Death of A Prince, Yan Yan

We hadn’t spoken to Pierre in like six or seven years. Other than sporadic contact over Facebook, he was basically gone from our lives. But then one day he called me. He asked me what I was doing (nothing), if I was busy with a job (nope), and if I could get away from my life for a month or two (love to). He was dying and wanted to hang out at his castle in southern France. (His what?)

“Hey Eazy,” he said on the phone, “it’s time to party like its 1999.”

“Pierre,” I replied, “it’s fucking nice to hear from you man. It’s been too long. I fucking miss you, you jet setting son of a bitch.”

“I miss you too buddy,” he said quietly, “look, I don’t have much time to chat but if it’s okay with you, I’ll book you a ticket from San Francisco to London to Tours for June 17th. You have a passport right?”

“Ya, I have a passport.”

“Great, I’ll get my travel agent to send you an email and you can work out the details. Pack light or you may have to pay extra at the airport. I have everything you’ll need here.”

“Uh okay, that’s really nice of you.” I wanted to ask him about the whole dying thing but I didn’t really get a chance.

“See you soon buddy,” he said, “you’ll love it here I promise.”

“Alright bro, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

With that he hung up.

We went to middle school and high school together in Davis, California. He was two years ahead

of me and I kind of looked up to him as a mentor. He was like this punk rock god. I played drums, he was the singer and guitarist, Joey played bass and Jon played a Korg synthesizer. We were Silmarillion, a synth punk band. It wasn’t the most original act, sure, but we rocked pretty hard. We played at least 20 house shows and even a couple of clubs in Sacramento. At the risk of sounding like a loser, (not saying that I’m not) those were the best years of my life.

After that abrupt phone conversation, I went through old photos of us that I had on my computer.

What was he dying of? Cancer? Or maybe some congenital heart condition. He was only 26 years old. God damn! There were some pretty rad pictures of us playing shows. There were some scans of Polaroids of us drunk at parties. Lisa and Julia who went on to art schools had posted them on the internet some time ago and I downloaded them. I also went to Pierre’s Facebook page to see what he looked like. His had like 1,300 friends and over 2,000 photos. They were mostly of him partying. It looked like he was hanging out with a lot of gorgeous hotties all across the world, Poland, Lithuania, Amsterdam, Prague, Vietnam, Tokyo, Sidney, Cape Town. Party king of the world.

A few days later I got a phone call from my younger sister Kate who went to UC Santa Cruz. She was going to fly to France as well.

“Do you know what he has? Is he really for sure gonna die?” I asked.

“He wouldn’t say,” she answered, “he said he didn’t want people Googling it and giving him bullshit advice on how it might be curable.”

“But it’s fatal?” As if she hadn’t already answered my question.

“Ya, Ezra, this is making me so sad. Let’s go as soon as possible. Can you drive down to pick me up?”

My sister would have a car of her own if I weren’t such a bum and living at home, occupying the one extra car our parents had.

“When do you want to go?”

“Next Saturday, the 12th, I’ll be done with my exams.”

“Are you sure it’s alright for us to go early? He told me the 17th

“It’s fine,” she replied briskly, “I already talked to the travel agent. If you can pick me up, I’ll tell her we are all ready and we can take the flight on Saturday. You can stay with me on Friday night if you don’t want to drive all in one day.”

“Alright,” I told her, “I’ll come.”

That night I had a dream. It was dark, all the lights in my room were off. I was playing Final Fantasy II on my computer using a Game Boy emulator. A light turned on behind me casting a glare on my laptop screen. I could see the reflection of a human figure on the screen. I swiveled around in my chair and saw the ghost of Pierre shining as bright as a flood light. He glared at me with a disappointed look on his face. His light dimmed for a few seconds and the he melted back into the darkness.

I woke up the next morning wanting to make it up to him somehow. Do people bring gifts to funerals? I went on Ebay and found a Bloodstains Across Denmark LP for fifty bucks and ordered it. I also went through the garage and found some tape recordings we made in 2001. I lit a spliff in the garage and listened. His voice sounded just like how I remembered it. At the same time it sounded kind of juvenile. I guess with me being 24, his 17 year old voice would sound a bit juvenile.

