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I was the one who found her.
The front door wasn’t locked. She and her mother had seldom, if ever, locked the door, so I had no reason to feel that icy chill of realization, no reason to feel as if a pair of eyes were watching me from the crack in the closet door.
But even then I knew. We had always been connected, could always feel when one another were there. I could feel that Brooke had left me. She was gone.
The wooden basement stairs creaked beneath my weight. I thought of bones, brittle and weak. Sagging, yellow skin. The elderly.
And then I stopped walking, stopped thinking, stopped my heart from even beating. She was hanging from a pipe in the ceiling, no longer human. I reached out to touch her, and my hand recoiled with a flick of the wrist. She was beautiful, even in death.
Anyone else would have looked at her and seen a drug-addled corpse with smeared mascara and track marks. I saw her as she was two years earlier, a painted smile on her lips, hair so red and gold it glittered.
I was numb. I realized she looked cold before I realized she was naked. Her clothes were in a heap by the washing machine, fabric fallen and intertwined like a writhing pile of snakes. Her hair rested, limp, over her shoulders. I thought I saw a smile on her face.
A wooden stool was overturned beneath her feet, her name carved into the seat. Her mother had gotten it for her bedroom when she was entering the fifth grade. Brooklyn, her mother had said. After my city. The woman loved the name more than she loved Brooklyn herself. She had gone to New York City and never come back. I always wondered if she had ever found whatever it was that she was looking for.
I sat the stool upright, then climbed on top of it. The rope was cutting into her neck, leaving it smudged in purple and black, a pallet of red and blue pain and hopelessness. She was not mine anymore. Her skin was tinged in green, yet so white I actually looked to see if blood had drained and puddled at her feet.
When I slid the rope from her neck, she fell against me, her body stiff and cold. I laid her on the concrete floor, draping my coat over her body. I brushed her hair from her face. I wondered how morticians could feel alive when they lived with so much death. I wondered how they kept the stench from filling their lungs.
My hand brushed against hers, but I didn’t feel skin. I felt paper. It was a tiny piece of stationery, its corners embroidered in flowers, pinned to her hand. She couldn’t have stuck it on with glue, or mailed it to me in an envelope. She had to shove a safety pin beneath her skin. She reveled in dramatic flair. She should have been an actress.
please forgive me Sam i’m sorry
That’s all it said. You’ve killed me again, Brooke, I thought, turning her hand over. And I’m running out of lives.
I turned away and retched, on my knees in the basement, next to a dead body that could have been me. And finally I vomited, acid filling my mouth, cold sweat flowing from my pores. I vomited until my eyes were blind and my insides were sore, and I was just a flimsy shell of a human being, and my soul was painted black, and there was an empty cavity where my heart should have been.
Monday morning I don’t get out of bed. Edie knocks once, then gives up. I sleep for seventeen hours straight, and then eleven more, once I’ve downed enough whiskey that my stomach lining has turned to tar.
Tuesday comes and goes and is all a blur. I see Morgan’s face, briefly, before passing out again. Her eyes are wide and blue and fearful. She is beautiful. Sleep calls me home.
Wednesday. “Get out of bed,” Morgan says. “You have to eat something,” Edie says. They think I chew up their crackers and swallow them, but I stick them beneath the mattress, crushing them to bits. I lick the salt off my fingers. I hear Edie’s angry screams and a chair crashing against the kitchen wall. I remember that life goes on.
Thursday my sister Heather flies in to put Brooke in the ground. Her face is red and splotchy like she’s been crying for five days straight. She comes into my room and doesn’t say anything about the bottles on the ground or my greasy hair or how badly I must stink. She hugs me tight, crushing my ribcage.
“Get dressed,” she says. “We’re heading over in less than an hour.”
Then Morgan comes in, wearing a tight black dress and a jacket with big buttons, and little heels that show just a peek of her toes.
“I’ve been here all week,” she tells me, sliding open the closet door. “Though I doubt you remember any of it.” She tosses slacks and a shirt and tie in my direction. “Put these on. Drink some water. Try to sober up.”
“I don’t need to look good for anyone. It’s not like anyone will be there.”
“Wrong,” Morgan replies. “It turns out her mom had a sister in Indiana. She and her two kids are driving in for the burial.”
“What?” It takes a second to hear that. “She had someone out there all this time? Someone who could have taken care of her?”
“She was a grown woman,” Morgan says gently. “There was nothing they could have done.” I want to say that she was not a grown woman. She was a lost puppy. But it’s true, she was twenty-three years old. Old enough to have herself together. Old enough to know when to reach out for help, maybe.
“I don’t know.” Too proud to actually do it. “I think…” I don’t finish my sentence, and Morgan dresses me while I sit on the bed, a limp rag doll with eyes glazed over.
I don’t remember the ride to the cemetery, only that it is gray and raining and that Brooke would have loved the melodrama. It is the saddest day of the year, and it is exactly how she would have wanted it. She loved clichés. She loved me.
Get away from me! I don’t want you anymore! The flashbacks hit me like a car going eighty. Brooke, I think, if you were here, you would bathe yourself in irony. It is the same cemetery where she first told me she loved me, where I had been too tongue-tied to say it back. It is the same cemetery where she broke me.
You’re dead to me. Dead to me dead to me dead to me. I never thought it would be real. Those were just words. My stomach lurches.
“Are you going to be sick?” Morgan asks, clutching my arm.
“I’m fine.” I look up and see a woman and two grown children. This must be the aunt and the cousins. People she hardly knew. Edie and Gary stand to my left, Morgan and Heather to my right. It’s like they’re trying to shield me from the hurt, but what they don’t know is that none of it matters anymore. I can hardly distinguish hunger from thirst.
I feel a hand on my shoulder, then see Travis’s weepy eyes. He and Cameron are here.
“You okay, man?” Cameron says.
“You’re soaking wet.” He offers to share his umbrella, but I shake my head no. I like the rain on my skin, washing over my scars, cleansing my dirty hair.
The umbrellas are all black, Brooke. Like in the movies. You’d like them.
I try to ignore the fact that Travis is making a show of his tears, and that Brooke’s only family is staring at me and whispering. I know what I must look like, but I’ve decided to indulge myself in apathy.
You know what they tell me, Brooke? That life goes on. But it doesn’t. Not for you. I couldn’t even look when they threw dirt on your casket. I couldn’t look as they put you down inside the earth with the bugs and the worms. Are you happier now? Are you better off? When you kicked out the chair, did you reach for me?