LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA– SEATTLE, WASHINGTON
MARCH 30–APRIL 6, 1994
Cut myself on angel’s hair and baby’s breath.
—From “Heart-Shaped Box.”
Pat Smear and Gold Mountain’s Michael Meisel met Kurt at LAX on Wednesday evening and drove him to Exodus Recovery Center, part of the Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital in Marina Del Rey. This was the same facility Kurt had attended in September 1992. It was a rehab favored by rock stars—Joe Walsh of the Eagles had left the day before, and Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers was there when Kurt arrived. Kurt checked in for what was scheduled to be a 28-day program.
He was assigned room 206 in the twenty-bed facility. That first night he went through a 40-minute intake interview with a nurse. Afterwards, he came down to the common room and sat next to Haynes, who had been one of his idols as a teenager. “Everyone was going to a Cocaine Anonymous meeting, but Kurt said he was going to stay at Exodus, because he’d just gotten there,” Haynes recalled. “He looked sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Thursday morning, Kurt began his course of treatment, which consisted of group therapy, meetings, and individual therapy with his substance abuse counselor, Nial Stimson. “He was totally in denial that he had a heroin problem,” Stimson said. “I asked him if he understood the seriousness of his Italy thing: ‘Man, you almost died! You have to take this seriously. Your drug abuse has gotten you to where you almost lost your life. Do you get how serious this is?’ ” Kurt’s response was, “I understand. I just want to get cleaned up and out of here.” Stimson had not been informed that Rome was a suicide attempt. As a result, Kurt was in a regular room at Exodus, though just a short distance away was the locked-down psychiatric unit of the hospital.
Courtney called Exodus several times that day and she argued with the staff when she was told Kurt was unavailable. In his sessions with Stimson, Kurt rarely mentioned his battles with Courtney. Instead, he said the worry of potentially losing a lawsuit with original “Heart-Shaped Box” video director Kevin Kerslake was what scared him the most. Kerslake had filed a suit on March 9, claiming he, not Kurt, had come up with many of the ideas in the video. Kurt told his counselor he had thought about almost nothing else since Kerslake’s suit had been filed and he worried the case would wipe him out financially. “He told me his biggest fear was that if he lost that suit, he would lose his house,” Stimson said.
During Thursday afternoon, Kurt was visited by Jackie Farry and Frances—Courtney did not visit because her physician had advised against it in the early stages of Kurt’s sobriety. Frances was nineteen months old at the time; Kurt played with her but Farry noticed that he seemed out of it, and she assumed it was because of drugs the center had given him to help with withdrawal. When talking with Farry, Kurt didn’t mention the Kerslake suit, but did bring up the battle with Courtney over Lollapalooza. Jackie and Frances only stayed a short while but promised to return the next day.
They came back on Friday morning at eleven and Jackie found Kurt looking surprisingly rested. “He was in this incredibly happy mood, which I just didn’t get,” Farry recalled. “I was thinking, ‘God, for one second, maybe he really is for real this time.’ He was laying it on thick, saying all these incredibly complimentary things to me and being really positive. And that wasn’t his deal—sitting around and trying to make the world look great. Usually he was kind of grumpy. But I just took it as a sign that it was a positive 24-hour turnaround.” Farry told Kurt about her plans for a television show and Kurt was uncharacteristically encouraging, telling her that she’d make a “great famous person” because she “wasn’t all screwed up.”
Kurt’s change in mood wasn’t enough to alarm Farry—she just assumed he was on pills provided by the rehab. Compared to the first visit, he was more physical with Frances, and threw her in the air to make her giggle. Farry went down the hall for a moment, thinking she would give the two of them time alone together. When she returned, Kurt was holding Frances over his shoulder, patting her on the back, and sweetly talking in her ear. Farry gathered Frances and told Kurt they’d see him the next day. He walked them to the door, looked his daughter in the eyes, and said, “Good-bye.”
In the early afternoon Kurt sat in the smoking area behind Exodus, chatting with Gibby. Most repeat-rehab patients—which both Kurt and Gibby were—approached treatment with a gallows humor, and the two of them gossiped about others with problems worse than their own. One drummer had developed such severe abscesses that his arm had been amputated. Gibby joked he was glad he was just the singer, and Kurt had a long laugh at this. They chuckled over a mutual acquaintance who had escaped Exodus by jumping over the back wall: This was completely unnecessary, since the front doors were unlocked. “Me and Kurt were laughing about what a dumb-ass he was for escaping over the wall,” Haynes recalled.
