It’s much better to face these kinds of things with a sense of poise and rationality.”— Pan!c at the Disco
At first, I assumed it was COVID.
You did leave us in the middle of a global pandemic.
A little Googling…
That’s how I found out you died in the first place.
A stay at home order, lots of grading, need for distraction. I figured I’d do a little checking up— see how old acquaintances were doing amidst the dumpster fire that was 2020.
Ooohhh….she’s turned into one of those people… wow…including the full Karen hair..
Oh double yikes, didn’t see that one coming…
And then I turned my Google skills to you:
I typed in your name, sipped my coffee, and scrolled.
I stopped scrolling and stared.
You weren’t old. Not that it matters: then or now.
Was it COVID? It had to be.
Keep scrolling. Keep looking. Keep digging.
A little more Googling told me it was a rare form of cancer.
But you died and I couldn’t stand you.
I sat at my dining room table, a little slack jawed, refreshing the page.
I guess a lot can happen in a decade.
You’d gotten remarried! You found someone that “fixed” you? Wait, what? You finally found God…
I wondered if you quit the self-destructive drinking and perpetual mental abuse you seemed to love when I knew you.
I recalled our last encounter, not believing it had been nine years ago.
Me: blissfully idealistic, zooming through the grocery store with a permanent young puppy expression. Shopping for the dinner I was making for my parents, hosting at the house I just bought myself.
You: devoted to cynicism, meticulously putting only the things your kids would eat into your cart.
Us: broken up for about a year, a chance meeting in the pasta aisle.
There we were, like chess pieces at opposite ends of the board. Only, this was wizard chess. Only one was limping out of the aisle intact and I would rather be on fire than lose at anything to you.
You broke first.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“I’m fine, thanks. I bought a house. Still teaching. Oh, I got engaged.” I hoped those pinged like sleet pellets. Particularly that last one.
“I see that….”
In my very midwestern way, I said, “welp, I gotta go. Nice to see you. Hope the kids are doing well.”
I left you in the pasta aisle and away I went, a self satisfied smirk secured.
Like you gave a rat tin toot that I was engaged. You could not have possibly cared less.
I’m pretty sure you were only halfway decent in the store out of a sense of public obligation. Because we both know you weren’t always a particularly nice person.
You were older than me by just over a decade. Yeah, it was a real flawed match but— all I needed to head were the words: “let’s just be friends.” I would’ve been sad but I would’ve gotten over it.
Instead, you were very much a trend setter.
The text read: “I think we need to take a break.”
Then you never spoke to me again, until the pasta aisle.
What kind of next level Ross and Rachel crap was this?!
In response, I made every mistake known to mankind.
You know those letters that therapists have you write to a person just to vent but you rip them up?
Yeah, I mailed mine.
Then, you waived it like a flag, announcing my vulnerability like a Super Bowl ad. You told our mutual friends that I was crazy. You ran me through a wood chipper.
You told them the kind of lies that spew from the mouths of seventeen year old boys, not thirty-five year old men.
I was twenty three years old. Hurt but not destroyed.
It takes more than the undisciplined mouth of a liar to bring me down and you knew it.
You knew better. You could’ve been better. But you didn’t and you weren’t.
It all could be a Taylor Swift song.
Then, you had the audacity to die.
And I still thought you were a tool.
I sat at my table in 2020 with mixed emotions.
I wasn’t aware that you had gotten married. Your widow looks like a pretty nice person. To be honest, she looks like a nicer person than you probably deserved.
On one hand, I felt bad. I didn’t particularly like you but other people did. She did. Your children did. I use “did”... like the past tense. I actually mean “do”. They do. I even think your ex-wife still likes you to some extent.
You died with the reality of the lies living in the memory of people I no longer speak to.
You died without apologizing. It’s not like you knew how or knew where I was.
You knew nothing about me and I not only liked it that way but I designed it that way.
I’m still not sure why I’m angry that you died.
Not seeing fifty seems unfair. And maybe you did remove yourself from the misery you clung to like the meaning of life. Maybe you redeemed yourself somehow.
I thought I’d found some kind of sophomorish revenge that day in the store. “Look at me. You didn’t want me but someone else does.” Yep. You cared a lot.
Knowing that I thought that would spite you did not serve me well.
Shakes head in disgust. At myself. At you. At the situation.
It took me a long time to realize that it was impossible for you.
The you I knew was incapable of anything except destruction and self sabotage.
I have thanked God many times for the text you sent. It was a “get out of this free” card.
You’ve been gone three years this month and I think I’m at a point of my own weird acceptance.
You’re a loose end but a closed book.
I don’t know what to make of the fact you’re gone and I’m still mad at you.
I sat at the table in 2020 and I let myself cry. Big, fat, ugly tears.
I sat alone, up before the dawn, pandemic anxiety attacks acting as biological alarm clocks, and ticked off the reasons why I disliked you.
My face was swollen and my eyes were red.
I felt bad that I had disliked you with a force strong enough to power a small country.
I thought of the dumb letter.
In the naivety of my early twenties, I’d written: I hope someday you find whatever it is you’re looking for.
And isn’t that the best thing I could’ve said?
There it was: poise and rationality.
Maybe you did, in the end.
Melissa St. Pierre is an assistant professor of English at Rochester University in Michigan. Her work has appeared in The Blue Nib, Ponder Savant, Panoply, Valiant Scribe, and Elizabeth River Press Literary Anthology and the Arzono Annual Review. St.Pierre has also performed her work in Listen to Your Mother, a literary nonfiction storytelling showcase. When she is not writing, she is busy misplacing things, making construction paper art, playing with her daughter, or all of the above.