“I love you too,” I said to her and hang up the phone. I meant it. I was never certain if I had ever truly fathomed love. But to whatever extent I had comprehended it, I did love her. And I liked her even more. I always thought that love was illogical. It required neither reason nor explanation. It just happened. But “like” was different. Like required reason. Like required justification. And she… she made me feel light when everything else around me seemed to burden me. She made me feel light when I felt as though I was propping up the world on my shoulders. Around her was my favorite place to be because there…there the world was a little brighter, a little more colorful for me. With her was the only time I could unpretentiously be myself. It was the only time my skin felt like the right fit. She… she liked me. She liked me in ways I had not learnt to like myself. She liked the things I did not like about myself, things that I wasn’t remotely aware of beforehand. I liked her because the way she liked me made me like myself. So yes, I loved her. And I said it to her often, not out of habit, but because I wanted her to always know it.
“I love you,” were the last words I was to hear from her, “I love you too,” her from me. But I did not know that, sitting at the back of a crowded, humid bus in which the air had become ridden with the stench of sweat, when my phone buzzed and her name flashed on the screen. She never rang me this early into the day. Nor did I ring her. It was our unspoken rule. But talking to her was something I looked forward to always. So I swiped the screen to pick up, not thinking it strange. Perhaps I should have.
“Hey, you,” I said. “Hiii, how are you doing?” she answered in her raspy voice. Raspy, not horsey, is how she described her voice. I always teased her about it and told her how it sounded as though her vocal cords were straining to phonate sound, how her voice sounded like a hangover-morning-voice on the back of a 3-day drinking spree. She always laughed. It was one of our many jokes. I wonder now if those “jokes” are part of the reason she’s gone. I wonder if there was more behind the laughter than she let on. I loved it though, her voice. It was my favorite voice. It made the world around me disappear; it made everything and everyone else seem trivial. I did not tell her that. I had assumed she knew. I wonder now if she would still be here had I told her that often. I wonder now if she would still be here if I instead told her how I beautiful I thought she was often, how I always thought the moon would stare at her in awe. I wonder now what I should have said differently or not said at all.
“I’m good, thank you. How are you doing?”
“I’m doing great too, thank you. I…”
“Are you alright? You never call this early.”
“Yeah, I’m good. I just…”
“Are you sure?”
She chuckled and said, “Stop interrupting me. You always worry. I’m good. I promise. I just miss you.”
“I miss you as well. I was just thinking about you.”
“Yeah? What about?”
“Well, I’m taking you out tonight. I was going to surprise you, but I might as well give you time to prepare.”
“Nah, you are just bad at surprises. You couldn’t keep it to yourself”
“Yeah, I definitely am bad at that,” I said through a stifled laughter because I was uncertain if that was a joke or a slight jibe at me.
“Well, where are you taking me?”
“I’m not even going to tell you.” She smiled. I knew she smiled. I could tell when she smiled, even over the phone. I wonder now how many of those smiles were genuine and how many were a facade.
“That’s how it is now huh?”
I too was smiling now and said, “That’s how it is. Pick you up at 6?”
“Yeah sure. I’d like that.” She would not make it to 6pm. I got the call an hour after I hang up from talking to her. But I did not know that, sitting at the back of the crowded bus, happy with myself because I assumed she was happy as well.
“Okay then. See you at 6.”
“See you at 6. I love you.”
“I love you too,” I said to her and hung up the phone.
“I love you,” is supposed to be the beginning, not the end, of something beautiful. But right now, standing over the coffin in which her lifeless body lies, my world a lot darker and a lot less colorful, the air around me a lot heavier as though it too were bearing part of the sadness I feel, my breathing uneven -slow, then fast, and slow again- as though my head were being under water, it is anything but a start. And it’ll probably never be anything more for me. I see her lying there, lifeless, motionless as though she were a sculpture. This must be real, but every part of me is urging someone or something to nudge me awake because I want this to be a bad dream. The coff…wait it’s a casket. Casket. She burst out laughing the day I told her I did not know the difference between a casket and a coffin. “No one is buried in coffins anymore, man,” she said and laughed even harder. I wonder now if it was real, her laughter. And everything else. Was any of it ever real? Was she ever happy? Or was all of it just a front she put on because it suited her brand and hauled off the moment she was alone? Was it all a masquerade, an outfit that looked good in the mirror and to the outside world that she used to mask everything that lay beneath the surface?
It’s brown, the casket. That over-polished brown that makes things appear posh and expensive. Who chose this? Do they not know how much she hated brown? She would not have liked this. Or maybe she would have. I don’t know anymore. I’d love to claim that I knew her better than anyone else, but I am not sure anymore. I haven’t been since I got the call. The casket is only opened halfway so that only her waist up is visible. An ill-fitting satin, white dress with meshed sleeves drapes over her body like a sheet over a bare mattress. She looks more wrapped up than dressed. And it infuriates me. It makes me angry because she would never have worn this. I want to rip it all off and have her dressed in her baggy shirt and jeans because that is what she would have liked. How could they forget how much she hated dresses? She didn’t even own a dress. How could they think she would have liked to be buried in one? Bury. The word invades my mind. I picture her body enclosed in a wooden box, stowed in a 6-foot-deep hole. She would never feel the rays of sunlight bash against her skin again. Air would never fill nor leave her lungs again. She would never get to live out her plans, her hopes, and dreams. The thought breaks whatever is left of my heart into even smaller pieces. My heart has been breaking since I got the call.
