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I'd have promised to hold his hand that day on the bus, but my palms were sweaty. Now I wish I had. It was a few days later that I would never have the chance to hold them again. I wish almost everyday that I could go back and have brushed up against his fingers, and held his thin palm. Everyday I wish I would have rolled up his sleeves or his shirt and seen the faded bruises.
It didn’t matter that the abuse had stopped, it just mattered that it was there. And even more important then his self-mutilation was the fact that I did not see it. I felt an ounce of responsibility roll into my lap.
Now I wonder, if I had let my weak hand grasp his for even a nanosecond on that day, would the frost in his heart have melted away? Would he have held out his fatal plans a day longer, a week, more? Could he have seen that my concern was genuine?
Maybe he already knew that I was concerned.
And he didn’t want me to stop him, so he rid the world of himself before I could ever save him. And yet maybe, I had nothing to do with it. Somehow though, in the moments when chaos ceases, and quiet fills my mind, thoughts wander back in, guilt wanders back in. In these moments of tranquility, he floats over me, invisible to all but my memories.
And there are many memories. Most potent are the ones of summer days a group of us would spend swimming in the river.
But the river was frozen now, and stained with his blood.
It was a Thursday that the water turned an invisible shade of red that only a guilty mind can see. A sheet of thin ice covered the river, where normally rushing, deep water carried through. He stood above it all. And although I, with my own eye did not see him fall, I can imagine him hitting the water, and breaking through. I can see his scrawny body fall, that we’d always called ‘light as a feather’ be heavy enough to break something (though our hearts broke in more pieces then the ice). I say he fell, because the boy I knew since childhood innocence would never jump.
Some days, I stand where he fell from. And I imagine him there, beneath the surface, not allowing himself to come up for air. I can imagine his outer limbs going numb, fingers first, unmovable, the same fingers I’d been too ignorant to hold. Then his toes, and feet, until his entire body was frozen, and limp. And at that point, I see him, in his last heartbeats; fall to the bottom of a bitter cold river.
By the time they find him, he can never be revived. And the warmth in his voice will never be heard again.
And now, they lay him to rest in frozen ground, where a million years from now he will be earth, and too soon forgotten. But not be me, who has more guilt surging through my body then his relatives. Because, I loved him, and was too cowardly to show it.
So, may I implore you, that should you have a friend as broken as mine, that you should hold his hand…
…Or you will become like me, who know uses my sweaty palms to lie a rose upon your love’s casket.