Shawn Christensen – “Before I Disappear” (2014)


In the first draft of the last letter Richie would ever write, the New Yorker thought only of Vista. Since her disappearance, he’d been accused of being an observer, a user, a loner, a cleaner, a failure and a fool but never a participant. The drugs no longer worked; it was time to call it quits. Richie concluded his first draft with a set mind. Last night, cleaning bathroom stalls at The Devoe, he’d found the corpse of an overdosed woman; she’d reminded him of Vista. Richie had alerted the club owner, who’d dumped the body and given Richie several packets of heroin for his trouble.  Richie understood the intent behind the generosity, but had trouble caring.  Now, drugs flushed down the toilet, he settled into the bathtub’s red, lapping water.

In addition to participant, since Vista’s disappearance no one had accused Richie of being many things which he nevertheless was. For instance; amateaur bowler, doodler, album collector, and estranged brother.  As the reddening water cooled, the phone rang; his estranged sister was on the line. They had not spoken in years.  She was in jail, won’t say why, and demands that her silently bleeding brother pick her daughter up from school.

In the second draft of the last letter Richie would ever write, he informs Vista that he now feels worse, if that is possible. His 12-year-old niece, Sophia, is a gymnast that reads Emily Dickinson in Mandarin, was skipping 6th grade, and had significantly less interest in Richie than studying for tomorrow’s exam.  Richie downs a bottle of pills and hallucinates that drug dealers are calling him for money.  Richie threatens to shoot them, but the caller is Sophia, informing him that her mother is not yet home. Groggily, Richie agrees to come over. He calls his dealer to ask why the pills don’t put him to sleep, and is told he has taken a bottle of menopause medication.

Richie soon realizes that his sister’s apartment is being stalked by a strange blonde woman.  However, unwilling to take Sophia to the future crime scene of his apartment, the two wait in subways,  24-hour bowling alleys and nightclub lounges until his sister’s 4am arraignment. Over these hours, Richie discovers that the dead woman from last night was dating a powerful man, who is frantic to find her.  Reminded of Vista, Richie sneaks Sophia back to her apartment, finds the man to tell him his lover is dead, and is summarily beaten unconscious.  Richie wakens in a car with the man, who has paid for his sisters’ lawyer and never wants to see him again.  He drops Richie off at the courthouse, where the blond woman is waiting; she tells him his sister is having an affair with her husband.  Richie returns to his apartment and throws himself back into the red water. The phone rings incessantly; it is his sister. She invites him to dinner on Friday, but warns she will kill him if he disappoints Sophia and hangs up. Richie gets out of the tub.

In the final draft of the last letter Richie ever meant to write, he tells Vista that he has discovered a part of himself buried for many years that wants to see the sun rise tomorrow.

Excerpt  (Accompanied by David Bowie performing Five Years)    

Dear Vista, you’re not gonna believe this but I now feel worse than I did before. I’m not even kidding. Still, my plan remains the same but I cannot bear to return to the red water. I’m gonna try a softer approach this time. Something that won’t leave quite as much mess. Normally, as you know, I try to stay away from the pills because of the adverse side effects, especially the paranoid delusions. They’re usually the first to surface. I really hope it doesn’t happen now. Particularly the one delusion where I owe people money.

The ringing phone interrupted his scribblings.



“You got our money?”

“Who is this?”

“You know who this is. And you know the number. It’s 800 dollars.”

“800 dollars? Yeah, I thought it was 600.”

“No, that was yesterday. Today it’s 800.”

“Yeah, well, what if I give it to you tomorrow? What’s it gonna be then?”

“You won’t have it tomorrow, Richie. That’s the point. You’ll never have it.”

Richie lit a cigarette. “I’ll have it tomorrow. I’m gonna have it for you tomorrow at dinnertime.”

“Dinnertime. So 5 o’clock?”

“Dinnertime is 7 o’clock.”

“Dinnertime is 5 o’clock where I come from.”

“Yeah? Well, I guess you come from America. I come from New York where it’s 7 o’clock.”

“You full of shit, Richie, you ain’t gonna have our money by tomorrow.”

“I ain’t full of shit!”

“You’re so full of shit.”

“You’re so full of shit…You know what I’m full of?” Richie started to yell. “I’m full of 20 sleeping pills, you pile of dung shit. Okay? So I’m gonna be long gone by tomorrow comes around.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Yeah, that’s right. I’ll be facedown in a puddle of my own puke by the time you show up here, okay? So meet me up whenever. 5 o’clock, 7 o’clock, I don’t care. I’m gonna be long gone, you understand?”

“You fuckin’ psycho.”

“600 dollars, 800 dollars, why don’t we just make it a thousand? Go fuck yourself!” Sloppily, he crashed the phone to it’s cradle. A party was going in the hall outside the apartment, music started playing. The phone rang again.

“I’m coming to see you now, Richie.”

“No, that doesn’t work for me.”

“We’ll just see about those sleeping pills.”

“You come tomorrow night, dinnertime.”

“You just stay right there.”

“I’m gonna be long gone by the time you come around.”

“I’m already in the building.”


“I said I’m already in the building, Richie.”


“There’s a party going on up there, right? Yeah, Richie. Party celebrating the longest day of the year.”

Richie’s looked at the door. “Nah, there ain’t no party going on up here.”

“Oh, yes there is. They’re playing music up there. I can hear it.”

“Yeah? What song are they playing?”

“It’s a good song, Richie. It’s David Bowie, I think…yeah, it is. It’s ‘Five Years’ by David Bowie.” The line went dead.

Richie floated to the hallway as if a dream. All around were people in costume.  He lifted a mask from an unconscious boy, a cardboard bow from a cupid, and faced the elevator. It opened. Inside was Vista, she reached for him. In his hand, the phone rang.  He was broken. He was hollow. He spoke without inflection, “I’m gonna shoot you in the face with a bow and arrow.”

Sophia answered, “She hasn’t come home.”  


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