When we were together, I used to follow Phone around Europe and try to capture his brilliance.
Even hanging off a rooftop at 3 in the morning, he had a slow, steady hand that made the paint pop.
When he was still a teenager in the 80s, he told me, he traveled the US with one punk band after another – Intruder Alert!, Masking Tape, Fire Escape – and left his mark everywhere. He didn’t play an instrument, he didn’t sing, but he was lyrical with a spray can.
He constantly kept me wide eyed. All my friends thought I was crazy to ever believe in him, to hold his calloused hands for dear life.
He carried a whole world of connections with him. Everywhere we went, someone knew him, someone owed him a favor, or tried to collect a debt. I was impressed that he was noticed, someone I thought was a rough patch inside a diamond.
Sometimes, he’d steal from me – records, books, food – and he always said he needed not extra money, but extra time.
He was paranoid that every other person was somehow out to get him. Not in a vague way, some sort of psychological fault, but he had it backed by data. I don’t know how, but he could look at someone, and tell you where they had been, where they were going, and why they should be avoided.
He never explained the marks all over his body, but I knew. He was a Pure Land Antenna, like that Suspender song – one of the chosen few. He ran with the whispers, and his heart pulsed sparks and shadows.
I wasn’t allowed to touch his glasses. When we made love, static gathered around us, gnawing away at our skin.
For a whole week, the last week I ever saw him, he was bedridden, chased by a fever that wouldn’t let go. He was sure he was going to die, right then.
So, he told me his only true story, the only story I could never believe, not until now.
They made him into a living weapon, his former friends and lovers. They stored a ball of light deep inside of him, so deep that choked his own soul.
“On my back is a mark that will tear apart all worlds,” he said, and all I saw was sweat and fingernail scratches. “I don’t want you to be there when it turns on.”
The next morning, he was gone for good. He left his paint, his markers and stencils. He didn’t even take his bag of clothes.
He did leave a photo, the one he took of me sleeping. I was curled up into a little ball, the sheets thrown off the bed during my night swimming.
He thought that photo was the best thing he’d ever seen. He used to stare at it, then aimlessly leave it around the house.
On the day he went away forever, he left the photo taped to the TV. On the back, he wrote: “When the last dream ends, no one will know it.”
I wish I knew when we’re going to wake up.