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Melissa Dies | 2017 | She Would Not Want to Be Burned


One only dies once, and if one does not die well, a good opportunity is lost and will not present itself again.  

-Josť Rizal

Melissa Remains

The day after I learn Melissa is dead of a heroin overdose, I am awash in dissociation. I am aware this is occurring - I know my mind well, even when it is not working well - and just accept this numb fuzziness as part of my processing. I feel as though I am something other and outside my body, caring for the whims of a curious and illogical being who I pretend is actually me. This avatar in the world, this shell, he is processing Melissa's death. I am calmly watching and making sure he isn't going to break over all this, then getting worried when it seems he isn't becoming the right amount of distraught. I could barely hold it together when Todd killed himself and he got on my nerves about as often as I liked him. I loved Melissa and, aside from a few crying jags when I think too hard, I am continuing to live as usual. At the moment, because of the dissociation, I am not able to remember things well, but I know enough to know I am handling this too well.

I set to alerting people who I feel I should know that Melissa, but with whom I no longer have a connection. I do this because it is one of the few things I feel I can do at this moment and I have an overwhelming urge to do something other than check Melissa's Facebook wall for other people offering their condolences (far too few of those).

There is Liz, her right-hand woman and best friend for years. As Melissa had told the story, their friendship was on its way out - I don't remember why, but maybe she was just getting tired of Liz as she had gotten tired of other before; there may have been a feud and sides taken, but I cannot remember the details - but they had still agreed on a vacation together in Hawaii. The way I heard it, it became, if not romantic, at least sexual between the two of them. When they returned, Liz was apparently "clingy," something I struggle to imagine, and Melissa cut her off entirely. She didn't want a girlfriend, something else I struggle to imagine. Still, it was the story I was given. I did not see Liz again.

I have no connection to Liz now, but I put out my feelers and Angela soon manages to alert someone who tells Liz. I do not get the satisfaction of knowing if Liz cares. I do not know that she should, but I think I might.

Next, I consider contacting Stevehen. He was her serious boyfriend before Rob. They lived together. She caused him to leave New York twice, the last time for good. They ended on such bad terms that there were accusations of domestic abuse - I do not know to this day who was telling the full truth, but I didn't find either of their claims unlikely - and he cut off most connections to the Hudson Valley. I was chief among the connections he cut off, going so far as to block me on all social media. However, he fancies himself a writer and we are creatures of ego. It took all of three seconds to search and find a blog of his he used recently. I hesitate a moment - maybe it is better that he not know - but decide that I would rather give him credit here. I leave a simple "Melissa Pizzuti died yesterday." I did not see plenty in assuming he would care, so it was best to leave it objective. When I check later, he has deleted the comment, but at least I know he saw it.

There is a guy with whom she had an affair so extreme that she told me she had broken his nose. He didn't hold it against her. I know only hazy stories from her, of categorically insane sex, of blacking out drinking Four Loko, of him wanting her in his bed but keeping her out of his daylight. I look at his Facebook profile, see he is listed as living in Iran now, wonder audibly how that happened, and then leave him a concise message I do not expect to see read.

There are a dozen men I know she slept with, sometimes repeatedly, but none of that ever seemed important. She would not want them told. They didn't love her, they just engaged in mutual use. Even if they could have cottoned to relationships outside the bed sheets, she would have never allowed that, too free-spirited and too pessimistic when it came to people wanting to be with her. She thought she was awesome in her twenties, but she never thought she was beautiful or worthy of love. I think Rob changed this. I hope that is the case.

Melissa had other deep friendships she abandoned, but they were so long ago that I barely have first names, let alone means of finding them. I don't know how much I could care about the death of someone who booted me out of their life for specious reasons when I was seventeen.

Anyone who casually knew her above a certain threshold, anyone I knew had hung out with her, I leave a short message. I write a paragraph telling the world in general that she is dead, in case they happen to care. I am buried in messages consoling me, but I do not feel I deserve consolation.

I check her families' public profiles and none of them have posted anything acknowledging her death. Her mother posts about the coming snowstorm and her friends reply with smiling emojis. Angela reminds me that not everyone grieves publicly, even though I do, but it doesn't soothe me.

I want this to matter to more people, because there would have been a time that her death would have shattered a generation in the Hudson Valley. If her death doesn't matter now, it makes me feel as though her life never mattered as much as it did to me.

I know I will go to the memorial service and it will disappoint me. I will look around a room - however briefly I am there, since I am already booked at No Such Convention that weekend - and there won't be enough people to satisfy my desire for wailing and gnashing of teeth.

This will not be the real memorial. That will come after, driving around and hearing a song I associate with Melissa - something by Green Day or the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing. When Emily's father died, my mother told me that the dead linger around us for a while before going wherever it was they did. While they are close, we can still speak to them and feel heard. We can feel them near us, as I do with Melissa. She is close to me, not quite haunting me but decidedly present. The years I spent with her when she was lucid and bad-ass nearly overwhelm the years she spent struggling against chemicals, those in her head and those purchased from her gradual murderers. I will not let myself remember her by the ignominy of her weakest years.

Rob asks if I want to speak at the memorial (it is listed as a visitation and I am fuzzy as to the difference). I gather from his tone that her family doesn't really want to do this, doesn't much want Melissa's friends around. Perhaps they blame us, because we were closer to her than they were at the end and we didn't stop her. Maybe they are right to. I do not feel there is much blame to go around. I am furious at whoever gave her the heroin, but I know Melissa would have found a source even if this anonymous dealer didn't provide her. Maybe it wasn't heroin but a collection of crushed up opiates she tricked doctors into giving her. I cannot imagine her injecting a drug, but I clearly didn't know her as well as I imagined, not the woman she had become.

Angela suggests that we send sunflowers, so much Melissa's favorite flower than she used it in screennames, even though the obituary makes explicit the family doesn't want any sent. Instead, they want donations to a charity in Melissa's names. As they are as fiercely right wing as Melissa was left wing, I consider donating to a charity along those lines. They might prefer our flowers instead.

Her parents are having her cremated, which is the exact opposite of anything Melissa would want. Rob seems broken up about it, but he wasn't yet married to her. He has neither the money nor the legal clout to overturn her parents' wishes. I ask what will be done with the ashes and am told that Melissa will be kept in her parents' house. I am sure, were she here, she would tell me to steal her ashes and sprinkle them in places she loved: Breakneck Ridge, Ocean City, the Chuang Yen Monastery.

When I can feel, there is a strong anger. My friend is dead and that will be something I mourn for the rest of my life, but she is also the one who killed Melissa. I knew, in a way, that she would eventually kill herself, one way or another. I am grateful it was not suicide, because that means that she did not suffer at the end and that is maybe all I can ask for in this. (I would have preferred a chance to say my goodbyes, to have told I loved her rather than having just made a joke about her staying home, but I was not consulted or warned.)

The dissociation will lift, even if today will be spent in a cognitive fog. I will feel her death then, but I will stay remembering her life now, reaching out to those who had once been the stars of it.

Soon in Xenology: Processing. No Such Convention.

last watched: The Killing Joke
reading: Black Orchid
listening: Die Antwoord

Melissa Dies | 2017 | She Would Not Want to Be Burned

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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