I leaned my chair back at that restaurant, talking to him behind the back of the boy between us. We thought we were so old then. That was so long ago.
We were sober. And then we weren’t. We broke all our promises. When night fell, we made more. There were monsters and they were only boys; thin, with bruised eyes, skin sallow and shadowed as if with dirt. There were calloused fingers. There were flames sweeping back and forth beneath the aluminum bowl of a cut-open soda can. There was the speck of cotton dropped into the swirling brown liquid. There was the needle drawing it up like film of a smoldering cigarette on rewind, the pool gathering itself together and disappearing into the syringe.
There was the feeling that rushed to our edges. Indescribable. Breathtaking.
There were both of our bodies lying in the same bed. We weren’t in them anymore. There were both of our bodies, strewn like the forgotten pizza going cold beside us and the abandoned cigarette butts around the unlit living room. There were both of our bodies draped over the couch that night, side by side and sleeping.
There was his face in the morning. His tongue of foam. His eyes not looking.
There was his brother. Saying, you did this. You did this.
I’m sorry is not a thing that can be understood. Regret. Haunted. I can’t explain it.
What I’m trying to tell you about is his ghost, the year I saw him every day. I saw him on street corners, at the edge of my bed, waiting in line at the coffee shop where I worked. His silver lip rings, his amber-flecked eyes. The film of him laid over the film of the street, the room, the boy in front of me. His corpse in our bed. His eyes in the face of the barista, the ticket-taker, the man asking for money, eyeing my dog. That was back when the light streamed across the asphalt like a projector beam and the image of the storefronts shuddered, dotted with lesions.
It was one year to the day since he had died when he left me. I fingered the sleeve of his old jacket; I remembered him wearing it exactly once. When his neighbor met me in the parking lot, she took everything back, and I gave it; his Zune still playing through my car speakers, the sunglasses I’d bought him, the last clinging motes of his scent. It was a friend who gave me that jacket, forgotten in the backseat of his car. The last vestige so tenuously connected to him and I hugged it tight to my shoulders, hating the blank smell of Tide. A funeral took place on a boat crawling through the water of another world; I could only imagine edges, fingers dipped in ash. I said let them hate me, if it helps. Their wounds a trench I’d dug, too.
Detective’s voice on the phone, rich and heady as the steam rising from the paper cup of coffee between my knees; pink slip; the row of Ws slashed into the transcript under a grocery receipt, car keys; slammed door and the dishes collecting in my apartment sink.
In the kitchen that night, we’d said good bye. How selfish to hoard that moment, picking at the scab of it to split the skin, conjure the crimson bubble. Going back again and again to when I was held fast to him, and all the lies I still had time to savor. I love you baby. When we get back, I’m gonna take care of you, we’re gonna get right. Answering lies with generous lies, matching him promise for impossible promise. I was going to die first, and leave him on that molding couch.
It was a year to the day when he left me; I was fine and then I was gutted by a grief I hadn’t touched: a selfish, terrible sorrow. The guilt was not there to keep it from me. The obsessive relapse of the film folded back simply paused. The reel unfurled. The hurt tasted of salt and rosemary. All that love still so close to the ribs, under the remorse. All that love. All that I had taken.