Trigger warning: Suicide
Charlie, by the time you read this, it will be too late…
Charlotte Young folded the paper, unable to bring herself to read the last words he left behind. The last words she would ever know. And on the one year anniversary of his death, Charlie vowed, once and only once, this was the last time she would say goodbye.
It was the summer of ‘69 when it happened. The day Charlie found her husband, Theodore, dead in their bedroom. It was a hot day, she remembered. She also remembered waking up in his arms that morning — those arms that kept her safe, that carried his warmth, the weight of his love, that gently rocked their son back to sleep when he became fussy in the night. Those arms she’ll no longer find comfort in.
And no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t seem to remember his face. She couldn’t remember the small crinkles around his eyes, or the upward turn of his lips, or the scar adorned on his cheek, or that smile. The smile that reminded her of a flower blooming on the first day of spring. The smile she fell in love with.
Now all that was left in her memory was a corpse. Her husband disguised as this dead thing she didn’t even recognize.
Something tore inside of her chest that day. Her heart. Its roots detaching from its armored home, as if someone reached inside of her and wound it up like a clock; ligaments, arteries, tendons snapping piece by fragile piece. It was slow. Painful. It didn’t stop hurting — it never stopped hurting — and she was exhausted.
Days, weeks, months went by, and she floated around the house, her mind above the clouds. Every day was the same. She would wake up on the couch from a restless stupor, wrapped in Theodore’s shirt, puttered around with the coffee maker until something that resembled coffee came out, grabbed a slice of bread and slabbed some peanut butter on it, folding it like a taco only to throw it away because she was always too nauseous to eat.
Then there was her son, Lucas. Her beautiful little boy with his golden hair and dimpled, rosy cheeks. The little boy that kept her tender heart beating. He would run out of his room in his space pajamas that were two sizes too small, leap into her arms, and she would hold him close, making a silent promise to him that she’ll never leave. No matter how bad it got, no matter how much it hurt, she would stay.
One day he said, “Why did daddy leave?” And all she could do was hold him and cry.
On the first anniversary of Theodore’s death, Charlie sat on their bed — the bed she found him on, an orange pill bottle cradled in the sheets beside him. She couldn’t bear to be in that room. The air was heavy, tainted; like someone spilled milk and left it there to fester in the heat. She hadn’t even slept in the bed since that day. But, how could she? How could anyone? The only time she was in there was when she needed a new shirt to wear because the one she had on no longer smelled like her husband; it smelt like her tears and sorrow. It was a horrible smell. Death smelled better.
She grabbed the pillow, pressing her face against it, and screamed. It lurched from deep inside her, a wail opening up her throat, vibrating her vocal cords until they were raw. Until they were bleeding. This is all my fault, she thought. I failed him.
This is not your fault, her mother told her one time. But Charlie knew in her heart it was. She wondered what she could have said to him to make it stop hurting. She didn’t understand his pain. But now, it’s like he buried his own suffering into her, the scar of his hurt pulsing like an after shock, and she finally understood.
She hurled the grief-soaked pillow across the room and hit a lamp, glass exploding, tumbling across the floor. Instead of cleaning it up, she just sat there and stared at the mess because it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore. She just wanted her husband back.
After what felt like hours, she rose from the bed and carefully made her way to her jewelry box. That’s where she kept the note; so the temptation to read it didn’t smother her. But today was different. This persistent feeling of pining to know why her husband committed suicide ate away at her the way acid ate flesh.
This is the last time, she told herself, her trembling fingers gathering the note. This is the last time we say goodbye.
Charlie arrived at the beach, holding the letter close to her chest as she watched the people around her dissolve into laughter. Her heart twitched with resentment. There was something so wrong seeing the warmth on people’s faces in a place so cold. It was as if her husband had taken away all the color and beauty the world had to offer. And now, everything just seemed so black and white.
She perched herself at the edge of a rock, a butterfly flapping its wings in her esophagus as she unfolded the letter. She closed her eyes and inhaled the salty air, a single tear squeezing out and landing on the words until a bubble formed. That was just one of many of them. Tiny braille like bumps blemished the entire page. Some from him; from her.
“One last time,” she whispered.
When she opened her eyes, she let the world around her quiet. She read the letter, thoroughly and fully this time, taking in every last word, and by the time she reached the end, she felt another delicate cord of her heart twist and snap loose.
Goodbye, my love. I hope you can forgive me.
Yours truly and forever,