Contains mentions of alcohol, suicide, and includes swearing.
I didn’t know what the first step of moving past a tragedy could even be. That’s what Jennifer, my therapist, said to do. As I sit on the floor of this room, looking at his stuff and his bed, I can’t even fathom the next right thing. All I can think about is how we’ll never share a holiday, birthday, or milkshake ever again. The only thing I can think is that everything has changed.
Wiping my eyes, I decided instead to think about all the things he’d tell me to do. I continued to gaze at his bed. Still unmade, still looking used. He still had those stupid silk leopard print sheets on it. What would you say to do, Basil?
“Lilah, you’ve got to feel it.” His voice echoes in my head.
“But it hurts so much.” I say aloud to myself. I bring my knees to my chest and rest my chin there.
“That’s true, Lilah, but still. After you cry it out, we’ll go get milkshakes. Come lay here, heifer.” The illusion of him my brain was on his bed, patting the pillow next to him.
Listening to a hallucination probably wasn’t healthy, but I did. I climbed into his bed, falling apart again when I smelled his perfume on the pillows. My sobs turned into heaves, filling up the silence in his apartment again.
A good hour later, I got up and walked to the en suite. I washed my face, ignoring the puffiness. I brushed my teeth and hair. I felt refreshed as I bent over to put my hair. As I stood up, I thought I caught him in the mirror, but I didn’t.
“Right,” I confirm. “Milkshakes at Ray’s and then flowers at Sunny’s.” Our apartment building was located just around the corner from the flower shop, so I’d hit it on the way back. Knowing what we’d do if Basil were still here helped me to move a little faster. I didn’t want to head back after Sunny’s closed. Before I left the building, I popped into my apartment and got my things. Out of habit, I shared my location with Basil and was startled to hear his phone chime with the notification.
Still in the box it was shipped in, it sat there holding a lot of our memories. I shook my head and shared my location with one of the girls at my job with a message saying, “Just in case I go missing! Lol.” A few minutes later I was headed to Ray’s.
Today the city was breezy, but sunny. The air didn’t smell great, but it wasn’t overpowering today. I took a longer path today, the non-commuter path. I couldn’t deal with the faceless, hateful, on-the-go walking today. Basil always said that I should try not to take it so personally when people ignore me because they’re commuting, but jeez. There are some things about New York City I’ll never get used to.
I met Basil at college and we became best friends slowly, but I could tell you the moment we knew it. I was in a lot of the same classes as he was, in a few of the same groups. We started with working on papers together, then projects, and studied winter finals together. I didn’t have a family to go back to at Christmas, so I stayed on Campus. I was so lonely. I didn’t know who else to text, so I texted Basil as I was headed to his dorm. I found him standing outside of mine. After that, we hung out every break and then every day. Now we’ve done everything together since. I mean, look at our apartments.
When I got to Ray’s, I ordered our regular.
“Bad day?” The cashier knew us well and hearing her inquire made my upper lip quiver. I didn’t think about this part. I swallowed and nodded. “Your other half getting here soon? I can sit with you til he comes.”
“He’s-uh. He’s not. Coming, I mean.” I stammer, not being able to meet her eyes. I swallowed again, hopefully pushing the sobs back enough to tell her.
“Oh, he’s not?”
“He, ah ha. This is actually really hard for me to say. He um, he passed away in New Orleans last week.” She handed me the milkshake as her eyes welled up.
“Oh man, I am so sorry. Wow. That’s shitty.” I half laugh and nod. “Well, will you tell me when his service is? I’m sorry if this is weird but seeing you guys would make my day. I hate to see you without him.”
“Of course. Basil would say that you should bring wine. I’ll text you? I see you enough anyway.” I make the last sentence as an off-hand comment, but it makes me chuckle. Soon she’s laughing.
“Yeah, I think that’s more sad to me. You know my name and shit.”
“I’ll see you, Shan.”
“Later Lilah. Be safe pimpin’.” I waved as I left. I am thankful when the sun hits my face, warming up my tear stained face. I tilt my head back and let the heat engulf me. I wanted to think Basil was with me at this moment, because usually we’d be sharing this milkshake.