That afternoon, Kurt was visited by Pat Smear and Joe “Mama” Nitzburg. Mama was an artist friend of Courtney’s who had been through drug treatment before himself. The previous year, in an act of altruism never publicized, Kurt paid for Mama’s art school tuition when Mama’s financial aid was denied. Courtney had sent Mama to Exodus with a letter for Kurt, along with some candy and a fanzine she thought he’d like. Mama was surprised at how lucid Kurt was with just a day of sobriety. “You look good; how do you feel?” he asked. “I don’t feel that bad,” was Kurt’s deadpan response.
The three of them went to the back patio so Kurt could smoke. Gibby was still out there, and making the same jokes about jumping the wall. They chatted for almost an hour, but it was mostly small talk. Kurt had always wanted to go to art school and told Mama he was envious. Mama was left with the impression that Kurt was serene: “Whatever had troubled him, he seemed to have already made peace with it.” Pat and Joe left about five in the evening, and as they parted, Mama told Kurt they’d visit again. “He gave the impression that you want a drug addict in recovery to give you,” observed Mama, “the ‘I can’t-do-this-anymore-I-give-up’ impression.”
That Friday afternoon, Courtney repeatedly tried to reach Kurt on the patients’ pay phone. She finally called when he was near it, and they had a short conversation. “No matter what happens,” he told her, “I want you to know that you made a really good album.” She found it odd he would mention this, since her record wouldn’t be released for another week. “What do you mean?” she asked, confused at the melodrama in his voice. “Just remember, no matter what, I love you.” With that, he hung up.
At 7:23 that evening Michael Meisel’s roommate answered the phone. It was Kurt. “Michael’s out for the evening,” the roommate announced, “should I have him call you?” Kurt said he wasn’t going to be near a phone. Two minutes later, he walked out the back door of Exodus and climbed the six-foot wall he and Gibby had joked about earlier in the day.
He departed Exodus with only the clothes on his back. In his room, he left a couple of shirts and a recently started journal containing four embryonic songs. Over his 27 years he had filled two dozen different spiral notebooks that served as his journals, but by 1994 he was rarely writing down his thoughts. Yet sometime during Kurt’s stay at Exodus, he completed a Rorschach-like assignment that asked him to illustrate a dozen words; the results read like something from his diaries. It was the type of drill Kurt had excelled at his entire life, ever since his grandfather challenged him to draw Mickey Mouse.
When asked to illustrate “resentment,” he drew two angry eyes with red flames next to them. For “jealousy,” he drew a Nazi sign with legs. To express “lonely,” he sketched a narrow street with two giant skyscrapers dwarfing the sides. For “hurt,” he drew a spinal cord with a brain and heart attached to it: It looked a bit like the back of In Utero. For “safe,” he depicted a circle of friends. For “surrender,” he drew a man with a bright light emanating from him. For “depressed,” he showed an umbrella surrounded by ties. For “determined,” he drew a foot stepping on a syringe. And for the final page of the exercise, to show “abandon,” he drew a tiny stick figure the size of an ant on an immense landscape.
Two hours after he jumped the fence, Kurt used his credit card to buy a first-class ticket to Seattle on Delta Flight 788. Before boarding, he called Seattle Limousine and arranged to be picked up at the airport—he specifically requested they not send a limo. He made an attempt to call Courtney; she wasn’t in, so he left a message that he had called.
Courtney was already searching L.A. for him, convinced as soon as she heard word he’d left Exodus that he was going to score drugs and potentially overdose. “She was hysterical,” Joe Mama remembered. Courtney began phoning drug dealers and inquiring whether Kurt was there; she didn’t trust their word, so she visited. She also decided to spread the rumor that she had overdosed, assuming this deception would get to Kurt and he’d contact her. As a distraught Courtney—with three days of sobriety—found herself back in familiar dealers’ haunts, she fell off the wagon.
Meanwhile, Kurt was on the plane. He found himself sitting next to Duff McKagan of Guns N’ Roses. McKagan had begun his career in several Northwest punk bands, and despite all the bad blood between Nirvana and Guns, Kurt seemed happy to see Duff. Kurt admitted he had left rehab; Duff said he understood, as he was in recovery from heroin himself. McKagan could tell things were amiss. “I knew from all my instincts something was wrong.” The two talked about mutual friends, but there was also a wistfulness to their conversation—both were leaving Los Angeles and returning to the Northwest. “We were talking about what it feels like to be going back home,” McKagan recalled. “That’s what he said he was doing, ‘going home.’ ” Kurt announced this like someone who had been away for years, not three days. When the plane arrived in Seattle, McKagan went to ask if Kurt needed a ride, but when he turned around he was gone.
