I’ll never forget the day we met, not even when death himself tries to wrench the memory from my stiff hands. Twelfth-grade calculus, third period. In full honesty, I’m not completely sure why I remember the day so well. Perhaps it was the way you smiled when we were paired. A small, courteous smile full of wires and metal. Ah, the braces. I remember how much you hated them. Every smile was lip-tight and careful, anxious embarrassment hiding the way your face lights up when you truly grin. Even in those days of awkward adolescence, you always had the best smile. One quirked corner following the other, the resulting smile radiating contentment.
I remember how you ran your fingers through your ash-blond hair while we worked, a habit I later learned like the back of my own hand. Even better, possibly, looking at my comparably unfamiliar skin as I write this. You always did that while you thought, as if trying to tame the raging waves of brilliance. It’s quite possibly the reason why your hair never sat flat, now that I think about it. You did so even as you explained the problems to me, using the pencil to gesture to each careful mark. I’m certain you’re the reason I passed the class, with your encouraging words and never-failing patience. Even so, I could barely pay attention that day, instead spending my time staring at your sharp features. Did I ever tell you how beautiful your eyes are? I’ve never seen another pair like them. Two identical irises a faded stone blue, mixed with shots of icicle. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them that day, and I still can’t after all this time.
Our friendship was quite the match. Do you remember that time near the lake, the first time we ever went somewhere by our lonesome? It wasn’t a date, no certainly not yet. The maples had already begun shedding their coats, and the air was so cool and crisp I didn’t dare swim. You would have none of it. I remember the glint of mischief shining in your eyes and bathing your features. I remember watching as you removed your jacket and shirt, watching as you with a combination of fascination and horror as you jumped without a second of hesitation. The splash was enormous, and you soaked me head to toe despite my stunned complaints. I'm certain the only thing that heard those protests was the rippling water. I watched as you came up, spluttering and freezing, but grinning ear to ear. The metal was gone from your mouth by then. It was definitely that smile, such a whole and complete smile, that made me join you.
You pushed me then, and you push me now. I’m only the person I am today because of your insistence. You always had a nagging fear that every missed opportunity was consequential, a fear you held close to your heart in even our early college days. Most times, that fear propelled us to do things that my shy and quiet personality would never have done on my lonesome. Sometimes, though, it got out of control. Do you remember that one time, the first time you ever went rock climbing alone? I was too busy studying for finals to accompany you, something I’d sorely regret in the coming weeks. I’ll never forget the call I got that day. You tried to keep the pain out of your voice, but we were too close for me not to notice every rough syllable. It was an electric jolt, hearing you sound like that. I don’t think I’d ever been more afraid than those moments. I drove all the way to the peak barely breathing, blood roaring with fear and adrenaline. I think I held my breath all the way to the hospital, where we were informed you’d fractured a rib. As no organs had been punctured, though, you’d most likely heal on your own. It was then, when I felt the terror and panic drain from me like sewer water, that I realized I’d fallen for you. Even then, I couldn’t stomach the idea of being without you.
As the years went by, our feelings for each other transformed. Looking back on it, they were quite obvious. We never mentioned those feelings to each other for such a long, long time. A grievously long time. Until that party. Oh, the party. Do you remember it? I’m sure you do. We frequented parties in those years, your ever-lasting charisma an automatic people pleaser. I preferred books to strangers, but everything was always fine as long as you were there. Anyway, back to the party. Finals were over, and John’s party was supposedly a celebration of junior year. In truth, though, it was an excuse to drink.
It wasn’t the first time we’d had alcohol, but most definitely the first time we got drunk. You sat on the first stair to the upper floor, only slightly tipsy at this point. Alcohol was definitely a playing factor when I sat next to you, waiting and watching for something to happen. Some sign that I wasn’t alone in my feelings. The silence was killer, a rabid monster of insecurity and nervousness. With icy clarity, I remember you turning to me, opening and closing your mouth like a beached fish trying to find water. The last wisps of adolescence had faded from you, making you both attractive and confident. If I hadn’t been so nervous myself, it would have been funny to see your unblemished courage fail. But all I could do was stare, watching as we struggled to understand each other.
At some point, neither of us could take such an awkward silence any longer. There was a moment of absolute surety, and before I could think any further, we kissed. I’ll never forget the feel of your lips on mine, a soft kiss full of longing and a tinge of fear. Fear we’d lose each other, fear that we’d never be the same. I saw that fear reflected in your eyes as we pulled back, I saw it as we drank the night away. We were foolish kids then, too afraid to address the dangerous bond we’d created.
The truth is, I wrote this letter to say I'm sorry. Oh, how apologies hurt. How the world hurts. It hurts like a thousand daggers. You knew that better than anyone, didn't you? It's why you drove that knife across your wrists, letting crimson rivers of life flow back into the ever-empty basin of death. It's why I found you that day, dead and alone. I remember a thousand details of you, your life. Our life. But I always failed to see the glimmers of pain, the unhappy moments. And for that, I'm so, so sorry.
There are a few things I have left of you. Your possessions, still carrying the faded mint smell you always wore. Your money. But, most of all, I have the memories. I never took a single moment we had for granted, did you know that? It's why I remember it so clearly, the day we met. The kiss. The moments in between. It's why I remember you so clearly. Somehow, deep down, I knew we wouldn't have much time left. I wrote this letter to hold on to a piece of you, did you know that? I don't think I'll burn it anymore. I can't bear the thought. I'll never stop loving you, and these written words will never be able to replace you. With time, though, they might serve as a comfort. A shelter through a storm. A reminder of my grief, when humanity catches me and memory begins to fade.
I don't quite have much else to say. Isn't that the plight of humanity? We never want to end on a sad note, and yet there's sometimes no other way to finish the story. Our story won't end here, though. I know it won't. Others will know your shy smile, or your never-ceasing passion. They will. I'll make sure of it.