Do you remember how we took this photo? It was Halloween 2016 and we were already seventeen. But we still went Trick-or-Treating. We shamelessly took Oliver's toy bucket with us and filled it to the top with candy. We were young, almost children. And our friendship, so pure and innocent, reminded me of those watermelon ice creams, which we often bought at the roadside shop. They don't make it anymore but the taste is not forgotten. The streetlights burned dimly in the darkness, and the conversation of children could be heard far off at the top of the street. At the sound of their carefree laughter, suddenly something sad flew into my heart like a bird and desperately flapped its wings. A vague feeling of loss, that something intangible was forever leaving us. We walked slowly, your Harry Potter mantle hindering your hand movements as you were enthusiastically telling something. Your lips moved, but no sound was heard. Neither your voice, nor our quiet steps on the wet asphalt, and as if the guys at the top also suddenly subsided. This unpleasant thought was so strong that I could not concentrate and carefully tried to tidy up my head to find out what was missing. And found out. Youth was escaping us like thin silk slips from under the fingers. Next year we would be seniors and we would have to take the first awkward steps into adulthood: pass a bunch of exams, choose a specialty and a university. When I understood what feeling that was, the laughter of children began to be heard again. You looked at me excitedly and your eyes were huge as the light reflected in them.
And I abruptly ran to the nearest lamp, shouting that the last one to touch the streetlight was a fool. Hey, youth, wait, we have not enjoyed you yet, you will have time to leave, slow down! I didn't have to look back to know that you were running behind, trying to overtake.
We scattered sweets on the floor in the living room and sat watching a movie. We watched with the lights on so as not to be afraid of the dark. None of us knew that a camera was sent to us then. Mom, knowing about your fear of cameras, took pictures of us covertly. I'm glad she did it. We saw each other almost every day, but there are no photos other than that one. You would run away every time we tried to take a picture, too shy to be captured. In the photo you are laughing so carelessly, a young boy who had a whole future ahead of him. And for some reason I'm clapping, the Cruella wig slipped back a little. Someone who wasn't there at the time would have thought we were watching a comedy after seeing the photo. I don't remember what movie we watched, but I remember that you could not stop joking and making me laugh that evening.
Oliver is finishing elementary school this year. You may still picture him as a slobbering two-year-old, but he's almost as tall as me. I rarely came home after enrolling at the University of Arizona, and the age difference did not allow us to become very close friends. I came every year when I was a student, for a few weeks between numerous summer projects and internships, and noticed how he grew. Life was rich and full of adventure. I volunteered as a guide through the painted temples of Laos, ran around with monkeys in Thailand writing articles about Thai myths, and admired colored windmills smelling tulips in Amsterdam during a study exchange. Then I got a job as a local reporter and moved to Hartford, met many people. Many stayed, even more left. Life has been like a succulent dinner, where they served both the first course and the second, but forgot to serve a dessert. Dishes, various and delicious. But I would rather exchange my second course with the watermelon ice cream from childhood, the taste of which I miss so much.
Do you remember the first time you had a witness to your calamity? I realized I had been standing for too long in front of the door of your house, hesitating to enter, only when Mrs. Calvert from the house opposite came out to shout that there was probably no one at home, your dad at work, you long gone. I nodded to her. She didn't know that the front door wasn't locked, and I was trying to gird myself. The boys from your new company were too repulsive, and you were becoming more and more like them, heedless of school, snapping at everyone around and exposing needles like an angry hedgehog. Having braced myself, I went in. Do you remember how often we used to visit each other and it used to be as if we had two homes, two families? The same familiar walls with old European wallpaper, plants in pretty pots all over the house. Except the owner had been becoming more and more a stranger, hostile and unwelcoming. From your room a repeating banging noise was coming. Creepy and scary, like an alarm signaling the last seconds before death. Boom..boom..boom. My steps, stealthy and slow in the long corridor with the red carpet, my heart, echoing the sound. Boom..boom..boom. The framed photos on the wall, looking at me reprovingly, the sound getting louder as I came closer and closer. It was dark - the windows tightly drawn with curtains, the bed straightened, broken bottles and pills everywhere. And you were on the floor, leaning your back against the closet door, beating your head against it.
I hate you. Because your ghost comes to me at night. He paralyzes me, stands over the bed and bents over my ear, whispering that I am to blame for your destruction. I wake up, and thoughts keep me awake. I hate you because you robbed me off of my best friend. A friend, with whom I had been sharing my secrets since childhood, when we met at the neighborhood pool. The children were saying you were weird and might not have loved your mom because you were laughing the loudest and playing cheerfully only after a few days she had been gone. The kids can be so cruel sometimes. But they were only kids to comprehend you buried your pain so deep inside. Only for it to resurface years after. The unprocessed emotions taking over you. I wonder why you never told me that and chose to blend in a dubious company instead, who taught you the only way they knew to handle the grief. Was I too careless? Was I a bad friend?
Do you remember we met in Park-City after you had been released the last time? It was a little windy that day and the sky was grey with clouds. You looked healthier as you walked towards me, a big smile on your face. We chatted walking around the city. You complained about the annoying schedule but then added that the medical personnel were not as bad as at the Treatment Center in Nevada that you had stayed at the year before. I told you about my difficult college courses and funny professors. You laughed at my whimpering and cracked jokes. It seemed perfect and for a moment I thought the old you were back with me. As usual, two childhood friends hanging out and exchanging the news. But whole autumn spent in the rehab did not avail you. When I returned to Arizona the next morning, and was getting reprimanded for missing the student council meeting, a text message came saying you were in the hospital. You rolled papers for the grass you worship only after several hours after escorting me to the airport. That moment, the uneasy feeling first felt that Halloween came back, so much stronger and dreadful, it squeezed my chest and left me numb for a few days. It became clear that not only cheerful youth days had been lost forever, but my best friend of eleven years was gone too.
I’d rather eat my soup with a fork or look for the sun at nights because talking to you is a harder work. Staring with blind eyes, deaf to my pleadings and numb, driving me to desperation, making me wonder if you even recognized anyone. Holding everyone at a shoulder length, cold and unapproachable. Our picture taken that Halloween evening is carefully kept in my wallet, the only memory left from you. Because the stranger with bloodshot eyes who does not hear a word I say is only a statue of who used to be my dearest friend.