"Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.”
— Edna St. Vincent Millay
It was the morning of Black Friday.
I was home alone and on my first cup of coffee when your mother called.
I ignored the call because it was too early for conversation. I think you probably would’ve laughed at that; neither of us were morning people. A few minutes later, I saw her text: “Bad news, please call me.” I knew at that moment it was serious; your mother never texted me. Obviously my first thought was for you, then immediately afterwards, your daughter. I waited half an hour before calling her back though. I remember finishing my coffee, downing another cup, pacing my living room. It seemed necessary somehow, as if drinking enough coffee would fortify me for whatever news awaited. Something bad had happened – the sense of dread I felt was both overwhelming and foreign to me - and I knew nothing would be the same after I found out. I guess I just wanted to put it off for a little longer. I don’t know.
I was also wearing only my robe, which I usually do in the mornings. I had to get dressed before I could make the call.
When I finally summoned the courage to pull up her number and press the call button, she picked up on the third ring. Strange the little details you remember, while others you black out entirely. Her tone gave nothing away. She didn’t sound terribly upset. Even when she asked me if I was sitting down, her tone indicated the news wasn’t as bad as I’d made it out to be in my head. I thought: okay, you had another car accident. You’re in the hospital, banged up, maybe a few broken bones, a concussion, nothing serious. Your mother, like yourself, has been known for being sarcastic.
Maybe it wasn’t you at all. Maybe it was your new husband. Maybe you couldn’t call me because you were too distraught over something happening to him. But of course, I was wrong, and somehow, I knew I would be. What your mother said next decimated me.
I couldn’t breathe.
I felt all my strength drain out of me, slipping down through my feet and into a puddle on the floor. Which was where I found myself seconds later, on my living room floor, searching for air, searching for words, searching for some sense of it all. But none existed. This was a terrible dream, a nightmare I needed to wake up from. It was a cruel joke you were playing on me, and everyone was in on it except me.
I remember telling your mother I was sorry and thanking her for letting me know. I remember her asking me if I could come visit you in the hospital, “to say goodbye” she’d said. I remember promising her I would. I don’t remember hanging up, or what I did for the next two hours afterwards.
At some point, I had made myself a drink.
I texted a friend: “Where are you?” I wanted to text the same to you, and for you to respond. Everything would be okay. This wasn’t supposed to happen to you.
I knew my friend had gone out of town for Thanksgiving but was due back sometime that day. I would’ve called, but I didn’t trust myself to speak coherently. She responded quickly, and of course, she was still out of town, two hours away, but was getting ready to head back. She asked me what was up and I told her. She spoke to me for something like twenty minutes, making sure I was okay, and then she was on her way. By the time she arrived at my front door, I had polished off half a bottle of whiskey.
She gave me a hug and asked how I was doing. I forget what I said.
She asked if I was ready to go.
“No, not really,” I told her, and then we left.
In the hospital, the woman at the front desk was refusing to let me up to see you. They had you in ICU, critical condition, and only family was allowed. I messaged your mother and told the secretary one way or another, I was getting in. I kept pacing the lobby, angry, my face red and puffy from crying. She was calling security when your mother emerged from the elevator and let them know it was okay, that I was allowed to see you. There was no way I was leaving without seeing you.
None of this had felt real until the moment I walked into your hospital room. Until that moment, it was still something that could be taken back. I felt my breath catch in my throat, stopping only for a moment to take in the sight of you lying there, then moved quickly to your side. I held your hand for something like an hour, crying, mumbling words I don’t remember, praying to a god I don’t even believe in to save you, hoping against the odds you’d simply wake up and be yourself again and ask me, in that way you always did, “what the hell is wrong with you?”
Your beautiful blue-green eyes were closed so I couldn’t stare into them, your face slightly swollen so it was difficult to imagine you were “just sleeping,” your lips separated by breathing tubes, but your hand was still yours and it was warm and soft and small in mine, all the ways I had always known it to be. I held onto it as if somehow I could transfer my energy to you so long as I didn’t let go, so long as I kept the current flowing, so long as I believed. But I’m just a man - flawed, mortal – and those things only happen in comic books.