Kurt arrived home at 1:45 in the morning on Saturday, April 2. If he did sleep, it wasn’t for long: At around 6 a.m., as dawn broke, he appeared in Cali’s room on the first floor of the house. Cali was there with girlfriend Jessica Hopper, on spring break from her Minneapolis boarding school. Cali was simultaneously dating Jessica and Jennifer Adamson (he previously had been involved with Academy Award– nominated actress Juliette Lewis). Though Jessica was younger than Cali, and straight-edge (did no drugs or alcohol), she adored him.
Cali had passed out Saturday morning from cocaine. The previous night, in an attempt to warm the giant house after the heating oil had run out, a stoned Cali lit a Presto Log outside before attempting to carry it into his room; he dropped it on the living room floor. As his drug problems had increased and his nanny duties had been curtailed, Cali had become the Kato Kaelin of the Cobain household. “By that point, Cali wasn’t in charge of anything,” Jessica observed, “other than helping get drugs or making sure Kurt didn’t die.”
That morning Kurt walked into Cali’s room and sat on the end of the bed. Jessica woke, but not Cali. “Hey skinhead girl,” Kurt sang to Jessica, mimicking the lyrics to a punk song. Jessica implored Kurt, “Call Courtney! You’ve got to call Courtney; she’s freaking out.” She grabbed a number off a table, handed it to him, and watched as Kurt dialed the Peninsula. The hotel operator announced Courtney wasn’t taking any calls. “This is her husband. Let me through,” Kurt demanded. Kurt had forgotten the code name that was needed to reach his wife. He kept repeating, “this is her husband,” but the hotel operator wouldn’t let him through. Frustrated, he hung up. Cali momentarily woke up and, seeing Kurt, told him to call Courtney.
As Cali fell back asleep, Jessica and Kurt sat silently for a few minutes, watching MTV. Kurt smiled when a video by the Meat Puppets came on. Five minutes later, he called the hotel again, but they still wouldn’t let him through. Jessica fell asleep watching Kurt leafing through a copy ofPuncture magazine.
Twenty minutes later, Kurt called Graytop Cab. He told the driver that he had “recently been burgled and needed bullets.” They drove downtown, but seeing as it was 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, sporting goods stores were closed. Kurt asked the driver to take him to 145th and Aurora, saying he was hungry. Most likely Kurt checked into either the Crest or Quest Motel, places he had stayed before—they were near one of his dealers. That day he also went to Seattle Guns and bought a box of twenty-gauge shotgun shells.
Back at the Cobain house, the main phone rang every ten minutes but Cali was afraid to answer it, thinking it was Courtney. When he finally answered, he told her he hadn’t seen Kurt. Still fried from drugs, Cali thought Kurt’s bedside visit was simply a dream. Cali and Jessica were fighting about his drug use, and in a fit of rage he suggested she take an early flight home. He tried to use the $100,000-limit Mastercard Kurt had given him to buy her an airline ticket but the charge was denied. He called Courtney to complain and she told him she’d cancelled Kurt’s cards, thinking this would help determine his whereabouts. Feeling ill, Jessica went to bed and spent much of the next two days sleeping and trying to ignore the house phone, which rang endlessly.
Over the next two days there were scattered sightings of Kurt. On Sunday evening he was seen at the Cactus Restaurant having dinner with a thin woman, possibly his dealer Caitlin Moore, and an unidentified man. After Kurt finished his meal, he licked his plate, which attracted the attention of other patrons. When the bill was presented, his credit card wouldn’t go through. “He seemed traumatized by hearing that his card was denied,” recalled Ginny Heller, who was in the restaurant. “He was standing at the counter, trying to write a check, but it looked like a painful process for him.” Kurt made up a story about his credit card being stolen.
