By Olivia Martin
There’s something burning in my chest, and it’s reminding me of black nails gleaming out from beneath the cuffs of a velvet jacket and the way your lips looked like they were dripping blood. Of a night where we stood in the middle of a steaming rain puddle right underneath that ginormous chandelier with a glossy playbook clutched in your tiny hand, how it was the memorial service to the youth slipping through our fingers.
This isn’t the end, you had told me, but it was, darling, because I’m picking apart the strings that have tied us together, one for each month of each year that I have loved you with every screaming cell of this useless sack of skin, unraveling it all so it won’t hurt when we step back from one another and realize we aren’t the same people that we were seven years ago, a gentle fraying of the edges instead of the heart wrenching and snapping. I’ve got my hands buried up to the elbows in thread, and the fuzz is tickling the inside of my wrist, the spot with the scar that you always kiss, and you can’t feel the end coming but I can, I see it in my dreams—sometimes it’s a vision that’s going to burn your eyes up from the inside out because it’s so beautiful in its disaster, falling stars and sightless eyes and hands that grope in the darkness for someone to hold, a goddamn horror movie, only in my head it’s me and you and that stupid velvet jacket you always wear.
Don’t think about getting older, you had told me, when the college brochures started piling up on my kitchen counter and you were still smoking those stupid cigarettes that you know I hate, (I’m never going to lose the scent of you, that smoke is in every crevice of my car and locked in the folds of my sweaters, and someday I’ll be sixty-seven years old sitting on one of those crinkly sheets that they pull over the examination beds in a doctor’s office hearing about how I’ve got lung cancer, and I’m still going to be thinking of you and how I should have thrown them all out the window, god damn it, and even when I’m being told that my life is about to be over, done with, blinking out of existence like a burnt out lightbulb, I will find myself thinking of you and your stupid cigarette smile.) but I’m a girl that seems to be fueled by beginnings and endings, forgetting what lies between. And when you’re thinking of the two of us at this movie we’re going to see on Saturday night, I’m thinking of the end of the free fall, like airplanes crashing and bodies hitting pavement, only instead it is about the two of us seeing how we’ll crash and burn and break apart, about dishes smashed on tile flooring and screaming matches in the dairy aisle of the grocery store and all those scars that we are dragging up and throwing into the limelight, giving those old wounds their well-deserved fifteen minutes of fame because we were too ashamed to show them when they first happened. When really, the ending of us is probably going to go something like a few missed phone calls turning into a few missed dates, and one day we’ll turn around and find out that we haven’t talked to each other in a week, and it won’t hurt, except for those moments in the middle of the night where the bass line starts thrumming in the music from the apartment full of people next door and the total insignificance of our lifetimes hits you, see, that’s what I’m thinking about on this night when we are supposed to be trying to do something special, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, sorry sorry sorry sorry sorrysorrysorrysorry—maybe if I say it enough we will find a way to stay together—except.
Except for the fact that we won’t, and you decided that, and because this is one of those moments where I stretched out my arm when I was half asleep, the remembering didn’t quite come to me quite as fast as it normally does. It’s easier to find the shape of your face in the darkness, to call up facts and dates and the smell of your perfume, even though it was always covered up by the scent of your cigarettes that I kept throwing in the trash for the longest time, but it didn’t matter, because you are not here, and it did not matter that I tried to pull away from you because you ran away from me, straight from my arms to a bottle of pills and a razor blade. You did it in the back garden, and what’s awful is the whole time that they were telling me about what you had done (A policeman with a pen clutched in his hands, he kept clicking it, don’t think he knew he was doing it, but that’s what I remember about it, nothing about what he was saying, just that there were ants crawling up my shins and past my knees and there was a white wash of noise in my ears so I had to sit down. That, and click, click, click.) I was only thinking about how I never thought that in the end that you would choose something that ordinary, so now I’ve got pictures of you flashing across my eyelids every time I try to sleep—tilting your head back and letting the gasoline fall, catching in the hollows of your collar bones and stinging your eyes and dripping into that red-painted mouth you used to kiss me with right before you lit the match, a pocket full of rocks and waves biting at your ankles, standing on the edge of a roof with your beat up converse peeking over the edge, the pink ones, your last words whispered into the wind—but the truth is that you stretched out across the grass and laid there for a while, tucked a flower from your mother’s garden back behind your right ear and died looking at the clouds, like leaving us behind was nothing more to you than lying out to take an afternoon nap you had no intention of drawing away from.
