I thought of killing myself the year Khloe died. She’d been riding her bicycle like she usually does on weekdays when a driver rolled off the road and into her. No guardrail. No witnesses. There wasn’t even a tree nearby for the rest of us to leave flowers or memorabilia that somehow makes the grieving feel better.
I didn’t think I missed her very much. I missed her as much as any person misses someone who used to call daily, mostly to bitch and complain about her boss or the dog she couldn’t figure out how to housebreak. I’d sit in my apartment and think, you’re waiting for the phone to ring and it isn’t going to. Get over it.
The bizarre expectation of something that I expected to happen but knew would never happen didn’t dwindle.
After a while, I wanted to remind myself what she’d been like, convinced that if I only remembered her for those incessant calls, I’d somehow dishonor the other things she’d been.
I thought about her mismatched outfits and horrible taste in music. I thought about how she’d call her grandmother twice a day to be sure she’d unplugged the rice cooker. The old woman loved rice, and Khloe was convinced she’d eventually burn the house down.
None of this was astronomically heartfelt or significant. But it all felt so horribly sad that I started wondering how many Aspirin it would take to make it stop. I Googled it just to be sure, because who wants to fuck up killing herself? I didn’t want to do that.
I scanned what read like diary entries. Incredibly depressed people wrote it all down. Here’s how many to take. Here’s the best time of day to do it. Here’s what you should wear. Here’s what you should tell your family in the note.
It all sounded so depressing. Worse than Khloe’s face never reappearing in the café window where we used to sit and sip low fat lattes, always no whip! Plus, the guys writing these death instructions sounded like a real bunch of assholes. I didn’t want to become just another asshole.
When Kevin saw that I had Googled this, he wanted to know when it was going to happen.
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve got the balls,” he said. “I know you get shit done. I’d like to prepare myself.”
I couldn’t tell if he was being cavalier because he knew I wasn’t a woman to be convinced of things or if he’d been hoping to break up with me all along and suddenly found the open window.
“I’m not doing anything,” I said.
“Then why are you looking at that stuff?”
“Doesn’t everyone look at that stuff?”
“When we were teenagers.”
“Well, I was always a late bloomer.”
I laughed at my joke. Kevin wasn’t laughing. I knew Khloe would have laughed. Then she would have offered to rub my back. She would have taken my hand in hers, looked into my eyes, and told me that she loved me too much to joke around about things like that. I would have fallen into her, taken her in, and allowed her to explain why everything was always much less complicated than it seemed.
Kevin picked raspberry seeds out of his back molars and told me to quit it. He didn’t want to see that sort of thing in my Google history.
So I started deleting my history.
When I was little, I used to swim in the creek about a mile and a half from my father’s house. I’d pack my Goldfish snacks and a Yoo-hoo. Sometimes I’d lose the straw on the walk to the creek and have to suck the chocolate out of the tiny hole.
At the water I’d look for the best spot to hang my clothes. I didn’t take a bathing suit because the only one I had was from my Grandma Netta. She bought a yellow one with ducks and cream-colored stripes. It smelled weird and when I questioned her, she admitted she’d found it in the consignment shop next to her church. The ducks seemed to stare mockingly, quacking at my flat chest and rounded Buddha belly. I hated the thing and swam bare.
Khloe started swimming with me when we were nine. I wanted to teach her to swim, but she knew how. She showed me how to float and tread water. When we were tired of swimming, she showed me where to find the biggest blueberries, just along the rocks where the waterline rose and fell. We liked to clench our teeth and push the berries into the enamel, staining them a purpley blue hue.
I loved the summers. Khole’s parents didn’t believe in institutions of any kind. So they homeschooled her.
“Why do I need to send my daughter to some brick building to learn how to stand in a line?” her mother said once.
I didn’t have an answer for her and missed Khloe in the school yard.
The summer we turned thirteen, we found a deep spot where it wasn’t too rocky. We tied a rope to a tree and we’d pretend we were orangutans or howler monkeys, screeching and screaming and make monkey noises as we jumped into the water.
That was the same year Khloe noticed a young man staring at us while we swam. I remember the way she looked up, and I thought maybe she’d seen a deer or something. But it was a young man, maybe in his twenties. She called him over to us and offered him blueberries from the pile we’d collected earlier.
“They’re not very sweet,” I told him.
