(note: contains sensitive language, self harm)
I first met you while working. Although it wasn’t a very good job. Neither for me, nor for you. I was delivering food, bland and tasteless, to customers, weary-eyed and pallid. You were at the counter of the restaurant, neon-signed and at the bottom of a city hill.
I was sweaty when I first swung the door open. My hair stuck to my forehead like seaweed to a rock. I oozed in from the bottomless black of the Sydney night, into the hospital-white of your shop. You looked at me and said hello, how are you, are you picking some food up. Your eyes seemed a bit like an owls. They were huge. And brown. And ready to go home and sleep.
You trod softly back to the kitchen, swept up a crinkled brown bag, and handed it to me. I think our fingers touched during that handover. Although the details of my memories sometimes go amiss, like a missing tooth in a pink mouth. I hope our fingers touched, at least.
Who would’ve thought - who in their right mind would’ve thought - that we’d sleep together, cry together, wake up late in the morning together, drink milky tea in bed together. A couple of strangers. Two people from different lives. Two humans looking for some warmth.
You’d tried to kill yourself in January of that year. I think we met in June. In Australia, June is full winter. Wafts of smoky mountain air flow through the city streets in June. Morning flat whites are drunk inside in June. Down jackets are pulled over soft sweaters in June. And in a small house one evening behind the commuter train tracks, just a few months before, you’d downed an entire bottle of painkillers. Enough for an entire family for a year.
Slouched nude on the bed, the purple blanket just covering your feet, your mum had found you. You had spit foaming out of the limp corner of your mouth. Your skin was pale, greenish. You moaned when she rushed over to you. She shrieked, neighbors rushed, doors slammed, footsteps pattered, sirens screamed.
You were revived in a hospital room with a big mirror facing the bed. During the first few minutes of your new life, your second life, you stared at yourself. How strange, how strange, how strange, was all you could mutter to yourself then. The person in the mirror didn’t seem quite right. Something had shifted. Perhaps the dark circles, like graphite shading under your eyes, had deepened a touch. Or perhaps your eyes had lost their vital force. Either way, as you looked in the mirror, the hush of nurses chatter finding its way under the door, you thought with tremendous fear that a new numbness had settled over your life.
I left my number scrawled on the receipt, the second time I came into your shop. I blushed while ordering a cheeseburger, thinking you knew exactly my intentions. Fortunately, a few short hours later, my phone buzzed with a text from you.
We sat in a shady living room together, a few days later. We were both cross-legged on the floor. You had some herbal tea. I could catch the fragrance occasionally on your breath, as we chatted quietly. Jasmine, probably. I had a beer, the last one in the fridge. Ice-cold and yeasty and brown, it made me sputter and burp. But it was dark enough in the room where you couldn’t see the blush on my face that seemed never to disappear.
“I did it because my friends abandoned me. Because they all seemed to leave, one by one. As if they were conspiring against me. As if they hated me. As if, as their life ambled on towards jobs and sunny apartments and beautiful relationships, they wanted me to rot in my mum’s house. Fuck them, I thought at the time. They can be responsible for my death.”
We sat on the soft carpet, murmuring in low tones. I took another sip of beer, and held your flat gaze as you edged closer to where I was sitting, knees drawn towards my chest. You moved tentatively, like a child drawn by curiosity towards a fence at the zoo.
“I’m so sorry about that. People sometimes don’t know how much damage they do. We as humans are reckless with our relationships. I’m so sorry you were on the receiving end of this. I’m so sorry.”
Our talk was now a whisper. My beer, almost finished, had melted reality just a touch. Your words now mingled with the night air before reaching me. Our eyes would sometimes meet. That life defining something would thump in my chest when this happened.
You went upstairs before me, saying you were tired. You showed me your room, where two anonymous beds crouched in the corner next to the window. I crept under the covers of one. You went to the other.
A faint sense of loneliness lingered now, as we talked about mundane things. The moonlight through the window seemed to weigh on us now, making our words lumbering and tired. The city seemed much quieter, suddenly. I glanced briefly around the room. Clothes strewn. A few pill bottles, luminous and orange and empty. You saw me looking at them. I smiled and blinked my eyes closed.
“I’m doing a bit better now. I see a therapist once a week. I take medicine to control my depression. I dumped my boyfriend, too.” Your eyes softened as you told me this. Your mouth curled with a slight smile.
“There’s room in my bed, you know,” you continued. “If you’re cold. The chill really seeps into this house. We can keep each other warm. I promise it’s not weird. I just sometimes need…”
I let your sentence trail into nothingness. They were just words. I waited a little, then crawled under your covers. Your hand seemed to tremble as I took it in mine. Like a pond’s water, trembling with the morning sun.
My eyes opened in the middle of the night. The room was still and black. Someone walked quickly down the street outside the window, footsteps pattering. I turned my head on the downy pillow. You were wide-awake, too. Staring at the ceiling. You looked as if you hadn’t slept at all.
We were still holding hands under the covers. Loosely now, our fingers limply interlaced. Your skin felt scratchy and dry. I swallowed loudly, and you glanced at me.
“I’m so happy you’re alive. You have so much to give. Life is long. Friends are fleeting. Don’t let them bother you. But if no-one else will tell you, I will. I’m so happy you’re alive.” Your fingers curled up, back into mine. Your eyes fluttered closed. Soon your breath found a regular rhythm. You'd fallen asleep. I watched you for the longest time, thinking how cruel life can be.