Thomm Quackenbush, author

06.02.01 2:30 p.m.

I don't understand how this all happens, how we go through this, I mean I knew her and then she's, there's just a body, I don't understand why she just can't get back in it and not be dead, it's stupid, it's mortal and stupid, Xander's crying and not talking and I was having fruit punch and I thought that Joyce would never have any more fruit punch and she'd never have eggs, or yawn, or brush her hair, not ever and no one will explain...


 -"Anya" on Buffy the Vampire Slayer 




I never really knew someone who died before. I mean, before today.
Todd. I told you about Todd, right? I know I did. He and I hung out with Idania, remember? That one day out in the grass where I just skipped out on work and just enjoyed the spring. Remember?
Todd's dead. He... I guess he hung himself. I don't really know what happened. Except that he is dead.
Dead. That word doesn't make any sense to me. People I know don't die. It doesn't happen.
I wish I knew him better. I feel so guilty that I don't feel guilty. Because he had this party a couple Fridays ago. I didn't go because he lives... lived... kind of far away. And M invited me to have a nice dinner with her family. So I just didn't go to his party. The last party Todd would ever have. I couldn't know. Maybe no one came to his party and that drove him over the edge. No, that's ridiculous, right? People don't kill themselves because they have bad parties. I guess that makes as much sense as anything to a suicidal person, though.
I feel like I am objectifying him. He is not a "suicidal person," he's Todd. Todd who adored Neil Gaiman comics. Todd who dyed his hair every color of the rainbow. Todd who reminded me of a gecko.
It seems so foreign that he is dead. Like when you try to imagine the universe is infinite and you nearly swoon at the vastness of the thought. How you can hardly make sense of the idea and maybe the universe isn't really expanding. And maybe Todd is really okay. But... he's not.
I will never hear his voice ever, ever again. He will never scream my full name at the top of his lungs and give me constricting hugs that nearly knock me down.
I never had time for him when he would call me. Not even once did I have a decent conversation with him on the phone. And I never will now. I feel selfish. Was there not one time that I could have given him a friendly hello when he called or gotten off the line with whomever else I was talking to? But I didn't know. He never called me crying. I think that is a stupid thing to say. Why should he if I didn't take normal calls from him? Like I just wanted to be a foul weather friend to him.
What did he think of as he was doing this? I wondered, still wonder, if he meant for this to be it, or if this was another attempt to alleviate the pain in his life that was not meant to extinguish his mortality. His wrists were checkerboard testaments to his previous attempts by more violent means. Maybe that this way was more... peaceful signaled that he meant to finish it. Maybe it was really more violent.
I weep to think of his final moments. They hurt, because I can see my friend dangling, writhing and regretting this decision. Is it arrogant of me to think he regretted this as he was dying? I do not know the mind set that drives one to this. Maybe it was so quick his didn't even realize. He didn't have time to regret it or wish he could go back in time five seconds.
I'm going to his wake, I think. I feel I should, though I wasn't really Todd's best friend. He liked me a lot, I think. That's why he invited me to his party. I have only been to one wake before, that of my grandfather and everyone there was relieved that his suffering had ended. No one can be relieved when an 18 or 19 year old kills himself. How terrible am I that I don't even know how old he was? He isn't ever going to get any older.
My father was trying to talk to me about it. I think he was very frustrated that he could say or do more for me. He got very angry and began yelling about how late he was. I love him for trying even if it wasn't very successful. I just needed to write. To see the words on the screen because that is something real and palpable to me. Hearing the words, even when I say them, has this mist of fantasy around them. Dreams tenaciously hanging on. Todd won't dream anymore. Or maybe he'll never stop dreaming. Maybe he is now being born as a girl in Paris. How does it work?
But writing about it is very real to me. Todd is dead. I can see that. I can write it twenty times and it doesn't get any less real, nor does it make any more sense.
I don't want to see his body, made-up and wearing clothes he would rather die than wear... oh god, I can't believe I said that. You know what I mean. That isn't real, seeing some fleshy mannequin in a box that looks like my friend Todd. Todd is very far away and very near now. But he isn't going to be in that box. I refuse to believe that Todd will be in that lacquered box. It isn't so and nothing can make it so.
They haven't even published his obituary. Should they if they are having the wake tomorrow and Monday? And he died on Thursday.
Tina told me that he had three siblings, all who died. She didn't know how. Now his mother is childless. I was frightened of the wake before that. I am still frightened, but I want his mother to know how many people cared about her son. I wonder if more or less people will come to his wake than came to his party. Maybe that would have made all the difference? But I know it wouldn't have. At best, it could have postponed it. But that would have been a few more moments he would have had on this earth.
Did he learn all he needed to here?
My mother got a little Japanese maple tree to commemorate Todd. Like the Ellen tree, I guess. I really appreciate that and almost burst out crying again when she put it in front of me.
My father once told me that when someone commits suicide, they don't really want to kill themselves, they want to kill everyone else... I don't really know. He was closer to that than I ever was. I feel like I should write a letter to Todd now.

