Tobacco Was My Key to Eternal Life

Beyond my memories of The Verb, I walked through McCarren Park. One afternoon, a girl there had bitten a chunk of her apple’s core off for me to drop into my tobacco pouch in order to keep it fresh. I thought that piece of fruit had come from the Tree of Life. Thus, that tobacco was my key to eternal life.

At the corner of Manhattan Avenue and Nassau Avenue, right on the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, I stood outside that old apartment building where, once upon a time inside, I’d broken Charlie’s own cellphone across his forehead my last day in Brooklyn. He’d moved out about a month after I did. While I was still convalescing in Richmond, my mom had told me that, unable to make the rent, he’d gone back to his parents’ place in New Jersey. I’ve never spoken to him since he tricked me into the ambulance that night at The Verb. It’s not out of resentment. It’s out of respect. With tattooed madness glaring from underneath my wife-beater, I narrowed my eyes. I lit a cigarette and stared up at our old window. I said, “You never thought I’d make it back here, did you? Well, here I am. I made it. Nobody thought it was possible, but I did it.”

Click here to start this story from the beginning.

Or click here to keep going.

Back on the Brooklyn Side of the River

Once back on the Brooklyn side of the river, I walked with purpose up to Bedford Avenue, the heart of Williamsburg, my old stomping grounds. Strolling down those blocks, six years later, I could tell the neighborhood had changed. The clientele appeared to have more money. The fashion was more refined, but some things had stayed exactly the same. There was The Verb café. I remembered my last day in Brooklyn back in 2002…

When I’d thrown my phone away in a trash can at the edge of McCarren Park for some reason I don’t quite remember why… Then, at my old apartment, I’d broken Charlie’s, my roommate’s, phone across his forehead when he wouldn’t let me take it to replace my own. He’d wrestled me down to the ground, put me in a headlock before he told me to get the fuck outta there

So I walked over to an old friend of ours’ place. I knocked on her door because I believed she was Mary Magdalene. When Samantha answered, spectacularly dressed as always in a flowing black dress, she nearly sobbed, “Gabriel, what’s going on? I just got off the phone with Charlie…”

“I know who I am,” I told her, and I smiled.

“Oh my God,” she said, “What are you talking about?”

“I’m Lucifer,” I said.

“Gabriel,” she slowly began, “I need you to think carefully. Is there anybody you can trust right now?”

“My mom,” I eventually responded, “I’ve always trusted my mom.”

Samantha handed me a pen and a blank piece of paper. “Write your mom’s phone number down for me,” she said. I did, but when she went away to make that phone call, I left her darkened doorway alone.

Later that same evening, as the sun was setting across New York’s battered skyline, Samantha found me again strolling up and down Bedford Avenue – right in front of where a bubble tea shop now stood when I returned to Williamsburg in 2008. By then, I didn’t know what had gone so wrong. I’d been trying to refashion this world into an image of heavenly perfection, but the angels refused to join my game. I was starting to doubt everything. “I need you to call your mom,” Samantha said to me.

She walked me over to the payphone outside the Bedford Ave L train station. I don’t know if they still have payphones there or not. I’ve never needed them again. Samantha dialed the number for me, and when my mom answered, she said to me, “Tell your mom exactly what you told me at my apartment. Tell your mom who you said you are…”

I put the phone to my ear. “Mom,” I said, “I’m Lucifer…”

There was a pause at the other end. Then, my mom asked, “Gabriel, is Samantha still with you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Can I talk to her?”

I handed the phone back to Samantha. When she hung up, she said, “Gabriel, I need you to come with me,” and she touched my shoulder.

Everything was so wrong. I’d been misled. I wasn’t an angel. I wasn’t Lucifer. I was only Gabriel Abrams – a simple human being. This woman who had touched me, this being who called herself “Samantha,” the same witch’s name from that old TV show I’d watched all those years ago on Nick at Nite (preparing me somehow magically for this precise moment), was divine, and it was forbidden a fallen creature like me to have physical contact with that descendent of heaven. When she rested her hand on my shoulder, we’d broken the taboo, and that meant only one thing: I was to die.

As if an angelic spear launched from her palm straight into my heart, coldness seeped out of my stomach and through all my limbs. I began trembling. Samantha looked at me with a sort of compassion I’d never seen one being visit upon another, and in her gaze, I realized death was imminent. It wasn’t something abstract. It wasn’t something still to come in a far-off, distant time and place. The Great Nothingness edged into my consciousness. I awaited the sudden disappearance of everything – my senses, my memories, my feelings – and my reemergence into a divine “One” of undifferentiated experience.

Samantha walked me back to that café I’d just passed upon my return to New York, The Verb. She sat me down at a wooden table inside, and she stepped back out to make a phone call. I could see her through the window. I sat quietly awaiting the inevitable end of everything I’d ever known. Charlie came in and sat down at the table across from me. He was nervous. I thought he’d been sent to punish me for my sins, which were legion. Two policemen, speaking into chest-mounted walkie-talkies, stood staring from the doorway. An ambulance’s flashing lights illuminated the street.

“Gabriel, will you please go with the policemen?” Charlie asked.

I shook my head, No.

“Will you get in the ambulance, then?” he went on.

Again, I shook my head, No.

Charlie paused. He looked around. From behind the counter, the barista leaned forward. Poised to pounce, he was listening intently to how our conversation progressed. Charlie said, “Gabriel, I think I’m going to go to the hospital because I need some help. But I’m a little scared about that. Will you please come with me?”

I nodded, Yes. I never saw Brooklyn again until I returned that August of 2008.

Click here to start this story from the beginning.

Or click here to keep going.