time, they decided to dry the well and drink the whole water until they drown. They were not leaving till sunrise.

“What is it like to have a best friend gay?”, Otto asked.

“I feel like Scott Pilgrim.”, Taren replied. They laughed.

“You are more progressive than I am. I mean, I’m gay, but my best friend is a straight cis white guy. Your best friend is a gay latino guy. Now, that’s progressive.”, Taren laughed even harder at Otto’s new motif.

“That’s Andrew Garfield in Tick Tick Boom.”, he finally said.

“Too many references to keep up.”, Otto finished.

They fell into silence. And so, they’re back here again, tiptoeing around the edge of the end, holding each other’s hearts like a sacrificial offering. Cause real love is hard love, it’s a breakneck, a train wreck, and yet, all they’ve had. If we could teach ourselves not to suffer, would life be even worth living? They were not fooling anybody but themselves, by believing or waiting or just postponing the very nature of those endings. A beautiful tangle, bruises, scars. Taren wishes he could let her know. Otto feared he would never be able to tell him. And they were tethered to whatever past haunted those same days and nights. And they were tethered to each other. And for a moment, it felt like the light would never shine again.

That’s when sunrise came to bring back hope, and the certainty of repetition and coming back to those feelings after a while. But the assurance of fellowship. Reassuring each other like friends in high places, as kingfishers catch fire and dragonflies draw flames.

Long nights like these reminded both of them of how their souls would not entertain such greatness anymore, trading the struggle to find reasons to believe and choosing to blow their own wind so their spirits would soar up, high as high-flying birds chirping and singing in the morning light, as they are going south.

“We’re almost there, mate. Almost there.”

VI

They are there already, so let’s go somewhere else

That a man could find a friend once over millennia is no more than we’ve always knew to be. As deep as relationships go, there is an urge to connect and embrace vulnerability beyond reason.

Days and nights like these reminded Otto and Taren that they could no longer go back to a place in time in which they did not have found that vulnerability in each other, even thou, sittuations they had no control over would make them believe that you should let go of someone.

That’s a common saying right? That you should let go of those you love. “When the time comes, I will let her go”, the song says. And right after that, I will open myself again. That’s not what Taren was looking forward, but if everything that starts finds its ending, shouldn’t he start over?

“I will not think about any girl from now on”, Taren said, pompous and decisive.

“That’s what they all said”, Otto said, in an early attempt to allude to their ongoing Michael Scott joke.

They start crossing the avenue. It’s full of cars and people and life. A couple hours prior to that Otto still did not know what to wear for that occasion. It’s somehow still Taren’s birthday after ten days. They’ve been waiting and preparing for this night for a while now. It is unpleasant to Otto to see the mega line of people in front of the theater.

“I don’t do lines”, Otto said to himself.

“I knew this would happen”. Taren stops, too close to the street. He’s seen her, there, already. “Let’s go somewhere else”, he thought, knowing how impossible that was, they got tickets for this a while ago. Otto does not really understand until Taren says it for what it is.

For a while now things seem to be falling into place. Taren spent a few weeks pining over this girl who works at the bookstore. He drew her in a napkin, that a waiter from the coffee shop delivered to her. They talked a bit, exchanged phone numbers, she followed him on Instagram, which he’s been using to some level of success. They almost went on a date, but she never really replied in time, so he gave up on her. He tried to get a part time job in the same bookstore out of unrelated reasons, and Otto was honestly behind him on that idea. Otto who had just himself opened up to meet new people and was going steady with this guy he met the other day. He wanted a meet cute, until his therapist convinced him to try to find someone nice on Tinder and actually try to put himself out there. It has been quite a challenge lately. Even with Taren, his best and closest friend, Otto has had some issues about sharing and being honest on his feelings and whatnots. Taren drew him a picture of his favorite author, with his favorite quote: “It should be forbidden to make fun of anyone who dares to speak in a foreign language”. That spoke miles to how much they meant for each other. For Taren’s birthday, Otto wrote a letter, poured himself into a piece of paper and never look back. That a heart would embrace anothers over millennia is a boast for all insurgents forever. So, he put himself out there and went on a date. He just texted, “hey, let’s go for a walk”, and they went. They got coffee, walked around the park, slept together, and Otto would not confess, but it felt good to miss somebody after all this time. They had a very good talk, a lot in common and some sort of connection and respect for each other. Taren was proud of him for finally admitting he was looking for it, in his peculiar way, but still, looking.

