An Open Letter to a Distant Friend

— For Tom

It’s strange how many of my memories have nothing to do with you, friend.
Like the beautiful pile those two-hundred strangely sharp, individual metallic
wrappers made after I’d ripped the sleeping pills from them; how even after
I’d gulped the pills down and turned out the lights I could still see that shining
little mound from where I lay on my bed waiting to see what death was like.
You weren’t there to see that, so I give it to you now, a gift from years ago but
still somehow of my present darkness too. I’ve always thought it strange that I
didn’t think of you then, as I made my escape, that the fugue-state fantasies
which consumed me like someone else’s dreams never brought your face among
all the others, sad, angry and disappointed. Later on the plane to the hospital
(that I clung to life was the gift of two kinds of miracle: the mundane one of
medicine, and the most intense and human one in the way that my mother, a foot
shorter than I, found me on my back without detectable breathing or pulse, my
arms crossed over my chest like I’d already been buried, and carried me bodily
up two flights and down two more to the car to save me) all I could smell was
something like bile and I fell in and out of love with the nurse a dozen times as
I fell in and out of life, unsure of where I’d stop. But I didn’t think of you once then,
just continued about my business of taking away everything I had ever given anyone,
as an estranged father might murder his children while his wife, who taught him
what love was by finally taking it away, sleeps dreamless in the next room.
Even long after the "incident was in the past" as others would dare to say,
after two nights strapped to my bed so I wouldn’t rip my IV’s out again, after
weeks of short-term memory dysfunction, after months of my mom’s question
"why?" her mouth shaping into the familiar ‘O’ and relaxing again and again,
after my last years in that town trying to fit back into the jagged space left
for me within all that I had intended to leave behind— after all of that we never
once talked about it. Not really. So I’m talking now. And I thank you, friend,
not because you wouldn’t have talked, but because you didn’t, because you sensed
the reversal, knew that life had suddenly become what death couldn’t be—
something I had to have at all costs, because you never asked if you were a reason,
because you never made the lame overture that you knew how I felt or, worse,
that you had thought of "doing it" too... because of all of that, and because you really
had everything and nothing to do with both the staying part and the leaving part,
and because you gave—and still give—me so much faith that you should be investing
in yourself, I’m writing to thank you, finally, by telling you the most important things,
and to say again that it’s funny, isn’t it, how many of my memories have nothing
to do with you, even though you’ve always been there . . .


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