That Sunday, Courtney phoned private investigators in the Los Angeles Yellow Pages until she found one working on a weekend. Tom Grant and his assistant Ben Klugman visited her at the Peninsula that afternoon. She said her husband had skipped rehab; she worried for his health; and she asked Grant to watch dealer Caitlin Moore’s apartment, where she figured Kurt might be. Grant subcontracted with a Seattle investigator, giving directives to observe Dylan Carlson’s house and Caitlin Moore’s apartment. Surveillance was set up late Sunday night. However, private detectives did not immediately set up at the Lake Washington house or the home the Cobains owned in Carnation, where Kurt’s sister Kim was living at the time. Courtney assumed that Cali would let her know if Kurt showed up at their house.
Early Monday, Cali and Jessica were in the middle of yet another argument when the phone rang, and Cali barked, “Don’t answer it. It’s just Courtney and we don’t know anything about Kurt.” Jessica asked Cali if he’d talked to Kurt since they saw him. “What do you mean, ‘since I saw him?’ ” Cali inquired, his eyes widening. Jessica recited the events from Saturday. Cali finally told Courtney Kurt had in fact been at the house on Saturday.
In Los Angeles, Courtney was attempting to do press, despite the fact that she was again going through a hotel detox. On Monday, she met with Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times to talk about Hole’s new album, Live Through This. She kept sobbing during the interview, and a Narcotics Anonymous handbook sat on her coffee table. Hilburn’s story began with the subhead: “Just when Courtney Love should be focusing on Hole and her career, she can’t help worrying about her husband.” “I know this should be the happiest time of my life,” Love said, “and there have been moments where I felt that happiness. But not now. I thought I went through a lot of hard times over the years, but this has been the hardest.”
It got harder that very day. After her interview, Courtney phoned Dylan, who reported he hadn’t heard from Kurt. Courtney thought Dylan was lying, and she kept challenging him. But her attitude didn’t seem to change his demeanor and he flatly said, “The last time I saw him was when he was going to L.A. and we bought the shotgun.” It was the first Courtney had heard of a shotgun, and she became hysterical. She phoned Seattle Police and filed a missing persons report, claiming she was Kurt’s mother. The report read: “Mr. Cobain ran away from a California facility and flew back to Seattle. He also bought a shotgun and may be suicidal. Mr. Cobain may be at [Caitlin Moore’s address] location for narcotics.” It described Kurt as “not dangerous” but “armed with shotgun.” Courtney asked the police to check the Lake Washington home, and officers drove by several times, but saw no activity. Courtney met with Tom Grant again on Monday, and told him to search some of the motels Kurt frequented. Seattle investigators checked these locations, but didn’t locate Kurt.
On Monday night Cali left the house for the evening, leaving Jessica alone in his room. Around midnight she heard noises. “I heard footsteps upstairs and in the hall,” she recalled. “They were walking with a purpose, you know, not tip-toeing about, so I assumed it was Kurt.” She called out “hello” into the darkness of the hallway, but heard no answer and returned to Cali’s bedroom. Jessica and Cali had been lectured by Courtney that as “staff” they should stick to Cali’s room. Cali didn’t return until after 3 a.m., and he and Jessica slept late the next morning.
On Tuesday afternoon Courtney sent Hole’s Eric Erlandson to the Lake Washington home to look for Kurt. “He burst in the house, like this big lightning bolt, and he was furious at Cali,” Jessica remembered. “You guys have got to help me look,” he ordered. Erlandson told them to search every nook and cranny, because Kurt had stashed a shotgun: He specifically insisted they look in a secret compartment in the back of the master bedroom closet, which Courtney had told him Kurt used. They found the compartment but no guns. They also searched a mattress for a hole Kurt had cut in it to store drugs—it was empty. No one thought to search the garage or greenhouse, and Erlandson rushed off, headed to the Carnation home.
Courtney had been scheduled to do a phone interview with The Rocket on Tuesday morning. Erlandson phoned the magazine and said it would have to be postponed, as would all of Courtney’s interviews the rest of the week. She certainly didn’t have time: She was on the phone every moment trying to find someone who had seen Kurt after Saturday. She hounded Dylan, still convinced he was hiding something, but he seemed as puzzled to Kurt’s whereabouts as she was.
On Wednesday morning, April 6, Jessica Hopper called a cab to take her to the airport. She still felt ill: During her visit there had been no food in the Cobain house except bananas and soft drinks, and it had been so cold she had rarely left Cali’s bed. As she walked out the long driveway to the car, she threw up.