Driving down to Santa Cruz, I tried to remember when I first met Pierre. It must have been in seventh grade. I was a little guy with a baby face gawking at the ninth graders with their spiked hair and studded belts. He noticed me and said, “Hey troll.” I didn’t know what to say.

“I have a name. It’s Ezra Zhang.”

“Can I call you Easy Troll?”

“Why am I a troll?”

“Cuz you look like one,” he said, “you have bulgy eyes and like big cheeks and your face is flat and your hair is all frizzy and going everywhere.” He was smiling, so I figured he didn’t mean it in a bad way.

“I guess that’s fine,” I said meekly. The bell rang and he did a head nod at me to say goodbye. I didn’t know his name but we said hi to each other sometimes in the hallway by the lockers. It wasn’t until we ran into each other at Armadillo Records that he told me his name was Pierre. He asked me what I was looking for and I said Red Hot Chili Peppers. He had this disgusted look on his face and asked, “why?” I didn’t know what to say to that. I thought about it and came up with an honest answer. “I’m taking drum lessons,” I told him. “My drum teacher wanted me to bring in a CD of a band I listened to. Under the Bridge is a pretty cool song,” I said, less and less sure of the fact as I said it. “Do you have a drum set?” he asked. I said yes and his attitude changed.

“Look, I’m gonna show you the best band ever and if you like it, maybe we can jam sometime.”

He took me over to the punk/hardcore part of the vinyl section under the letter A. He picked up a square record case and handed it to me. Living in Darkness, I read to myself. The band was called Agent Orange. “It’s a band from the early 80’s. They fucking rock. You should listen to it.”

He looked over to the listening station prompting me to try the record. I nervously went over to the turntable and pulled out the record. I fidgeted with a few knobs but obviously had no idea what I was doing. Pierre was like, “woah don’t do that, hold the record by the edge. Set the RPM and put it on like this.” He set up the record player and handed me a pair of headphones. I sat down and listened through a few songs.

I couldn’t even say if I really liked the music. I mean I eventually grew to love the music. I was every bit as obsessed as Pierre ever was. But on that first listen I was as much in awe with the experience as I was with the music. Whatever I thought at the time, I told Pierre that Agent Orange was good. I just wanted to have people to play music with. Being a percussionist in our middle school band was not the most satisfying experience. I was 3rdthe triangle or tympani on most songs. That and I figured, if I could be as cool as Pierre, I would be popular with the girls (not the case).

I arrived in Santa Cruz on Friday. My sister Kate took me to a college party. The girls there were cute but I wasn’t really in the mood to hit on college girls especially with my sister around. We ended up just smoking a joint off by ourselves and talked about the times we spent with Pierre.

After our band became a thing, Pierre, Joey, and Jon would come over to my house often. We practiced at Pierre’s garage but hung out at my house playing Golden Eye on my Nintendo 64. My sister Kate was two years younger than me. She was a tomboy. She hung out with us more and more as we got older. When Pierre and I were high school, she would come out to shows with us.

She was always more confident than me and got along well with everyone. I guess girls mature faster, at least she did.

In college, she hung around a hipster crowd. On our drive to the airport, she plugged in her iPod and we listened to some Belle and Sebastian. It was a somber ride.

“So we are going to a castle?” I asked.

“Ya, Pierre’s mom’s family used to be like the marquis there.”

“What’s a marquis?”

“Like a duke.”

“Damn, so he owns a real medieval castle?”

“He said his family never uses it so he asked to spend his last days there,” she answered. Why did she have so much more information than me? Pierre must have had time to chat with her on the phone.

As if hearing my thoughts, Kate said, “there’s a private Facebook page that basically describes the whole situation, you should read it.”

“Are Joey and Jon coming?” I asked.

“I don’t know dude, they are your friends.” That pretty much ended the car conversation.

We put my car in long term parking and took our respective duffel bags to the departure gates.

Everything went smoothly, nobody mistook us for terrorists. The only regrettable fact was that Pierre didn’t get us business class seats. I sat down in 49D and took out my book. I was reading Frankenstein at the time. Pretty classy stuff. But I had trouble concentrating. All this talk about castles made me think of Pierre’s castle.

