This essay will grab you by the throat. The tragedy and horror of lives lost too soon, masterfully told by Gabino Iglesias.
The first one was M.
She was young and pretty and full of life and all the other clichés and then she jumped out of a seventh floor balcony on a sunny Sunday afternoon not two miles from the beach and the pavement in the parking lot below didn’t give a flying fuck about her youth or her good looks or the fact that maybe this ugly life had a few sweet surprises for her in the future.
The saddest thing is that the impact didn’t kill her.
She jumped and broke herself against the hot pavement and then stayed there for almost half an hour, a broken doll with enough consciousness left in her shattered skull to realize what she had done. The idea that maybe regret came over her while lying there always makes my stomach feel like something dropped into a very deep hole.
They couldn’t move her, so her death became a spectacle.
Women screamed and guys pretended they weren’t crying and someone puked under a tree and moved on to escape the too-real nightmare and everyone gasped and tried to ignore the fact that some shit you just can’t ignore or forget.
G was there, with his rail thin body and head full of dreadlocks and the bad ink on his scrawny chest.
He had a crush on M. They were friends despite his intention. He held her hand as the blood pooled around her slowly and red bubbles formed in her mouth and popped, making tiny red rain fall on her left cheek.
The Monday after M’s death we all went about our business at school and pretended that her ghost wasn’t hanging on every damn hallway and classroom.
We convinced ourselves we were unchanged, that we were still young and strong and happy and indestructible.
Her death became the first thing we instinctively knew we shouldn’t, wouldn’t, and couldn’t joke about. Most first times and things hurt, but this one hurt in places we didn’t know we possessed.
The next weekend we got together and everyone talked a little softer and drank a little harder and tried a few new pills and hugged everyone tight when it was time to say goodbye.
Time did its thing and no one liked to mention her. Her name became a ghost that attached itself to our memories like a remora.
No one liked to party on balconies for a while and no one judged G when he came to school high for the next year or so. We all knew that any escape was a good one.
Some of us grew and learned things. We paid attention. We remembered. We learned to carry her with us everywhere because more than the first fuck, the first arrest, the first small, overpriced studio, she was the one who ripped our innocence in half.
* * *
R was a chubby guy with a head full of unruly yellowish curls and the kind of green eyes you only see in movies.
He was affable and got along with everyone. He always shook your hand hard and hugged you like he meant it, like he wanted you to feel loved. When he asked you how you were, he actually cared about your response.
Then he was gone.
A friend of his was driving, a guy we all knew and liked, a guy who liked fast cars and showing off.
They were going too fast and not paying attention.
The truck driver climbed down from his cabin to find them dead from the impact but looking like they were taking a nap.
The bad news were really awful, so they traveled at the speed of light. Funny how they got there and made everything dark.
Friends called and I ignored them.
Anger filled my chest and I wanted to punch everyone and everything.
When blame can’t be placed, it feels like the heaviest donkey’s tail ever and you feel like the kid who’s left holding it while the rest of the world enjoys their cake.
Time was a dark blur, something that came and went unnoticed.
Then I sat down to eat and my dad came up to me, sat down, scratched his stubbled face.
They broke me.
I cried like a baby with colic, salty tears falling on my plate, ruining my lunch.
The question didn’t really need an answer. My old man had been there. He did the best thing he could have done and kept quiet.
After a few minutes of that, I was done. So was he. He got up, squeezed my shoulder, and walked away.
It wasn’t the first death I’d been through and wouldn’t be the last, but it was certainly the one that hit closest to home, and any sense that we were all powerful and blessed and faster than lighting and untouchable and too cool to die like a stomped-on bug was drowned in tears that day, and the sense that we could do things to push forward our expiration date became a tattoo we tried to hide from ourselves.
* * *
C was the first to go after we all thought the danger was over.
Sure, high school was crazy and CM had fallen asleep on the back seat of a car never to wake up again and S had accidentally done too much of a bad thing, but C was different because he had survived all that relatively unscathed.
We were still feeling fresh and accomplished, high school a not too distant memory. Some folks were talking marriage and pregnancy and new jobs and great colleges and some were talking awful gigs that paid the bills and new drugs and same old shit.
C wasn’t talking to anyone because he had just come home from his first tour and things were bad.
His girl said a baby was on the way and he had no desire to go back and no desire to stay. He didn’t want the girl or the baby and no job wanted him.
He came up with a solution and got rid of it all by hanging himself with his belt inside his closet.
His death was a surprise because it taught us that not everyone had what it takes to grow up, that adulthood can be tougher than anything we’d ever imagined, that maybe there was a reason so many fathers drank and so many mothers popped pills and so many older cousins and friends filled up their burnt veins with warm dreams. It also showed us that a dark thing we thought was as far away as Jupiter was as close as a belt and a closet.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Gutmouth (Eraserhead Press) and a few other things that no one will read. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Verbicide, Electric Literature, The Rumpus, and other print and online venues.