There was a girl once.
The funny thing is, I expected the call. And it went down almost exactly as I thought it would. “Have you heard yet?” said the message. I hadn’t. Then I keyed onto what must be going on and I clicked over to her brother’s page. There it is. It is real. I’d known it would come, of course I did. I’d known for at least fifteen years. I may have deluded myself into thinking it wouldn’t. Fifteen years is a long time and even after two attempts, she hadn’t managed to kill herself yet. It was always in the back of my mind. Good god, it was there in impact black, and I couldn't help but think I didn’t do enough.
Grief, in the rare times I’ve felt it, is never a constant thing. It comes in waves and between crests I always have the troubling thought that because I am doing fine in that instant I must lack some sort of component basic for human experience. But the wave will come back and I won’t be able to breath or think straight. I’ll talk at walls, I curse, and find myself laughing without humor, and trying different faces on to find one that is real.
The first wave didn’t come immediately. I think I sat maybe a minute or two before responding with something like, “I just did,” and then for a minute more while trying to think of what I was supposed to do.
I had a dinner recipe on my mind, I’d just logged into to check messages. Those ideas were all still there and slow to depart. Then I remembered a day, something like being on a street corner with her talking about something stupid while waiting for the light to change. That’s the first wave. It hit with full force and I was laughing. Not any sort of happy laughter. Not any sort of malicious laughter. Just meaningless laughter because my brain couldn’t let tears come. Then that wave subsided.
I was fine again, but only for a short while and then I was crying. It didn’t last long. Again, crests and troughs, but it passed and I needed water. I knew very shortly I’d have to leave the apartment. Being alone was suffocating. Awful, awful silence. I filled it by babbling. I spoke to myself, I said her name, I called her an idiot, I told her I loved her, I scolded myself for talking to myself, and I thought again of her-- a plastic memory; one I wasn’t sure was real. A Fourth of July ago in the apartment, the same apartment, and she was looking in my refrigerator, “Only you’d put the fucking beer behind the soda.” Maybe she said it like that. I don’t know.
And then: God, her wife. If I’m coping by talking to my refrigerator how is her wife dealing?
I sat down to write something, anything, to her brother, but each time I put something down I noticed I kept using the word “I” and I would delete the entire letter. Too selfish. Too selfish. You’re making it about you. Even now I hate these I’s. I put the idea aside as I sought out some liquor.
But, how does one understand somebody else except through themselves? My friend has had a profound impact on my understanding of the world. There were three of us against the world, and we had our adventures, some I hadn’t thought of in years, and they all crowded up as I drank the bottle. She wasn’t my best friend, but she wasn’t my second best either. She was simply herself and my understanding of her fluctuated in a weird in-between state where sometimes I considered her one or the other and often both at once.
How can I even describe her? I can describe myself reasonably well, but to paint a full picture of another person? I can’t do it. We’re all full of contradictions. We’re both light and dark. I can explain likes and interests and opinions until I too am gone, but it won’t encompass anything except myself and what I thought. There’s no canvas expansive enough, nor book long enough to put the totality of any person in perspective. I can’t do it accurately, and even if I could, there would not be room. So I uses I and she, and spell her name out in the tiny corners of my mind understanding that now she is gone I can never recapture any of her light except as a shadow of myself she casts upon the wall.
I may have racked up some thousands of conversation hours with her and have known her as well as anybody outside her immediate family could and yet I can’t comprehend her totality.
To say I don’t know why she did it would be untrue. There’s some talk about an aunt and a final straw, I don’t know the details-- it’s not my business. That she had serious depression, that half her family didn’t accept her, would misgender her, didn’t help. Her self-destructive tendencies have always made me uneasy. I once had to get some knives away from her when she’d gone bat-shit crazy on drugs. One incident, but emblematic of the problem, and in the back of my mind the thought if you keep trying to kill yourself, eventually you will succeed. So, you can recommend help, recommend counseling, be supportive, talk the talk and in the end, time and darkness win.
I do not know what conclusion I can draw or what lesson I can learn, if there is one to learn. I keep thinking about the violence in the world and how horrified I can become watching cellphone captures of shootings and murders. None of these were my friend however, and I can hardly wrap my head around a world where I can’t hop online and ask her opinion about something. The world seems as if it should have stopped with her. Ground to a halt. Acknowledged her in some way.
I had, after finishing a good video game two days before she left, considered recommending it. I wanted to know her opinion. I have a copy of Undertale I haven’t finished yet and she wanted to know my opinion on it.
There are a million things I want to talk about. I need to know her opinion on hundreds of books, thousands of movies, millions of pieces of music.
Here’s an memory of her playing her cello in a flood tunnel, surrounded by candles and cigarette smoke, and she looks so damn cool, the image sticks in my head and reverberates for years like one of her cello strings.
Here’s an image of her furious at some slight from the world. She declaims the evil unilaterally holding her dixie cup high in one hand as she reaches the denouncement of her rambling, drunken plan.
Here’s an image of her and another friend bickering like a married couple as they tried to get some video game characters to function like real humans. “Why the hell are you still playing that?” I ask. “It’s been five fuck’n hours.”
She turns away from the game and stares at me with her eyes pinwheeling and bloodshot, “Because my stupid Sim won’t stop pissing herself!”
Here’s an image. We’re sitting in front of a computer, trying to burn a disc one of her “Groove Chi on a CD” discs, and the computer makes a grinding noise right before it crashes forever. We open the disc drive and the disc comes out in tiny cubes. We stare at each other in gobsmacked surprise.
Here’s an image. We’re walking from downtown to the Northeast Heights. A four hour walk or more. It’s midnight and the moon is out. We’re walking up a street, when we notice a big dog walking along the fence near us. It immediately gets mean when it notices it has been spotted. She puts her cello case between us and the dog and we walk backwards up the entire block as the dog stalks us.
More images than I can count, and none really seem to encapsulate anything. It’s the whole picture I want.
It feels like unfinished business.
I used to joke with her that I wouldn’t go to her funeral if smoking killed her. They didn’t though and now I think back and worry at those words. I know too much about her end and I hate it.
If I send a missive out into the void, to ask a question, to start a conversation, I will never get a response. There are worlds spinning about my head that are more reachable. There’s no P.O. Box there, no zip code, the internet doesn’t reach. Give me a time machine, I’ll know the address, and I’ll say hi to my old friend.
These are all jumbled thoughts and I won’t reorder them. There’s the wave again, and I have to stop.
There was a girl once.