I’d come over his place for coffin sessions once a month or so. We always planned it ahead of time. He knew what I was there for. As soon as I’d walk in the door, he’d pick me up, carry me to the basement and place me in the coffin, which was already open for me to lie down in. We didn’t speak. For all intents and purposes, I was already a corpse. He’d then close the lid and leave me there for a while. I never really knew how long “a while” was until I got out and asked him. Sometimes it’d be just half an hour. Other times it’d be two hours or more. All sense of time tends to lose meaning once you’re in that black hole.
When I’d make plans with him, it’d also be quick and easy. I’d e-mail or text him asking if I can come over on a specific day or time and he’d say yes or suggest another time and we’d both know it was for this. If I wanted to see him for anything else, I’d usually ask him out or to come over. Otherwise, he knew what was up.
It started a couple of years ago, when we were still having sex and experimenting with kink. We had covered a lot of the basics: spanking, flogging, bondage, etc. And then I told him I’d kind of like to try caging or confinement. He thought about it and decided that the spare caskets he had in his basement would be perfect for it. They were a couple of sample ones that he kept in his basement because the design on them had gotten messed up.
I was apprehensive about it at first, but I agreed to do it as I had asked for (something like) it in the first place. We went downstairs and he introduced me to the one I’d be staying in. It was thick, dark wood paneling. I ran my fingers along its edges. It felt smooth, but not particularly inviting.
The first time he put me in there and locked it, I started to panic. A minute passed, or at least I think it was a minute. Then several. Then I don’t know how many. It was pitch black in there. I couldn’t see anything at all, not even my own hand when I had placed it right in front of my face. I started banging on the top of the casket. I screamed:
“Let me out! John! Where are you? Come back! I don’t want to do this anymore! Please??” This and a host of other pleas, but it was to no avail. No one came. And I soon figured that he probably couldn’t hear me anyway, as he had probably gone back upstairs and I was screaming from inside a wooden box in the basement.
Eventually I stopped trying and just lay there completely still, staring into the blackness. For some time, I thought I really had died. I started remembering things and people I hadn’t thought about in years. This is what happens when you’re about to die, isn’t it? Your life starts flashing before your eyes in a series of important and not-so-important moments.
But I didn’t die. I heard footsteps in the room some time later. Heard them inching towards me, he unlatched the bolt and opened the coffin. I let out a sigh of relief.
“So… how was it?” he said.
“Oh, my God,” I yelped, as I jumped out of the thing, elated to be free again. “Terrible, awful and kind of amazing!”
He told me I was in there for an hour. I told him it felt like three months, particularly because I had no idea when or if it would end. I turned around and looked back at the coffin, expecting to see some kind of monster, but it was the same wooden box I had laid my eyes on an hour earlier.
We went back upstairs, to his bedroom and I fucked him like I had never fucked anyone before. He was much taller than me and strong from all the carpentry. Normally he’d throw me around when we had sex, but this time I jumped on top of him and rode him into oblivion, with my hair cascading down unto his face.
I could tell he was relishing my enthusiasm. But it wasn’t about him, really. I just needed to do something. or someone, to feel alive again. I was so content to actually still be able to do this: to be alive and free. I was skeptical that an afterlife even existed and even if it did, I doubted there was sex there.
But we stopped having sex eventually somehow. It just trailed off over time until we weren’t doing it at all anymore. It became boring, as sex often does when it’s “just sex.” I wasn’t in love with him. I don’t think he was in love with anything. It wasn’t going anywhere. We were just friends who used to fuck and then we were no longer fucking. But we kept doing the coffin sessions. It wasn’t a kink anymore, really, since I associate kinks with sex and we weren’t having sex. It was more like… therapy. I needed to die every so often to feel alive again.
The next times, I’d focus on the things I thought about while I was in there. I got less and less terrified the more times I did it, though I still had flashes of paranoia at times. What if he leaves the house and forgets that I’m there? What if he gets sick or gets in a car accident or goes to jail or something and no one except him will know about me?
Some fear that this was “the end” was still there. Plus he left me in there for longer than usual sometimes, or at least varied the duration to keep me on my toes. Or off them, rather. Moments of my life would flash before me. My mother: I hadn’t seen her in months; It occurred to me that maybe I should go visit and try to repair that relationship. Exes that I hadn’t seen or talked to in years: I wondered which ones of them I could still even tolerate and that maybe I should reach out to some.
If you loved somebody once, surely you should still be able to at least talk to them and care about them in some way, right?