Pierre’s parents met at a concert. Pierre’s dad, Bobby Crane, was a bassist in an early hair metal band. They were ridiculous and cheesy. They were touring with Van Halen through Europe and quickly gaining popularity. Then Bobby met Agnes, a young impressionable heiress. Bobby quit the band and they got married in some small town in France. They lived off of wine and intercourse for a few months and then Agnes was pregnant. Her family was pissed off but they were too genteel to just kick Bobby out. They found him a job at a bakery. But if that was happily ever after, then we would never have met Pierre. There were many versions of the story of Bobby’s and Agnes’ break up. Most likely Bobby was unfaithful. But maybe Agnes’ family pressured Bobby in subtle ways that made him feel worthless. Bobby always insisted that Agnes’ family was involved in some cult practicing black mass and necromancy. It’s hard to take a fifty year old man with a mullet who calls himself Bobby seriously though. Whatever the case, Bobby ended up bringing a four year old Pierre with him back to the United States and Agnes’ family never saw Pierre again until after his 18th sleeve or something. But we were glad that he did. Or else we would not have been friends with Pierre.

A few weeks before turning 18, Pierre’s mom called him. It was the first time they’d spoken for as long as he could remember. She told him that the family has set aside a considerable trust fund for him that he could use as soon as he turned 18. She hoped that he would join them in France. Pierre was thrilled. When he told us that story he said, “Now I can finally find out what sort of a scum bag Bobby is!” He turned 18, cashed in, and went off to Europe. And that was the last we saw of him. Bobby must have had some legal trick up his

At the airport, we were picked up by a chauffer holding a sign that said “Easy Troll”. I wondered if he was as embarrassed about holding the sign as I was when I saw it. He introduced himself as Arnaud and led us to the parking lot where we got in a black Peugeot. He told us that the drive would be around two hours to Chateau le Ferte in an area south of the Loir. As it was a beautiful day, we should enjoy our ride through the Loire River Valley, the heart of French forest lands.

If we were hungry, he said to us, we could stop by a McDonald half hour away. “McDonald in France is quite good,” he added.

Kate and I felt like gleeful excited children. She pointed to steeples and pastures on her side and I pointed to the river and woodland scenery on mine. Even from the freeway we could see that this was a truly marvelous landscape. It was every bit as lush and green as hiking through Yosemite except with more plant diversity.

“The Loire River Valley has a rich history,” Arnaud said, “It is one of the oldest wine growing regions in France.”

We tried to understand him as much as possible through his thick accent.

“The Huguenots were drowned here,” he said. I had heard the term before but didn’t really know what it meant. I wasn’t curious enough to ask.

“This was a big battlefield during the Hundred Years’ War with the British.”

It was all very interesting but my mind inevitably drifted to thinking about Pierre. What would he look like? Would he be sickly looking? Will there be other people at the castle? How long did he really have to live? How long were we going to stay here?

Kate nudged me. “Do you think I look okay?” She was wearing jean shorts, boots, and an 80’s looking vintage blouse with sharp angles that accentuated her thin narrow frame.

“Ya, isn’t that what you wear to parties? It should be fine, I doubt anyone will take you for sloppy American.”

“How about me?” I didn’t really expect her to say anything good. I was wearing a pair of Vans that I bought at Payless Shoe Source, 501 Levi’s, and an old t-shirt from our band, Silmarillions.

“You look exactly like how you’ve always looked for the past 10 years,” she said, in a way that was neither a compliment nor a criticism.

A set of wrought iron gate with Art Nouveau design (I learned all this stuff during my stay at the castle) opened and our car drove up a long and windy driveway. There were carefully manicured shrubberies on either side of us with rhododendrons and other flowers. Behind them was a serene forest showered with bits of sunlight. I turned to Kate and said, “Bring me a shrubbery” like the Knights Who Say Ni in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. She laughed a little.

Our driver stopped in front of the castle doors. They were doors not gates. It wasn’t a fortress or palace sort of castle, more like a Disney castle. The walls were painted white and the towers were bright blue. There was a pond behind the driveway with a statue of a kid making a funny face.

