this was supposed to be a suicide note but then it didn’t end up happening. I purchased the rope from Amazon but set it aside in the corner of the room where it stared at me like the snake must have stared at Eve
and so this is, instead, a collection of everything I learned or still haven’t. I love my mother and my father and my brother, except I don’t really know them, not really, and they don’t really know me, not like you do. or did.
after you died in that bed I was broken for a while, in the way that only broken people have authority to say they are. broken not in the physical but somewhere deeper, in the inside shadows where life lays itself.
something in me ruptured there, and I could feel air go through me as if there was a crack in the skin. except when my hands went over my body everything was smooth and glowing and solid, as if everything healed over. or, scratch that. as if nothing had ever broken.
do you remember? we met in math class, numbers all around us. you came to me and asked for help, knowing, perhaps sensing, that I was good at math because of my race, which was copper yellow, which you’ve been taught all your life to associate with large numbers and glasses and funny men and supervillains.
perhaps this is why I said no, no as in I’m not good at math, even though I was—even though I was also good at other things, like English, like listening to people, like presaging fingertips, like reading palms.
you asked me to help you and I did, eventually. let you cheat off me, copy my homework. as you leaned over to scribble down my answers and pass them off as yours, I wanted to join you in the space where our breaths met, and then, God permitting, let the breath run over me as though to cloak myself within it.
our lockers were beside each other in the ninth grade. you moved across the hall in the tenth. you had your friends, I had my friends, and together we exchanged gazes and hellos in the corridors of a school that wanted to digest us slowly, turn us into factory men with their factory-programming. for a while, I accepted that premise. one factory man, coming up.
but I thought about you that night—the night you moved across the hall—dug my hands into my pants and thought about you as the first boy I ever permitted myself to think about. I was a boy myself, but I remembered math class, one and zero, up and down my hands went, holding myself, imagining me holding you holding myself, breathing in the air above me as though wanting the air to trickle back down and fill my heated face with yet more heat, with one, zero, two men in the room, falling in love with one of you, but close my eyes and there’d be two of you, two of us, squaring each other, you the superscript, me the sub letter on the ground that sometimes you would pull up and promise you wouldn’t let melt into zero.
and so you made me realize what else was possible: not just the factory-life they were making us into, but something more. at a party, the party we first kissed, you were drunk the first time and so was I. so were our bodies, so were our minds. the drunk cupped our tenses, made our syntax yack, rendered time muddy. was this the present or is this the past or will it be the future? not sure.
actively, my hand was shaken by you, you were good to see me and I was good to see you, too. you took my hands and led me to the beer pong table. you got the back cups, I got the front, we worked in the middle, slid off on a tangent. and as the opposing side battled to sink their balls in our water, we talked. I flicked my wrist, we won.
and you put—was it one hand? two?—on my back. we celebrated together, our first high school party and our first victory. suddenly the crowd surged around me, held me up, the way boys do when one of their own wins one of their games. but me, I was looking for you. were you holding me up, too? I remembered the way I was trying to remember you the previous night, when I would pull my neck into your hands and let you take my drunk and drown in it: ethanol, waterfall, alcohol, summer lull.
this was supposed to be a coming-of-age story. except I didn’t want to grow up, and neither did you. and so we were young in the upstairs attic for a while (the only place our parents couldn’t find us), where you and I tested each other, became each other’s mirrors.
you bit me, licked, insulted, held. it was no perfect relationship. I was quite bad in it. but with your breath on my neck, I realized how much I liked another human being lying so close. the dark of our sleepovers was buoyed by this breath, by our wandering body parts—a stray foot, a stray elbow, it didn’t matter, as long as we were touching each other.
for in those days I ached to be touched, even in secret, even if it was sham. because I was starting to figure out: to be with a man while being a man is to want to hold and be held, both at once.
instead I learned how things start and end with fevers. how it was detected because of a high fever on a regular day. fevers kicked off blood tests, regular checkups, false positives, and then, a few weeks later, a true diagnosis. then trials, alopecia, blindness. in October, you were released and allowed to come home. but just a few days after, you were brought back under the pretense of yet another fever. fevers were my only constant, hot then shivering, passing with flashes of anger or the slipperiness of hallucinations. bad fevers, good fevers, medium fevers, I learned to discern them all: I want to go home, I am ready to get better, I am done with this hospital and this room, respectively. but the unexpected fevers were the worst, monsters protruding from out of the dark while I prayed (I am not religious) not for you to live or to die, but for the fever to break, so that you could decide the rest yourself.
I suppose I never knew you either, except for who you were relative to me. you had the strangest hair: a brown mop over your eyes that you would put up with pomade, which made you look completely different by the time you were done. there was a you-with-pomade and a you-without, and I was not sure which one I preferred. either way, I thought, I would have time to figure that out. I wanted to do your hair plenty of times, to test it out in different ways, to cut it differently so maybe it could be more like mine. I liked my own hair, so I thought, maybe you’d like it, too.
there it is: why I started to write this, why I bought the rope. I wanted to apologize for never actually knowing you, never trying to, for making this all about myself. why I feel not as sad as I should have been. I wish this was a story in which I cried and cried and cried, where I held your hand just as you were starting to go, where I was there, even, at the bed where supposedly your last breath was thick, had texture, was obstructed by something in your throat— but it’s not sad that leads you to buy a rope, it’s this vacuum of nothing you have when you’re mourning, in mourning; I wish I cried at the funeral, wish your parents knew about us, wish that I had been more perfect, the way you are, the way you will always be from now on, since you are frozen in time and I must continue to stubbornly move through it, and make mistakes, and meet new men who will struggle to reach where you have already touched, and filled, and held. I am just learning all this now.
this was supposed to be a suicide note but I think it is more of an apology. for those reasons above. I know that you don’t actually need the apology but just in case you see this—yes, there is someone new, someone we both knew. you know the one. and I’m sorry. and I hope you find your way