Unfortunately for Aiden, Tom’s front door was insanely creaky. With his sneak-out cover probably blown to a waking Tom, Aiden ran down the stairs of the building and sharply took the first turn he could to get off the street. The last thing Aiden wanted today was to talk about his feelings after what was supposed to be a healthy hook-up. He didn’t even want to think about it himself.
A vibration in his pocket. A text from Tom: Where you off to so early, my god…”
Ignoring it, Aiden stopped in a coffee shop. He stared at the relatively bougie menu (see: the herb-crusted egg and salmon croissant sandwich) for a time before ultimately choosing a protein-laced breakfast smoothie. Once the elderly barista handed him his order, he stepped outside and continued to shift down the street.
Aiden turned corner after corner, meandering through the streets of the city without any perception of where his feet were gliding. Halloween was nowhere in sight, but the nine-year-old boy who once terribly dressed as a ghost for the holiday was now actually a ghost. Not a thought flickered in his mind as he breathed in the bay air. Aiden was determined to flush out anything in his mind that had to do with himself. All that needed to remain were the simple functions of ordering food, swiping a credit card, and eating said food.
Another vibration, another text: You know I’m going to send a search party of gays if you don’t text me back. Inefficient plan but highly amusing.
He decided it was better to turn his phone off. Trying not to be insane and melodramatic, he could still only believe that if Tom really wanted to get in touch with him, he would try calling instead of simply texting. Too bad that his friend would realize it too late.
Two hours of walking and sitting in various places around the city, Aiden came upon Pier 15. Home of the Exploratorium. As a child, Aiden loved museums where everything was interactive, everything was touchable, and everyone was exploring. He realized that growing older had made everything less interactive and more solitary. Not everything was worth touching. Not everyone wanted to explore the world, or at least had the capacity to.
Aiden took a seat on a bench outside the museum and took stock of the crowd around him. The world may have five oceans, but the entire planet was a sea of people swarming its circumference day in and day out. All together at once, yet simultaneously all alone in their own trials and tribulations.
I’m pathetic, he thought. Here he was, fresh off of getting laid, living in a brand new city, loved by his friends and his sister (sometimes appreciated by his parents), and alive when he shouldn’t be, yet he was too busy moping about how miserable and lonely he felt despite it all. He couldn’t win. The lonely was always there no matter what.
However Aiden knew that was the point, taking a big sigh as he watched a young Indian woman walk by with a protective surgical mask covering her face. She violently coughed into it, as if it was some higher power’s way of reminding Aiden that he, too, was sick. Not necessarily physically or mentally sick; it was emotional. It was something he had to explore himself. Only he could find his way out.
With that, he reached for his wallet and sought for the Exploratorium, in hopes of finding inspiration despite a relatively overpriced ticket.
Three hours of mingling among the museum’s children later, Aiden emerged from the building having forgotten he turned his phone off. He could barely remember life before cell phones, but the past few hours made him wonder if the world would be a better place if everyone took themselves off the grid for a period of time to actually experience the world.
Aiden walked away from Pier 15, a brisk air flowing around him and a half smile on his face. His first smile of the day.
See? I can be okay by myself.
As he kept sauntering and closing his mind to his worries, his eyes caught sight of a tower in the distance. Intrigued, he changed direction and began to make his way.
Maybe this was the way to overcome his loneliness – by accepting it. Accepting that he was meant to be alone. Loads of people lived alone, technically. Nuns. Monks. Some priests… Aiden rolled his eyes. I guess the only way is to pick up a religion and run with it.
But wasn’t that a selfish life to live? Closing himself off to a point where no one else mattered but himself?
Aiden didn’t want to disappoint or upset anyone, but maybe that was his price to pay for letting his younger self get to such a dark place. Maybe loneliness was his punishment for his selfishness in trying to take his own life.
Maybe he could convince himself that a planet full of people could suffice as his extended family, and he himself could be his only close family.
The art deco tower grew closer and taller in vision as Aiden realized Fran would probably push him from the top of said tower if he ever completely disappeared. If there was anyone who would get revenge on someone who simply wanted to make her life better, it was Fran. Determined to a T.
He realized he was unsuccessfully numbing his thoughts by running in circles inside his head, deciding for the remainder of his walk to the tower to instead hum an early 2000’s Snow Patrol song. Busy himself.
The Coit Tower was known for it’s three hundred and sixty degree view of San Francisco, notably beautiful on those bright and sunny days the city was surprisingly currently having. Aiden wanted to see the city for what it truly was, so he began to climb the tourist-prone stairs that would lead him to the top.
As a writer-on-hiatus, Aiden was embarrassed at how easily the view took his breath away. Maybe it was induced by the serenity he was attempting to invoke in his being, but seeing the blue horizon mesh with the lush greens and stark grays of the Bay Area’s dual nature/urban aesthetic was truly a sight to behold.
