Remember the dream you had, you told me about it, it was when you were reading all of those books about tragic, beautiful young virgin saint-girls who would get diagnosed with a terminal illness, charm some boy into falling in love with them, and then die? You told me you had a dream. I got leukemia. I wasn’t beautiful or a saint, but I was a virgin because we were maybe thirteen. You told me it made you cry, that it was a horrible dream, you woke up and for a moment you thought it was real and you hated it. You made me promise not to die on you, and I laughed and I hugged you, and I promised, because it was so sweet and so endearing and so completely you. I promised.
This was after you’d changed your whole bedroom, got new bedding and painted the walls. I loved that room, did I ever tell you? Maybe not the colors. We never agreed on that, really. But I loved the big bed in the middle and the little make-up counter where you told me that I had “such a nice, even skin tone.” Almost every time I put on make-up I remember you saying that. I don’t know if it’s true, or if you knew a damn thing about skin tones at the time, but you sounded very serious and you had samples from Mary Kay and you were so excited to do my make-up for me.
I wrote you a letter once that I never sent, as a kind of therapy. All of my writing is a kind of therapy. I like to talk to you in my head sometimes, to remember. You are part of my foundations. I learned things from you and us. You are important. I can’t remember what the letter said. I can remember throwing it away. I was sad then; whenever I’m writing letters or poems, over and over, I tend to be sad. Today my mom hugged me, gasping into my hair, I know you get sad sometimes but please don’t ever leave, don’t do that to me. I thought of the letters. Did you ever talk to me?
I was going to send you a message last night, but it was late, oh, I’ll wait until tomorrow. I wanted to know what you were planning to use your degree for. I thought you seemed excited. I was excited for you, and it’d been a long time, and I didn’t make it to your birthday party. Now it’s tomorrow, and you will never have another birthday party.
Your dad came into Walgreens looking for batteries. He seemed tired, or distracted. I wanted to think of something more exciting to say to him but I couldn’t. I kept smiling at his turned back. He looks a bit older, your dad, but he’s still unmistakably your dad. I’ve always liked him a lot. I like his quietness, his gangly limbs, his instruments. I like the way he looks when he is listening. Your mom looks just the same. Maybe older, too, but there’s a sturdiness to her every expression that does not change. You know. She’s a small woman, but she fills her space. It’s admirable, really. And they’ve always been so good to me. Generous and kind. They laugh at my jokes.
I can’t watch Monty Python, or even hear the name mentioned without thinking of you. Did I ever tell you how much I love your house? I said earlier that I loved your room, and that was true, but your room is an extension, isn’t it? Of your whole house? And your whole house is beautiful, and warm, and makes me feel like I am on a happy vacation. I think it might be the walls, or the way you have a tiny closed-in closet for coats, or all of the picture frames. I think I’ve still spent more nights sleeping over in your bed than I have in anyone else’s. I lay down today and realized, bolt-of-lighting style, that my bed is the same as it was all those times we stayed on the phone until one in the morning, knowing we had school the next day. I don’t want this letter to sound cliche, but isn’t it already cliche, the way I want to say I’m sorry, over and over, replace everything with just that phrase, addressed to you, to your family, to everyone who feels a guilt or a sadness or an anger here, now?
You’re with me always in tiny ways. There are even times I hear your mom in my head when I walk differently, talking about you. She always walks on her tippy toes. Did you still do that? The unhappiest thing is that I don’t know. I thought I’d have time. I thought I’d be able to see you again before you went somewhere too far for me to get to. A question, if you can answer it: do you remember me kissing your wrists? I’d hoped to heal something. I’d hoped to love you enough.
I never thought to make you promise me back.
I’m sorry. I said I wanted to say it. I’m sorry anything could hurt you so much. I’m sorry for anyone who didn’t get the chance they wanted, if not to love you, at least to know you. It was a joy to know you. It was a joy to know that you were alive in the world, touching and feeling and thinking. It’s impossible to believe that you aren’t, and that you won’t. I never stop loving a person I loved as deeply as you. I won’t stop now. I hope you can feel it, wherever you are.