The door opened and a pretty young girl with strawberry blonde hair and a flowery summer dress welcomed us in. I was half expecting the inside to be painted over with anarchy signs and posters of the Sex Pistols but that was not the case. We were greeted with a beautiful chandelier above a marble table. On it were envelopes addressed to each guest. Kate and I found our respective envelopes and the young girl waved to us to follow her.

“Welcome to the chateau,” she said. She sounded Australian.

“Thanks, what’s your name?” I asked.

“I’m Maggie, nice to meet you.” She turned to smile and kept walking.

“I’m Kate,” said my sister.

The girl giggled a little. We walked down a long hall way and she opened up one door after another. Each room had a theme. There was a Victorian room, an early 20th South room, Japan room, India room, Italian design room, Java room, and so on. They all looked strangely uncomfortable to me as if I had to play a part if I were to go into them. Only the IKEA room seemed nondescript enough and I asked Maggie if we could choose which room to take. She said of course so I picked the IKEA room. Kate wasn’t about to settle for anything like that. She kept looking and picked the Part Time Punk room. Actually, her room was way cooler than mine.

I probably should have had something a little bit more interesting than the IKEA room.In any case, the room was nice enough. There was a closet and hangers for all my clothes. There was a small private bathroom and shower. The bed was low to my liking. The smoothened plywood was painted matte black. The mattress was solid but not stiff and not bouncy. The black comforter contrasted with white sheets and pillows. Inside the nightstand drawer was a collection of condoms, oils, ear plugs, silk blindfolds, floss picks, cotton swabs, a bottle opener, and an ashtray.

I sat down on the bed and opened up my envelope. It said sorry I couldn’t greet you in person come see me in the big room on the second floor. Pierre. I checked if there was anything else in the envelope and found a film negative of a frame from Disney’s Aladdin. It showed Aladdin on a magic carpet. That was when I realized that this Pierre I was about to visit was not the Pierre that I knew.

I found Kate in the hall way.

“Did you get a film negative?” I asked.

“I got Princess Mononoke.”

“Weird, I guess that’s better than mine, I got Aladdin.”

“I wonder if being in Europe has made Pierre an e-tard,” she said. We both laughed, a little.

We found a flight of spiraling stairs going up from the lobby. The handrails were cold and smooth to the touch. Kate’s boots clicked against the marble steps as she walked. The stairwell turned out to a large room about 50 feet by 70 feet. Tall latticed windows ran up at least 15 feet. Satin drapes partially covered the side windows while the middle ones were rolled up allowing the afternoon sun to pour in uninhibited. Dust motes danced in the eerily silent chamber. There was no one there.

Kate and I walked into the room. There were couches and rows of cushions on all sides of the room. The floor was carpeted with a mishmash of tapestries, Persian rugs, fur carpets, and home made quilts. Parts of a dark wooden floor peeped through the gaps. There were a few coffee tables on rollers with ash trays, packets of Rizlas, and innumerable bags of rolling tobacco. Coffee mugs and wine glasses littered the room and there were quite a few spills. I noticed a movement from behind a black leather couch. The leather was so worn that foam was poking through. I walked over to the couch and found a guy with brown slightly curly hair hunched over. He looked up at me with an intense gaze and put a finger up to his lips. Shhh!

We heard a loud scream and the thumping of feet somewhere down a hallway. A female voice with a Russian accent echoed throughout, “no... no, no, no, nooo!” Then she added in a guttural tone, “You are a traitor to Russia.” Another voice emerged from a different hall way, a male voice, “guys, let’s take a break, I’m bored.” Another voice said, “Cigarette break.” The guy who was hiding behind the couch stood up and asked us if we wanted any wine. I said sure so he went off somewhere probably to bring some wine.

A girl in a green dress popped up from behind a different couch. People started pouring in from the hallways into the room. They all looked young. I noticed a few extremely attractive girls right away and a few of the guys looked like straight up GQ ads. Kate and I quietly sat down on the black couch. Several of the girls waved to me and I awkwardly said hi. Finally, after about 25 people had already entered the room, I saw Pierre. He was much skinnier than I remembered. He was always slim but there he looked like a leather bound bundle of bones. His hair grew down past his shoulders. His had an inch of beard. His eyes looked sunken. He was wearing the same t-
shirt as me. He smiled at us. The same smile as before.

