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I Promise

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“Don’t tell anyone,” you begged. “Please.”

I sensed your warm breath on my neck, as if we were both still lying on my bed. I felt your words consume me, as if you remained curled up next to me, playing with my long, twisted hair. I reacted to your voice, as if things weren’t different, like you hadn’t changed.
But you had, my hair was cut short, and we weren’t on my bed together. You were all the way across town, looking out your own window. You were probably clutching the phone with both hands really close to your mouth, pressing your lips right into the speaker. No one else could know. And I couldn’t tell anyone.

“Don’t do this,” I breathed into the phone. “You know there’s always another way out.”

There was a pause on the other end. For a moment, I thought I had already lost you. I waited. I waited a long painful minute. Finally, you said in a drawn-out, worn-out voice, “This is my way out.”

I was stunned into a coma-like silence that made me enter a world I had been trying to avoid my entire life. I couldn’t let this happen to you. Not you, a person who had been my center, my sole, my core, for three years. Something like that doesn’t just disappear, and it certainly isn’t remedied by a decision like this.

“Please don’t do this,” I repeated, cursing myself when my voice broke on the last word. “Don’t do this to me.”

“Why?” Emotion touched your voice for the first time in weeks. Spite.

“Because, goddamn it! You know how I still feel about you.”

You paused for a moment, only to let out a long, bitter sigh. “I don’t think I do.”

“Yes you do! And I know you still love me, too.” When you didn’t respond, I said, “You do still love me right?”

I heard you breathe out through your nose, like it pained you to admit it. “Of course.”

“Then why would you do this to me?”

You didn’t answer. Of course you didn’t. There was no logical explanation for what you were putting yourself through and why you wanted to go to such lengths in order to escape from a life you never believed you fully deserved.

You let my question hang there, unanswered. After a while, I said in a small, unsure voice, “Can I come over?”

“No,” you responded right away. “How would you get here?”

“I’ll drive.”

“It’s dark. You still have to drive with a parent in the car, anyway.”

“I don’t care.”

Your voice got angry. “Yes you do! You’ve never broken the rules before in your life. You’ve always been the trustworthy one. It’s why I liked you so much. You’re safe.”

“Yeah? Well I always thought you were sturdy. Stable. For three years you were my rock. And now? When you call me at one in the morning threatening your life? This isn’t you.”

“I don’t care if it’s me or not,” you said, as morbidly as I had ever heard you talk. “Soon enough there won’t be a me.”

My breath got caught in my throat. “Don’t say that.”

You didn’t respond. You let me sit there, pale and fingers trembling. My fingers trembled so much I thought I’d drop the phone. But I didn’t dare. I couldn’t lose you.

It took me a while to say it, though I knew I had to. “I don’t think I can keep this a secret.”

“Of course you can.”

“No,” I choked, hardly able to get the word out. “I can’t.”

“Yes. You can. Because if you don’t, our friendship is over.”

“What friendship?” I questioned you. “We were never friends.”

“Whatever we had,” you said, “it’s over. If you tell.”

“Let me do something,” I pleaded with you. “Let me help you. I want to see you.”

“Stop trying to be the hero,” you said to me. “It’s not going to work.”

I was silent as I let your words take their affect on me. I struggled to control my tears. “I have to go,” I finally said in a weak voice.

“Promise me,” you said, urgently. “Promise me that you won’t tell.”

I swallowed as I said the hardest thing I would ever have to say to you. “I promise.”

I sat on my bed for what seemed like an eternity after I hung up the phone with you. I stared out my window into the world that surrounded both of us. How could it be possible to live in the same world and want such different things? How can we fall asleep in our beds, stars enveloping us in a lazy haze, and feel so opposite?

I got up then, my legs moving mechanically in the direction of my mother’s room. Don’t tell anyone, I heard your voice repeat over and over in my mind. Please.
I stopped, my hand resting on the doorknob. I took a deep breath, trying to shake the tears from my eyes. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, barely audible to my own ears. I opened the door.
“Mom.” I put my hand on her shoulder, gently shaking her to wake up. “Mom, wake up now.”
She rolled over, squinting her eyes up at me. “What time is it?” she mumbled.
“Late,” I answered.
“Then lemme go back to sleep.” She rolled back over, putting her back to me.
“No, Mom!” my voice got louder. I screamed it then. Said it loud and clear. You were committing suicide. Just like that, the image that had been toying with my mind became real. You were committing suicide.
“What?” she gasped, finally opening her eyes all the way. My mom shook her head furiously. “Not happening. Not happening,” she repeated over and over.
I swallowed, trying to regain my common sense. I swallowed again. It didn’t work. “I don’t know what to do,” I said to my mom, like a mouse hiding in a hole on the wall. Helpless.
She took action then, making phone call after phone call. First to your parents, who reacted the same way as my mother had. Tired, confused, surprised, panicked. Then she called the police, who promised to be at your house within five minutes. Finally, she called the principal of our school.
“Why the principal?” I asked.
At first I didn’t think she had heard, what with the panic frenzy that she was in. She stopped for a moment though, to say, “The school should be notified so they can help him. Set up meetings with guidance counselors and such.”
The tears hit me then. They didn’t stop when she pulled me close, smoothing my hair the way she used to do when it was longer. They didn’t stop when I whispered into my mother’s chest, “I’m so scared.” They didn’t stop when we got into the car, pajamas still on, and drove to your house. And they certainly didn’t stop when we saw the police cars lined up in your driveway, mocking me for the promise I had broken.
We entered your house without knocking, going straight up to your room. Your door was open, so we peaked our heads in. You saw me the moment I saw you. Your eyes were black and hard, portraying no emotion to anyone else but me. But I got the message loud and clear. You promised.
Your mom saw me step into your adult-filled room, and immediately she gave me a hug.
She repeated my name over and over, her tears soaking my pajamas. “I don’t know where I would be without you,” she said.
They left us alone then, obviously sensing the tense atmosphere I brought into the room. You didn’t say anything at first. The silence screamed at me louder than you did.
“I’m sorry,” I finally said, breaking the silence. “I’m sorry.”
You stared at me from your bed, unsure of what to say. “I thought I could trust you,” you said slowly in a low voice. “I thought that of all the people in the world, that I could trust you.”
“This is bigger than trust,” I told you. “It’s bigger than even what we had for three years.”
“Is it bigger than me?” you asked.
I nodded. “I couldn’t let you do this to yourself. I don’t care if you never talk to me again, just as long as you’re safe.”
“They’re going to put me on suicide watch,” you said after a while. “I’m going to be that guy.”
“You would have been that guy if you had followed through with it.”
“At least then I would have been dead.”
I let your words hang there. “I’m sorry,” I said again.
We were quiet for a long time after that. I couldn’t recognize how much time had passed. Then, you said in a wavering voice, “You should go.”
I nodded. “When will I see you again?”
You closed your eyes, like it burned your vision to leave them open. “I don’t know. Just go, please.”
I wanted to hug you, to do anything to make you feel better. I was afraid to touch your broken body, wounded so deep down it became almost irreparable.
Just as I was about to leave, you called my name. I turned around.
“Promise me,” you said. “Promise me that you won’t forget about me.”
I shook my head until I felt dizzy. “Never.”
“Promise me,” you said, your voice sounding weaker with each word. “Promise me that you’ll always be there for me.”
“I promise.”
I was halfway out the door when you called my name one last time.
“You know you’re my hero, right?”
I nodded, smiling for the first time that night.
“I know.”



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