I left the hospital in a daze. I think I told your mother I loved her but I’m not sure. The walk from your room to the car, and the subsequent drive home, were nothing more than images, words, all jumbled together and making no sense. My friend took me to a bar, but we didn’t stay long. I was disheveled and drunk and incapable of being around people. She took me home.
She got me into bed and held me, talked to me, cried with me. I don’t know how long we stayed there or even everything we talked about, but I didn’t want her to leave. The idea of being alone filled me with panic, but I knew it would happen eventually. This friend of mine? You met her once or twice, at that Halloween party and another party of mine, a birthday I believe, and she’s a lot like you in certain ways: the genius, the darkness, the love she carries for people, the curiosity and compassion. And those eyes, you two have the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen. Twin galaxies.
I don’t remember falling asleep. I don’t remember my friend leaving or saying goodbye. I’d like to say I dreamt of you that night, but I don’t remember dreaming either, only that my last thought was this: this wasn’t supposed to happen to you.
Three weeks prior, I had attended your wedding.
It was a simple thing, held in the backyard of your new house beneath a spectacular Florida sunset, and it was all the things people should strive for in a wedding: intimate, casual, fun, and inexpensive. I had brought a friend who was visiting from out of town for his own father’s wedding two days later, also taking place in his home, and though he had only met you once, briefly, he spent the majority of the evening recording the festivities of the night with someone’s (or his own?) camera phone. He took on the responsibility because he used to operate a camera for years in Los Angeles, so he was comfortable behind the camera, and also because that is the kind of considerate man, and friend, he is.
I remember how beautiful you looked in your white wedding dress and heart-shaped princess tiara, the same tiara I had seen you wear out to the clubs and karaoke bars for years. You were “goth princess” online when we met, and you remained that way for as long as I knew you: a true goth princess, unique and irreplaceable.
I watched you dance first with your new husband, then with your father on a dance floor made of gray paver stones covered in glitter beneath a moonlit sky. I watched your new husband remove your garter with his teeth as we all laughed. I watched you throw the bouquet to the five girls standing behind you. I watched as the best man and maid of honor made their toasts, both of them expressing how they had never seen either of you happier, both wishing years of happiness to come. I watched you and your new husband feed cake to one another, carefully, lovingly, happily.
My friend and I left shortly after the cake because I had promised to take him to The Castle in Ybor. I hugged you, wished you and your husband the best. I said to have fun on your honeymoon in Massachusetts and that we’d get together after Thanksgiving. I had no idea that would be the last time we would ever speak to each other again. I wish I had stayed longer. If only I had known.
Two days after visiting you in the hospital, I spoke to your mother on the phone, and this is what she told me: just after we left the hospital that night, the priest came to give you Last Rites, and the doctor and nurses removed the breathing tubes and took you off life support. Shortly afterward, you opened your eyes. The swelling in your face went down. The color came back into your cheeks. You didn’t speak, but your eyes stayed locked on your mother as she spoke to you, then moved to your brother when she called him over. She told you it was okay, that you could let go and rest. She told your brother to say goodbye to you. They stayed with you until your breathing slowed, until your eyes finally closed, until your heart took its last beat.
Did you know where you were, or who was there in that room with you? Could you feel me holding your hand, hear the words I was whispering to you while I was there? Did you want to say something to your mother as you stared at her? Did you realize what had happened, what you had done? Did you wish you hadn’t? I keep wondering if this was a spontaneous act, or something you had planned, but I keep coming up empty. These are questions that will never have answers, because the only person who can answer them is you. And there is nothing left of you now but the memories you left us, the sound of your beautiful voice immortalized in recordings of your music, and countless photographs of you, a girl too rare for this world.
So many memories circling in my head now. I remember meeting you first online, on a site no longer in existence, then in person at the Wal-Mart near your house where I worked, talking for hours on the balcony outside your second-story bedroom as you chain-smoked, your daughter just three months old and sleeping in the next room.
I remember my old apartment in Tampa, its small living room, me trying to teach you how to dance the way they do in Goth clubs to music like VNV Nation, Skinny Puppy, and Assemblage 23 because you had no idea and no rhythm and we both laughed about it because we were having too much fun and that was all that mattered.
