November 9th is an anniversary of sorts for me. It's the day in 1997 when my friend Sara died of a blast to the head from her meth-head half-brother's shotgun, one night while she was napping on the couch in front of the TV. He killed himself right afterwards. Sometimes I think about their mother, how she must've woken up to the noise, gone into the living room and found she had no children.
I met Sara on the first day of high school. She moved to town from some other small town a few counties over. I remember the first time I saw her. It was early, early morning, before the first class started, before the building even opened. The sky was pearly and a girl I'd never seen before walked up to me with long hair blowing around her like Botticelli's Venus. She asked me how to get to the choir room. I didn't know, but I was in choir, too. We found the room together. Together, we learned to make pear notes. We loved each other right away and easily, like you can do at that age.
Sara dressed like everyday was Halloween, an excuse to decorate herself -- long black dresses, tattered cheerleader skirts, horns, gloves, veils. This was new to me. My only aim for my appearance had ever been to be invisible. I let her take me to the Salvation Army and dress me up like a young Jim Morrison, in silk shirts, velvet jackets, boots. Dykes, they would hiss sometimes when we walked down the hall together. Sara hugged my arm. "Don't worry," she whispered. "They don't even know what they're talking about."
We would lie in bed some afternoons and I would pull her long hair over me, a sheet of copper silk, like my mother's hair before chemo. Sometimes she would ask me to dress her, turn her back and let me do up the buttons. I would pull the fabric tight around her tiny waist, her small, perfect breasts, easing each button into its hole, watching the white curve of her spine disappear beneath her clothes.
We took turns planning the perfect suicide. I chose getting drunk in a snowstorm, passing out and freezing to death. That's stupid, Sara said. Everyone will think it's an accident. She said she would rig up a camera so that the noose, as it dropped, would trip the shutter. Everyone would see her face at the moment of decision.
We planned our funerals, too. I wanted an epic funeral procession, driving all night, through rain if possible, and throwing my body off a pier at dawn. Sara wanted crowds of people in elaborate costumes, Ozzy Osborne, drugs. But when it came it was nothing like that.
I was not at home when she died. I was at school in another city. My mother drove the two hours to see me, to tell me what had happened in person. She didn't know how to tell me on the phone. At first I didn't believe her. "You're lying", I said. "I'm not going back with you. Get out of here. Go away."
She said, "Baby, why would I come all this way to lie to you?" She held out her arms to me and I felt myself smash, like a glass dropped on the floor.
The last time I saw her was in the city park. I kissed her goodbye. One the drive back to school, the sky was purple with clouds. I stared at them and saw her lips, her hair, her lips. Two weeks later she was dead.
I went home for the funeral, which was cheap and stupid in every detail. A church that was four trailer homes in the shape of a cross. A preacher who remembered her only vaguely, as a little girl. Carnations, the flower for ugly prom dates. Gladioluses in horrible hunter's orange and a tape recording of organ music.
Afterwards Miss Bobbie stopped me, the lady who owned the antique store where Sara and I would go and try on hats after school. In a shocked whisper she told me she'd heard that they -- whoever they were, whoever it is who tidies up after a murder-suicide -- found jewelry with pentagrams Sara's bedroom, a copy of The Satanic Bible. I remembered her reading it out loud to me: "Man has always created his gods," in her steady, husky voice, "rather than his gods creating him." Miss Bobbie said she knew I was a good girl and she had known my grandmother and to remember that God sees everything and there will always be a judgement. "You don't know what you're talking about," I said. "I'm sorry, but you have no idea."
After the funeral, I went to my parents house for lunch. The first bites of food fell into my stomach like lumps of clay, and it felt like they would sit there forever, because my insides were not moving at all. Inside me everything was still as stone. I did not feel like flesh and blood anymore. I got up and went outside and my father yelled after me "You're excused." My mother followed me, asked me if I wanted a coat. I said no. I wanted to be cold. I walked out a long way into the middle of the pasture, the sea of bone-colored winter wheat. She didn't want to die. It was all just talk. She was more alive, more bright, more warm, than anyone in the world.
I knew her so well, or felt I did. I knew what she would say before she said, what she would do before it was done. I knew her better than I knew myself and loved her when I did not love myself at all. That she loved me too was almost the first I knew that there was anything in me to love. I held myself in the cold. Don't worry, chickadee. I'll never let you go. I will keep you. I know you so well. I know what you like, what you do, what you are. I will be you. I will make a place inside of me and you will live there. Nobody will take you from me while I live.
She didn't want to die. Those fantasies were only fantasies of leaving, escaping into the real world. Escape at any price, even if it meant you had to leave things behind, like your clothes, your body, your name, who you were. Out there we would have new clothes, new bodies, new names.
After the funeral, I went back to school in the city. To my complete surprise, life went on as usual. For a while I grieved every day and all day. After a while, only parts of every day. Then only some days.
It was a fairytale, of course, that dream of keeping her forever. Like love always is. I couldn't have kept her forever even if she'd lived. Especially if she lived. It was a promise made at the very, very end of childhood. I couldn't have made that promise if I'd been any older, wouldn't have believed so fiercely in the alchemy of love and grief that I could have transmuted, by will alone, her soul into my body.
Because it is true, I know only now, years later. She is still in me. If I forget it, it is because having her in me feels so natural now. Even in the mirror, I see how our features have grown alike. I see where and how my life would have been different if I had not been living it for both of us. Everyone who's ever touched me has touched her, too.
If she had lived we might not even know each other any more. Anything could have happened. And yet here she is -- I even see her face, her white face sitting underneath my heart, blurred a little as though through ice, but there.
I am so sorry, love. I didn't mean to take you prisoner. If there ever were a way to set you free, I'd do it, even if it meant I'd never see you again. But for now it's safest here, inside me where it's safe and warm, and we can keep each other company.