That night was the night. That Thursday night they would listen to that unfathomable album live for the very first and last time. The singer-songwriter knows what he is doing and delivered a masterful spectacle that took for granted all the tears Taren was willing to let go that night, tears he hold all year long. How many nights and months were gone since that bender? You’ve lost everything if you’ve got nothing to lose.

Otto held his friend’s shoulder while he cried throughout that song ten. He knew it was coming, it took Taren by surprise. Taren would try to see something to their right a few lines down the aisle, but that was stupid. No one can see in the dark so well. What really mattered is what you see in the light. Otto was haunted, like he could say to anyone, “oh don’t mind him, he’s made of darkness”. He wanted this to be true to himself too. He was suddenly ready for a spin-off. They still speak a lot on TV terms, even if they know what reality is like. Taren might even start believing there’s a god out there, but not a good and loving one, a trickster god, playing tricks with his life, trying to sell a very edgy-like comedy to NBC.

He brought his journal, expecting to draw something, even if he knew he could not see it in the dark. What would he draw? Her, again? His blazer was still holding the halloween party costume he made based on Theodore from Spike Jonze’s movie, which means, Samantha was also watching the show. He thought about what he would say to her given the opportunity. Would him tell he could help, would he boast for being right, apologize for being wrong, lie about how he’s also seeing someone from the bookstore, freeze while looking deep into her eyes? No ones to blame, he doesn’t believe what was done and said was out of meanness. And yet, it hurt. They never again seen eye to eye, and for a while now, he was perfectly capable of avoiding her street. So, he would probably avoid her here too. Yet, he ain’t quite where he thought he was.

“That’s her, over there, in the green shirt, hugging that other girl.”

Otto finally saw her eyes, the ones he knew so well from Taren’s drawing.

“My ex has a girlfriend.”, Taren said, tormented. “That’s a mean joke.”

“You knew she would be here.”, Otto added, trying to find a compromise with his friend. “There’s no way to fill up this theater unless every single fan of this album would come.”

Taren had a lot of reasons why he thought she might not come. Who she’s gonna go with? Maybe she couldn’t buy tickets before they sold out. She might not even care about this album. A lot of stupid reasons that helped him feel safe with the idea of going himself, there and back again.

“Of course she would come.”

By the time the show was over, in the middle of a thousand people trying to leave, Taren looked at her the same time she looked at him. They crossed their eyes for the very first time since that time they spoke over coffee. He knew, somehow, she was thinking of him, and if she was, he was probably thinking of her. He would get used to it, whatever it was. But he would never forget.

“Pizza place?”, Taren suggests, so they can walk the path towards it together for the first time in ages. They walked, unbelievers of their demise. Taren was somehow grateful that all happened at once, the finale to end all endings. Otto was proud of him and of himself and the people they had become since they’ve met eye to eye.

In the end, there is healing to be found when the heartache weighs a mountain in the grieving of a love lost. Behing all the nearness, the vacancy bleeds. Is there still time for the warmth of love to win if you believe you are capable of loving forever? Somehow, they knew from the outset, they were part of a wound, and yet here to see it mend.

Long nights like those reminded both of them of how their souls were done entertaining greatness, with no reasons to believe and yet blowing the wind so their spirits would soar up, high as high-flying birds coming back from the south, the place where kingfishers learned their new song. ♦

You saw my spirit soaring up to heaven. You blow the winds that touch my wings.

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OTIS

OTIS

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you wouldn’t even be here without a mirrorball (stories, movies and a dark sense of humor)