Your mother told me that your little brother found you.
I didn’t want to know that.
She also told me that you left me your velvet jacket—had it all folded up on your reading bench with a yellow sticky note on top.
I couldn’t tell her I could never wear it.
I couldn’t tell her a lot of things, actually, like about how maybe this was my fault, how maybe I knew, that I must have known, really, because that’s why I left the ringer on my phone at full volume, even at church and in the middle of the night, because I was terrified I would miss your call the one time you really needed me, and I counted all those pills from your wisdom teeth surgery when you weren’t looking (And that one night, the one I try to talk about but you won’t, where I found you sobbing on the edge of that bridge, the one the kids all say is haunted, one leg thrown over the wall and your body bent over so far that your forehead was touching the cement. You looked like a puppet that someone had let go of and forgotten about. When I got to you, you were crying, and neither of us could move for a half hour because we were so scared what might happen if you slipped, and you promised, you promised, you promised that you would never do something like that again.) and I tried to be enough, I tried to make myself strong enough for the both of us, but I guess I couldn’t.
There are a lot of things I couldn’t do, things I think would have shocked you, because you always told me that I was the kind of person who just punched her feelings but not this time, this time I just fell apart and tried to imprint every inch of you into my memory. I did things like curl into a ball at the bottom of the shower until the water went ice cold, then I just sat there and froze and imagined how you would sound scolding me about the freshwater crisis that we were about to face and dragged myself out onto the tile floor thinking of starving polar bears. I pulled out sweaters that had been intended to stay out of sight until September and tried to catch a trace of you in the sleeves but couldn’t, so I went to the dollar store and bought a pack of cigarettes for myself even though the cashier knew I wasn’t old enough and then I couldn’t even wait until I got home, just turned the corner and chain smoked them while leaning against the scratchy brick wall, and when it was all over, I puked beside the dumpster three times. I couldn’t make myself go to your funeral, either.
Did you hear that?
I didn’t go to your funeral.
What I did, though, is two weeks later I went out and bought a rose, just one, then tied a golden ribbon around the stem, because that’s the color that reminds me the most of you, and I don’t know why, really, because your lips were red and the stupid jacket no one wears is purple and your nails were always black, but something about you was golden. So I took that golden ribbon and wound it around that flower stem and threw it down to your grave, but before I did I stuck my finger on the thorn and smeared it on the petals, red with red, and it’s like a part of me was going with you, too, because that flower has a piece of me and that flower’s going to become a piece of you, and at least a part of us will be together.
Stop dreaming of tomorrows, you told me, and it brought me back to you even though at the time, I would have much rather stayed in my head, because at the moment I was dreaming about death and that had seemed fun, at the time. Start dreaming about me.
I didn’t tell you that I already was.
Maybe I should have.
Maybe you would still be here if I had, but I can promise you this: I’m dreaming of you now, all kinds of dreams, dreams where you are happy and dreams are where you are sad and dreams where we are separated by an invisible wall and I can’t find the door and when I do find the door I have to unlock it with an invisible key and on the other side you are suffocating. I dream about you handing that rose out to me, and when I take it, your fingers scratch my skin, and I realize that you are nothing but bone. I dream about you coming back to life. I dream about dying with you. I dream about coming home, about finding peace, about dragging childhood out of the ashes and forcing you to love me for one last moment before it all goes to shit.
I think I’ll know I moved on when I start dreaming about goodbye scenes.(Do you think you’ll look the same in that kind of dream, or will you have gotten older, too?)