Courtney continued to phone home, but her calls went unanswered. On Wednesday morning she told Grant she thought Cali might be hiding Kurt. Grant flew to Seattle that night, picked up Dylan, and together they checked Caitlin Moore’s apartment, the Marco Polo, the Seattle Inn, and the Crest, but found no sign of Kurt. At 2:15 a.m. Thursday they searched the Lake Washington house, entering through a kitchen window. The temperature outside had dropped to 45 degrees, but it seemed colder inside than outdoors. They went from room to room and found the bed unmade in the master bedroom, but cold to the touch. MTV was on the television with the sound off. Not seeing any sign of Kurt, they left at 3 a.m., without searching the grounds or garage.
On Thursday afternoon Courtney reached Cali at Jennifer Adam-son’s apartment—he had been staying there because he was afraid to be in the Cobain house. Courtney was incensed and demanded he return to look for Kurt. Cali and Jennifer drove together, bringing a friend, Bonnie Dillard, who wanted to see where such famous rock stars lived. It was dusk when they arrived, and Cali complained about how spooky the dark house was. He told Jennifer he didn’t want to go back in, but he knew that if he didn’t, Courtney would be enraged.
They entered and began searching once again, turning on lights as they went. Cali and Jennifer held hands as they entered each room. “Frankly,” Jennifer recalled, “we were expecting to find him dead at any minute.” Though the house was ostensibly Cali’s place of residence at the time, he jumped at every floor creak, the way a character in a Vincent Price movie would leap as a bat flew from a belfry. They searched all levels including the third-floor attic.
Jennifer and Dillard urged Cali to leave the instant they had surveyed every room. Night was falling and the old, gabled house—which was eerie on a sunny day—was filled with long shadows in the twilight. Cali hesitated to jot a note: “Kurt: I can’t believe you managed to be in this house without me noticing. You’re a fuckin’ asshole for not calling Courtney and at least letting her know that you’re okay. She’s in a lot of pain, Kurt, and this morning she had another ‘accident’ and now she’s in the hospital again. She’s your wife and she loves you and you have a child together. Get it together to at least tell her you’re okay or she is going to die. It’s not fair man. Do something now!” He left the message on the main staircase.
It was with a great sigh of relief that the trio entered the car and began to head down the long driveway, Cali and Jennifer in the front, and Dillard in the back. As they pulled onto Lake Washington Boulevard and sped toward town, Dillard meekly voiced: “You know, uh, I hate to say this, but as we were going down the driveway, I thought I saw something above the garage.” Jennifer exchanged a glance of abject terror with Cali. “I don’t know,” Dillard continued. “I just saw a shadow up there.” “Why didn’t you say something?” Jennifer snapped. “Well, I don’t know,” Dillard explained. “I didn’t think it was real.” Jennifer knew how superstitious Dillard was, and she kept the car headed toward town. “Well, I’ve had enough,” Jennifer announced. “I’m not going back.”
Two days earlier, in the predawn hours of Tuesday, April 5, Kurt Cobain had awoken in his own bed, the pillows still smelling of Courtney’s perfume. He had first taken in this fragrance when she sent the silk-and-lace heart-shaped box to him three short years before: He had sniffed the box for hours, imagining she had touched it with intimate parts of her body. In the bedroom that Tuesday, her aroma mixed with the slightly acrid smell of cooked heroin; this too was a smell that aroused him.
It was cold in the house, so he’d slept in his clothes, including his brown corduroy coat. Compared to the nights he’d spent sleeping outside in cardboard boxes, it wasn’t so bad. He had on his comfy “Half Japanese” T-shirt (advertising a Baltimore punk band), his favorite pair of Levi’s, and, as he sat on the edge of the bed, he laced up the only pair of shoes he owned—they were Converse sneakers.
The television was on, tuned to MTV, but the sound was off. He walked over to the stereo and put on R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People, turning the volume down so that Stipe’s voice sounded like a friendly whisper in the background—Courtney would later find the stereo still on and this CD in the changer. He lit a Camel Light and fell back on the bed with a legal-sized notepad propped on his chest and a fine-point red pen. The blank piece of paper briefly entranced him, but not because of writer’s block: He had imagined these words for weeks, months, years, decades. He paused only because even a legal-sized sheet seemed so small, so finite.
He had already written a long personal letter to his wife and daughter that he’d jotted down while in Exodus; he’d brought this letter all the way back to Seattle and had stuck it under one of those perfume-infused pillows. “You know, I love you,” he wrote in that letter. “I love Frances. I’m so sorry. Please don’t follow me. I’m sorry, sorry, sorry.” He had repeatedly lettered “I’m sorry,” filling an entire page with this plea. “I’ll be there,” he continued. “I’ll protect you. I don’t know where I’m going. I just can’t be here anymore.”
