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Of Chocolate Marmosets | 2018 |


Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers.  

-Mignon Mclaughlin

On the Anniversary of Your Death

I miss you.

So you've been dead for a year. I won't point out that you have made no apparent attempt to contact me from beyond the grave. I consider this a little rude on your part. Not as rude as taking heroin until your heart gave up, but rude.

If you had not died seven months prior to your wedding, I would have wagered even money that you would be married now. If you made it - and it would have been an uphill struggle for every foot of ground - I don't know how long your marriage would have lasted. I can't imagine marriage doing you any specific good. It would just be a thing that happened to you, not something that would have changed you. Depending on the iteration of you with which I am confronted in this hypothetical, marriage might make you feel so possessive that you would wield a knife if Rob so much as commented on another girl's rump or so trapped that you would call me boasting about who you sneaked out and slept with.

You were, in some ways, an adult before I found my way there. You had a respectable job - not something that would rank as a decent job now, but impressive for an early twenty-something without a college degree (you had the intelligence for college, but not the temperament or faith in yourself). You had more life and sexual experience than I could imagine then. I felt in a holding pattern, avoiding touching down to a land of responsibility, putting away the childhood things that had served me well. You were on the earth, letting me know that it wasn't close to as bad as I was imagining.

Then, as far as you let me witness, you stopped progressing. Maybe you had made strides in the last year of your life. Sometimes, I believed that. Other times, I resented that the cool woman I knew had become so lost and I couldn't figure out how to bring her back.

I don't remember how many times you were in hospitals and rehabs. I know I put you there once for observation, because you came over after Melanie left me, so full of the wrong chemicals, and threatened to kill yourself such that I believed you might. I'm sure the dissolution of my relationship reminded you too keenly of what happened with Stevehen, that you were triggered. It would be literary to say that this is the moment I knew I was going to lose you, but this isn't true. I lost you, I lost us, by degrees. When is it that individual grains of sand become a heap?

Having the police take you to the hospital, then calling your family to get your car, wasn't even the first time I really hurt you.

You wanted people to come to you, to prostrate themselves, after you had chewed them out. Who knows exactly why, but that is how you wanted them to show their love of you. You wanted to reject them, to reject us, and for us to beg for you back. Most people took your words literally and you spent years missing them, small hopes that they would one day find their way back and return to you some part of you they had taken with them.

Rob posted a picture of a bouquet of flowers for your grave, titling it "Seeing a special lady." I don't know how long one is to mourn. From complaints of his I read, he is disappointed by internet dating, so he isn't keeping some celibate vigil for you. I can't imagine you would have minded too much, but I can't imagine much of how your head worked anymore. If Amber died, I would not want another relationship. How long does someone wait? When will be the day where he goes dawn to dusk and you don't enter his mind?

One year isn't enough, I know that, but there is a point where that happens, the bittersweet of realizing it the next day. There comes a day where you feel a dull ache of the loss, but it isn't the same as pain. Just absence, because something had been a part of you no longer is, like wisdom teeth.

I go days without thinking about you, because even before your death, I went a while without you appearing in my life in any concrete way. Your funeral and visiting your grave months later were more concentrated visits than I'd had with you in years. Since you died, I am certain I've spoken to you more than I did in the three years prior. It's easier when I don't have to walk on eggshells to avoid your instability.

You were my oldest friend - over twenty-years - but it had been a while since you had been my best friend. When someone is spiraling, my instinct is not to move closer, unless we are not in an intimate relationship - something we could never be despite your overtures early in our friendship. I acknowledged then as now that the core of you was a great person to know, particularly when your idiosyncrasies and mental illnesses were focused in a more entertaining way.

Had you lived, had I officiated your wedding with no issues preventing it - your mental health, your addictions, your poverty - I would have written some warm entry eliding any hesitations and reservations. I would have been social with you on Facebook. But I still don't think anything would change. I would still barely see you, if at all. I would invite you to gatherings and events, some only a few miles from your apartment, and you would not come. We would not see one another.

You did not even come to my wedding. You told me the day of my wedding, as I was trying to make everything go off as planned, your mental illness would not let you. I think you wanted me to stop what I was doing and beg you to come.

I don't think you would have left drugs behind. Marriage doesn't cure mental illness - I am a testament to that - though maybe it increases your desire to get well because you realize you are no longer living for yourself alone.

You had so much love to give, to your friends, to Rob, to your nieces and nephews, to animals. You were a force for good, on balance, so long as one could discount your fractures and asocial deeds. Your intention was rarely evil, except to yourself.

