That means that 10 years ago today was the day that the love of my teenage life began to feel overwhelmed - by the idea of being in his twenties, of entering adulthood, of whatever came next. Of not being successful enough. Of not moving quickly enough. Of not being clear enough on what he wanted. Of life, literally. On this day 10 years ago, he turned 20 & then, somewhere in the two months & eight days that followed, he decided he would go no further. I know this because the letter he left behind named his 20th birthday as a turning point.
A decade ago today.
When someone you love hangs himself from the rafters in his garage on a cold February afternoon, his neck later covered by a high collar to shield funeral-goers from the unspeakable bruising that belied his final decision, well, it can be difficult to remember anything but the way he died. I have spent nearly 10 years now trying to become someone other than the crazy girl whose ex-boyfriend committed suicide, someone other than the crazy girl who lives with the nagging fear she might've had a hand in driving him to it. Some days, even now, I'm angry at him for it - for the way he screwed me up, for the way he left me here to deal with the absence of us for a fucking eternity. Some days, it's hard to remember who he was before he became the ghost of all our mistakes & mental illnesses past.
But I still remember.
I remember that I fell in love with him in Señora Olivera's Spanish class, starting the day he wore an "EMO IS AWESOME" shirt before anyone, least of all me, knew what emo was. I remember that we first talked during a fire drill & that our friends helped us nervously exchange numbers. I remember that the first night we spoke by phone, I sat in my mother's dark, dank basement for hours, for once not giving a damn about all the spiders that surely lived down there.
I remember that he insisted on calling me Kate even though everyone else called me Katy back then, because he said he'd always imagined it would be the name of his one great love. I remember that our first date was to the Oktoberfest downtown, winter hats pulled low over our ears as we sipped apple cider that steamed into the cold autumn air. I remember that our first kiss happened in the parking lot of a local park called the Gorge - in his junky teal car, set to Dave Matthews Band, like every good first kiss from the early aughts did.
I remember that he saved me from a lifetime of Dave Matthews Band & Matchbox Twenty & Counting Crows by introducing me to good music, which was the real love of his life. I remember that the day he gave me Jimmy Eat World's "Bleed American" CD, he hid it in his glove compartment & affixed to it a Post-It that read, "J.E.W. for my favorite Jew." I remember that one Valentine's Day, he rewrote Jonah Matranga's "A-L-L-Y-S-O-N" for me, even though K-A-T-E isn't quite enough syllables for its beat.
I remember that he did spot-on, hilarious, kind-of-mean impressions of people he didn't like, that he said one of my male friends resembled a baby hippopotamus & that I still think of it when I look at him now. I remember that his wardrobe consisted primarily of thrifted T-shirts that he thought were quirky & ironic, that he wore Chucks before anyone else we knew. I remember that I used to run my fingers over the smooth, silver hoop in his cartilage to straighten it out & as an excuse to touch him.
I remember that I once made a spaghetti dinner for him, the first time I'd ever cooked, & that I did a terrible job of it but that he thought it was romantic anyway. I remember that he took me to his senior homecoming even though I was a freshman in college, the first school & last school dance he ever attended. I remember the Fourth of July we spent kissing on a grassy hill under fireworks, laughing with embarrassment when an elderly couple passed us & commented on our characteristically teenage displays of affection.
I remember that he hated pizza & ate chicken fingers almost exclusively. I remember that my driving made him sick & that he put his seat down every time I was behind the wheel lest he throw up in my front seat. I remember that he had a terrible singing voice but that I could never bring myself to tell him because he wrote such beautiful music & loved it so damn much.
I remember the scavenger hunt he sent me on when I turned 18, the one that ended with a guitar lesson in the park. I remember that one Christmas, he bought me a Frank Sinatra CD & an American Eagle belt I'd wanted for months but couldn't afford. I remember the paper hearts he lined on the carpet of his home, winding a path from the front door to his bedroom, each of them bearing a handwritten note about why he loved me.
I remember that sometimes I would open my eyes as we kissed just to sneak a look at the face of the prettiest boy I had ever known, much less been so close to. I remember how hurt he was that I wasn't ready to take it further, but that he still respected the boundaries I set. I remember that he lit a room full of candles just so we could lie next to another on the futon in his attic, covered by the fleece galaxy-print blanket I made for him one Christmas.
I remember that he bought me a star for my birthday, a real star somewhere up in the night sky with my name officially attached to it. I remember the night that we drove out to the fairgrounds with his brother to watch a meteor shower from the hood of his car in pitch-black darkness. I remember that when he turned 18, I accompanied him & his best friend as they got matching tattoos, the same red star I'd later have inked upon my own skin in his memory.
I remember that we dreamed of living in New York City, him a teacher & me a journalist, renting a studio apartment on some busy street where the sounds of traffic lulled us to sleep. I remember the question he asked one April that haunts me even now - "What are you passionate about?" - that I couldn't answer then & maybe still can't today. I remember vaguely that the last conversation we had was via IM, disagreeing about the merits of the new Brandtson & Jimmy Eat World albums.
I remember other things, too, of course. I remember the arguments & the anger & the guilt & the grief. I remember all the ways we ended, & how they tore us apart every time. But I choose not to think about those things anymore, not now & maybe not ever again. Instead, I choose to remember who he was before all that happened, who he was when he was my first love & my first real experience with another human being's emotions & existence. He was the first person I was ever bound to, & now it seems I am bound to him in perpetuity, whether I like it or not.
I wonder if he would like me now, if I would like him now. I wonder if we would even know one another anymore, were he still alive. I wonder what he would be like, what kind of job he would hold, what kind of friends he would have. But I suppose it doesn't matter, does it? Somewhere, in another story, maybe, but not in this one.
This is our story. I know that he changed me, both in life & in death. I know that I am better, stronger, alive because of him. He once wrote, "Regret, you'll find, at best is a waste of your time" - & I know that, despite all the pain, I regret nothing.
Happy birthday, my Dave. I promise that as long as I live, so will you.