I Am Dead and Yet I Live by Michelle Brooks

CBS Showtime (c) 2017

My friend Hank always contended that to have a successful party, you needed at least two rooms. You may only need one, but the second room implied possibility, movement, mystery. You don’t, he’d say, want to think you’ve seen every swinging dick already. Our parties in college and graduate school tended to be low-rent affairs, involving a steady set of the same swinging dicks and a few wild cards that changed from year to year to provide the drama necessary to make us feel alive. Cheap beer, tequila (El Torro! at a mere seven dollars was a favorite, the kind of liquor that comes with a red plastic hat as a lid), and all too intentional slips of the tongue that caused crying and break-ups were our staples.

Twin Peaks was a staple as well. Hank and I watched it together, sometimes joined by my now ex-husband and/or a motley assortment of friends. Our group, which Hank dubbed “the family,” had known each other in varying degrees of forever, most since high school. The core of the family had grown up in Mineral Wells, a small Texas town that boasted a decommissioned army base, an abandoned hotel that used to dispense curative waters to movie stars in the twenties, and a thriving snake population that included every poisonous variety indigenous to the United States.

This is to say we knew Twin Peaks. We’d sit in one of our dingy apartments, and Hank would whip out his magnifier when he heard the iconic theme song. Legally blind, Hank would scoot close to the television, smiling whenever Agent Cooper drank some damn fine coffee. He loved the dancing dwarf, Laura Palmer, and Hawk. We’d laugh and talk about the future, about how we’d be when we were old. Hank speculated that Twin Peaks would return, but I remained skeptical. It seemed like a total eclipse—you only got one per lifetime.

We were still in Texas, a place we had longed to leave. But we had left our hometown which was something. Whenever we complained, Hank would counter, Wherever we go, we know there’s someone worse, and I thought of this comment as his parents made arrangements to ship his body from Philadelphia, the city he’d made his home after a long Greyhound trip with two suitcases of all his earthly possessions, staying with a mutual friend until he began teaching and saved enough money to move into a basement apartment underneath a liquor store. He told me he could see dim outlines of people’s shoes in the tiny slat window at the top of the wall in his living room, to Mineral Wells, to be laid out and buried a few miles from the hotel in which he was born, two weeks before his thirty-third birthday.

I know nobody would have loved the return as much as Hank would have. I dream of Hank often, as one might expect. We promised to haunt each other – who knew it would come so soon? In my dreams, Hank and I try to get places, we hang out, talk on the phone. We are as we were, but I always know he’s dead. Sometimes we argue about the relationship, just like in life. (“You’re dead. We cannot be talking on the phone,” I’ll say, to which he will reply, “Well, we are. Talking on the phone, that is. I know I’m dead. You don’t have to tell me everything.”)

His visits leave me sad, wanting more, a rule he often cited as the secret to all great performances. Make them still wish you were up there, and you’ll always get invited back. When Hawk told Margaret goodbye for the final time, he knew she was not long for this world. With Hank I never saw it coming, and if I’m lucky, I can almost convince myself that Hank’s in that much-vaunted second room, and I wait for him to enter, so everything can start again.

Michelle Brooks has published a collection of poetry, Make Yourself Small, (Backwaters Press), and a novella, Dead Girl, Live Boy, (Storylandia Press). A native Texan, she has spent much of her adult life in Detroit, her favorite city.