That note had been hard enough to write, but he knew this second missive would be equally important, and he needed to be careful with these words. He addressed it “To Boddah,” the name of his imaginary childhood friend. He used tiny, deliberate characters, and wrote in a straight line without the benefit of rules. He composed the words very methodically, making sure each was clear and easy to read. As he wrote, the illumination from MTV provided most of the light, since the sun was still rising.
Speaking from the tongue of an experienced simpleton who obviously would rather be an emasculated, infantile complainee. This note should be pretty easy to understand. All the warnings from the punk rock 101 courses over the years. Since my first introduction to the, shall we say, ethics involved with independence and the embracement of your community has proven to be very true. I haven’t felt the excitement of listening to as well as creating music along with reading and writing for too many years now. I feel guilty beyond words about these things. For example, when we’re backstage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowd begins it doesn’t affect me the way in which it did for Freddie Mercury who seemed to love, relish in the love and adoration from the crowd. Which is something I totally admire and envy. The fact is I can’t fool you. Any one of you. It simply isn’t fair to you or me. The worst crime I can think of would be to rip people off by faking it and pretending as if I’m having 100 percent fun. Sometimes I feel as if I should have a punch in time clock before I walk out on stage. I’ve tried everything within my power to appreciate it, and I do, God believe me I do, but it’s not enough. I appreciate the fact that I and we have affected and entertained a lot of people. I must be one of those narcissists who only appreciate things when they’re gone. I’m too sensitive. I need to be slightly numb in order to regain the enthusiasm I once had as a child. On our last three tours I’ve had a much better appreciation for all the people I’ve known personally and as fans of our music, but I still can’t get over the frustration, the guilt and empathy I have for everyone. There’s good in all of us and I think I simply love people too much. So much that it makes me feel too fucking sad. The sad little, sensitive, unappreciative, Pisces, Jesus man! Why don’t you just enjoy it? I don’t know. I have a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy and a daughter who reminds me too much of what I used to be. Full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable self-destructive, death rocker that I’ve become. I have it good, very good, and I’m grateful, but since the age of seven I’ve become hateful towards all humans in general. Only because it seems so easy for people to get along, and have empathy. Empathy! Only because I love and feel for people too much I guess. Thank you all from the pit of my burning nauseous stomach for your letters and concern during the past years. I’m too much of an erratic, moody baby! I don’t have the passion anymore and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.
When he put the pen down, he had filled all but two inches of the page. It had taken three cigarettes to draft the note. The words hadn’t come easy, and there were misspellings and half-completed sentences. He didn’t have the time to rewrite this letter twenty times like he had many of the letters in his journals: It was getting brighter outside and he needed to act before the rest of the world woke. He signed it “peace, love, empathy. Kurt Cobain,” printing his name out rather than using a signature. He underlined “empathy” twice; he had used this one word five times. He wrote one more line—“Frances and Courtney, I’ll be at your altar”—and stuck the paper and pen into his left coat pocket. On the stereo Stipe was singing about the “Man on the Moon.” Kurt had always loved Andy Kaufman—his friends used to crack up back in junior high school in Montesano when Kurt would do his Latka imitation from “Taxi.”
He rose from the bed and entered the closet, where he removed a board from the wall. In this secret cubbyhole sat a beige nylon gun case, a box of shotgun shells, and a Tom Moore cigar box. He replaced the board, put the shells in his pocket, grabbed the cigar box, and cradled the heavy shotgun over his left forearm. In a hallway closet, he grabbed two towels; he didn’t need these, but someone would. Empathy. He quietly walked down the nineteen steps of the wide staircase. He was within a few feet of Cali’s room and he didn’t want anyone catching sight of him. He had thought this all through, mapped it out with the same forethought he put into his album covers and videos. There would be blood, lots of blood, and a mess, which he didn’t want in his house. Mostly, he didn’t want to haunt this home, to leave his daughter with the kind of nightmares he had suffered.
As he headed into the kitchen he passed the doorjamb where he and Courtney had begun keeping track of how tall Frances had grown. Only one line was there now, a little pencil mark with her name 31 inches from the floor. Kurt would never see any higher marks on that wall, but he was convinced his daughter’s life would be better without him.