I remember that day in May of 2003 when we purchased Marilyn Manson’s “The Golden Age of Grotesque” at the mall and drove back to my apartment in Tampa listening to it together for the first time. I loved it, you were skeptical at first, but eventually grew to love it as well. I remember you moving to the music in my car as I cruised down the highway, smoking and reading the lyrics from the CD jacket, showing me the pictures at traffic lights. I don't remember what we did that night, but I will never forget that drive, and the connection that album will always have to you.
I remember you flying out to Arizona on a day’s notice in December of 2007 because I had just left my girlfriend and my entire life in Los Angeles and was driving cross-country alone, out of my mind with doubt and sadness. My mother had paid for your ticket and I was to pick you up at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in the afternoon. The sight of you walking out of that airport and toward my car filled me with love and gratitude I had forgotten existed. That was the day you saved my life. On the way home, we talked for hours and you read Eric Bogosian’s book “Mall” to me out loud as I drove. When we hit Florida’s panhandle, I taught you how to drive stick.
I remember driving to your mother’s house every day after you crashed your car (on purpose), taking you to Starbucks or out to eat because this was an attempt and I needed to do whatever I could to lift you up because the thought of losing you was simply too much. You had lost everything – your boyfriend, your apartment, most of your personal belongings and furniture - but I assured you things would be okay, that you still had your daughter and family and me. I promised I would help you, I promised you would be happy again, And you were.
I remember Christmas parties – both of us dressed to the nines and drunk - and the one New Year’s Eve when it all started over for the both of us. I remember when we fell in love, and I remember when that fell apart.
I remember laughing and crying with you, holding hands, you playing your songs for me on the keyboard, the Marilyn Manson concert and the signing afterward at the Hard Rock, soft kisses, trips to The Castle and Necropolis, telling secrets, countless karaoke bars, dinners at Macaroni Grill, the scent of your perfume on my clothes, introducing you to my girlfriends and meeting your boyfriends, our second floor apartment, making love, epic fights, Mr. Johnson’s creative writing class, Kryptonite by Three Doors Down, holding you during your many migraines, but most of all, I remember being your best friend and how special that was to me. I wish more than anything in this world I could tell you how truly grateful I am for that.
Lately, I find myself afraid to watch movies, terrified something in them will remind me of you, or us – a moment, a song, a line of dialogue - and then I won’t be able to stop crying. I tried watching a few, thinking it would make for a good distraction from reality, but all ended the same way – me breaking down alone on the couch, unable to reconcile what happened, why you’re gone, that I can’t do a damned thing to bring you back. If I could make a deal with god, or the devil to save you, to reclaim your life, I would. But god and the devil don’t really exist. These things are just fantasies, their magic nothing more than that of a fairy tale.
The film “What Dreams May Come” came to mind recently, and I found myself wondering: are you trapped in your own personal Hell? Are you in some dark place, alone, unaware, waiting for someone to come and save you? I’d like to think I would be able to do that for you. I’d like to think I’ll see you again, somewhere, perhaps in another life, when we are both cats? Yes, that was another one – Vanilla Sky. “They laughed at Jules Verne, too.”
Now, I keep pictures of you and us saved on my desktop and look at them often, imagining us back in those moments in time. I send messages to you on Facebook as if by some miracle you’ll be able to read them, as if that’s still a connection to you. I keep a candle lit for you every night, placed in the Greek-themed candle holder you got me as a birthday gift a few years ago, on top of a bookshelf right next to a photo of you - one of my favorites, the expression on your face a sideways smirk, that look I loved so much.
People try to tell me that I need to heal, that I need to let you go and move on, that I need to smile and live my life. They make it seem so easy, as if I should just pretend it never happened and carry on. They say, “She wouldn’t want you to be sad, she’d want you to keep living your life.” But, I am living, and I am sad, and no amount of time will change either of those until there’s no time left, until we meet again. What else can I do now but remember you, and write about you, and never forget how inexplicably you changed my life?
These things I will carry with me, always.
Today is one month since you left us, and in two days it will be Christmas, and your daughter’s sixteenth birthday. I keep thinking how you probably would’ve planned her an amazing sweet sixteen party, full of pink balloons and glitter and anime decorations, because that’s the kind of mother you were. I worry about her now, how your absence will affect her. I’ve tried reaching out to her, offering an ear or shoulder should she need either, but she keeps assuring me she’s okay, that she’s healing every day. I hope that is true. I hope it’s true for us all.