i was just sorting through boxes of my stuff, and i found several CDs jay, my friend who committed suicide two years ago, burned for me of music and movies from our freshman year of college. i have almost nothing with his handwriting on it, and it's sort of jarring to have these relics sitting in my lap.
the CDs he gave still aren't anything that i feel overly excited about in terms of content -- a nine inch nails mix and a creepy, excessively-violent japanese horror movie -- nor was i excited about either of these things when he gave them to me, but he wanted me to have them anyway. and that was so jay: i think he viewed himself as a selfless person, maybe even a giver -- and he really did have a big, raw, deeply-empathic heart, which i think is part of what brought him so much suffering -- but he often seemed to give things without asking, or to give things that were based in his interests and not necessarily an honest reading of the other person, their wants, their likes. i think the things he seemed to give were things he wished others would give him.
sometimes his compassion was perfect, more than i would expect any human being to carry in their hearts. the summer between freshman and sophomore years, i got a nasty case of strep throat and was dehydrated almost beyond functioning, and jay got out of bed at 9 AM, probably hungover, to drive me to the emergency room. he stayed with me until i got admitted, and then left because he had to work. a couple of hours later, he wandered back into the room i was sleeping in at the ER and settled in with a magazine.
when i woke up a few minutes later, i said, "i thought you had to work."
and he said, "i told them i had to leave because you were here and i didn't want you to deal with this suckfest alone."
i know when he gave these CDs to me five years ago i was still angry about how he'd treated me in an immediate way -- bitter, hurt, not wanting to even be his friend -- and i tucked these away with a bunch of things i haven't looked at in years, which was a pretty conscious "fuck you" to him at the time. even now, i almost tossed the whole stack of CDs out without looking through them.
i'm glad i did, though. his hand rested on these CDs while he wrote in black permanent ink, in his tall, spindly handwriting, "for Andrea <3," or "Caution: Be ready for a mind-fucking." i wish i could i go back in time to when he was sitting at his dorm-issued desk set against white cinderblock walls, writing on the surfaces of these CDs, and see if, anywhere in his brain, he knew where we'd both end up: that i'd be here in farmington still, five years later, on the precipice of leaving the walls and trees that hold most of my memories of him behind, and that he would be living only in the memories people have of him.
five years ago, did he ever have thoughts about dying? did that come later? for nearly the whole year after he gave me these CDs, he seemed like the jay i knew -- drinking four nights a week, chasing after chicks, dropping acid, being sexist and raucous. that halloween night, he brought my ex, rob, too tipsy to walk three miles to campus to see me in her cowboy outfit, to my dorm. i met them at the back door of my dorm, and jay, his chest hair peeking over the top of his white ruffly jim morrison shirt, waved and said, "here she is." rob walked toward me, into my arms, and then i forgot about jay altogether.
and that summer, he stopped at my apartment on his way out of town to deliver a present he'd bought me -- a shirt that said "nobody knows i'm a lesbian" in big black block letters. i remember hugging him, then waving to him from the curb as he drove away, back to massachusetts, to his family. i wonder if something happened to him that summer.
somewhere soon after that moment, he started to tell me about hearing voices, about being the guardsman between two separate worlds. he got quieter; he started talking about moving to california, reinventing himself in a place where no one knew him, where no one would be able to see inside of him. he wrote poems less and less about his larger-than-life partying and angst that echoed the dark rock bands he listened to, and more about emotions, about loneliness, about being haunted by himself. i think in some ways he was beginning to grow into himself, to shed his frat boy persona and to be who he really was, and i think that he was terrified to be who he really was because of a darkness he saw in himself.
this is one of my favorite poems that i have of his. it's from that time period that i was just talking about. back then, i remember he told me this poem was about some girl from mass art he wanted to do it with -- but it's so much deeper than that.
AN EMPTY ROOM
Saturday nights can be hard to get through when you're sitting next to me,
telling me all about art school and poetry while I feed you
chocolate truffles and pepperming schnapps, and we laugh
by a bonfire outside while our clothes get clogged with the smell of smoke,
and I find an extra-long exposure on my camera that turns the flames
into ribbons of tangerine and faded purple-grey, but still can't capture
the hanting figure reflected in your deep brown eyes. I tell you you're beautiful
and you take it as flattery and not as fact, thanking me
as your eyes wander to one of my smoother-talking roommates.
I try not to remind myself that every bedroom is full but mine.
After the lights go off, I make myself a hot cocoa, which tastes much better than
chocolate truffles and peppermint schnapps as I sit and sip on my back porch,
staring at bare winter trees and paling evergreens.
and now, i should probably get back to cleaning and organizing my room. moving is such an excavation of history; i can date my history by these belongings. when i leave this place on sunday, i will leave this place behind an empty room. which is unlike, and just like, jay.