In the kitchen he opened the door of his $10,000 Traulson stainless-steel refrigerator and grabbed a can of Barq’s root beer, making sure not to lose grip of the shotgun. Carrying his unthinkable load—root beer, towels, a box of heroin, and a shotgun, all of which would later be found in a bizarre grouping—he opened the door to the backyard and walked across the small patio. Dawn was breaking and mist hung close to the ground. Most mornings in Aberdeen felt just like this: wet, moist, dank. He would never see Aberdeen again; never actually climb to the top of the water tower on “Think of Me Hill”; never buy the farm he had dreamed about in Grays Harbor County; never again wake up in a hospital waiting room having pretended to be a bereaved visitor just to find a warm place to sleep; never again see his mother, or sister, or father, or wife, or daughter. He strolled the twenty paces to the greenhouse, climbed the wooden steps, and opened the rear set of French doors. The floor was linoleum: It would be easy to clean. Empathy.
He sat on the floor of the one-room structure, looking out the front doors. No one could see him here, not unless they were climbing the trees behind his property, and that wasn’t likely. The last thing he wanted was the kind of fuck-up that might leave him a vegetable, and leave him with even more pain. His two uncles and great-grandfather had taken this same grisly walk, and if they had managed to pull it off, he knew he could too. He had the “suicide genes,” as he used to joke with his friends back in Grays Harbor. He never wanted to see the inside of a hospital again, never wanted a doctor in the white lab coat poking him, never wanted to have an endoscope in his painful stomach. He was finished with all that, finished with his stomach; he couldn’t be more finished. Like a great movie director, he had planned this moment to the smallest detail, rehearsing this scene as both director and actor. There had been many dress rehearsals over the years, close brushes that almost went this way, either by accident or sometimes with intent, like Rome. This had always been the thing he kept in the back of his mind, like a precious salve, as the only cure for a pain that would not go away. He didn’t care about freedom from want: He wanted freedom from pain.
He sat thinking about these things for many minutes. He smoked five Camel Lights. He drank several sips of his root beer.
He grabbed the note from his pocket. There was still a little room on it. He laid it on the linoleum floor. He had to write in larger letters, which weren’t as straight, because of the surface he was on. He managed to scratch out a few more words: “Please keep going Courtney, for Frances, for her life which will be so much happier without me. I love you. I love you.” Those last words, written larger than anything else, had completed the sheet. He laid the note on top of a pile of potting soil, and stabbed the pen through the middle, so that like a stake it held the paper aloft over the soil.
He took the shotgun out of its soft nylon case. He carefully folded the case, like a little boy putting away his best Sunday clothes after church. He took off his jacket, laid it on top of the case, and put the two towels on top of this pile. Ah, empathy, a sweet gift. He went to the sink and drew a small amount of water for his drug cooker and sat down again. He pulled the box of 25 shotgun shells open and took three out, sticking them in the magazine of the gun. He moved the action on the Remington so that one shell was in the chamber. He took off the gun’s safety.
He smoked his last Camel Light. He took another sip of the Barq’s. Outside an overcast day was beginning—it was a day like the one in which he had first come into this world, 27 years, one month, and sixteen days earlier. Once, in his journal he had attempted to tell the story of that very first moment of his life: “My first memory was a light aqua green tile floor and a very strong hand holding me by my ankles. This force made it clear to me that I’m no longer in water and I cannot go back. I tried to kick and squirm, back to the hole, but he just held me there, suspended in my mother’s vagina. It was like he was teasing me, and I could feel the liquid and blood evaporating and tightening my skin. Reality was oxygen consuming me, and the sterile smell of never going back into the hole, a terror that could never be repeated again. Knowing this was comforting, and so I began my first ritual of dealing with things. I did not cry.”
He grabbed his cigar box and pulled out a small plastic bag that held $100 worth of Mexican black tar heroin—it was a lot of heroin. He took half, a swab the size of a pencil eraser, and stuck it on his spoon. Methodically and expertly he prepared the heroin and his syringe, injecting it just above his elbow, not far from his “K” tattoo. He put the works back into the box and felt himself drift, rapidly floating away from this place. Jainism preached that there were thirty heavens and seven hells, all layered throughout our lives; if he had any luck, this would be his seventh and final hell. He put his works away, floating faster and faster, feeling his breathing slow. He had to hurry now: Everything was becoming hazy, and an aqua green hue framed every object. He grabbed the heavy shotgun, put it against the roof of his mouth. It would be loud; he was certain of that. And then he was gone.