You should start from the beginning, if you haven’t already. Part One is here
The phrase “cover up” clued me in that maybe M was going too far. Unfortunately the above mentioned exchange didn’t occur until months after that first night on the beach. By this time M had devoted an entire thesis to developing and attempting to prove his theory on the death rituals of the secretive mermaid culture. I knew nothing while all this was happening–self preservation instincts undoubtably held M to his silence throughout the months of being laughed out of the educational institutions he sought out.
We spoke regularly but not frequently, and our interactions were limited to the internet sphere due to the physical distance parting us. I moved shortly after that morning I spent with M on the beach, you see. It should go without saying that the two events–the morning on the beach with M and my move–are entirely unrelated, but I’ll include this sentence into the narrative anyway to forestall any trickling suspicions. My move is not the secret clue buried in this story that will allow you to jump to the ending. I promise.
The distance between us physically is, however, the primary excuse I used to justify missing the signs of my friend’s downward spiral. I was not present to see how many days M skipped showering, forgoing personal hygiene in order to devote more time to writing and rewriting his thesis, a habit that followed each time he was laughed out of a professor’s office. Through the glassy screen of our interactions, his intensity on the topic was mute. He sounded like a friend with a fixation on a clever new tv show instead of someone walking boldly towards madness.
It culminated into a horrific climax when I decided on a whim to visit him. It had been a while since I had visited my old town, the one where I spent so many years,and I convinced myself easily that “so long” was the same as “too long”. I tell myself this visit is not the crux for what happened–that M had already set out firmly on this path even before I stepped into my car. Maybe I am lying to myself, but I’m comfortable with accepting this as my truth.
I hadn’t told M I would be coming and was therefore unconcerned when he failed to greet me at his front door. I slipped a note through the crack in the doorjam and, on a whim, decided to visit the beach while I waited for him to return home, find the note, turn on his phone and call me. The beach may be a glaringly obvious choice based on the story, making the outlines of this tale too obvious but I assure you–our lives are bigger than the stories that emerge from them. The beach is a common enough place in this small town where one might seek refuge, or just to kill a few hours.
He was there, as you could surely guess. I didn’t know it at the time but he had been spending the vast majority of his time there over the past few weeks, pacing up and down the sand bar or else sitting on a hunk of driftwood, scribbling his madness furiously into the spiral notebook, ignoring the blasts of salt water that would shower him at regular intervals.
It pains me to admit, but I did not recognize him initially. I walked to the water’s edge and was careful to avoid the dirty, overgrown, threatening-looking man in the tattered clothes. In fact, it was not until I had been there for nearly an hour and was turning to leave that he approached me. I was almost to the point of denying I had any spare change before I recognized him.
I was shocked. How had I not seen that things had gotten this bad? That he had progressed to such an extreme state of poor health? Guilt declared that I had ignored the signs, and guilt may be speaking part of the truth.