After you told me about your friend that killed himself in the car while you sat next to him — I became obsessed with saving you.
“How’s work?” I asked on the phone. I could hear loud noises and I knew you were working and it was raining and because of this I knew you were in a bad mood and I imagined the rain dripping down your tattooed arms, veins throbbing like little rivers. The veins in your arms always appeared when you were stressed.
“Horrible. Weather sucks. I’m tired of this,” you said, your deep voice raspy from lack of sleep. You let out a breath that sounded like wind and I wished I was close to you so I could touch your warm skin and tell you not to be sad anymore.
“I’m sorry. Wanna hang out later?” I asked. I imagined going to your apartment where it was always dark and sharing a bottle of cheap vodka while we discussed everything we hated about our lives.
“Maybe. I’m on top of a really tall building. Maybe I should just jump,” you said. And I couldn’t tell if you were joking or being serious.
“You know you aren’t going to jump. Don’t be dramatic,” I said. And then I immediately wished I hadn’t because when we hung up I couldn’t stop picturing your body matted to the concrete like wet newspaper.
You told me you and your friend were supposed to die together. That somehow he screwed things up because he died first.
“He was just braver than me,” you said one night when I couldn’t see your face because we turned all the lights off. I wanted to ask you what you meant by ‘braver’ but I knew and so instead I pretended to be asleep to stop you from talking about such depressing things.
“I am so stressed out,” you said to me on the phone.
“Let me fix you,” I said. I always said this. You found it endearing.
And I took that as a challenge. You came back to the apartment and I was already there because you gave me a key that one night and said, ‘You should feel special because I never trust girls in my personal space like this,’ but there I was in your personal space and if I wanted to I could have gone through all your things. I could have searched through your drawers and fridge and bathroom to find out if you were talking to your ex again. But instead I just left notes. Notes like; “Every second of this two-hour drive is worth it when I get to see your green eyes,” and “Top three reasons I adore you: your collar bone, your knuckles, and your mouth.” I left these words in places you might not find right away. When you opened the door I was already asleep but you woke me up with your lips behind my ear and I giggled because I couldn’t remember the last time that part of my skin was touched. And something as simple as that did make this drive worth it. I thought about my home in Jersey and how my parents didn’t know where I was. Had no idea I was driving to Allentown a few times a week to see you. I always had a thing for secrets.
I imagined your hands bloody from your best friend’s head.
“I had to touch the blood in order to believe it was real,” you’d told me one night when I asked you about it. You told me the blood was thick and warm on your finger tips and when you saw pieces of your friend exposed in such a way you finally realized he was dead. It was that moment that you panicked. I could have asked you what the gunshot sounded like, what the glass breaking reminded you of, what it felt like to have your best friend push your head down forcefully while he took out a gun, pulled a trigger, and slumped against the steering wheel like nothing more than a pile of clothes. But I didn’t. I asked you about the silence that came after.
When we fought you got mean and I liked it. I liked seeing you lose control because then I knew you still had feelings so sometimes I would push you. Sometimes I would press that one button and watch your face change shape.
“I can’t do this anymore,” you finally yelled once. We were sitting on your couch with the TV off and all I could think about was the last note I left you that said, ‘you save me from everything,’ and I wondered if you found it yet or not.
We went to bed fighting and the bruises you left all over my skin made me feel like I was actually yours. In the morning you played the guitar for me, hands moving about the instrument like impatient ideas. You sang “Collide” by Howie Day and the sound of your raspy voice kept me alive. Kept me next to you. I laid my head on your lap as your hands gently moved like you were smoothing out wrinkles and later when we tried to make up and when you pressed into me so hard it was like you wanted to destroy me — I would ask you to pretend I was the guitar so that you would be gentle.
I never did save you. I never could. When I remember you now I remember your eyes. Green. Green like ‘go’. And so I did. I went. I left. And all that I have as a memory is a fading bruise and I’m afraid that when it is gone you will be too.
Liz Grear writes in New Jersey, USA.