After you left, I had trouble sleeping. Every night following, I would lie awake in bed with an ever-present ache coursing through my limbs. Often I would take the short, shallow breaths of a person suffering from panic attacks or broken ribs. It was all in vain. My jaw stayed tight, my chest constricted, and my legs shook. Sleep aids were counterproductive, for, when I did sleep, I slept through all of my responsibilities, and thus was required to stay up the night after to make up for it. I began drinking a cheap bottle of wine with every evening, achieving an inebriated bliss, which left me feeling (something like) rested when I unfortunately regained sobriety.
Sometime around sunrise the need to pee would force me from the couch to the bathroom, where I’d squint in blurry confusion at the disheveled stranger in the mirror above the sink.
When I just couldn’t do the day, I found the kitchen floor, placed my cheek against the cool tile, and thought of you. I thought of our everyday, of making the same scrambled eggs with cheese for you, a separate batch with onions for me. I thought of filling your coffee mug, the one with the missing handle, with a small mountain of sugar, of keeping my D.C. memorial thermos empty, though some mornings I coated the bottom with cream. My heart’s strings tighten when I think of how we would stay in bed on Sundays (sometimes Mondays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays too) until you’d cave to the craving for a macchiato from the barista stationed at the corner of Gallery Place and Rosewood.
Those days I felt how much life you had in how you held me, though overtime you turned towards me less, and I clung to you more. Like an eclipse in slow motion, you grew dark and then darker before my eyes, and like an eclipse, I could do nothing to stop it. When I talked, you listened, but the blank apathy in your face, apparent even when your expressions changed, came and never left. You would go from manic elation to anger so suddenly that you lost control, projecting your ferocity onto anything and everything in your path—you said some terrible things, but I never held you accountable; I refused to believe that this was you, I’m still unsure. You asked so many questions: would I love you no matter what? Could I find someone to replace you if you left? Could I be okay on my own? Why was this happening? You asked them as if there were an hourglass on end, the sand, and you, slipping away too quickly to realize what was happening.
Every early morning that found us still awake from the day before—uninterrupted staring that felt like screaming underwater as PM became AM and repeat—made me want to crawl into your skin and feel what you felt; I wanted to find the root of the feeling and clip the red wire, eliminating the fear of detonation that made you such a prisoner to yourself. But there was nothing. I was the blind leading the mute being led by the deaf, helplessly helping the helpless.
The studio apartment we shared came down around me; dishes spilled over the edges of the sink and onto the counter, and the coffee table was whispering behind my back about how carrying empty Chinese take-out containers wasn’t in it’s job description. I learned the hard way that Chipotle napkins were poor substitutes for toilet paper. It required a special effort that I didn’t possess to complete even the simplest things—there were fewer walks for the dog, its food was never on schedule, and a much-needed haircut only just stumbled onto my to-do list. Your chair was empty, tucked in across from me, so I only required one place setting, though I guess that meant that the dishes should have piled up half as fast. I could feel the despair seeping into my body, settling into my bones, making itself at home in my head.
It began last spring, when I was spending a week in the spare bedroom of my grandparent’s cabin, tucked like a bunker in the panhandle of Florida. You were supposed to be there too, but travel equals money, and money was something neither of us had much of. Instead, your brother took the family car from home to Boston (an eight-hour drive and a mission in March; snow littered the roads until at least mid-April), picking up you and your monogrammed duffle bag for the trip back to Northern D.C. Both of us were on spring break, and both of us were pissed we were spending it apart. That semester had been a hard one thus far. We were drunk most weekends; you bought a bowl and joined a sorority for the free t-shirts and access to alcohol, my friends and I developed a taste for PBR and vodka cheaper than the wine I drink now. Our year of attempted sobriety was long lost, only to be found somewhere at the bottom of an empty bottle and a crowded ashtray. Saturday nights were spent talking each other back to one another’s dorm rooms, mine usually a justified drunk drive away, yours a sketchy walk through that unlit parking garage. It was consistent, always followed by the same wobbly confrontation with your broken elevator, and then between us, seven unsteady flights of stairs.
People will say that college is what shitty beer is made of, and vice versa. They’ll stand by claims that excessive consumption loses negative association for four years or a Bachelor’s degree, and that as long as you graduate having avoided any permanent form of an STD, you did it right. But we had set sort of standards for each other. There were unspoken bars that had risen above socially accepted two-story beer bongs, intentionally put in place because of painful histories that included, but were far from limited to, alcoholic dads and teenage boys who couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. There was also the kind of caring with This that made us want the other to be really and truly okay, which we figured required processing, not numbing.
Then, though, somewhere along the way, you stopped mattering to you.
Feeling was too much work, and so our kind of Novocain, bought and paid for with a fake ID, made us forget everything, altogether.
And so on the third day of break, my third day of solitaire and first day of a painful peeling sunburn, you called me, inebriated. It wasn’t abnormal at this point, and you’d also mentioned the possibility of seeing some of your high school girlfriends since you were home (we hadn’t dubbed them your “heathens” without reason) so initially I wasn’t worried.
Now it is October, and taped to the aforementioned bathroom mirror, 27 days ago, I found this:
“Please, don’t keep this after you’ve finished reading it, and don’t read it more than a few times. Actually, once is really plenty. I just don’t want you holding onto this, because then it’s like you’re holding on to me, and that’s dumb and I don’t want that for you.
Anyways, best friend, fuck fuck fuck-
For super shitty starters, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for giving in. I think you knew, or you’ve known, that I couldn’t stay here anymore. You know I’ve fought this, and I’ve waited for it to leave, and I’ve tried to live my way through it for so long. But it’s not getting better, it’s not even changing anymore, and really, this isn’t what I’d call living anyways. Have you thought about how maybe we’re wrong and how maybe, right now, what we’re calling living, this life, it’s actually death? And then when we’re dead, we’re actually finally alive? I mean, if this is what living is really like, then why do I want to die so badly? That can’t be right. That really can’t be right.
Sometimes I think about how I used to believe in God, but then I forget why. I’ve tried to remember, but it never, even objectively, makes any kind of sense at all. I’m pretty sure somewhere in the Bible it says that god was perfect and everything, but he must’ve made me with his eyes closed because I’d hate to think that someone who’s supposed to love me that much would leave me like he did, or has… You can’t disagree that he really fucking ditched me on this one.
Whatever, if I’m in heaven then I’m a lucky SOB, and if I’m in hell, then I can’t say I didn’t ask for it.
I don’t really know where I’m going with this, but if anything, I want you to know I’m sorry. I just don’t even remember what it feels like to not be drowning in this, and anyways—I always said the day I can’t down an Oreo is the day I die—and I can’t eat or read or watch One Tree Hill or finish a row of single stuffs, so it’s my time. I know that this isn’t funny or anything but I’m just saying. And if anyone, really if anyone could have saved me from this, it would’ve been you. I don’t know why but you never left. Why did you never leave?
Just, I’m so sorry, really. This isn’t your fault, it isn’t anyone’s fault but mine, I’m bad and I always will be and have been and you should go and be happy and be okay with being happy because I’ve let you go down with me and that’s not fucking okay because you have to be okay, okay?
Throw this away and know that I’m going to be okay now, that I won’t be a burden to myself or anyone and I’ll be free and that’s all I want is to be free of this, you know? You don’t know, not really, but it doesn’t even matter anymore.”