Dan is at the foot of my bed. “I know you’re asleep, Ellen,” he says. “But I’ve got to talk to someone.”
I am not asleep. As a matter of fact, I am too lost in dreams to even consider sleeping. Lost in dreams. And there is Dan, at the foot of my bed.
“I’ve been thinking a lot,” he says. “And not just about anything.” He sighs, like someone who is disoriented in a vacuum. “I’ve been thinking about death. I do that a lot. It’s kind of a problem.
“The thing is,” he continues, “I’m terrified of what’s coming. Because I don’t know. I just don’t know. Nobody really knows. And that’s the issue.” The bed shifts as he readjusts his position. “And what does anything mean, really, if we’re all going to die anyway? Is it worth the effort?”
Still pretending, of course, to be asleep, I shuffle my elbow.
“And damn, Ellen, I’m so scared. I’ve always been scared.” His breathing is damp, muffled; he’s crying. “Everything is terrifying. And apparently pointless.” He chuckles at himself, in the forced way the damned laugh at their fate. “And I’m sorry to be bothering you, even though you’re sleeping. I’ve just been thinking too much.”
At this point, he begins sobbing––big, agonizing sobs. The bed shakes, but it’s like rocking; had I truly been asleep, it would have comforted my dreams before it woke me. I get up and hold him from behind, my head on his shoulder, and I whisper in his ear. “Dan,” I say, “Dan, I don’t know either. Dammit, Dan, no one knows. But death isn’t the all-consuming black hole. That’s life. You know it as well as I do.”
He pauses, his tears suspended with his breath, the whole room hovering for the moment. “You don’t know, either?” he murmurs. “You don’t know what life is? or death?”
I shake my head into his. “There’s no way to know.”
“Then what does it matter, Ellen?”
“It matters because I love you.”
He smiles; I know because I can feel his cheek. That’s the only way to know. The only light in the room leaks from the door, and, for the time being, neither of us is leaving. It’s dark here, at the foot of my bed. We can only know from touch, from contact.
“Then I guess it matters because I love you, too.”
I brush his short hair from his ear, and I’m crying alongside him, and neither of us understands anything.