Kate jumped up and ran to him. She hugged him and he stroked her long black hair. I went up and gave him a hug as well, shaking his hands tightly after. It didn’t seem like he had much strength in his hands.

“What took you guys so long?” he asked.

“I finished school yesterday or was it two days ago and we came straight away,” Kate said.

I wasn’t sure what to say just then.

“This place is so amazing. Oh my god. How long have you been living here?” Kate asked.

“Just a few months. The really amazing stuff is out there.” He pointed to the window. “I’ll show you the vineyard later. It’s the best.”

“So how are you Pierre?” That was the best I could manage. Stupid, I know.

He grabbed my head and held it tight against his shoulder.

“Dude, let’s rip a big one.”

We all sat down. Pierre took out a bag of weed and a grinder from a drawer in the coffee table.

He took a king size rolling paper and set it down on the table. Mixing about 60 percent ground up cannabis sativa and 40 percent Virginia tobacco he started kneading the paper between his fingers.

He made a crutch out of a rolled up piece of cardboard paper and placed it in the rolling paper at one end. He rolled the paper at a slight angle so that it would be skinnier at the end and fatter at the tip. He licked the gummed edge of the rolling paper and sealed it. Any tobacco and marijuana that fell out during the rolling process, he grabbed with his fingers and threw back into the joint.

He then packed it in lightly with the end of a pen that was just lying around. Finally he twisted the end to cap the joint. He held the joint at a slight downward angle and kept the twisted tip over a lighter for several seconds until it burned off and the beginning of the joint turned into fine ember.

The aroma of the spiff hit me like a childhood memory. He must’ve grown this himself, I thought.

That or he imported it from northern California somehow.

“You first, trolley face.”

I grabbed the joint and took a long drag. “So this is why I flew 5,000 miles to France huh.”

“This is how we do it. Make every day count. Let love permeate our every breath.”

I passed the joint onto Kate and let the smoke hang in my lungs for a few seconds. The weirdness of being at an airport, on an airplane, travelling through 8 or 9 time zones and ending up in a castle in France went away. It was as if someone had flushed the toilet after letting shit marinate for a day.

“So which room did you pick, Ezra?” He hardly ever called me Ezra.

“The IKEA room,” I said while exhaling.

He took the joint from Kate and inhaled. He squinted as he smiled and said, “Why the fuck did you pick the IKEA room? Is your life really that boring?”

“Well, I basically sit home all day, collect food stamps and unemployment checks. Get drunk when I can. Get high when I have friends who are nice enough to smoke me out. Sit around and jack off, I guess.”

He was the one who’s dying and here I am making him feel sorry for me.

“Well, when I pass on, if you want to stick around here you could give life on a co-op vineyard a shot.”

“That sounds pretty amazing.”

“Can we look around the castle more?” Kate asked.

“Yeah, of course.”

We stood up and started to walk down a hallway while continuing to pass the joint around. The guy with the brown curly hair who went to get wine came back with a tray and each of us grabbed a glass. I had a poison in each hand. Life was good.

“My name is Ezra by the way,” I said to our volunteer waiter.

“My name is Raul, I’m from Brazhil,” he said with a huge smile.

Pierre took us down a hall with mostly old fashioned aristocratic looking rooms. There were landscape paintings and portraits of people who died over a hundred years ago. Each room had a different kind of paisley wall paper. The beds looked so small and dainty as if they were made for little elves. Pierre mumbled through some family history but there was no way I could remember any of those French names. I still remembered his gait. It was confident but a little awkward. I always thought maybe one of his legs was longer than the other.

