Things would have been better if he had stayed.

I knew that look he gave me before it happened. I recall the twinge of his lips, a familiar smile he gave before he was about to do something stupid. Don’t, I would always tell him, worrying away at the flesh in my mouth. But he took my objections as a challenge.

So this is how it happened. I remember his mother arriving to the scene, shock and dismay in her pretty features. She was young, and naive like the rest of us. Like me. For we both believed he would be safe. 

But nothing is safe from this world. This is something I came to realize after he jumped. Nothing is safe from Death, for he is the closest friend any of us will ever have.

Things might have been better if I had asked him more questions, about the purple flowers on his skin, or the red circles around his eyes. It might have all been better if I’d only been better at making him stop. “God, he was so happy,” his mother had said. He wasn’t. “He was so pure.” He wasn’t. “He was so young.” He was.

He’d arrived to my house that night, nearly 1 a.m. He had that look that he always had, but I could feel that something was different this time. I don’t know why he took me with him, I don’t know what he wanted. Maybe so that I could be the first to find him, and no one else. Maybe so that he could share his last moments, his last words, with me. This was the selfish theory, but it was what I clung to. For we were each other’s before we were anyone else’s.Collapse

Where are we going? I’d asked.

I am going back to the skies. A flourish of his hands, a smile on his chapped lips. This is what he was, this is what we were.

And I said it again when he put his hands on that rail. Don’t. I had winced at the emotion in my voice, the tears shooting right through me. You’re always crying, he had said. But there was no teasing in his voice this time. He didn’t even look at me as he said it. I’m not worth your tears. He had laughed, and it had sent a chill through me that I still feel, even twenty years later. And I’ll still feel it long after I’m gone, when I’m sent back to the weeds.

This was where we’d spent our days, whether it was a hot sun blazing down on our freckled skin, or frost that bit roses into our paleness. This is where we existed, in our youthful tragedy. He mussed my hair and I punched his ribs.

It was like he didn’t exist in this world. He moved through life like water around rocks. He would say things like he was living a Shakespeare play. And maybe he was. 

He’d take me by the hand and we’d run through the woods, claiming the territory as our own. We were like gods. 

If he were here, I’d tell him to stay. I’d tell him I understood. His nervous fingers, his laugh, his smile, his dirty hair. 

I understood, you hear me? I know what it meant. Stay for me, if not for yourself. 

You remember how we used to spend our nights swimming in your backyard pool? You loved the water, but you could barely swim. But you would give me one of the smiles and my objections would just turn to ash. We would dunk each other, drunk on life and the temporary happiness. And though you were laughing, it scared you: my hands on your head, pushing you down into the depth, the void. You asked me to stop, your voice shaking. Your hands were trembling as you pulled yourself out, water dripping over your frame. The bones under your skin almost breaking free, like you had wings. And maybe, if you had, you would still be here, running your fingers through my hair and laughing at my meekness.

You were more scared than you let on, I know that now. And maybe I always did. I know what happened to your knuckles, the day you showed up to school with the skin bursting and the blood flowing. I know. You understand? I know.

So come back. Come back to me. Come back to tell me I’m right. And if I’m wrong, then tell me that, too. Tell me everything. Tell me what you wanted from this life, and I’ll give it to you.

You know they always ask about me. They always ask how I am, how was my day, how am I feeling, with their sweet voices and bitter tongues. They ask me and I tell them fine, for what else am I meant to say? They have not lived with half their soul six-feet under. They do not know what it is like to go through life half-awake.

There are no exit-wounds from you. You are, and forever will be, lodged straight into my chest, in the meat between my bones, woven into the very fabric of my being. The wounds are open, and they are fatal.

He won’t hear me, though I wish he could. I would tell him all these things that I believe would have made him stay. I would tell him things the way we would tell each other secrets, our bodies close together, his temple against mine.

I could have loved him the way he wanted me to, though I didn’t know it then. 

And I will never forgive myself for not following him over that bridge. Or even, it should be me. It should have been me.

I do not want to think about him in icy waters, his hand reaching out to the surface, while mine — cold and trembling — reached out to his, his name on my tongue, again and again. I want to think of him in all his laughter and youth. For it is in this form that he is eternal, though damned he may have been.

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