I woke up, rolled over and noticed he wasn’t there. Odd, I thought, that he hadn’t returned after abruptly leaving bed the night before. I slipped into slumber in his absence, expecting his tattooed arm around my waist and his scruffy cheek against my shoulder in the morning. Figuring he had crashed on the couch in the living room, I brushed my teeth with his toothbrush, threw my clothes on and walked into the hallway. I found him unconscious and naked on the floor.
He had to have passed out drunk. “Adam, wake up,” I crooned, bending down and caressing his arm. No response. I pressed his bicep with more pressure, but still no stir. I ran to his brother’s room and could barely articulate Adam’s lifeless state. His brother summoned their other roommate, Adam’s best friend, and together they tried to breathe life into him with CPR as I dialed 911, my body quaking.
The attempts were futile. My first love was dead.
When I met Adam two years before, I simply thought of him as the only straight guy I could recap Glee with over a blunt. Sure, he was cool and shared my affinity for musicals, but I lived in Boston, he lived in New York. So we went about our lives in separate cities, dating separate people, admiring Lea Michelle on separate TV screens. It wasn’t until three weeks before his death that I moved to New York for a summer internship, downed PBR at a dive bar with Adam, and realized I was totally crazy for him. As I stumbled up 3rd Avenue fiending for a drunk snack, he pulled a quesadilla out of his backpack. I devoured it, spewing grease and guacamole all over the East Village. The whole time, his eyes were glued to mine with a warmth and affection any sane man would reserve for someone more composed than me. But love isn’t about composure — it’s about being unraveled together and reveling in each other’s rawness. We didn’t kiss that night as he lingered outside my doorway, but we did stare at each other, his brown eyes searing a hole through my skull, searching my body and stopping at my heart, lifting it through the clouds.
Though we never got the chance to say it to each other, we both knew we were in love. We spent the next few weeks in constant communication whenever we weren’t actually together. He told his mother he was in love with me. “You’re the mystery in my life right now,” he marveled repeatedly in the hours before he died, as we listened to music and talked and touched and kissed.
One night, Adam and I went out for chicken wings. We set goals for each other that would make a nutritionist weep. He sentenced me to a plateful of 18 wings ranging from Asian Zing to Mango Habanero flavored, while I punished him with a smorgasbord of 24. Chasing each bite with swigs of Blue Moon, I swiftly surpassed his expectations by demolishing my plate. Adam, a man roughly twice my size, began to succumb after a measly 12. I pushed him through six more, making our artery clogging competition a tie. His face beet-red, his breathing heavy, he kept patting his chest.
On the subway after dinner, he wrapped his hand tightly around mine, intertwining our fingers as his expression turned to stone. “I might go to the emergency room right now,” he murmured, pulsating his palm on mine like a beating heart.
“I’m going with you,” I declared, pumping mine against his, hard. However, as the train approached my stop, Adam insisted that he would be fine. He didn’t want to put me through the trouble. We stepped onto the platform together and he softly kissed me goodbye, urging me toward the exit as he made his way to the L train.
“I’m worried about you. Feel better. Let’s eat leafy greens and whole grains tomorrow,” I texted him as I traversed Union Square, my fingers trembling on the keypad.
Like most 21-year-olds, Adam believed he was invincible. He decided to bypass the hospital in favor of sleeping his pain off at home. He claimed he felt rejuvenated the next day, so he scratched the healthful menu I proposed. It was the Fourth of July and nothing could stop him from sinking his teeth into hot dogs and chugging Budweiser like a true American.
We were children that day, gallivanting around New York City in red, white and blue. We giggled as we listened to John Denver remixes, as our skin adhered together in the sticky heat. We grinned as we scaled a Midtown building and perched on the rooftop, as I rested my head against his chest while fireworks exploded along the Hudson. We crafted fantasy worlds on the train to his Brooklyn apartment. We mapped the foreign terrain of each other’s bodies in his bed. We smiled and smiled and laughed and laughed. Then he wheezed and left, closing the door behind him. Adam muttered that he’d be back, so I dozed into dreamland.
I matured that night as we fell deeper in love, but I didn’t hit adulthood until I grasped the beauty in his passing. The autopsy revealed he had a rare, hard to detect tumor in his left coronary artery. His heart was too ample for his own good, but at least I had the honor of cushioning it as it unsuspectingly failed. Adam taught me that complexity is overrated — our happiness together was short lived yet simple. Life isn’t long enough to dwell on guys who won’t commit, guys who leave the taste of beer mixed with confusion in your mouth and don’t offer you a quesadilla to quell it. Funny that he deemed me the mystery of his life, because in his absence he’s become the mystery of mine.