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FEATURED STORY / WINTER 2014 ISSUE
So it’s hard to start a letter like this; it’s hard to put together everything that happened in a way that has an ending that turns out all right. I don’t even know if this is the right answer, anyway, to try to make it better. But it felt like I should write it down so that I don’t forget, no matter how it decides to end. And I don’t know, I never used to believe in God or that there is something after this, like something that comes next, you know. I didn’t think there could be anything else. Even when we went to church, you and me and Anchu, and they were talking about heaven and sin and holy ghosts. I couldn’t believe any of it. I guess I figured death would be like a box closing shut or the stars going out, so, so merciless quiet and so blinding in the devastation of the end, such a surprise. And nothing after that, Craig, nothing at all. The thing is, though, after it happened, after this long year, I keep seeing this parade of day’s passed like a procession of holy ghosts in the kitchen, sometimes sitting down to have breakfast with us or sometimes just stopping to look with sallow eyes that remind me of yours and skin that looks bad from smoking too many cigarettes, like I have been lately.
I’ve been smoking a lot now. I go through about a pack a day, to be honest. It never got this bad before. Anchu, she bought me this patch the other day, to try to quit with, you know. But I don’t think I’m quite ready yet. I couldn’t stop just now. I guess that’s what I would tell you, if you were still here, that’s what I would tell you, is just don’t start smoking, okay? Just don’t start. Because it wouldn’t be right. Me, yes, I’m bound to go down this way anyway, smoking too much and everything. Maybe I’ll end hooked up to the wall being given pure oxygen someday from all the cigarettes I go through now. But you, you, no. I would have hated to have seen that happen to you. Maybe the way it did happen is better, I don’t know. But the thing is that is doesn’t feel any easier. Because I just keep wondering if you were afraid. And I keeping thinking about how alone you must have felt. And now that you’re not here anymore I can’t help wondering if maybe I was wrong, maybe there is something that comes next after all. Maybe you can hear me now. Maybe you can even hear me say how sorry I am, how sorry that I wasn’t there, how sorry that I didn’t see how bad you were.
It was my mom who told me what happened. It was early in the morning, still dark, and she came in and lay next to me on the bed, very quiet, touching my hair. She hadn’t done that since I was little. And then she started crying, but the kind of crying that is dry and desperate and afraid, her mouth stretched back over her teeth so that she looked sort of violent and crumbling. She started saying, “Clarice, Clarice, Clarice,” over and over. And then I sat up and asked what was wrong, what happened, and she looked so sad and so, so sorry, and she said, “Oh God, it’s Craig, oh God, something terrible has happened.” The thing is I was mostly surprised then that she remembered your name. You’d only come over once or twice, and my mother isn’t the kind to remember something like that. But I guess she did. She did.
You know, my dad, he came home from work early the other day, just to be with me, which he never did before. I haven’t been back to school since it happened, so I was home alone. I heard the garage door opening and I heard him take his jacket off and put his keys in the fruit bowl next to the sink. Sometimes parents can be comforting in the quiet ways that they have settled in to a less-than exceptional life, which is surprising because so much of the time we are trying to escape from them, to escape from that sweet surrender that came so slowly that no one remembers it now, that extra guest at the table, that groaning in the dark hall at night, that weight and that comfort. No one wants to be like their parents, do they, Craig? And we are all pushing so hard not to be like them that we don’t realize it when we grow up to turn into them. And sometimes we forget how much we need them. So my dad, he called out my name, and he came down to the basement where I was sitting and smoking. He just looked at me, and I looked at him, and he didn’t say anything about the cigarette, about how I should put it out or anything. He just came and sat on the couch next to me. We watched football down there and I smoked until my mom came home and made us turn off the TV and made me put Clorox on the rug where there were ashes from the cigarette. I guess everyone has their own way of grieving. For my father it is to drink beer in front of the television in a dark room, and not to talk to anyone. For my mother it is to clean. My parents are good people. It’s just that everyone gets broken by living, and no one can avoid that.
So last night I had this dream about you. You were an angel. I laughed and said, “Craig, where are your wings?” Then you kissed me quietly against the windowsill, my head pressing in to the screen. Your teeth, which were long, long, so sharp and so strange, scraped against mine. But I wasn’t afraid. You said, “Just remember, okay? You just have to remember.” But I didn’t know how to answer. My skin started to flake off under the pressure of the big lights overhead. We were in the biology lab. Finally I told you, “Just don’t go anywhere.” And you said okay, that you wouldn’t, and you apologized, and then you left out the door that lead to the science hall instead of out the window as I thought you would. I watched your hair, blonde, against the percentile dark of the outside. The best part was you were still wearing your old sneakers, the ones with the soles falling off and the ratty laces.
So I guess this is a eulogy, for you, Craig, because I never went to your funeral. Anchu said it sucked anyway. I guess they didn’t talk about how they found you, or how scared you must have been, or whether or not it hurt or whether it felt peaceful in the end. I guess they didn’t talk about how you died at all. Anchu said your mom didn’t cry, she just looked forward with huge empty eyes. I guess she wore lipstick. I’m sure she was still the prettiest mom in town even though she was the saddest now, too. Anchu didn’t see any of your other family there. She said the principle talked a little, mostly about how you wee such a good student and how you were valedictorian and about the speech you gave at graduation. But he forgot some things. He forgot to talk about how me and Anchu were in the front row watching you that day at graduation, and how Anchu had put her hair up in a beehive and how she had on these huge junk earrings, and how pretty she looked. He didn’t even talk about how she got up on my back so she could cheer for you. He forgot to say that your favorite song was “Someday,” by The Strokes. Or how you didn’t really know how to talk to the girls you liked yet. He forgot to talk about the time you punched the guy I went out with last December, because I’d said I didn’t want to sleep with him and he called me a bitch in the cafeteria. He forgot to mention how you took LSD that one time and you had a panic attack because the walls started creeping backwards. He forgot about how the janitor found you sitting in the bleachers of our school football field last fall, and how you had no shirt on even though it was really cold that day, and how you had carved “Fuck the World” into your skin with school scissors, which apparently are child-proof but not proof enough for you, which a lonely kid who had something to say and his own white, white skin to right on. He forgot about us going to church every Sunday because Anchu wanted to. He forgot to say how backward it is—the son dying before the mother, the hopeful leaving the hopeless behind. Because it was always you who had hope, wasn’t it, Craig? It wasn’t me, it wasn’t Anchu. I always thought you would be the one to make it out of here. I guess I had it backward, too. I mean, how does a kid with as much hope as we always thought you had end up in a bathtub with his clothes on and his wrists slit open like yours were? Killed and killed and killed again, eyes opened in fear, sort of like you used to be but at the same time not the same you at all. How does that happen? I don’t know, Craig. I don’t know the answer.
Mostly I just wanted to say goodbye, because I didn’t get to before. And if there is something after this, some place you go to then I hope you’re okay there. And if there is a God I hope you find him. Mostly I just wanted to say how much I love you. And to tell you how sorry I am, even though I know you wouldn’t want me to be after all of this. The truth is I love you so much it kills me. And I miss you so much I don’t know how to bear it.