I swung by your house today. I saw your room. The window was open, and the curtains swayed from the breeze. The sun was looming in, almost touching the foot of your bed. I was surprised by your room; how there were no traces of dust settled on the window sill, over your desk, or on the bedside table. All the wooden furniture looked polished and shined, as if the space was being cleaned and maintained to receive you, waiting for your arrival.
Your mom had also removed the carpeting. Maybe that’s why the room looked a lot brighter; it was probably easier to clean without it. Your Iron Maiden posters were still up; you had never listened to a single album of theirs, but your mom hated them, so you kept them stuck to the wall. The sheets on your bed had lightning bolts, swirls reminiscent of tornadoes; your covers gray and blue, cloudy like a stormy night.
Your mom left me there alone to get some trash bags. She called me a couple nights ago (I think I told you), asking me to help her separate some of your things, to see what she would keep, donate or throw away. If it were up to me, I'd put all of you into a trunk, harbor the bits and pieces of you in my room like a treasure chest. Maybe that isn't an ideal solution, with my room being small for all your things, but my heart is empty, it has been for months now.
Part of me wanted to dive into your sheets, rub my nose around your pillow like a hound, searching for your scent, that last lingering proof of your presence. Instead, I just lay there. I looked up at the ceiling, then to the poster, then to the foot of your bed.
I wondered how it felt to drown.
I turned to the bedside table. The picture of us was still there, framed, your eyes at the camera, at me. You with a long, wide smile and a chipped tooth, me looking at you with my eyes away from the camera, goggles strapped to my head. Your arm around my neck, our swim shorts dripping after just getting out of the pool, your hair dangling just slightly over your brows. It’s my favorite picture of us.
Your mom caught me by surprise. She entered the room, saw me on your bed, and said, “You know he loved you?”
I sat up in a hurry, apologizing for messing up your bed, but she didn't seem to care about the wrinkles I had left behind.
She got in close. “Kyle…You know Jason loved you, right?”
I gave her a weak and dubious nod.
Her exact words were: “Kyle, you guys had known each other for years; I saw you two together all the time. It’s alright that you loved each other. You don’t need to keep that to yourself; it’s okay to miss him. I think it’s wonderful that you loved him.”
I couldn’t find my words; I had no idea what to say. Your mom had known the entire time, Jay.
She then placed her hand on my lap, gave me a tired but honest smile, and said, “You can take the picture, it’s yours.”
I asked her if she was sure, and she assured me it was fine. But she made me promise one thing.
I wrapped my fingers around your mom's hand, leaned a bit on her shoulder. She could have asked me for anything, Jay, and instead, all your mom said was, “Keep him with you Kyle. Remember him.”
I think both of us are always going to remember you…
You know, I’ve never been accustomed to death, to seeing a dead body inside a wooden box. I knew of your rough sleeping habits; so it was surprising to see your body so still and your eyes closed for so long. Part of me hoped that it was all a joke, that at any moment, you would spring up and scream, “got ya suckers,” and chuckle wholeheartedly.
I wanted to move in closer; I swear, I really did. But deep down, I was afraid; that if I was to get too close, I’d end up noticing that you’re really not coming back, that I’d cry, that everyone would see.
I was sure you had probably told someone about us, about the boy from your small town that you grew up with, about me. Most of the people we knew considered me nothing more than your friend. To them, the void I felt was nothing in comparison to what your mother was going through, even though I had lost you too.
Your mom was there beside you, balling her eyes out, her mascara running black lines across her face, aging her with dark streaks down her cheeks.
Part of me hated you for leaving; that you went and got yourself killed. Why did you have to go anyway? It wasn’t like anyone was forcing you to leave. I know, I know, you wanted to go to college; that it was your childhood dream, something neither of our parents had accomplished, but maybe, just maybe, if you had stayed behind, none of this would have happened.
There weren’t many people at your service, it made me think that perhaps you really didn’t have the chance to live your new life completely; that you didn’t really make a lot of true friends. I know I’m not one talk. After all, I did choose to live closed off from the world like an oyster, secluded from people, from everyone. Well, almost everyone.
Standing there, a few steps away from your idle body, looking at your flat chest felt strange. I thought about moving in closer, placing my hand over your torso. I wanted to touch the cold muscles of your body, squeeze your skin, plunge my whole fist into your chest, and search for that last bit of warmth, that smidgen of your soul, and try to revive you.
