I never thought the guilt of being alive when everyone else is gone would feel so heavy.
For Marshall’s farewell party, Anders suggested we go to Marlowe, an upscale bar located on the top floor of one of the fanciest buildings in the Gold Coast. There was five of us: Warren, Anders, Ellen, Marshall, his boyfriend Brian, and me. The view was breathtaking; you could see the Willis Tower and The Hancock on one side, Lake Michigan and Navy Pier on another. Seeing fireworks up close added to the amazing experience. I’ve never seen something quite like this before. Throughout the night, I got calls from Hilda which I ignored. I needed this night to be about me, Warren and my friends.
I was reluctant to invite Warren to the event, especially since I’ve noticed that he’s never even tried to include me in his own circle while I was more than happy to have him around and introduce him to my friends. I pride myself in being able to see people’s utility belt. I always try to gage them; who they are, what they’re made of, what the things that they default to are and where their instincts take them. Warren has become hard to come to grips with; I can’t understand what he wants and what he’s feeling. Even when he opens up he still comes across as vacant. He does things that are conventionally known to mean one thing but then says another, he changes his mind in a split second about what he wants. He’s told me it’s hard for him to get close to somebody, afraid that the wounds of previous relationships would improve and take over, making him insecure and unable to function.
Warren was self-conscious but also proud. Sometimes I’d look at him and get the feeling he’s quietly wondering if in other men’s eyes, he measured up to their standard of beauty.
We walked out to the terrace where we could have more privacy and stood by one of the fences. He stared at me for a while and smiled. I shyly turned away. I asked him what his plans for the upcoming week were, and he said he’d be swamped with work, but that he’d like to do something for his birthday. Just like me, he didn’t really give much importance to it, but felt like he needed to celebrate it more. He said he’d take advantage of the weekend to do something fun and a little bit meaningful.
“This guy I’m seeing and I are going to a dog shelter to get him a dog next weekend”, he openly said.
My mind froze as soon as he said “the guy I’m seeing”; everything else was just noise. Him casually saying it like we’ve talked about him seeing someone else before instantly infuriated me. On the tail of that frustration, I wanted to carry on with the conversation without sounding pissed off or defensive, but I really couldn’t. Him saying that hurt me, and his unhandiness about my attraction toward him made me want to punch him. How could he be so blind to see how much I cared and liked him? My skin and face started to flush red. I was enraged. I felt like I needed to say something but I didn’t know where to start because we’ve never made it clear whether we were romantically seeing each other yet the way we communicate and act around each another is definitely an indication we were more than just friends. One simple admission has taken things off the rails, and I was ready to give up. I didn’t want him to see me angry, though, so I told him I had to get another drink. I walked back inside to the bar, Ellen briefly eyeing me as I walked in. She came over to ask me if I was okay, and I nodded before heading back out to him.
“What do you think?”, he asked.
“Think about what?”
“About what I just told you.”
“You mean the part where you blindsided me by telling me you’re seeing another man?”, I asked with a subtle underlying aggressive tone.
“What do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean! Warren, when I see you, I don’t know whether to shake hands, hug or kiss you. You’re sending me all kinds of mixed signals here.”
“Wait. You thought we were…”
“To some extent, yes. And I’m not trying to make a big deal out of this. But I need to know what’s going on here.”
“I’m sorry if you felt like I was somehow leading you on.”
“Well, tell me. What have we been doing this whole time? Am I just someone you fuck?”
“No, not at all. We’re friends. I enjoy spending time with you.”
“I— I’m not sure we can be friends.”
Suddenly, I started to see the flaws; everywhere, overflowing. I started to dislike him, but I knew it was just my defense mechanism taking charge. I felt a virulent energy emanating from him and slowly seeping into me. Without any further exchange, I left him and walked back inside where everyone was acting weird. Some patrons were hovering around, totally freaking out while others read messages they’ve received over their phones and seemed to be overly concerned. Many started running towards the elevator that wouldn’t come up or rushed to the emergency exit door that for some reason wouldn’t open. That’s when we sensed something was wrong. We heard screams and gunshots that were first mistaken for fireworks. I ran up to Ellen and asked her what was going on.
“There’s a shooter,” she said, shaking. “There’s a shooter in the building. He’s shooting at everyone!”
One second you’re having the time of your life and the next you’re experiencing the worst night of your life, all in a matter of minutes. I don’t exactly remember the exact sequence of events that followed. My mind was so gone at that point. All I remember is things turned into total mayhem; the elevator wasn’t coming up, and so we were all stuck on the rooftop. The gunman unexpectedly showed up seconds later and started offing people left, right and center. Marshall was the first to go. Warren grabbed me and pulled me to the ground as we both watched him get shot and lose a tremendous amount of blood. Anders tried to stop the bleeding while Ellen completely vanished. Brian got so scared and rushed to the elevator but immediately got shot in the head at very close range, his head literally exploding into pieces. Marshall was dead at that point, and so both me and Warren urged Anders to run and hide. When he realized Marshall had no pulse, he regrettably but immediately moved away from the body and disappeared in the dark. Warren and I got up and ran towards the bathrooms. I saw the gunman point his gun at us as we did so, but for some reason he didn’t shoot. The bathroom was filled with people hiding in stalls and corners. There was blood everywhere I could smell death. When we rushed in to seek hideout, we heard him coming in. Our stall had its lock broken, but we closed it anyway. We heard the gunman’s footsteps enter the room and move around. He kicked each door and shot everyone inside each stall before making his way to ours. He noiselessly opened it and crept inside. Warren positioned himself in front of me to cover me, making himself totally vulnerable to him, and he didn’t hesitate to shoot him. He fell into my arms, blood spurting from his mouth and into my face. I finally saw him clearly then; he was wearing a black jumpsuit and a gas mask he slowly took off to reveal his identity. It was Matthew. Jarringly enough, I didn’t react to the revelation. It’s like I saw it coming.
They say your whole life flashes before your eyes right before your stay on earth is done. Once it’s over, it’s over. Once the trigger is pulled, you’re gone forever. Still, in that moment, when I looked into his eyes and saw his ultimate, smoldering rage, I didn’t feel a thing. I don’t know if it’s courage or straight up carelessness. Because when it comes down to it, I realized just like at any other given moment in my life that I had nothing to lose. As much as life has given me over the years, I still wasn’t satisfied. So nothing really mattered to me anymore. And if my destiny was to be gruesomely killed, I wouldn’t have wanted anyone other than Matt to finish me off. Maybe it’s because of our history together. Something about him pointing a large machine gun to my face felt arousing, as sick as that might sound; I was turned on by it. I was sitting in a pool of blood, surrounded by an infinite death toll, Warren’s breathing gradually declining, desperately waiting for my moment to come. But it didn’t. Matt put his gun down, kneeled in front of me and looked straight into my eyes; his facial expressions went from being dark and gritty to being soft and tender. He touched my face and for the very first time, he cried. And I cried too. Something about that felt surreal. It felt like the most beautiful moment of my life.
I’ll never know why he did it.
Was it resentment? A feeling of powerlessness? A cry for help? Another random act of violence?
Or was it all because of me?