After the tour, we went to have dinner. The kitchen was huge and there was a giant fridge with all sorts of produce, meats, cheeses, juices, white wines, fruits, sauces, and so on. Since there were so many people there, the meals were prepared in little groups. When we got to the kitchen there were already some Spanish friends of Pierre’s there making an arugula salad with caramelized onion, grilled chicken and truffles cooked together for an oily dressing. They were also making this amazing looking bean stew with huge red peppers in it. We asked them if they could up the portions a little and they told us that there would be more than enough. Other groups came into the kitchen. As the stove was temporarily occupied, some of them chose to bake instead. Two amazingly beautiful girls who said they were from Greece were making their traditional casserole dish, the moussaka. They also made a salad that rivaled ours with huge chunks of grilled feta cheese. Maggie, the Australian girl was busy preparing crème brulee and a friend of hers, a short Kiwi girl with glasses made madeleines for midnight teatime as she called it. Kate, Pierre, and I stood in the kitchen just so we could get in everyone’s way with our jaws agape. Well, Pierre had a reason to be there. It was his kitchen after all. Sometimes his friends would ask him if certain tools worked better than others, where the blender was, and if there were more pots and pans of one sort or another.

“I met a lot of these people in hostels around the world,” Pierre said to us. “They are all used to raiding kitchens without mercy. Its awesome, we always end up with an insane amount of food and they cover just about every cuisine in the world. Later on, I bet my Morrocan buddy will come and make a tajine pot. Oof, the meat is so tender. And the pot just looks fucking cool with its own little chimney. Also the produce we have here is amazing. There is about 15 acres of farm land attached to this estate and it’s rented out to this organic farming family who hosts a bunch of WWOOFers. Adriana the Spanish girl there is a one of the WWOOFers. She basically hangs out here when she’s not working.”

The wine never stopped flowing. Try this Beaujolais. Try this Bourdeaux. Try this Champagne.

Try this. Try that. The cooking troupes, noticing that we were just standing around, put us to work as taste testers. Is this ready? Does it need more spice? Does it need more time? By the time we made our way back to the main room, the moon was already high over head. Everyone sat with plates of food in front of them, behind them, next to them. Some were finished while others were just starting. There was a table with all the extra food that you could take, potluck style, if you so desired. Bottles upon bottles of wine got emptied. I wanted to give a toast to the gods but instead everyone gave a toast to Pierre. To good health! Or, yamas, as the Greeks say. Keep living Pierre, and we could do this everyday.

Slowly the plates made their way back into the kitchen. People were learning each other’s names, where they were from, what they were doing with their lives. Kate and I met Pierre’s half brother from his French mother’s side, Justin. He worked in Connecticut for a hedge fund called Bridgewater Associates.

“So you must make a ton of money,” I said to him.

“Ya, but I enjoy the work there.” His French accent was thoroughly Americanized.

“So do you like analyze a bunch of numbers, like financial things?”

“Well actually, I studied colonial and post-colonial French history.”

“Huh, how does that relate to a hedge fund?”

“We are mapping out the history of world trade going back to the 15thgravity of wealth in the world shifts slowly over time. We are in the midst of an important transition and having a historical perspective can tell us a lot.”

“Wow, that’s great.” I wished I had something to say.

“So what’s the best part of your work day?” I asked him.

“We do transcendental meditation.”

Weird.

I didn’t even notice it at first but there was really good music playing. Apparently people took turns DJing in 40 minute sets. It went from one genre to another, indie pop, post rock, shoe gaze, minimalist techno, world dub, and something called intelligent dance music, which I hadn’t really heard before. We drank, we danced, and at some point Maggie came out wearing bunny ears and a tutu. She had a basket in her in arm with colorful plastic eggs. She handed an egg to everyone. I opened up my egg and found a pill inside. “It’s MDMA,” she told me.

I wasn’t really sure if I was having fun or not. It was all so unfamiliar to me. Anyway, I was high out of my mind so that basically meant everything else was secondary. I can’t really describe what else happened that night in detail. It was all a bit of a blur. Or maybe it was all a lot of a blur. But I did end up sleeping with a really beautiful girl. Her name was Enya (not her fault obviously).

When I woke up the next morning I was still in that big room. About a dozen bodies lay on the floor, many snoring loudly. For some reason there was a big TV in the middle of the room. It was showing this dude with a goatee licking and sucking on a hairy ball sack. Then I realized that it was live. Behind the TV, those guys had a camcorder connected to the TV filming themselves.

What the fuck, I thought to myself. Those motherfuckers had gone too far.