But your body had gone cold; frozen the moment it was retrieved from the college campus swimming pool.
I didn’t hug your mother that day. I wasn’t even able to stand beside her. I felt no urge to speak to her at the end of your wake. All I could do was think of you. Why Jay? Why did you have to go?
I guess I owe you an apology…
I’m sorry I haven’t been writing back. I’m sorry I haven’t even tried to answer your calls. I’m sorry for being such a douche. I know you deserve better, a lot better. Someone that replies, that spends time with you over the phone, that calls and writes, and doesn’t mind that you’re out there living your life.
I have no real reason, no justification that kept me away, that forced me to physically not be able to settle down onto this chair and press this goddamn pen to paper. I tried to write, but nothing I thought about saying was even remotely interesting.
I think you did something right by leaving town and going off to college. The sheer fact you moved away means your life will be, from here on out, more exciting than it was when you were living here. I can see you visiting the big city art galleries, slurping down lattes with an insane amount of whip cream, the dorm parties with girls throwing themselves at you, and with dudes at least twice my size.
Eventually, you’re going to make more friends, know new people; soon you’ll find someone just as, if not more decent than me, to take my place. If I’m being honest, I hope you find someone, a person to keep your secrets, to walk beside you, to lie next to you on your bed while you read poetry out loud. Someone that passively looks at you while you sketch, someone that isn’t me.
You’re gone, Jay. You were here, and now you’re not. I still see you at home, sitting barefoot on the living room floor, talking to my dad about politics, helping my mom bring in the groceries. You’re inside the station wagon, looking at me from the rear-view mirror, your eyes on mine while I drive anywhere. I miss you, Jay, and maybe you miss me too. That’s why you continue writing, sending me letters to inform me of your actions, of your new life. That’s your way of remembering, of keeping us alive.
You know it makes me happy that you’re excited, enjoying yourself. I love that you’re out there, that you’re trying new things, that you still find the time to write and keep me in the loop. It’s still possible that one day we’ll meet again, but until then, all I have are these letters.
These messages of yours hurt me and fill me with joy, that I love and also hate. I continuously think about responding to them but attempt to avoid them entirely. I love and hate everything about them; even if that’s something you consider impossible, I swear I do.
I feel the exact same way about you, Jay.
I hate you… and I love you.
I’m guessing that you don’t want to speak to me, considering that you haven’t written back. What is this now, my third or fourth letter to you? We're at an unequal ratio, with me receiving one letter for every three or four I send you.
I’ll have you know that I have no intention whatsoever to stop writing, nor do I intend on throwing away any of the few meager and poorly written letters I've gotten. In a way, it’s like I’m keeping parts of you tucked away like breadcrumbs hidden under my pillow.
Okay, maybe that’s kind of creepy, but there’s not much I can say. I miss you, Kyle. Yes, I know there are at least five states between us and that you probably think I should move on, but I’m not going to, you hear?
Oh, I think I’ll be coming down to visit my mom next month, who knows, maybe that means we’ll be able to see each other? What do you think, you up for getting some coffee, maybe go to a local art exhibit? I also wouldn’t mind just staying at your place for the night and eating microwaved pizza rolls either. Come on, what do you say? We can stay in, just like the good days, you know when we actually talked, and I didn’t stay up thinking about when I was going to receive a letter from you.
I’m kidding. I don’t actually pull all-nighters thinking about you.
Well, not every night at least, haha.
You’re probably still feeling upset about me leaving and all. I’m guessing by the fact that you haven’t answered my last letter that you’re probably reading this one while biting your lips and furrowing your brows?
Am I right? Don’t lie to me.
Here nothing much has changed. Classes are brutal. The teachers are literally vultures picking at us, eating us alive. I’ve never had so little sleep in my life.
I’ve been hanging out with the same group of people for some time now. I wouldn’t exactly call them my friends, but they’re pretty cool. We had an off-campus party a few nights ago. Had my first beer.
Alright, my first three beers. Some guy at the party also offered us up marijuana, but I had to pass. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to, I was curious about it, but all I could think about was how my mom would disapprove. I swear I heard her voice nagging at me in the back of my head.
“Drugs get people to do crazy things. Drugs create addicts. Drugs make people stupid. Blah, blah and blah.”