The art and business projects I had always dreamed of starting and never got around to or started and didn’t finish: Whatever it was that my mind tended to focus on during a particular coffin visit, I’d try to work out in life in the next few weeks or months or however long it took.
John and I didn’t have sex for months now. I started wanting to do other things after the coffin sessions to make myself feel alive. He seemed to understood. Or, at least, he didn’t protest. As he was dealing with the dead everyday, I gathered that he was content to assist someone else in feeling alive, in whatever way they wanted to.
We’d usually go out for dinner or a drink after one of these episodes and talk for a while. He indulged all my stories and ideas. Sometimes, he’d help me work through them and figure out what to focus on. We’d talk about him and his work, too.
Being in the coffin manufacturing business in New York meant you got to see all sorts of things. Bodies of hookers and pimps, rape victims, heroin addicts, meth junkies, people with AIDS, suicide successes and, of course, the endless parade of the corpses of the old. I asked him once how he managed it.
“Isn’t it off-putting and depressing to be dealing with this kind of stuff every day?”
“Eh. Once you do it day and day out, you kind of get used to it. It’s just another job,” he shrugged.
“What happens when someone you love dies? And you and your guys might have to work on it?”
“I don’t know,” he said… then chewed on it for a few more seconds. “No one I know has died in a while.”
I wasn’t sure who it was that he even loved. His parents lived a few hours away in upstate New York. They didn’t talk much, as far as I knew, and he’d go up to see them for holidays once a year or so. He hadn’t had a girlfriend in, seemingly, years. And there was a local crew of guys in the Lower East Side that he’d go drinking with on occasion, but I’m not sure how close any of them were. Then again, I’m usually not sure how close any friendships between men ever get. Maybe he was really the dead man walking.
He told me his business was doing really well. That after the market crash of 2008, a lot of investors flocked to him, because, as opposed to everything else, they figured this was a safe investment.
“You can’t lose in the business of death,” he said and smirked.
I joked that his pick up line with the ladies could be just that: “I’m a stable investment, baby. I can take care of you. My business is never going to lose money.” He laughed at that thought, but changed the subject soon enough.
I couldn’t tell if he was even interested in women anymore. Maybe he purposely tried to stay away from women, and people in general. Don’t get too close, lest you’ll have to burry them someday.
But he’d tell me stories. Stories of the corpses passing through the morgue and through his doors and through his coffins. One woman’s long-time struggle with AIDS and how her parents or family didn’t even know about it until she died. She’d alienated them all on purpose, so they wouldn’t find out. The New York University library leapers all wound up in his coffins, too. He joked about them.
“What’s up, guys? Too much homework got you down?? Or is it all that acne that you can’t get rid off?”
I glared at him, reproachfully.
“Oh, come on!” he exclaimed. “You know all that teenage angst is bullshit. You grow up eventually and you learn to deal with it. In fact, it gets worse, and you just learn to cope. What real problems does a 20-year-old actually have?? They ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
I didn’t bother arguing. Maybe he was right and he had certainly seen everything in his line of work. But I still thought it was sad.
I took all the stories as cautionary tales and as a reminder that my life wasn’t that bad, after all. I didn’t actually want to kill myself, I just needed a little pick me up every once in a while. Sometimes, when I felt myself getting more disillusioned and lazy, I’d come over more often. Other times, when I was happier, busy and motivated, I’d do it less often. He didn’t mind either way. It was just putting another body, albeit a live one, into another coffin for a while. A coffin that was just hanging out in his basement and doing nothing anyway.
“Might as well put it to use!” he said.
More recently, I started going there less frequently. It occurred to me that I hadn’t been back in a few months. I had gotten busy with a new publishing company project with a friend and was also dating a new guy. An artist who was egging me on to write more and collaborating with me on design for the publishing business. Things were, more or less, good. Besides, I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell my new business partners or love interest about these coffin sessions, as I’m not sure how they’d take it, so I just stopped doing them for a while. But I wanted to see John and catch up anyway, so I called him up and asked him out to dinner.
“Oh, are we just going to play at being alive today?” he said. It may have been the first time in a while he acknowledged our game out loud.
I met up with him at a local Mexican restaurant. We talked like we have always talked … about everything, the living, the dead and everyone in between. Except my reviews of a recent trip to the coffin were obviously missing from the conversation. I told him about the new guy and the business project.
“You look good,” he said.
“Thanks. You do, too,” I said, but wasn’t sure if I meant it. He looked the same as always: shaggy messed up hair, dirty hands, rough around the edges, with a bunch of dents and bruises all over the place from building coffins and transporting the dead.
“Hey John?” I said.
“What if I put you in that coffin sometime?”