My best friend killed himself seven years ago. I asked him about it last week. He said he couldn’t even remember doing it anymore. I think his mind is starting to go. He said he can hardly even remember being alive. He can’t remember what it was like, who he was. “It’s like it was a dream,” he says, “an illusion of identity,” whatever the fuck that means. He doesn’t make much sense when he talks now.
He doesn’t talk much though. He likes listening to me talk. I don’t know why. It can’t be that interesting, me just telling him about my life. I mean, he ended his for a reason, so how could he be interested in mine? It makes me feel better though. He never seems to mind. It’s hard to tell. He always just sort of stares off, a million miles away. Not that he wasn’t like that before he died. He was always off somewhere in his own mind. It sort of makes sense what he did.
It took me forever to even convince him to get a chip installed. He said he didn’t like the idea of something tapping into his brain. He always had these moral objections to shit, like an old man. He would say the world was moving forward too fast, and that he wished he could just go the other direction. He came around to everything eventually though. Once he found out he could write his own programs, he was hooked.
The field was the first program we wrote together. It was just sort of to get our feet wet, get used to the programming. It was nothing but a big open field with a huge oak tree in the middle. There were trees lining the outside of the field, but you could never reach them, no matter how much you walked. We set it up on a private server online, so we could go there to hang out without actually going anywhere. It was just a space to practice in, but he really loved it there. He said it was peaceful, unspoiled. When I moved on to writing games and simulations, he kept working on the field. Adding little details like the bark on the tree and the texture of the grass. I didn’t understand the obsession then, but I think he was preparing it. Making it a space he could spend forever in.
“Forever’s not as long as you think it is,” he said last week. I was trying to ask him if it was his plan all along. To spend forever in this field. I can never get a straight answer out of him. “It’s sort of like one moment just got stretched out. That’s all forever is.” I said I didn’t get it. He said, “The past and the future are just delusions. The past only exists because you remember it, and the future only exists because you can imagine it. They’re only in your mind. Without them, all there is is right now.”
“Maybe in here,” I said. “In the real world, the past and the future are very real.” The words sounded mean coming out. I looked to see if he had taken it that way, but he was just stoic, like always, which just made me more frustrated. I wish he would have been offended. At least that would mean there’s some human part of him left. But he just shrugged, said ‘Maybe,’ and kept staring off at the unreachable trees in the distance.
The first time I saw him after he did it, I didn’t even know he was dead. He wasn’t answering his phone, so I just plugged into the field program, hoping I would find him there. I saw him walking around, blank-faced, staring at the artificial sky. He was surprised to see me, but he didn’t mention why. I asked if he wanted to do anything but he said, “I think I’ll just stay here. You should go do something though.” I thought he was just in a weird mood, so I left him alone.
As soon as I came out my mom told me what had happened. They found him locked in the garage with the car running. I didn’t believe her at first, so I went to his house. They were bringing his covered body out on a gurney. His parents were hysterical. I stole up to his room and shook the mouse attached to his computer. The screen blinked on and I saw the sync window was open. He had had it on a timer, giving himself enough time to prepare.
I went back in and found him. I think he knew as soon as he saw my face. I asked him if he was dead. He said he wasn’t sure. He didn’t feel dead. He made me promise not to tell anyone. He said he wanted to be dead, he didn’t want his family trying to come visit him or anything. He said he didn’t think I would show up, but I’m not sure I believe him. Part of me thinks he did it on purpose, like he wanted me to stick around. I didn’t ask him why he did it. I feel like I should have, but I don’t know, it just didn’t seem relevant at the time.
For the first few years afterwards he was the same. I would get home from school and plug in and spend hours talking to him. About my life, asking him what it was like being dead. He had a lot to say at first. He said it didn’t really feel that different, except that he felt more free every day. “Like a huge weight was on my shoulders when I was alive and it gets lighter and lighter every day that I’m not.” He used the word ‘enlightened’ a lot. I didn’t really understand, but he seemed happy, so I didn’t ask questions.