Except now Basil isn’t with me, New York City is massive, and I am alone. None of my other friends hold a candle to him. Their souls don’t dance with mine the way his did.
“Why did you go while I was sick, Basil? I could’ve gone with you. We could have prevented this.” I ask myself, Basil, and God as I walk back toward the flower shop. I knew why he went when he did; nonrefundable tickets. I just hated that those tickets were the catalyst.
When Basil said he wanted to go home to try to rekindle his relationship with his family, I felt weird about it. They never loved or accepted him after he came out as gay. I told him that it made me feel sick and that I felt dread at the thought of him going that far away.
“Why does it bug you so much?” He’d prodded.
“Those people have never treated you properly.”
“They have,” He paused as he washed the dishes in his sink. “Just..not since I came out of the closet.”
“Exactly, Basil. Don’t go. Call them. Stay here.” He shook his head as he put a cup in the dish drain. He looked at me from under his lashes with his blue eyes and I knew he was set on this. I put my hands on my hips and leaned backward into the counter. At that, he wordlessly went back to washing the dishes.
“This trip is my one opportunity to heal, Lilah. I have to have closure.” I knew how sad it made him to not be able to rely on them. I’d watched him sob into the phone to his mom to “Just please. Call me back. I love you.” He’d pray that they’d change, that he’d change, that something would give when he thought I wasn’t listening. I watched him break up with guys over them wanting to meet his family. Sometimes, he’d be drunk and beg me to tell him why he had to be different. He’d get hiccups and just ask why over and over. I knew. He deserved closure. He was always picking me up, but I was picking him up too. We were a team.
“Then take me with you.”
That was where we made our deal, then I got sick, and he went anyway. For the first few days, we were texting everyday all day. The last time we spoke to each other was on the phone.
“Mom is coming home tomorrow. Dad, Adam, and Cara haven’t told her. I wish they would’ve. It’s making me feel weird. Being in this room is getting old. I just want to see her and have that magic moment and then come home.”
“Are you nervous? I miss you, too. I am also sick of this flu.”
“I wish you were here. You and my brother would be cute together.”
“Please, Basil, I couldn’t date someone who didn’t support you from jump.” I could hear him laugh.
“No but seriously. I am getting on the first flight tomorrow afternoon. I can’t handle this much longer.”
“You’ve got this. One day more.”
“Another day, another destiny. I love you and shit heifer.”
“And I love you, my dear.” He laughed and we hung up.
Two days later, I got a call from his mom saying that he committed suicide and I was his emergency contact. My throat closed up and my breath hitched around the scream that wanted to come out.
“H-How? W-When?” I was choking on the words, trying to spit them out.
“It’s none of your business, just clear them to take his body from my house. I don’t want that leaking into the air more than it has.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but it was on brand for what he’d said about her.
“How did you-?”
“Shut up. I think you’re a cunt, but I am going to say this for your son, Basil. He loves you, momma. He understands,” I sob to the asshole on the other end of the call. “because he spent every day wishing he was normal.” I hung up and then booked a flight down to identify him and make arrangements for him to be flown home.
Today was the hardest because I cremated him this morning.
I rounded the corner to Sunny’s and entered. We’d come here once a week to see what the flower or plant of the day was. If it was cool or whacky enough, Basil would buy it and take it home. The florist greeted me and led me back to his favorite plant today. I stopped after he told me what it was. I couldn’t even believe it. I wasn’t one to believe in God full time, but there was no other way this could happen today. The florist, Lee, went on to tell me that this one was his favorite due to its hardiness and strength.
The plant in front of me was Basil. With a shaky breath and an even shakier hand, I bought it and carried it home. I placed it in the bay window, right next to Basil’s urn. The smell of the plant stuck to me, musky and earthy. Strong. I sat down on the floor in front of it and cried some more.
A second later, I get a text from Shan.
The plant of the day at Sunny’s is Basil. I bought you one. I’m by your apartment, can I drop it by?
This was Basil, my ever present guardian, assuring me that I’d never be alone.