Dear Todd,
Hi. So, I hear you killed yourself. I didn't want to believe it, you know how I hate rumors, but apparently it is true. You are dead. Come now, was that really necessary?
It's hardly enough, but I was here for you. Maybe it didn't always feel like it, especially that time you shoved that dirty sponge in my mouth and I got sick. That made me a bit peevish with you. But I was here for you to talk to if you needed to, no matter.
Remember that time that we sat on the bench outside the lounge and just talked for an hour about your life and how you were confused? How other boys were making it more confusing for you and hard to live? And I just listened and tried to give you as little advice as I could? Because I knew that you didn't want a lecture, you just wanted someone to care about you. And I did. I worried about you and thought about you all day.
Maybe this was just something you felt you had to do. You know how I hate to step in the middle of people and the lessons they are trying to learn in life. But I really don't think this was the right lesson for you. You had a lot to still give the world and I know that the world had a bloody lot to give you. Still, you are dead now. Kind of too late to admonish you now, I suppose. Not a lot of good that'll do.
But I will tell you this, just in case you somehow found an internet connection in the afterlife. Your friends loved you a lot. Not just a little bit. I have had to talk to Kei today, and she seems lost that you did this. I know you didn't really think how this would affect those you left behind, or if you did you didn't think of this, but you really meant a lot to that girl. And I know I have been crying sporadically since I found out. Maybe in your next life (you did believe in reincarnation, I think) you won't just dash off just as the party is getting good. Because your friends will miss you and love you. It's not fair that you did that, you are bloody well needed right here and you KNEW that! I know you did. I told you again and again that people cared about you. And I know for damned sure that I told you to talk to me before you did anything this rash.
You knew firsthand how utterly agonizing death is for the survivors. Yet you did this anyway. I know, I'm being selfish, thinking of how I am hurting now. But you are never going to knock me over with a hug ever again. And that hurts. How am I supposed to handle always having a Todd-shaped hole in my life empty?
I know we weren't as close as you wanted. I really do know that. And I am so sorry that we weren't now. I guess you really don't miss someone until they are gone. I can't ever make it up to you for missing your party. Or missing your call because I was out trying to get my life back on track. I would have tried, you know.
Was Death like she is in the Sandman comics you so loved? I'd be very happy to know that Death was beautiful for you in your last moments, though you loved Delirium far more.
This fucking hurt, Todd. You were too goddamn young to even seriously entertain the concept of killing yourself.
I can't even remember the last thing I said to you. I didn't even get to talk to you when I had to turn down the invitation to your party. Because I was busy. I do feel guilty about that and I always will.
I want to scream "HOW DARE YOU!!" but I can't. I can barely speak, I've been crying so much.
I sincerely hope you are happier wherever you are. We certainly miss you.

Xen

It's odd. A couple of Tuesdays ago, I was weeping because Buffy killed herself on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I thought of how terrible suicide was and how painful life will be for the survivors, albeit fictional ones. Now this pain is real and a part of my life. For once, I loathe life imitating art.

I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me. But it's hard to stay mad when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once... and it's too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst. And then I remember... to relax, and not try to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain. And I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. Don't worry... you will someday.

reading: Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins
listening: the sounds of life continuing
wanting: Todd to have found something deep inside of himself that was better than obliteration of his mortal form.
interesting thought: I am more upset that he left without saying goodbye.
moment of zen: crying until my eyes grew fuzzy and clear again

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

The Night's Dream Series

We Shadows by Thomm Quackenbush

Danse Macabre by Thomm Quackenbush

Artificial Gods by Thomm Quackenbush