This article first appeared on Luna Luna and has been republished with permission.
The painkillers are for my legs and my stomach; this week I’ve been shot in the gut. Not for real, though I can’t wait until I befall some sort of gun related mistake so I can tell my family physician that this does, after all, feel exactly like a gunshot wound. They make me weepy, the painkillers. It doesn’t help that I sit down and listen to The Smiths or Tom Waits. Then tonight I was reminded of emotions I’m not done with yet.
Perhaps it’s always supposed to be this way: Trade one pain for another.
"Perhaps" is a spelling word this week for the kid I tutor. Fifty bucks a week, seven vocabulary words. Fifteen spelling. He failed his test last week; who can say how long I’ll have this extra job?
I’m jealous of you. I’m indebted to the sense of envy which came about, I think, after about the third or fourth time I watched other people cry over your death. It kept happening: First in the car while I was driving. It was a phone call that time and I had to stand in someone’s living room covered in daisy yellow paint. I just kept standing there with my hands on my hips and the rollers were cold because the house was cold. In the end, I helped renovate that house, top to bottom and no one ever moved into it. It’s the perfect metaphor for the grief and shock: A house we all built together that no one ever lived in. My new therapist chides me often about how I go backwards. I say something and then I have to tell you the story about the time I tripped over my dress while trick or treating and busted my chin on the broken pavement. I have to explain that the dress was white, the tiara stayed stuck in my curls, and I bled. But appearances — aside from the blood —were still intact. I have to tell you that story so when I tell you this one you’ll understand.
I’m so jealous of you that I didn’t even feel sad for a month.
Not the first month, not the second. By the time you died my beloved aunt had already died and I was with her when that happened. You never met my aunt, she probably had no recollection of me ever talking about you. Sometimes I think of how great a sin it is that so many people will never meet my aunt and they will never know you either. I got the flu. I knew I was sick and I kept showing up to shit anyway, kept showing up with no voice and sweating. When I finally did go to the doctor he said I was super contagious and I shouldn’t go anywhere else. I wonder how many people I got sick by dragging out the visit. Then I thought about the ride to the funeral home and whom I had agreed to ride with. How I would’ve inevitably been stuck in the back middle seat because I’m so small, it would’ve saved everyone else the pain. I didn’t go to your funeral.
This was going to be a poem. I can’t practice brevity. I think I’m the worst poet I know. I think I was jealous because I’ve been trying to die since I was fourteen. Once when I was much younger I rode on a four wheeler with my older cousin and my dad got mad and he said I’d really like to see you live to see your thirteenth birthday. But then thirteen came and there was never another ultimatum. I certainly didn’t want another birthday and there were many I did not celebrate. You are so celebrated and I thought I wanted that. I wanted people to tell me, to my face, that I was something special. I understand that is not what is happening here. I understand you died and it was sudden and we had nothing else left except words.
I bought this long black scarf before Christmas. It’s much too big for me, but I bought it so I could wrap in around my face when it snows and shield my face from the cold. I take it off when I enter classrooms or my car and I fold it over my coat. I forget it’s there until I nearly leave it behind. I realize sometimes you are like a black scarf that doesn’t look like it should belong to me. Bad things happen, keep happening. I can’t say what it is, but I think about how you hated this other person we know. You really hated him and sometimes the only comfort there is from any of it is that. The knowledge that you hated him. It’s the loneliest experience I’ve ever endured and I sleep with the lamp on every night now. But I know where you stand, where you stood and I know I wouldn’t be alone if you were here, some people have left me alone. It hurt so much more than I ever thought it would.
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Out of suffering grew envy and out of that grew something else. My sunflowers all died that summer, last summer, every last one. The ones that made it past infancy were eaten by the wildlife, the locals as it were. The only remarkable thing to be produced in the garden was the nest of copperhead snakes living there. The great big one that came flying out of the box when my hand struck it on accident. I would’ve crushed it under my boot if given the chance, but I didn’t. I took up the kitchen scissors and started cutting away everything that wasn’t dead yet. Would be dead soon anyway and I bundled it together and took it to you. I ran out of time and had no means to tie it all together so I let my hair down and used my hair tie to do the job. I never told anyone about it, except your aunt. She told your mom. Your aunt and your mother love me. I’m scared of what would happen if they knew me well enough at all. I bet you think it’s fucking funny that a poisonous snake was living in my garden and I found out when I went to cut your graveside flowers.
I wanted you to know that I don’t want to die anymore.
I realized this one morning when I was brushing my teeth and saw myself in the mirror and I looked older and I looked better. I wrote an essay like this once about Emily. Emily who shot herself on September 26th 2015 and my classmates hated it. They absolutely tore that essay apart and I was grateful that I let them eat that one instead of the essay about my father beating me as child. I’m so much tougher than I was when I wrote the last essay for a dead friend. I’m not jealous of you anymore because I have my own gifts and they are mine, they are heavy. I am my own person and a perfect stranger to everyone who loves me and it’s just the way I want it. I’m not jealous anymore because I recognize that the soft pushing against my back means something. You and I are still so much alike. There’s no way to end a confession such as this one. Which is to say I don’t believe anything ever really ends and I talk about you as though you are alive. It brings me comfort. Tomorrow I won’t be weepy at all and I’ll laugh about this. Laughter too has been hard to come by lately and yet I’ll find it again.