Who knows, maybe I’ll still have the opportunity to try something as wild as pot? But don’t tell my mom about my plan, deal?
Anyway, how are things? Made any new friends? Found anyone worthy enough to replace me yet? Did you even try to get to know any new people?
As I said, I’m keeping my promise of writing to you any chance I get.
I know you told me that writing isn’t exactly your definition of having a good time, but I have to say that I enjoy it a lot. I sit down and think of what I’m going to tell you, of the inside jokes, of the places I’ve seen and my plans. In a sense, it’s similar to writing in a diary, except I can share these moments with someone. I share them with you.
I’m surprised by how cold it is here and how it doesn’t seem to rain. I haven’t been able to properly see the stars yet due to all the light pollution in the city. On the other hand, at the right place, at the right time, the city lights shine from the skyscrapers and bounce off everything metallic in the perimeter, giving me the sense that I’m caught in a dream. Okay, maybe not exactly like that, but I think you get the picture. THE CITY IS BEAUTIFUL.
I was initially stunned by the size of the college campus. It’s enormous, a lot bigger than our high school, and I bet it’s larger than any school in the state.
Last night, some of the students in my Art History class and I decided to go to a killer café and scour the city for street art. Boy, there’s a lot of that here. Yesterday a dude was playing the sax in the subway tunnel. The day before that, a silver woman was frozen like a statue on the street corner. The city is a living, colorful exhibit, with artists spraying empty walls and dangling like angels while painting the side of buildings.
Have you ever ridden on a subway? I’m curious since we've never talked about traveling or going away. Who knows, maybe you’ll still be able to come by and visit me in the city? Though I would probably be a horrible tour guide, and we might end up getting lost, but wouldn’t that be fun either way?
- Love Jason
I’m going away tomorrow, and I’m leaving you this letter, this first letter of many to you. I know I haven’t officially gone off to college yet, but still, I want to get into the rhythm of writing.
I think I’m going to start off by stating the obvious.
I’m going to miss you. Scratch that…
I DON’T KNOW HOW I’M GOING TO MAKE IT THE FIRST WEEK WITHOUT YOU…
How long has it been, a year? Two? We’ve been inseparable for what feels like a lifetime. I’m going to miss everything about us, our movie nights with pizza rolls and popcorn. My mom, complaining about the noise we’re making, my room that I can’t seem to keep clean, except when you’re coming over (then I feel the need to actually tidy up and make things comfortable just for you. It's cheesy, I know).
I guess I’m writing all of this in a half-ass attempt to say how important you are to me. Just because I’m leaving doesn’t mean we can’t keep in touch, it doesn’t mean I’ll be gone forever, and it doesn’t mean that I’m going to forget you. Remember what I said? Our promise?
I want you to know that I’m here, and even though you’re there, You’ll always be with me. You’re with me when I’m writing these letters, when I’m thinking about us, spending our summers at the pool or our nights sharing the hammock by the porch, looking out into the stars.
If anything, this distance should make our friendship stronger, bring us closer, and force you to miss me a little. Don’t even dare think about staying home all day or stop living your life in any which way because I’m not around. And if you don’t write back, I’ll find some way to get myself over there and give you a whooping.
Jokes aside, seriously, Kyle, keep in contact, will you? I know me going away isn’t doing you any good, but it doesn’t have to be all bad, alright?
Okay, first of all, this is not something I’m used to.
Now that I’ve established my lack of writing skills, we can get down to business. You haven’t even packed your bags yet, but I hope I have enough courage to give you this letter.
Do you remember that night, that one where we were outside, looking at the starlit sky?
The air smelled like freshly cut grass, and your eyelids were almost sealed shut. Your arm was under my head, your chest warm, your thighs anointing mine.
Well, you made me promise you something that night, and no, it wasn’t just to give writing a try.
You told me you were leaving. That our night together was a goodbye, and you wanted to ask me a single favor.
I had no words, nothing I could possibly say. My chest was heavy, it was hard to breathe, but I remember exactly what you said.
“I’ll remember you, Kyle, don’t worry.”
You came in, your breath over my nose, your mouth fogging up my worried mind.
After that, I knew that I would never be able to forget you.
And so now, I’ll tell you Jay: “I’ll remember you, I’ll always remember you, even if briefly.”