I would tell you that I saw you twice on the morning that you died - but no one else knows this.
When I arrive to pick you up for breakfast, the entrance to your apartment building is blocked by flashing lights. It is just past the gray dawn, in that space when things have lost the dim of twilight but are not yet reflective - the lights stand out brightly against the dull background of everything else. The stucco is still dingy. The grass is bright green, and implies dampness.
The spaces between the buildings are closed off, and there are police officers swarming everywhere, black-suited ants gathering around a bread crumb. I approach the line of thin, yellow plastic - the great barrier separating “us" from “them" - the fluttering tape which clearly delineates the wrong side of the law from the right, and say Excuse me.
Quietly. Politely. And then, again.
Excuse me. As the rookie guarding the tape turns, I can see past him. There is a blue tarp, lying spreadeagled across the grass. It is a very ordinary blue tarp. Except for the fact that this one has feet.
Excuse me - I’m trying to reach my friend’s apartment. I’m here to pick him up for breakfast.
I say this, while staring over his shoulder at a small, brown foot. It is Kahlua-and-milk brown, but right now there is a pallor to it. Right now, it is holding very, very still. It is lying at an uncomfortable angle. It is attached to a shapely leg, rising gracefully to meet the edge of this very ordinary tarp - a spreadeagled something lying beneath it. A something which formerly had Kahlua-and-milk skin, now painted in pallor. Someone has mistakenly left this behind - slipped out of that foot like an ill-fitted shoe, and...
You’ll have to come back later, he says. Miss. This, as an afterthought. We can’t let anyone through until the detectives are done collecting evidence.
Collecting evidence. Of course. Because this is not a movie set. This is not the movie of my life, the prewritten scene in which I arrive to pick up my dear friend, for casual breakfast. This is a crime scene - a completely different scene, altogether, and I have stumbled into it by accident.
This is what they call "the aftermath". Something valuable has been discarded, dropped to the ground - the ants are all swarming to pick up the pieces. Everyone struggling to untangle themselves; to carry the lines of this heavy story. To explain the shadows which cling to the ground.
I thank him, still staring over his shoulder. I am unnerved. I feel disjointed. I am equal parts shocked, and disturbed, and selfish. I am hungry, and I am wondering if you will be mad at me for just leaving - if you will be standing in your apartment, tapping your toe impatiently - but then I dismiss this, because it’s not really your style. You are probably lost in a notebook - doodling robots, or sitting in front of your typewriter, typing the poem from last night - the one you were too shy to read on the phone. You said it was good, and promised to bring me a copy, today. I still want to read it, and I am afraid that you’ll chicken out. This is what I’m thinking about, as I pull onto asphalt.
I drive to the place where we like to get breakfast - a little diner that smells like fresh coffee and cream. I use quarters to call from the pay phone, but your phone just rings and rings, so I figure I've missed you. I think, Maybe you just fell asleep. We had both been up all night, already, when we made plans to meet. An hour of sleep and one to shower was hardly enough for me, but I was better at those things, in those days - we all thought we could run forever on empty. You were wine-drunk and sweet - in a poetic mood, and feeling easy with the world. We had spoken of hopeful things, and you were encouraging me to write more - excited about your own progress. We agreed upon breakfast. I said that I needed to rest before driving again, so I said goodnight, then. You blurted I love you. It was the very last thing I expected to hear. In the awkward pause of my shock, you giggled sincerely, and hung up the phone.
If I could tell you anything, I would tell you that I might have slept longer, if it not for a dream in which you stood above my bed. You were stroking my forehead - smoothing the hair from my eyes as I slept. It was just a sweet gesture - your hands felt soothing, and cool to the touch. When I opened my eyes, your face had an indescribable look. I woke, and the moment was over, too quickly.
If I could tell you anything, right now, I would tell you I ate breakfast quietly, alone with my poems. When I arrive home, the day passes too quickly. When the phone rings, again, I am once more in bed - and his words are the very last thing I'm expecting to hear. For ten minutes, he talks - but all I can think is That foot - it was your foot it used to be your foot and your foot was so pale I was so close and I didn’t even know it - I didn’t know you - you were stains on the grass you were foot under tarp you were no longer human and I didn’t even look closely enough to recognize you...
He says, Funeral.
He says, Investigation.
He says, Meg - when was the last time you talked to him? When was the last time you saw him?
I tell him anything but the truth. I do not mention the ordinary blue tarp, or what it is covering up. I use my words like an ordinary blue tarp, pulling them over the most important things. I think, Foot. Foot. Your foot… Until these words turn into sounds which no longer have meaning.
If I could tell you anything, I would tell you that the last time I saw you, you were standing over my bed, with my forehead under your cool hand. I imagine the look on your face is the same one on mine, some nights - when I push back the sweaty boy-hair of my child, thinking of what is to come. Sometimes, I’m convinced you knew just what was coming for us.
Just so you know, friend - I have never again missed that moment. No matter how shocking or inappropriate it may be - to say the three words that you blurted to me, winedrunk and with poetry warm on your breath.
I would tell you that this helps me make peace with death.
How do you expect me to feel?
I’ve a lump in my throat
the words I can’t speak,
I mustn’t exorcise from deep inside
so I say,
“We are living on the cusp of the now"
and retreat to the quiet solace of my room.
Words are just words,
memories tainted with glory
marred feelings ruthlessly lurk below
How do you expect me to feel?
I can’t do it on my own
Reach down and lend me your hand,
I can go on from there
Maybe down a path less trod
perhaps the direction of the waning sun
Maybe I really will meet god
Maybe he isn’t so bad
(by A. Burgueno)