(Note: This is the second part of two. The first half is at this link:
No, I never got your note, despite your well-laid plans. I’ve had it summarized to me, in very general terms, but I’ve declined every offer to actually read it, in these twenty-four years. One thing – about the whole thing – that I could control, so I kept it.
My understanding is, it’s really a series of notes, messages to everyone you knew. In mine, you told everyone that you’d done it because of me, that it was my fault, and that you’d told me you were going to do it, that I’d ignored you.
To be fair, the word is you said some pretty nasty things about a lot of different people, in that note, but I’m not going to go into it. It certainly wasn’t all about me. But I was right there on the top of the stack, wasn’t I?
It’s hard not to be astonished, by the lengths you went to, trying to get us to read that note. You were smart enough to know that the cops, the paramedics, the counselors – they’d never give it to me, or anyone else, not just because you asked them to. But you knew they’d look for a note, and so you printed one out and you put it right there, on the desk.
Made a copy of it on a disk, though – a big floppy disk from the eighties, and you went out into the woods behind your house, where we used to fight monsters together, and you hid it under an overhang, in a ravine we used as a cave. You put it in a bag, and put that bag in another bag, and you closed that up in a small, metal box, and you put it out there, for one of us to find.
I think you might have made another copy – there have been dozens of versions of that story, how your note made it back to the school, but that’s the one I believe.
But the note showed up and everyone got to read what you had to say about them, your final word, everyone but me.
You stayed home from school for a day and a half, working on the note, getting the copy in place, getting the decoy printed out and displayed. You made the title page a cartoonish joke. Another friend of yours – a neighbor – found you there, in your chair, the rifle in your lap, your hands clamped to the arms of the chair. He’s the one who found the note, too, days later.
The counselors arrived, and God bless ‘em, I’m sure they meant well. I learned what to say pretty quickly, how to run them off. And that was right about when the mean stepdad started to lay off, and the big kids at the beach, I guess they figured I’d had enough. A lot of my problems, well – they went away when you did.
You’re kind of mysterious and dark, when your friend dies – I wonder if you knew that? If you knew you’d be bestowing upon me the very thing we tried to invent about ourselves? That tragedy was depth, and that depth was the cure for being a dork, that it made you alternative.
It would be great if it were really all that shallow, if my life just turned rosy once you were gone, and we could all appreciate the irony.
But there was a lot wrong with me after that, because what I thought was that things were exactly as they appeared, exactly as they felt, exactly as you said in your parting manifesto – that your death really was my fault. That I really had done something on par with killing you myself. And that I had gotten away with it, too.
They say that we live on in the memories of those we leave behind, and you certainly lived on in mine. I dreamed about you for years, dreamed that Hell was real, and that you’d be waiting for me on the day I walked in, your unread note in one hand, your rifle in the other. You chased me through forests, and down Orange Road in the pitch black night, and through the hallways of our school, in unbelievably slow and lurid detail, through so many nightmares I grew to abhor sleep itself.
Other dreams you’d just show up, sometimes the same plump-faced fifth grader I met long ago, sometimes the haunted preteen, his face slick with blood, and you’d simply ruin a perfectly good dream, lurking in the background, watching me. Sitting suddenly at the end of the table. Snatching aside a curtain, in a dream about a castle or a mansion or an elaborate play.
Sometimes you’d tell me earnestly, there’s been an incredible mistake – you had to fake your own death because you work for the government, and the dream will seem so achingly real for so long. In the dream, the neutron star of guilt is lifted with absolute clarity. It’s a real memory, I think, of a time when your death wasn’t the dense alien metal that my skull is made of now.
Late night television and frozen pizzas, then south campus bars and pouring shots in restaurants, I stayed on the Night Side where you left me, my friend. I skulked around campus wrapped in hair and trenchcoats and outlandish hats. Sat on my porch until the sun came up, and only went to my dreams when it was absolutely necessary.
Even now, that’s what I’m doing, my garage door up, leaning back in a chair in the dead of night, this little computer on my lap, even though there’s sleep in my future now, and your visits have grown infrequent, and my feelings toward you have changed. Still I’m always on this side of things, watching quietly while cities sleep around me.
I used to think if Hell were real, I’d have to face you one day. In the same way people dream about meeting their grandmas in the House of the Lord, I thought I’d have to deal with you, one way or the other, on the day I walked in there, shovel over my shoulder, guilty as Hell for what I had done to you.
I didn’t know who would be in charge that day, which of the two of us would deserve to get punished more. Or if we’d be there together, like old times – getting towed around by bigger kids at the beach, dunked under the water, completely helpless right there in front of each other. Forced to see it reflected with stark clarity, in each other’s eyes.
These days, I don’t think of Hell as something real I’m likely to walk into, with a shovel. But if I did, here’s the difference: I think of kids your age as kids, not pals.
If I saw you tomorrow and you were looking for a fight, you wouldn’t get one. You’d get an arm around your shoulder, and an ear to talk into.
I wish I could have given you that when you needed it, old friend. I truly do.