(I’m writing to you as Michael now because I’m pretending you’re still alive and you’re a young man. You’re alive and you’ve stopped trying to kill yourself and stopped riding around, unseatbelted with drunk drivers.)
You’re alive and you want to be. You got a late start but you went to art school and I’m so proud of you for realizing your sketchbook was more than just doodling. Your work has really grown. I’m still partial to the portraits you’ve done of me, though.
A fresh start was just what you needed and you’ve made so many friends in college to prove it. They’re good kids, too. Your car isn’t wrapped around every other tree on every other dirt road and it doesn’t wreak of weed, either. It’s still messy but there’s room for me in the passengers seat. You are 25. You live in Brooklyn and design graphics for skateboards at a local company. It’s the best of both worlds for you and you get along with the guys who own it. Sometimes we smoke Camel Lights in the park and you tell me about how you’d run the company if you owned it and I don’t show you how happy I am that you’ve become ambitious.
Sometimes after a drink I bring up that girl from the East Village who you cheated on me with. I ask if you miss her, you tell me to shush. In bed you hold me too close and I have to free myself when I start to overheat. But then, with space between us and cool air on my neck, I crawl back because I don’t take for granted how natural it is for you to squeeze me so tightly, even when you’re asleep.
You can grow a beard now and it scratches my cheeks in the morning. You still smoke before breakfast and I still think it’s gross but I join you on the fire escape and try to ignore how much my stomach aches from the mix of black coffee and cigarettes.
We still both like to put ketchup on things and we race each other to order it first at restaurants. And I’ve started eating again so when you offer me Pizza Bagel Bites at 3am, I can gladly accept. That’s your way of cooking for me. I know you’ll get better, though. Sometimes you get dinner with your sister Maggie and at a pizza place by her apartment in Alphabet City. The two of you have replaced your substance abuse with pizza and pool and even though I feel left out, I’m happy you’ve found friendship in each other. And sometimes you invite me to dinner with your dad, in Bedford, and that makes me feel good. You still don’t like him but you love him and the more you grow into his face, the more I think you realize you’ll be friends one day soon.
Sometimes when I’m at work you surprise me with flowers and sandwiches and sweatshirts. And I don’t get embarrassed anymore, I kiss you and thank you and think of how I can repay you with my love. And John has a girlfriend now and sometimes the four of us go on double dates to see movies or eat ice cream. And sometimes you and I go to see John’s plays and you don’t sleep through them anymore. During intermission you tell me which parts you like and when the lights flicker I don’t have to drag you back in. You lead the way and hold the door. You still send me notes when we’re not supposed to be talking. In movies, in meetings, on silent trains or poetry readings. And now I write back to every note. My voice is still awful but you still love it when I sing and we still joke about starting a band and running away. And sometimes we bump into Mrs. Schulman and she’s proud of us both for growing out of our crude kid days. She always tells you to send Maggie her love and you never remember and I never forget. And I buy you a gift for each chip you earn. And you don’t know this but when you reach five years, I’m buying you a camera because your pictures are too good for an iPhone. You still tell everyone with ears that I’m your girlfriend and I’m proud of it now and happy to be yours.
And today isn’t the eighth anniversary of your death, it’s just December 10 and it’s snowing so we’re going to play in it before it turns to city slush. And you’re going to carry me home when my socks get too wet and my toes turn to stones. And this time I’ll make you Pizza Bagel Bites.