Inasmuch as I can, I am not blaming the victim here. I don't think you didn't want to be well, though I doubt that you understood what "well" could actually be. At what point in your life were you truly well? You were more functional and social but, though it manifested in ways more fun to be around, that was still symptomatic. Chain smoking, twice bankrupt by twenty-two, fast food eating, unethically sleeping around, having done and enjoyed so many drugs the rehab labeled you a "garbage head." It is hard to look at that and not think 1) this sounds like an entertaining character to watch on a screen 2) this person won't be long for the real world.

You were mostly real. In the end, when you were trying to trick people on the internet into giving you money, I saw a falseness that I hated. Otherwise, I didn't hate any part of you, and I hated that one because I could see how insidious a slide it was.

You don't seem dead, most of the time. If you aren't dead, I don't have to miss you as much as I do.

I still am mad at you, unsurprisingly. I know you did what you were going to do, what was almost inevitable, following a path that feels obvious in retrospect. When I wrote this out in preparation of turning you into a novel, it all read too heavy-handed to pursue.

You did not do this to me. I don't believe you intended this death, but neither did you avoid it. I will always believe there could have been a way out. Even if I couldn't have been the one to save you, you could have been saved.

I don't expect that I will reach a point where I don't hate you a little for your death. I won't find poetry in it. You died in your late thirties of a heroin overdose. You lived fast, but you did not die young. I can't comment as to the prettiness of your corpse, but media about heroin doesn't paint a flattering picture. Forty years does seem too generous for your tenure on this earth; I don't think you would ever have wanted to be a forty-year-old and now you never will be.

It's not a burning anger, only a low blue flame almost invisible but for the distortion above it. I want to raise you from the ashes to lecture you, though it wouldn't have done any lasting good. If Jesus himself reconstituted you from your elements in miraculous alchemy, I don't know how many years you would have given yourself, unless He could filter out your addictions and the illnesses that inspired them.

I've come up with excuses for what you did, what I didn't. Like clockwork, we followed our paths. Mine resulted in me being the sort of person who wears a sports coat to teach juvenile delinquents and dream of literary acclaim that will evade me. Yours resulted in you falling beneath the surface of your addictions, certain that your erstwhile immortality extended to drowning, even though you've had decades of notice that your shield was slipping.

Your body should have been studied to better understand how it stood up to your every assault on it. The only picture I ever saw of you as a teen where you seemed truly happy and lively was when you were tweaked out on meth, as you informed me after I commented on it.

To let go of all the anger feels like giving up on the idea of you. If I don't want to scream at you, then what do I have left? My memories, but they are hazy, a cloud of cigarette smoke staining me because it was the only way to hang out with you, being unable to breathe the next day because I stayed too late, not knowing when my consciousness would succumb from smoke and sleep.

But I am not as angry as I maybe should be. I don't really have much of a feeling for it anymore. Not guilt. Not hatred. Disappointment yes, but I have rationalization to season that dish. I went through the majority of the Kubler-Ross stages in a few weeks, then just accepted it because missing you wasn't going to get you back or keep you close.

On paper, I have so many memories. Daily, I have only a few stories I can relate to those not privileged enough to have known you. Without the opportunity to meet you, there are fewer reasons to mention you to them, except as my dead best friend, the same way that racists want to name drop their one black friend. The friendship of the dead amounts to little. I had the friendship of a living woman longer than I did any other person in my life that was not of my bloodline. You would hate me from time to time because I called you on what you were doing, which conditioned me to just ignore your extremity when acknowledging it again might have resulted in you thinking twice over that fatal dose.

When I try to remember you, I end up back on this dock jutting into a pond. We went there only once. I doubt I could find it on my own now. We had done so much together, gone on so many misadventures, had conversations that lasted ten hours straight, but thinking of you brings me back to that pond where the water was so still that it reflected the stars back on themselves and we were the only citizens on this peninsula into eternity. I don't remember what we talked about, though surely we did chatter about pop culture and politics. I only remember the awe of being so totally immersed in the night. I wonder now if this is the closest thing I have to understanding where you are now, if this is the only message you have managed to get to me. You are not sad or scared or hurt. You are somewhere where it can finally be calm around you and you are satisfied. You are somewhere to which I cannot remember the directions.

Soon in Xenology: Meaning. No Such Convention.

last watched: Penny Dreadful
reading: Annihilation
listening: Kate Nash

Of Chocolate Marmosets | 2018 |

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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