Melannie Jay is a high school senior in Madison, Wisconsin whose academic notebooks often turn into impromptu anthologies, much to the chagrin of her calculus teacher. Besides writing, she loves cats, punk music, comic books, baseball, dark chocolate, and the friends who put up with hearing about these loves every day. Next fall she will be studying Biological Basis of Behavior and Creative Writing at the University of Pennsylvania.
A Letter, Later Destroyed, to the Girl Who Lived After All
I saw a photo of you today, the first image after twenty years. You had cleaned yourself up, made yourself nearly unrecognizable from the time you told me to pick up milk from the grocery store and I came home to the note telling me that you had bought a plane ticket to Prague with the intention of blowing your brains out and letting your broken body fall into the Vltava. On the back side, you had scrawled the poem that gave you the idea in the first place.
With the new hair and new clothes and new smile I almost didn’t believe it was you, that somehow your crazy half-Scottish, half-Hungarian name was common enough to belong to another girl, but it was your eyes that forced me to admit that you had made it through that week after all. One was blue, but the other was split down the middle, blue and brown, in what you called an homage to your divided ancestry.
The night that we met at the bar we were both too young for, when you were coaxing the bartender into giving you a whiskey sour between sets of the garage band you still thought was going to make it, I was the first person you talked to who didn’t comment on your eyes. Instead I told you that your references did not go unnoticed and listed in chronological order every band riff you had swiped from in the first half of your performance, but I told you that you made up for it because I liked the color of your shoes. You found the whole exchange so off-putting that you laughed like a caffeinated hyena, if only because you knew not what else you could do. I left the bar without you or even your phone number, and thought that was the end.
We ran into each other on campus the next day and you said you remembered my hair; it was right after I had gotten the blue streak put in that would become my marker until I entered the real world and endured a few months of bleach-blonde lingering around until it all grew out. This time I mentioned your eyes and you smacked me upside the head. I spilled my coffee on the street and you offered to buy me some more. It was during chemistry and it was the only class I ever skipped, walking with you out of the gated community to some little dinky place all the way on the other side of the city with mediocre at best coffee. This time I got your number and your name.
I went to every single show you did, every rinky-dink gig at a frat party or open mic night at similarly run-down cafes. You weren’t very good at singing, always speeding up and slowing down at the wrong times, and your style of guitar-playing was more focused on “loud and fast” than anything technically difficult. You split from three chords and the truth by the occasional addition of an E minor to your usual repertoire of G, C, and D. I watched you the way that I did because your energy and passion for your music was like nothing I had noticed in other ensembles at school, the ones who actually did go on to record an album or to, or at least upgrade their gig space to something where the most expensive item on the menu hit double digits.
You never seemed to use the term dating for what we did, grabbing something quick to eat after you had worn yourself out thrashing on stage for a few hours. I wanted to think it was, but I never said anything out of fear that you didn’t see me that way. Then one night you kissed me without warning, and even though I wasn’t expecting it I didn’t pull away. I leaned in, and we held hands the whole way back. You introduced me to your band the next day as your girlfriend and once again I never said anything to support or refute the point, only went along with it.
In a way, that’s how I felt the whole time we were together. I was just grabbing onto a lock of hair or a scrap of fabric on your coat as you, in all of your glorious energy, shot through life. You were a great comet hurtling through the stratosphere with disregard for everything you were burning up in your orbit, including yourself. Despite my best efforts to get you to have breakfast other than a shot of Jack and whatever grains you could find in your pantry, you were either too ignorant to realize that what you did was killing you or too stubborn to change something that would have made you too much like the rest of us, too ordinary.
