It was three years ago today that I walked into the bedroom and found you lying there, face down in a pillow, on the floor. I walked over to you after not hearing from you for days, thinking that you were just asleep, but it didn’t take me long to realize that something was wrong. Your body, covered in bruises. Your body, now marbled.
It was your ear, specifically. It curled in such a way, like that of grey cauliflower. It was your ear which made me say your name over and over again. It was your ear. It was your body. It was your lack of response. The operator said, “I need you to touch him, tell me if you feel a pulse.” I touched your calf. “He’s cold,” I said.
It was my worst fear.
As I type this, my heart beats a little faster, my breath becomes a little shorter, and I start to feel my eyes well up. I had called the coroner’s office every day, Monday through Friday, during normal business hours, and on August 5, an answer: Chronic alcoholism (acute would have been more accurate). You were 25 at the time.
I’ve gotten better, since it happened, but there are days I miss you so much I sob myself to sleep.
There are days I wish I would have been enough to make you stop drinking. And there are days that I am so angry because you didn’t love yourself enough. And there are days I am so angry because I don’t love myself enough – still – three years later.
I don’t remember your funeral. A friend asked me if I needed anything and I started sobbing saying that I needed you. You would understand. You would know what to say. You would help me deal in this situation that failed to make any sense. And you’d hold me until I fell asleep. I couldn’t understand why there were awful people in this world – malicious, ugly, awful people – alive and you, who I loved, were in a closed casket. I still don’t.
I wore the engagement ring and the necklace you got me for my birthday for close to a year afterward. And when that wasn’t enough, I got a tattoo. A celtic knot intertwined with a treble clef and the words “always” and “forever” above it. The triquetra as a symbol of love and life and eternity, the clef as a symbol of something we used to do all the time together, and as for the words: “I love you.” “Always and forever?” “Always and forever.”
The ring now sits in my medicine cabinet; the necklace, tarnished, hangs on a doorknob. They were things I put away as I haphazardly tried to rebuild my life, a strange new world without you in it. .
I think of a month before it happened, when we were driving in your car. You told me you weren’t sleeping and that you’d gotten some sample packs of sleeping pills. I remember having a bad feeling; something was going to happen to you.
I think of two weeks before it happened, where you said you didn’t want me worried, but that you had coughed up blood. “Cigarettes are great,” you said. “Real great for the lungs,” and you pounded your chest and smiled. I started crying right then, burying my head into your chest and saying that I didn’t want you to die. “I’m not going to die,” you said. “Nothing is going to happen to me,” you said. “Promise?” I asked. “Promise,” you said, and then you kissed me.
I think of the week before it happened, when you were acting as if you had a secret I couldn’t know, when a smile played on your lips before – just as quickly – you got up and left. I had no idea what was going on, and I asked you where you were going, and why couldn’t you stay, and I chased after you – long before I ever thought about running – down an alleyway in only my socks before I couldn’t see you anymore.
I think of you, the boy who proposed to me in a park, who encouraged me to follow my dreams (whatever they were for the week), who taught me not to worry so much, who introduced me to science fiction, who played music with and for me. I think of you, who loved me, who put up with my serious crazy. I think of you, the boy who had some serious demons.
I couldn’t have saved you from everything. It took me three years to find a balance: I can’t forget you and I will defend you without question, but I can’t live for you, either. The living are not meant to exist for the dead.
And so, I carry you with me, more quietly now. Always. Forever.