He stared at Khloe while he popped them into his mouth. His teeth were already stained from something else, though I wasn’t sure what.
When he didn’t say thank you, I thought Khloe would tell him to. But she didn’t, and he stayed for a while.
“Are you going to swim?” I asked.
He shook his head but took off his shoes. They were brown and muddied with hay and grass sticking out from the bottom. The laces were worn down and one side dangled longer than the other.
He stared into the trees and Khloe pointed to a cardinal’s nest on the other side of the creek.
“Little babies in there, huh?” he said.
She told him we’d been watching them all spring and through most of the summer. When they hatched, she was going to try to take one. He seemed to like that.
“I can climb up there much better than you can,” he said. He showed us his stomach muscles, but we didn’t say anything.
He told us he’d start watching the nest, too. And when they hatched, he’d get a little birdie down for Khloe.
He hung around for a bit longer before finally leaving. Before he went he said, “I’m Travis.”
When we walked home to my house later on, I asked Khloe if we should take the shorter way. I lied and said I was hungry. She agreed, and when we got home I locked the door and told her we should change out of the clothes our wet hair had soaked through.
I showed her the suit from Grandma Netta and asked if she had one. She nodded her head.
Kevin told me I should start looking for a better job.
“You’re in a bitchy mood all the time,” he said.
I didn’t retort with something smart like, “I’m grieving, asshole,” because I wasn’t quick like that. Besides, I hadn’t told him about Khloe. It had been a few years since we’d seen actually each other, and they’d only met once.
I mentioned to him that a friend I’d known when I was younger had moved away.
I opened a few job sites on my laptop to appease him.
A few nights later, he must have checked my computer, because he seemed somehow proud.
We had sex three times in two days, which was rare for us. I couldn’t get rid of his smell and wondered why it suddenly bothered me.
I thought about looking at those websites again, but told myself it wasn’t worth the uncomfortable argument with Kevin.
When he tried for number four that week, I said I wasn’t into it. He seemed annoyed, but I guess he had a right to be. He didn’t know anything, and being in the dark when you don’t even know you’re in the dark is frustrating.
“Suit yourself,” he said. He got up and walked into the bathroom, taking a Jergens bottle with him.
I put on a sweater and went to the Rite Aid on the corner of 2nd and Park. I bought new shampoo. I bought a toothbrush and some deodorant. I wanted something that smelled different.
I told myself to stop acting like a fucking moron. Kevin was right. I was being kind of bitchy.
When I got home, I looked harder for a new job, clicking through more applications and actually completing them.
I started taking long walks by myself after work. After a few weeks, I calmed down a bit. I thought less of Khloe and more of the life I was trying to get involved in again.
When I came home from my walks, I deleted the photos of her from my laptop. A few more each day.
He kept coming back to the creek. Khloe knew that he would. We saw him three more times, and I wondered what he did all day but couldn’t tell enough from his clothes or the things he said.
One day when Khloe and I we were walking along the creek, instead of stopping at our usual spot, she just kept walking upstream. We walked for two miles before stopping. We decided to abandon the rope swing and start swimming there.
That’s what Khloe was like. She knew what I was thinking and acted without mentioning what she was doing.
But after only a few days, Travis appeared again.
“How can you see the cardinal’s nest from here?” he said.
“We’ll see them flying when they’re ready to,” I said.
“What if you miss it? Who will take care of them? Little birdies need their daddy,” he said, patting his shoulders and flexing his arms.
“They have their mother,” I said.
He rubbed four fingers at his temple. Moved his hand through his hair and rubbed the other hand over the top of his jeans.
“I thought you wanted a birdie,” he said to Khloe.
“She changed her mind,” I said. “We both did.”
He didn’t say anything for a while, but eventually sat down.
“Aren’t you going to keep swimming?” he said.
So we did.
That was the day he decided to swim, too. When he took off his pants, I thought the hair and dangling skin was ugly. I had only seen it in books and wondered why it was so different from the pictures.
When he noticed me staring, he said, “They’re all a little different, Darlin’.”
I didn’t like that he could tell what I was thinking.
“I’m not your Darlin’,” I told him.
“That’s fine,” he said. “She can be my Darlin’.”
He motioned toward her. He got close and I could tell Khloe felt him under the water.
I told Khloe we should leave. I told her that he was too old to be hanging around with us.