I kept working on the program, improving it. I would ask him if he wanted anything in particular. He would decline for the most part. He would say, “I’m dead. Dead people don’t get indulgences.” Sometimes I would convince him to let me try to make him pot or alcohol. He said it sort of worked. I kept improving it. I think I learned most of what I know about programming from trying to make shit for him. Eventually I tried to make him a girl. The first few were a little scary, just big tits and blank faces. I finally made one that was attractive and functional, and we had some fun with her. But he said it drove him crazy having her around all the time. She was empty. Not a real person. Eventually he stopped letting me make things. He would say “This wasn’t the point. I’m supposed to be dead.” I never knew what to say when he said shit like that. I stopped trying to understand why he did it. Maybe cause I was afraid it would make sense.
He said he doesn’t remember why he did it. He said he hardly remembers being alive. He dug his fingers into the grass and said, “I feel like I’ve always been here. Like I was here for a long time before I was born, and now I’m back. And my life was just a bad dream.”
I tried to ignore the fact that he thought it was a ‘bad’ dream. “But that’s not true,” I told him. “We built this place while you were alive. You couldn’t have been here before.”
“Maybe,” he said. “Maybe we didn’t build it. Maybe it was always here, and we just discovered it. Or it revealed itself to us.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. We wrote the code. Without the code, there’s no field.”
“The code’s just a combination of a fixed number of letters and symbols. There’s only so many possible combinations you can make, so the possibility always existed. It was just waiting for someone to find it.”
I didn’t want to argue with him anymore. It was pointless. I’m supposed to feel better when I come and talk to him, but I just felt more confused than before. And his stupid fucking blank stare just made it worse. Just an off day, I thought. Try again tomorrow.
He asked me about college when I was there. I’d tell him about the parties, the drugs, the sex. I could detect a little bit of jealousy in him the first couple years. I almost thought I had him regretting his decision. But by the time I was getting ready to graduate… I don’t know. It’s not like he lost interest. He would still ask me about it, but it was sort of like he was just doing what he thought he should. He would sit and listen, always with that far off stare. It got harder and harder to understand him. He spoke in generalities, like some Buddhist monk. I’m not sure I understood it all, but it made me feel better. He helped me through a lot. I guess it sort of became routine, like a meditation or yoga or something. I ended up needing him, when I thought it was the other way around.
I graduated and got a job writing virtual reality games. The industry was just taking off at the time, and I had more skill than most. People were doing a lot of innovative stuff. Virtual physics simulations and genetic programming. He liked hearing about that. He was always better than me at programming. He had a passion for it that I could never understand. He could have been great. Eventually someone asked the question. I don’t know when I first heard it. Maybe the news or something. But pretty soon everyone was talking about it. What would happen if your body died while you were plugged in? No one’s had the balls to try it and find out. Except him.
I’ve kept my promise though. I’ve kept my mouth shut. I don’t know what I would tell them if I could. Is he real? He seemed real at first, but now I don’t know. He’s not really himself anymore. He says he realizes that he was never himself, but that he was all selves, tricked into thinking he was one self. He says that’s what all people are. “One soul trapped in a billion bodies.” That’s what he said the last time I talked to him. He said, “Never forget that. It’s the most important thing you can know.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about. Maybe someday I will.
The next day, when I went in, I couldn’t find him. I stayed in for about three hours, waiting for him to show up, but he never did. I can’t imagine where he went. Logically, it doesn’t make any fucking sense. Maybe he’s still in there somewhere, wandering around in those trees I can never reach. It’s been a week now, and still no sign of him. I’ve been going in every day, just in case. I’m starting to think he was never there at all, that maybe I was just imagining him all these years. I guess I’ll never really know.
I hope he comes back one day. I hope someday I can understand all those things he said to me. Maybe I’ll see him when I die. I’m not really sure how all that works. Is he in heaven now? Did he finally actually die? I hope so. Either way, it’s going to be hard living without him. I’ve gotten so used to it. Maybe I should still go in, just sit in there and talk. Maybe he can still hear me. Probably not, though. But it would make me feel better, which is all he ever wanted anyway.