We had moved in together when you started getting sick. Do you still call it that, getting sick? Do you still consider yourself to be ill, or have we moved past that to some new state of physical and mental health since your absence? No matter the case, I knew something was wrong when I came home and you didn’t say hello to me, you were just sitting on your bed scribbling furiously, having gone through an entire pad of the sheet music you kept on you at all times and moved onto the lined notebook that I was using for work. I took the notebook away from you and you didn’t seem to understand what was wrong. Dazed from the changeling that had taken your form, I decided to make you dinner, thinking this was another spell caused by malnutrition, and I came back to see that you had moved onto the walls. One look at your pitiful face and I didn’t want to make you pay for repainting the walls on your measly day job salary – of course you had to use permanent marker instead of pencil – so I paid for it myself and hoped that this, like all things else, was temporary.
I knew that it wasn’t temporary when I got the call, halfway through the work day, that you were in the hospital for trying to gnaw off your fingers in the middle of the day. This had come the day after you went crazy halfway through a set, nearly destroying your guitar and taking off your drummer’s head with one of his own cymbals. We had closed the show early and I walked you home as you cried, tears freezing to your face. I put you to bed and prayed that this would be the end, that you would start changing your ways and figure out what to do with your life, because this wasn’t working.
When I got to the hospital I screamed at you. Never mind the speech that I had rehearsed about how this was okay and we were going to get through it together. No, damn all of that, I was furious at you for being so immature. You knew that something was wrong and yet you elected to do anything about it, just hope that it went away and keep on living in your dysfunctional manner. The lack of hygiene you applied to your life was never helping anything, and you were relying on me to make things okay, but I wouldn’t be around forever. I slammed the door behind me and started crying. You never saw that part, the tears I left behind, because I was worried about you, worried about the face of terror that I had never seen before. I thought I had ruined something between us and you would never trust me again, the one permanent thing in your life. I tried to turn around and make things better, but nothing would make me move my feet.
Two weeks later they sent you home with new medication and you were fine for a time. You didn’t want to perform, so you went out and got a job at a record store, something that would keep you busy all day and allow you to still be around music without having to jump around. We were better again, never fighting, and I never had to worry about you, but I never felt that I was with you from that point. You had been replaced by an automaton, an android in my bed. In a way, when you left the note behind, I was relieved to know that you were back.
In all the time that you were gone, I never thought that something had gone wrong. Every time I remember that day, I picture you staring out the window of the plane and seeing the Atlantic below, planning everything meticulously, getting your hands on a pistol, putting it to your temple, and pulling the trigger with the first bliss you had known since the illness started brewing within you and working its way into every aspect of your life.
What happened? Did they not allow you to purchase the weapon in the first place? Did you get caught stealing it and have to go to prison, whereupon you rethought your life? Or did they allow you to take it and go down to the river, only for you to look down and realize that what you were doing was stupid, throw the pistol into the river instead of yourself, and turn around and have a drink instead? Did you, like Beethoven’s nephew, press the metal to your temple but find your hand shaking too badly to find the soft part, instead having the bullet glance off your skull and send you, dazed, into the river, only to be rescued? Maybe you spent the money, walked down to the bridge, climbed up on it in your dirty sneakers, raised your arm to your head in a macabre salute, and put your finger to the trigger when someone wrestled you down, stopped you from doing it. Forever in their debt, you clung to them as you once clung to me. Maybe you and that woman, or man, are still together and living happily in the Czech Republic, far away from the cruel world you left behind.
Is it wrong to say that I feel nothing to know you are alive? I am not happy, for even though I praise God that you survived it means that I cannot guarantee your suffering to be at an end. The demons may still plague you. Despite that, I cannot be sad that you made it along, or even sad that you never made your way back to me. In a selfish way, I wish you the best with the theoretical person that you met out there because it means I have no more sleepless nights worrying about whether or not you’ll make it through the day. You were mine for a time and I ruined it, made things worse than you had known them before.
I never married. You put me off of it; I could not handle the responsibility. I killed you, after all, or at least I thought so. I worked all day, I advanced in my job. I adopted a dog and I come home to him every night. He is all I need, and I never worry the way that I did about you. I don’t want to see you again, to become reattached to the woman who I left behind, or who left me behind all those years ago. I only want to know that you are at peace. Send me a sign if you are, or disregard this message entirely. I am not yours and you are not mine. If anything, find your peace for your sake and not for mine.