I stumbled to the kitchen and found Pierre and Kate having coffee. We ate croissant and talked about the good old days. We then went out to the vineyard for a tour. It was noon and hot, but very beautiful. Rows and rows of tiny grapes looked ripe and ready to burst. The smell of flowers and manure permeated the air. Pierre showed us to “Da Vegetablez” garden, which were in neat long rows. There was a dome cage with chickens clucking inside. He picked some strawberries from the ground and we ate them. They were delicious. “Now for the finale,” Pierre said. He took us to a small wooden hut. There were AC units sticking out the side wall humming loudly. Inside, we found ourselves in a glorious marijuana grow house. There were about 15 plants each roughly waist high. Bright boxy lighting units hung from the ceiling floating slightly above the plants.

Rotating fans mounted on the walls kept the room cool and dry. “There is another hut where we dry and cure them,” Pierre said.

“This is like heaven,” I said to Pierre.

“If heaven’s like this, then that’s the place for me,” he smiled, quoting Spacemen 3.

We smoked more joints and the sun set bit by bit, steady as an hourglass. I sat on the couch gazing out the window at the clouds. There must be a bunch of hip designers in a studio somewhere in heaven getting high and coming up with new cloud designs, I thought to myself. How can they be so damned interesting all the time? Don’t they ever lose their magic touch? I pictured God looking disappointedly at one of his angelic designers saying, “come on dude, you know you can do better than this. This is trite. We have a reputation to maintain. We are the source of all inspiration and that’s a big responsibility. How do you expect the humans down there to make anything worthwhile looking at this shit? Don’t try. Be perfect, my angel!” God, God asks a lot of his or her crew. I wouldn’t want that kind of pressure.

That night a few guys helped Maggie roll out a costume cabinet.

“You’re Aladdin right?” she asked me.

“Ya.”

“Here you go.” She handed me an outfit.

“Is this Pierre’s idea?” I asked.

“No, it’s mine,” she said.

“I don’t really...”

“Suit yourself. No pun intended. But everyone else is going to be dressed up.”

“Fine.”

I guess you have to take the good with the bad sometimes. I went back to my room and suited up.

Kate looked pretty cool as Princess Mononoke. I looked like a fag. Just my luck. Pierre was David Bowie. I tried to put a positive spin on my situation. At least I wasn’t Chinese Elvis. As a matter of fact, Raul the Brazilian was Elvis, he pulled it off well.

I had some of the tajine pot, it was really good. After that the night kind of turned into a mush pot. I fell asleep at around 8 PM and woke up in the middle of the night around 3 AM. People were still dancing. I went back to my room to brush my teeth. After that I decided to take a walk around. I was passing by Kate’s room when I noticed that the door was open and a faint light shone through. I wasn’t fully awake yet. I looked in the room. Princess Mononoke was mounted on top of David Bowie rocking back and forth under the candle light. It was kind of beautiful. I felt an intense tightness in my stomach. I kept walking and found a door. I went outside. Patting my pockets, I found a ready rolled joint and a lighter. Sitting a big rock, I smoked the joint.

Whatever, I thought to myself. It’s not a big deal. My stomach relaxed a little. The cold early morning air made me feel cleaner. The moon was low in the sky and there were no clouds. Even angels have to rest sometimes. A bird landed in front of me. It turned its head and stared at me with its marble eyes, reminding me of Pierre’s disappointed gaze. I went back inside.

I found Kate in the big room on the second floor sitting on a couch by her self. She didn’t have any makeup on and her hair was wet. She had showered. I sat down next to her and she held my arm. With her cheek against my shoulder she began sobbing. I stroked her hair a little. I said, “there, there.” She looked at me with tears streaming down her eyes.

“Pierre was my first love, you know,” she said.

I didn’t know.

She spoke with neither intonation nor pauses, “I found a bunch of porn sites on the computer when we were young, in the browser history.” My cheeks burned.

“I thought it was really gross that you were looking at that stuff. But sometimes when I felt really bad like when my friends were being bitches or when mom yelled at me for getting a freaking A- I would look at the websites you were looking at. I grossed myself out so I didn’t have to think about other things.”

“I even caught you masturbating once, you know,” she said.

Kate was creeping me out but she was always a pretty unpredictable and weird girl.