I could tell she wanted to go, but wasn’t sure how to leave politely. I grabbed the snacks we’d brought and started to leave. Khloe told me to leave them. She said he’d eat them, and we had more at home.
And as soon as we were home safe, I held her hand and told her we didn’t have to go back. Not ever.
We held each other for a long time. Until our hair was drier, and our prune fingers got life back in them.
Two months passed.
Kevin got a job offer in Los Angeles and told me that we should move there together. It sounded like the stupidest idea I’d ever heard and wondered when he’d taken the time to apply for the job, let alone go on the interview.
“I don’t think I want to go,” I said.
“One of us needed to change something,” he said. “This could be good for you.”
“How would you know?”
“I think I know you pretty well.”
I didn’t think he knew me at all. I hadn’t exactly told him who I was, and I guess that was my fault. But when I looked at him with his shaggy hair and thick eyebrows I realized it was partly because I didn’t want him to know me at all.
I told him I’d think about LA.
He took a flight to meet with the news agency. All their previous communications had been virtual. Now they wanted to set him up and allow time for him to find a place to live. I stayed in the silence of our apartment and felt grateful.
The sky looked like silk, a few clouds sweeping in and out and through itself in lustrous looping swirls. I wondered if it might turn to a rainy storm at any minute. But I grabbed my towel and started for the creek anyway.
Khloe hadn’t come for me, and I started to worry that I might be missing something terrible.
I started to run. The sweat started at the small of my back first and then appeared at my temples. By the time I made it to the creek, I needed to fall onto my knees to catch the breath I’d let run away from me.
When I made it to our spot, I didn’t see her at first. I needed to see her. I was breathing heavy and crying. What if she’d come to see him? I thought.
But then I saw her. She was in the tree. Our tree. Our bird’s tree. She looked as she always did, sitting with perfect posture, her brown hairs wisping around her face in thin strands. Her eyes flashed down at me, her legs dangling toward the water. She held a tiny bird, cupped between two hands.
“Was it just born?” I said.
She nodded and held it out for me.
I missed it. She’d seen the whole thing. She’d known it was coming before it came and watched it from her spot in the tree.
“We shouldn’t be here long,” I said as she climbed down. “He might come back.”
She tucked my hair behind my ear and told me not to worry. She told me she’d be ready for him this time. Told me I should trust her.
She wanted to know why I didn’t trust people.
I didn’t have an answer.
I touched the bird and felt a thick film in its feathers, like watered flour clumps sliding against my fingers. She looked into me and told me I could always trust her.
I promised I would.
She held my hand for a while and I thought as long as we had each other, I could learn to worry less.
I think back to how Khloe held me, consoled me. I think back and realize that I should have looked into her deep eyes and agreed that she knew best. She knew me best.
And then I think that I should have kissed her. I should have grazed her lips softly first, and then she would lean into it harder. I would move my hand toward her blouse and rub against her, breathing in the warmth I’d desired for so long.
Then I thought maybe I wouldn’t have. Because I couldn’t know that she would have kissed back. I couldn’t know if she loved me at all, or even just a little.
Khloe would have told me to go to LA.
Why should I go?
Because it would be good for you to try something new, she would have said.
Why do I need something new?
You can’t keep living in the memory of a dead girl.
Because you’re better than this.
That’s what Khloe would have said, but I didn’t believe her. I wasn’t better than anything.
While Kevin was away, I kept waiting for the phone to ring. I kept hearing it in my mind, glancing over my shoulder at the cell phone on my kitchen table, and wondering if I had just missed the call.
When the phone did actually ring, my heart raced and I struggled to slide the stupid unlock key across the screen.
“Oh,” I said.
“You should come to LA.”
“I figured,” Kevin said
“Then you know more about me than I thought.”
I heard him take a drag on something, and I wondered if it was a cigarette or a joint.
“You’ll see your friend, again,” he said.
I let out a sort of laugh and held back one of those awkward coughs that could easily turn to tears.
“She’s dead,” I said.
He was quiet for a while. I thought he might need to take another drag. But that wasn’t it.
“I’m sorry, he said. “You’ll find someone.”
“I don’t know.”
“She’s out there,” he said.
When he hung up, I didn’t hear the click on the other end. But I knew he was gone. And somehow, for the first time, so was Khloe.
© Copyright is retained by the individual authors and artists