Aiden spun around to find he wasn’t the only one taking in the tall views. There, on the railing, was a man, roughly his own age with an insane head of shiny, prestine, chocolate hair and an Adam’s apple that could feed the world. No, he wasn’t standing behind the railing as good citizens do. He was on it.
He walked in on a man about to jump.
What the fuck was it about Aiden that led him to end up in the presence of every suicidal person on the west coast? This was probably why he was supposed to be lonely the rest of his life: So he could still empathize with all those about to die and make them feel at ease, possibly saving their lives.
I’m not a fucking savior. Jesus Christ, why is this happening to me?
“Guess it’s not so amazing,” the man said.
Aiden breathed through his nose. “Are you okay?”
“A long time ago.”
Aiden took a step towards him. “I can relate, dude.”
The man turned away to stare out at the city streets below. “Nah, you probably can’t. Most people can’t. But it’s okay. That’s how life works, you know? Always figuring the shit out for yourself.”
Aiden blinked. “I can relate, dude.”
“You here for the view too?”
“Aren’t we all.”
A crow hopped over to squawk in the conversation, but the man waved it off.
“Just not today,” Aiden added.
“Tried years ago. Shit’s exhausting.” He turned about face and went to a different ledge to look out elsewhere. He had no idea if the man was continuing to move closer to the edge. Aiden hoped he wasn’t but wasn’t too hopeful he had it in him to stop what might be the inevitable.
Silence from him. Aiden quickly glanced back, suddenly praying with all his might that his new acquaintance didn’t complete his mission.
But there he was, now off the railing. Leaning against it, rather, staring directly at Aiden. Simultaneously saddened and piercingly interested.
“Hi,” he murmured. “Name’s Lyle.”
Lyle extended his hand. Aiden walked across the tower to accept the shake, clocking the man. Despite his aggressively molded hair, Lyle seemed disheveled and rather nervous. That, coupled with his crooked jawline and crinkled eyes, put him on an temporary do-not-cross list. If he learned anything from last night, now was not the time to be making new male “friends.”
“Probably inappropriate to say,” Lyle continued, “but it’s nice to meet you.”
“is it?” Aiden raised an eyebrow.
Lyle slid his back down the wall to sit on the ground of the filthy concrete floor. Aiden turned his back to Lyle as a couple of people made their way to the top as well. To the casual passerby, Aiden was intent on taking in the sight. Instead, Aiden was desperately trying to find a way out of his situation. He should have just left with the tourists when he had the chance, but they came and went as Aiden uncontrollably found himself planted in place.
Private party for two again. “Well…?” Aiden wondered aloud.
His new partner in self-crime looked at him in surprise at the continued engagement. “Well what?”
Aiden nodded his head in the general direction of the tower railing.
Lyle sighed. “I’ve got no one.”
“Technically we only have ourselves, always.”
“No. Physically no one. No family. No friends. No ties to anywhere. I’m an actual fucking ghost among the living and I can’t take it anymore!” His voice was rising with an undercurrent of extreme duress. Aiden recognized this was Lyle’s precipice. He could fall over either side of his mental cliff at any moment. Every word Aiden said was crucial and possibly misconstrued in Lyle’s mind.
“Technically, I’m your friend now that you caught me up here.”
Lyle blinked slowly. “Don’t think that’s how it works.”
“Friend is an arbitrary word. It can work however you want it to.”
“Bullshit and you know it.”
Aiden forced a laugh, despite that noise being the last he wanted to make in this circumstance. “We’re friends because you noticed my bullshit.”
Lyle inadvertently cracked a crooked smile but hid it as he caught himself.
“Don’t make me laugh.”
“Because then I’ll talk you out of it?
Aiden shuffled his feet for a moment before subtly rolling his eyes and sitting next to Lyle.
“I don’t think we should talk up here anymore.”
He noticed an ever-so-slight nod of agreement from Lyle. Aiden stood (annoyed that he had just sat down) and offered to help up his new friend. Lyle accepted the gesture, and they began their silent descent from the top of the world.
Finally, with the click of the Starbucks’ bathroom door, one fucking moment alone.
Aiden had told Lyle he hadn’t peed all day and was thus about to combust, giving him at least five minutes of peace. He realized no matter how hard he tried to seclude himself and be on his own, the world was always going to find some fucker to throw in his path. Lyle equaled his current fucker, and not in the sexually gratifying way.
With that understood, he pulled out his phone to turn it on. Immediately, notifications for five missed calls from Tom and eight from Fran appeared. Voicemail galore.
“Jesus,” he muttered as he dialed his sister. “Can a bitch just live his life…”
And then – “Aiden! My god, where the fuck have you been?”
“Busy, sorry, are you okay? Is Chase okay?”
A silence. A different kind of silence from his sister.
His eyes began to tear up out of habit. He wasn’t ever going to be alone after what came next; he was almost positive.
“I’m so sorry, Aid. Dad died in a car accident last night.”