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From Molly, which will be published next month by Archway Editions.

Two days before her suicide, Molly and I went to visit the High Museum, where we’d been together many times. There were hardly any other people there, blanketing the wide, bright white displays with vivid silence. We wandered side by side around the showrooms as in a labyrinth, sharing our favorites and least favorites, until my head began to bleed. I’d been picking at my scalp, pulling my hair out, a nervous habit taken up out of stress. I remember the color of my blood on my hand there in the antiseptic light. Molly remained quiet, allowing me to rant and curse as we hurried back down to the first-floor bathrooms, where I stood at the sink with my reflection and blotted at my scalp. I barely recognized myself. After I’d cleaned up, I hurried back out to gather Molly from where she stood with her back against a wall, lost in her thoughts. We headed upstairs into the outsider art wing, Molly’s favorite, where we split our paths when a patchwork quilt brought me to tears, thinking of Mom, while Molly moved on ahead without a word. Later, she’d ask me to send the photo I took of her sitting alone, waiting for me to finish, so she could tweet it, captioned solely with the emoji an iPhone suggests when you type the word home.

The last picture I have of us together is of our reflection in Anish Kapoor’s Untitled, a concave mirror made of fragmented stainless steel. Our bodies appear shattered in the image, hundreds of vectors, barely distinguishable as complete selves. Molly’s arms are tucked tight at her sides, cloaked in her black dress; her face obscured by the mirror’s many fault lines, looking head-on into the camera with a wry grin. “Lately deciding between head or heart,” she’d written in her journal three days earlier. “They say head, if to back of the brain/brain stem is most instant/painless. But idk. The heart, it’s so beautiful. What’s another couple seconds. I’m not scared anymore. Just the opposite. I’m scared of living.” Another picture, taken just before that, shows Molly standing on her own. Her smirk hasn’t emerged yet; instead, she holds a broken glare, her jaw set in a straight line as if wired shut, knowing what she knows. She barely seems to resemble the way I would have remembered her, without the picture, then or ever—my closest friend, my wife—far beyond reach. “I am sorry to have kept all of this planning from you,” she’d already typed into a suicide note, saved on her hard drive for the last time earlier that same afternoon, under my first name—Blake.doc. “I wanted to have a normal time with you these last few weeks, just normal, nothing dramatic, and of course I didn’t want to alarm you or anyone who might prevent my course of action. It was the most lonely time of my life, keeping my plans from you, and I know you’ll be sad about it, and I’m sorry for that as well.”

Leaving the museum, my memory cleaves to two things: how as we came along the concrete tunnel to the parking garage, we heard a familiar music, piped in from unseen speakers overhead as we walked together hand in hand, so much like the outro music from The Shining, but not quite—instead, anonymous and perfect, beyond time. The second is my road rage—furiously impatient to end up stuck in rush hour gridlock, shouting and banging my fists against the wheel. Molly sat beside me, hands in her lap, letting me vent until she’d joined in with equal vigor, raising her middle fingers and shouting insults at the drivers in nearby cars. A complex mortification in realizing I’d squandered those fleeting minutes, some of the last we’d ever share. Only later, at dinner, sitting across from her and sharing tea, everything in its right place, would I be thankful for the day. I looked her in the eyes and said how grateful I was to have a partner I could rely on so completely, who understood me in a way no one else ever had. I suppose I mistook her hard, silent expression in response as a mutual knowing, flanked by an existential distance I’d since grown used to not as a frigid thing, but as an earned part of the person I most loved. No matter what I might have said, they tell me, it wouldn’t have changed anything, and even if it does feel sort of dramatic to imagine somewhere to begin, my gut has an idea: When I used to say it was all going to be okay, Molly, all I really meant is that I love you.

All language loses meaning in the flames. You feel your body being burned, numb in parts and crushed in others, with no clear way to make it stop. No one else can feel what you are feeling, you imagine, and you can read that in their eyes. Even those who do care just seem to remind you there are still reasons to keep going, to hold strong, but often those reasons are all theirs, forged from their lifelines. It’s no one’s fault; it’s everyone’s fault.

I’m so sorry, Molly. I really tried. I know you tried too, as best you could. I love you forever.

In this room where I am writing, I finish writing the prior sentence, then I blow out the candle on my desk. I watch the smoke rise, filling my senses with its odor, both from the burning and the tint of artifice, bred by design. Less than a minute later, the smoke has cleared, if not the smell yet, and I’m the only one who’s here. They say silence can ring louder than any sound, but it’s the sound that makes the silence ring, to the point it hurts, like grasping on to something no one has a name for. Through the window, just beyond the screen filled with these words, the sky is gray, wholly opaque beyond the premise of pending rain, as if there were something there beyond it worth hiding, until maybe someday.

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November 2023

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