Her face is drained of all life. Her chocolate complexion is replaced by this paleness that looks as though it was merely painted on, as though it would come off if I ran my hand across her skin. She is not wearing the smile she always wears nor is she blinking shyly as she usually does whenever I walk up to her. She almost looks at peace. It’s as if she is only asleep, as if she is only taking a rest which she so badly needed, as if she will wake up soon.
Everything feels heavy again. My heart feels heavy. It feels as though the cords that were holding it in place were sliced off and it now hangs only loosely in my chest. My whole body feels like a lump of meat that I am dragging around, as though whatever was giving it life had been yanked out of it. I feel empty. I not only feel a void, but I feel like I am the void. I feel as though gravity has doubled down on me, like the world is apt on crushing me under its weight. I am numb. I want to feel, but I don’t know how to. I don’t know what to feel. It’s as if there is this sudden empty space where my feelings were supposed to be. I have been numb since I got the call, an hour after I had talked to her, telling me they found her hanging from a rope tied to a chandelier in her room, a footstool knocked over underneath her suspended body. I was at the counter, paying for the flowers I intended to give her. I felt every ounce of energy I had leave my body then. I felt a pit drill through my stomach, and it has been sat there since. I have been numb since they told me she left a letter that addressed everyone but me. There was no note for me, no explanation. For me was only an “I love you” over the phone. I did not ask what the letter said because she did not want me to know. For others, she left answers; for me, only questions.
I feel powerless. I want to move away from the casket, but my legs won’t let me. I want to cry, but it feels as though whatever well from which my tears are drawn has run dry. I have been crying since I got the call. I have been crying subconsciously, finding wells of tears on my cheeks that I did not feel leave my eyes. I have not spoken much since then because there is nothing to say, no one to say it to. I have been spending a lot of time alone, thinking…sometimes not thinking because I don’t know what to think anymore. I have not been able to stop imagining the image of her body hanging from a bedsheet, her head probably cocked to one direction, her hands hanging on her sides, eyes bulging out of her head. I have been starring into empty spaces too long because I find comfort in knowing that emptiness and voids existent outside my body as well. I have been forgetting to eat and take showers. They say my eyes look distant, that I am here and not here at the same time, that they look lost. I feel it too. I feel lost. I feel uncertain of everything. I am uncertain of things I never questioned before. I am uncertain of myself, of my existence. I am uncertain of God. I am uncertain of life. I am uncertain of certainty. I don’t know what to know, what to think. I feel like I should have known. I feel like it was my job to know. I feel like it’s my fault. Perhaps that is why she did not leave me a note. Perhaps she figured I’d eventually realize that it’s all my fault, that she need not explain herself to me. I have been scrolling through every single moment we spent together in my head, emptying out every memory drawer, digging for clues, looking for signs, looking for a "I am depressed" sign. I have been reading into every smile, every laughter, every “I’m happy”, every conversation to see what I missed. It must be my fault. I don’t understand it. But it must be my fault.
She must be asleep. She has to be. She cannot be gone. She cannot take herself. She cannot take herself and not tell me why. She cannot kill herself. She has no right to. She could have told me. She should have told me. We talked about everything. Why not this? Why had she felt she had to keep this to herself? Why had she felt I would not understand? Did she not know I would have given up the world just to see her happy? Did she not know that to be there for her, as she had been for me, was all I ever wanted? Had I failed her? Had I turned her away? Had I been selfish? Had I created an environment in which she felt that her happiness did not matter? Had I not been a partner enough? I have a thousand questions. I have been asking a thousand questions whose answers I will never know.
I am in denial. I am standing over her casket, and I am still in denial. I want to shake her awake. I want to tell her she got me, and this prank isn’t funny anymore. I want to shake her awake because she cannot be dead. Why should she be? She was happy. Smiling. Laughing. She had everything. She had me. Why would she take herself? No. I want to shake her awake and have her tell me what the problem is. I want to yell at everyone for playing along, for convincing me that she is gone. She is not. I am infuriated. Their crying infuriates me. Why are they all crying? Why are they saying “she was”? WAS? No, no. She is not a past tense. I don’t want them to use the past tense because that makes it real, because it makes all of it real. It cannot be. I want to tell her to wipe that make up off her face because it makes her look silly. I want to scream and shout and tell everyone but this cannot be real. My body denies it. I deny it. But I do not shout. I will not shout. I am standing here, looking into the casket in which her lifeless body lies. And I am begging her to get up.
I see a mark go around her neck, reddish-purple, about the width a finger. I assume that is the mark the rope left. I immediately feel a despise for them shoot through my body. It's it, the rope, that took her away from us, away from me. Not her. She could not have taken herself.
I have been standing here for a while now. I take a glance at her face again and wonder if any of us are truly safe from grief. I marvel at the power, the grasp it has over us. I wonder if there is a stronger, much rawer feeling than it. I have never known grief before, but it feels as though it has been waiting a while to finally introduce itself to me. And now it is all I know. Perhaps the false security of love is that it gives us the illusion that we can never be touched by grief. Perhaps the false security of love is that it makes us think we truly know the people we cherish. It's my fault she is gone. It always will be. Someone taps me from behind and tells me I need to move now. I take out a pen and a small card from my jacket and on it I scribble, “I love you too.” I shove the card into the side of the casket and walk away…