Most writers regard the truth as their most valuable
possession and therefore are most economical in its use.
~~~ Mark Twain (1835-1910)
In their own country, they’re eating each other for lunch.
~~~Ronald Reagan (1911-2004),
speaking about American blacks, 1962
Truth is not only stranger than fiction, but in its own way,
truth is fiction, and time is money, and now is the time.
~~~ Headly Westerfield (1952 - )
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….”
His long fingers gripped my wrist. I was surprised by how much strength he had, considering he was bleeding profusely.
It was also surprising to hear Zachary quoting Dickens. His interest in reading matter ran more to Sky & Telescope than the classics. I tried half-heartedly to free myself, but he held fast.
“It was the age of wisdom, it was the age….”
He drew a deep, long, gasping breath. In that moment his whole body went slack. I’ve had almost 50 years to replay these events in my mind. Later, I realized, I could have escaped at that moment. But, he held me as much with his hauntingly beautiful, clear, blue eyes — calm eyes. Eyes I can still see years removed. They betrayed no pain, no panic. Zachary’s body tightened, his grip returned. In that moment of silence, I heard the blood on his left hand, which gripped my right wrist, make a squishing sound as small bubbles of air appeared where his skin ended and mine began. I don’t remember looking away from his face. I know I did though, because I can clearly picture that image, also burned into my brain.
He spoke again.
“…. of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity….”
So much blood. From the pool beneath him, individual streams followed the grout in the tiles, a red zig zag pattern slowly making its way to the drain. I look back on this moment—the pivotal event of my life—and it plays so slowly in my mind. I can remember each sight, each smell, each sound echoing from the hallway, and each thought that crossed my mind. But, I don’t know if that’s a trick of the imagination. I’ve had years to think about it and hypnosis to recall it. I’ve also had many psychiatrists to describe it to in the years since. None of it feels like real memories; it feels like watching someone else’s movie. But, at the time, my brain just shut down. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that his dying words were not even his own.
“….it was the season of Light….”
I have a theory that I’ve developed in the decades since, due to nearly 50 years of intense psychotherapy. With hindsight being 20/20, I think I now know what Zachary Harvard Weed was trying to tell me as he lay dying in my arms.
I believe he was telling me something about America in the deep dark ‘60s. The country was not yet 200 years old. Moral roots were still not very deep. It takes centuries for those to develop. Camelot had held court. The Space Age dawns.
“….it was the season of Darkness….”
Conspiracy theories. The country’s black face is tired of turning the other cheek. The white face is two-faced, can’t save face.
“….it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair….”
The edges of Camelot’s Round Table are squared off and moved into The War Room. The Vietnam War is only interrupted by the commercials.
“….we had everything before us….
Zachary had everything before him. He could have done anything with his life and now, at the all-to-early end of it, he’s spouting Dickens. I didn’t know it then, but he was going to miss L.S.D., Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary. The Times They Are A Changing. The Beatles make Sgt. Pepper. Goo Goo Ga Joob. I am the eggman. They are the eggmen. I’m Tricky Dicky. Zach would have been bemused.
Or, I’m just putting words in his mouth. You can’t discount that possibility. Or I’m crazy. I wouldn’t discount that either.
“….we had nothing before us, we were all going directly to Heaven, and we were all going the other way — “
I finally found my voice. “No Zach! I’m not letting you go nowhere!”
“….in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insist on it being received, for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Our eyes locked. His face broke into a huge grin. I can still see that grin. He began to chuckle. He seemed amused by it all.
“Who did this?”
“Why be serious when you can be delirious?”
Unofficially, those were his last words. I had heard him say that hundreds of times before. This was the first time it made any kind of sense, but it never made sense before or since. This is why it seems a fitting epitaph for someone who loved life the way Zachary did. Yet, it would never appear on his headstone.
“Tell my story. Remember.” His last official words.
His eyes clouded.
Beginning at his feet—I know because my attention was diverted by the motion—he began to shake. It rose up his body, and I followed it with my gaze, and only the small portion I was watching moving at any given time. It rose to his head until only his wiry hair was moving. Then nothing moved.
I placed my hand on his shirt where a huge blood stain grew larger.
I brought my hand in front of my face. Then I panicked. Doctors say that’s when I had my first break with reality. It would not be the last.
According to the evidence later brought up at trial, I stood and ran, placing a bloody handprint on the washroom door on my way out. I sprinted down the hallway leaving bloody sneaker prints. I reached the stairwell. Taking the stairs two at a time, I propelled myself to the landing, grabbed the handrail and made the 180-degree turn by grabbing the handrail. Down more steps. Another 180 turn, another landing, the outside door, hit the crash bar.
All those bloody prints. It didn’t take the police long to match them to me.
Here’s something I do remember. The next thing I knew, I was outside. I was still running. I remember hearing the wind passing my ears. My chest ached. I ran harder. I hurt more. The hurt eventually stopped. The tears eventually stopped. I eventually stopped. There was no where left to run. I was at a river.
As I started to walk back I collapsed. I fell to the grass and looked up at a street sign I didn’t recognize: Angling Street at Long Street. Later I measured it. I ran almost 5 miles. I began on Evergreen, at Henry Ford High School, and ran west past Lahser, past Telegraph, past Beech, past Inkster, past Grand River Avenue, all the way to the Rouge River. It seemed like only a minute had passed and I don't remember crossing any of those roads.
Then I remembered why I was running—I actually forgot for a moment—and I started bawling and sobbing. That’s how the police eventually found me, curled up in a fetal position, covered in blood. Zach's blood.
But, this is not my story. I am merely keeping my promise to Zachary. His last words were “Tell my story. Remember.” and I can’t tell his story without telling the story of Adrian Roland Thompson at the same time. When I met them, they were already inseparable and they became my two best friends.
I feel honoured to have been able to call them friends—to share their brotherhood. They taught me more about life in the short time I knew them than I have learned in all the years since. I’m honoured to tell their story. They are my dynamic duo.