“I never told you but I went on dates with Pierre when he was a senior and I was in eighth grade. It was so much fun. We would talk about everything. I even wrote some of your guys’ song lyrics. He would play a part on the guitar and I would just sing random shit and we would write it down.”

“I lost my virginity to him that year. It was after one of your shows in Sacramento.”

“A lot of girls say they regret their first time, but I don’t. I just wish Pierre hadn’t left us.”

“I didn’t tell anyone but I was on anti-depressants for awhile. It’s weird. He left when I was fourteen but it didn’t really hit me until a few years later. I guess I kept my hopes up. I focused on school and we had many other great friends. But I didn’t date anyone else. I was waiting for Pierre to come back.”

“My first year in college was tough. I was stressed out. Everything was so unfamiliar. I didn’t have any friends. I missed home. I lost hope then. I finally told myself that Pierre was never coming back. I was in bed for like a week after I came to that realization. The sadness was inevitable. I put it off through sheer strength of will for years. That probably made it worse.”

“Once I got on medication I coped okay.”

“But then he called.”

“He should have said hey Kate I miss you. We really had something good together. Now that we are all grown up, let’s do it again. It’ll be even better than before.”

“But instead he said Kate I miss you. I want to see you before I die.”

She fell silent. My shirt was wet with her tears. The tightness in my stomach returned. Rather than feeling compassion for my sister I felt rage. I leave you the right to assume that the rage was mixed with envy. I breathed in heavily.

“What the fuck. What kind of pervert has sex with a tittiless 14 year old child,” I said in a hoarse morose tone.

Kate let go of me and sat up with a frown on her face.

“What the fuck is wrong with you!” She screamed.

“I’m just saying, that’s pretty fucked up like I don’t think he should’ve been dating a 14 year old.”

“Well some of actually make an effort to grow up. I was more mature at 14 than you are now. Ugh.” She looked away from me. Her hair swung and covered the side of her face. She turned to me again and said, “It’s not like I have any tits now. What kind of idiotic reasoning is that?”

She stood up and walked away from me. I rolled my eyes and grinded my teeth. I grabbed a few bottles of liquor, a big bag of weed, tobacco, paper, and locked myself in my IKEA room. I bolted the door from the inside, shutting out all the bullshit. Fuck the world.But of course, the bullshit was not out there but in here. I was too angry to reflect on the situation.

I just drank and smoked myself to sleep. When I woke up I was starving and dehydrated. I went to the kitchen and grabbed 3 baguettes and a pound of cheese, careful to avoid any human contact. I returned to my room and drank a gallon of water from the bathroom tap. Then, I drank and smoked myself to sleep again.

This went on for a few days. People knocked and asked if I was okay. I told them to fuck off.

Then one day there came a loud banging. There were several people. It sounded like Maggie, Raul and maybe Enya. “Pierre’s dead.”

I looked over to the corner of the room where I kept my duffel bag and realized that the record and tapes I brought for Pierre were still there. I had forgotten to give them to him. I unlocked the door.

The daylight stunned my eyes. Maggie and Raul looked worn out. Raul was growing pimples and Maggie had dark rings around her eyes. I barely even recognized Enya. “I’m sorry,” I said to them. “C’mon just come out and join everyone. Your sister’s worried sick about you,” Maggie said.

I drifted through the funeral wearing a suit Maggie had prepared for me. Kate wasn’t mad at me but she was cold. She barely said anything to anyone. Pierre’s mother thanked everyone for making Pierre’s last days the best days of his life. Those were his words, she said. She came to thank Kate and I specifically. She said we could visit them and stay with them whenever we wanted. They would fly us anywhere in Europe, and if Justin had time, he would show us the most beautiful places in France. Adriana the WWOOFer invited me to join them at the farm. I thanked them as politely as I could.

One day, if I could redeem myself in my own eyes and in the eyes of my sister maybe I will deserve their kindness. Until then, I just wanted to go home and be alone. I needed to figure how I turned out so shitty. I needed to do something to make myself better before I could accept other people’s kindness. If I didn’t, I would probably just disappoint them too.

Back home, Joey and Jon asked me how my trip went.

I went to a place of almost perfect beauty where the only ugliness was the smallness inside me.