The first three weeks of the quarter had flown by and everyone was playing catch-up, some more successfully than others. Blakemore was not successful. The change in his behavior was amazing, but not unbelievable. It was inevitable that he would have to face reality and try to study. For three days we witnessed him traipse around the dorm discussing with himself how he had to get motivated, invariably ending up in front of the tube. Occasionally he would snap out of the broadcast-anesthetic to declare how lame he was.
I was having a hard time as well and was not enjoying myself at all. In the nadir of my own fear and loathing, it had occurred to me that there were no finals or papers when dead – sarcastic humor of self. The thought made me laught – nothing entertained seriously but such an obnoxious thing to realize. I found it so funny that I shared the thought with most folks I encountered – a good wise-guy laugh.
Now much of the nature of our [my group of friends who verged on being called a “gang”] collective interactions were about ridiculing each other. And it was with this perversity that I had reminded Blakemore in a sarcastically cheery voice: “Hey Mark. No paper due…when you’re dead.”
But then I genuinely did try to encourage him as well. At the time I had been beaten so badly by the program that I didn’t care the slightest whether Blakemore would kill himself, or even if I, myself, was taken out. It had been too many weeks of struggling, too many failures along the way. Too many weeks of just not living – I couldn’t have realized this reality even remotely then, the richness of living didn’t matter. I simply would plod on…
On day four which was Sunday, with a large paper due Monday, Blakemore went to more dramatic measures. The “Great Motivation Movement” (the GMM) — literally, as he titled and proclaimed to anyone who would listen, was undertaken. After having alphabetized the entire contents of his room and even doing laundry for likely the first time in his life, Blakemore decided it was the room itself that was holding him back. The natural solution, of course, was to move his desk and materials to the first-floor lounge where he could work unencumbered by distraction (the “Movement”). This procedure ate up yet another hour and tuckered him out so much that he had to take a nap. It was then that I happened upon the Great Motivator splayed out upon a comfy couch next to his desk and chair, a copy of the dense “Wealth of Nations” closed on the desk. I thought about stealing his chair for a good gag, but decided to go neutral. On his desk lay also an open notebook which read at the top: “Must work harder.” No, I reflected, I wanted no part of this failure.
Later I found out that he had arisen, freaked out hugely, worked for a solid hour, watched some TV in a daze that I too have experienced with the foreshadow of doom; worked for another hou, went to sleep again, woke at four a.m., worked fora half hour, and threw in teh towel. He had written two pages of a required ten. I felt bad for him. For the next week the desk sat there empty, a monument to Failure. No one could tell. No one wanted to even talk about Blakemore because of it.
The rest of the week was intensely busy for everyone. Blakemore’s ordeal was an inspiration for most of us, which was good. I was up at 7:30 a.m., and in from the library at midnight (breaks only for class or meals) supposedly to look over stuff for another hour or two. This never happened. Everyone betrayed their intentions and inevitably screwed around. A Bocci Ball craze had recently hit. Who could resist some Bocci Ball in the hall? Paul had not the slightest idea of the rules and just rolled the wood ball hard as hell into the RA’s door. Two hours were wasted in a blink.
About a week after the demise of Blakemore’s Great Motivation Movement, the very subject came up during the post-lunch lounging session. We realized that no one had seen him since the “Great Failure” of the GMM. We asked others – there had been only one brief sighting late, late at night. This excited the group of us discussing the matter, an obviously morbid fascination. Those of us that could, and a few who didn’t want to go to class anyawy, headed out to the dorm on the hunt.
We all subconsciously suspected that Blakemore had either packed up and left school, or that he was dead by his own hand. Whether anyone gave a shit either way, was unclear. There was, however, interest.
“Ever seen a dead body, boy?” my senior-classmate Will glaringly questioned me – an allusion to the movie “Stand By Me.” He wore a t-shirt that read on the front “People I Hate” with a set of yearbook pictures on the back, some faces I recognized from around campus. I wondered to myself if it was a joke, though it was kinda funny either way.
And I thought of Blakemore. I really didn’t know if I cared. I hoped no great tragedy was waiting for us – yes, I recall thinking it would be unfortunate, not for us, but unfortunate in a greater, more existential way; unfortunate for all of mankind. But maybe I exaggerate. I sometimes wonder what mattered to me then. Would it have affected me then? Did I really care? I don’t know.
There would be no Hollywood movie-set liminal challenges to transform us into men on teh course to Blakemore’s room. James beat everyone else to the door and held the rest of us off for a moment while reflecting. Thank God for James, who brought us back to real life every once in a while.
I imagined the gruesome scene that might be waiting for us: the dead and sallow, shit-stained Blakemore hanging from rope in the closet; dry, rotting, yellow eyes bugging at us in three dimensions.
It was not the case though. The lot of us fell silent as James gently turned the unlocked knob and peeked in. I could see through the crack that it was dark – the shade was down. James peered in for a second, then silently turned around with a mixture of looks which I interpreted as confusion; he started to pace violently, shaking his head, slack-jawed, wringing his hands. Paul pushed the door all the way open. I felt a waft of warm, stagnant air, thick with B.O., too-much-filth-in-the-diet Blakemore B.O., and then I saw what was the Great Motivator now the Great Landscape. Blakemore was passed out on his bed, flat on his back, greasy and naked, with a hard-on reaching to the starts.
“That boy’s soaked in his own juices,” Will declared.
Blakemore stirred and went slack. Some fled, giggling like hyenas, fearful of waking him. When we had all finally gathered ourselves James, myself, Paul and Will decided to brave the atmosphere to look for additional clues. The others watched from the door.
What did it all mean? Aside from the beer there was no sign of drugs, which made the whole thing much weirder to comprehend. Alvin contended that it was the result of gross drug abuse, there could be no other explanations, but myself and others weren’t sure.
Pinched between thumb and forefinger I carefully picked up a porno mag. Lowest of the low, it was entitled “Cherry.”
On his desk lay a notebook with pages neatly filled to the margins. Closer scrutiny revealed hand-written numerals beginning with the number 1 and ending with 10,000. It spanned four pages.
“He missed number 4,587,” James immediately noted.
James freaked me out sometimes.
“What the hell,” Paul commented.
There was a mess of poetry in the notebook. Random childish rhyming jibberish that made no sense.
We collectively marvelled, deeply encumbered in our personal shocks.
James uttered Conrad: “The Horror.”
Will shook his head.
We had found a heart of darkness.
After we ceremoniously indulged in a last viewing, James closed the door. We congregated in the downstairs lounge.