A Week with You
Monday: When we were kids, we used to read the Greek myths and believe they were real. Once when we were 12 your neighbor saw a coyote in his yard. I remember us locking eyes when your mom told us the story, the instant understanding that it was not a coyote, but a hellhound. For the next few days you saw it everywhere. There were red eyes in the rhododendron, claws on the four legs of the piano, and rows of snapping canines in the chandelier. I could imagine these things when you pointed them out to me, but I never felt them the way you did.
Now we’re 20. You no longer see hellhounds. Instead you see suicide. When you open your eyes in the middle of the night, you can see its hazy shape sitting at the foot of your bed. It crawls into your shoes when you take them off and it slithers back out upon the painful insistence of your toes. I try to picture it from your descriptions, but the silhouette always shifts.
If only I could just see your new monster, I think to myself as my Nikes cross from Hyde Park to South Kensington. As I near your campus the cobblestones grow course, floating back and forth in the weak, hungry light. My favorite time to run is during lunch on days without breakfast. The world becomes soft and malleable in the blur of my dazed vision. I can imagine that if I blink hard enough the entire globe will fall into the semicircles of my contact lenses and bounce with the cadence of my feet. I try it and feel a pair of cobblestones bite into my knees. The pigeon shit mosaic on the sidewalk materializes and I spring back up and start running again. I arrive at your study abroad program’s apartment building just as you return from the gym.
“Lucy!” You exclaim, your eyes taut with worry. I smile and give you a hug. “Are you alright?” My head cocks slightly in response. “Do I appear unhappy?”
“Oh, right.” I laugh for a moment, wiping my legs off as I start to follow you inside, but before I can enter you stop me at the door. “Have you eaten?”
Tuesday: I dance around the apartment changing the Beatles songs on the speaker while you arrange the leaves in your salad. With each deliberate skid of my socks on the hardwood I list another place I want to take you. You've seen less of London in five months than I have in a day.
“You know you only have a week right?” you ask.
“A week can outlast a lifetime if you let it.” I say playfully, as I launch myself into the chair across from you. You place a tiny drop of low-fat hummus on your leaves and stare at me.
“You should eat something nutritious after running for so long” you chide.
“Potato is a vegetable.”
“You’re eating french fries for breakfast.”
“You know what we should do?” You stare, unamused. “Let’s go to that bar tonight, the one with the live music.”
You shake your head. “I have to wake up early tomorrow morning for class.”
“Just drink coffee.”
“Caffeine causes heart problems later in life. I also have to go to the gym.” I watch with fascination as your nails repeatedly dig into your right thigh.
“But why?” I ask, my french fry drooping. I try again. “Want to go run in the park?”
“You already ran this morning, you don’t have to run again!”
My french fry droops further. “But I don’t run because I have to.”
Wednesday: I stare at the bubbles in my glass of Prosecco as the boat gently sways back and forth. You are pretending to smile at your friends and they are pretending to smile at you. Your nails are digging again in the direction of your femur. It’s as though they smelled the bone marrow on my plate and went mad craving the flavor. The vegan dish the restaurant put together for you looks like the garden landscape of a cheap motel. I am the only person at the table who drank and ordered dessert.
The boy next to you speaks.
“Did you not like your pie? You only took three bites.” I smile back.
“The pie was lovely.”
The reflection in my spoon looks like a Cheshire cat and I smile back at my own animated grin. You stare at me with your worried caterpillars. “Are you drunk?” You ask.
“We should go to that bar tonight,” I respond. You shake your head.
Thursday: The sweat from this morning’s workout has formed a cellophane sheen around your skin. Every time the tube passes another station it tightens, urging the opposite sides of your ribcage together. As the train pulls away behind us I hear a familiar sickening snap. “Lucy, I just don’t want to be alive anymore.” You tell me how you see your monster everywhere. In every scraped knee, every cracked teacup, every neck hair, and every A-.
I see between your words the reassurances you need to hear, details of your finer virtues, my affection for you. My teeth press the well-worn button on my tongue that plays your tape. I am unable to fathom your need for the recording. I don’t understand how you don’t see the reflection of your virtues in my eyes. “Lucy I don’t understand how you do it. How you just deal with everything. How nothing upsets you.”
“But things do upset me.”
“It’s not the same.”
I stare up at the beautiful grey clouds, clouds that only depress you. It’s not the same. But how do I explain it to you? How do I teach you the satisfaction I experience pouring sanitizer on my scrapes, running until colors blur into shapes, licking a tear from my nose, or springing up from a fall. For me it is innate: the joy of being a thing that survives.
“Lucy? Are you going to say anything?”
“How about we go to that bar tonight?”
Friday: We’re sitting on a leather couch in a caramel colored room thick with jazz and warm reflecting mirrors. You stare dubiously at the shot glass I brought you. I blow cigarette smoke through the blonde curls of your hair.
“Are you trying to kill me?” You ask with an over-exaggerated cough.
“No, I am trying to save your life.” I jest, a half-cocked smirk sliding up my cheek. I squeeze your hand momentarily so that I can marvel at the pressure building in your veins. With each pulse I feel them ache for death like a shipwrecked sailor for land. Head barely above water. Maybe if I blow a little bit more smoke in your face you will be able to see the silhouette of an island.
“You really are an awful friend” you cough. I make you drink until the breath you exhale no longer feels like ocean water in my lungs. Your lips break into a rare smile.
“You see,” I say, my words stumbling over each other in a haphazard imitation of Freud. “Death is an innate urge and with your diet, exercise, sleep and other anal predilections you’re starving yourself of it. That’s why you're so suicidal.” My grin goes Cheshire again with the lopsided curves of the fake accent. “That’s why you should kill yourself a little bit every day, artfully, truly take pleasure in it. Each shot, each cigarette, each french fry should feel like a stroke in the vast, glorious painting of your demise.” You laugh forward, your spine rolling out of its usual position.
“People in Austria don’t actually talk like that.”
“A little death every day keeps the reaper away.”
“You really are fucking crazy.”
Saturday: After a few more drinks you start to cry over how John doesn’t love you and I take the opportunity to start crying over how Matt doesn't love me. I know he does, but I still pride myself on being able to squeeze a good cry out of it. I lick the salt from my upper lip and savor the taste. When we arrive back we sit in the narrow hallway. “Lucy” you say, making me turn my head. “I hope you know how worried I am that you don’t take care of yourself. I know you’re not happy.”
“What makes you say that?” I ask, barley suppressing a giggle.
“For chrissakes you’re crying.”
“But why does that mean I’m not happy?”
“I know I’ve said this before, but as your best friend, I truly believe you should see a psychiatrist.” As you speak, my eyes fixate on the sharp porcelain edges of your cheeks. I can see how the sunlight from each of your many salad leaves has transferred to the fibers of your skin, immortalizing its youthful grip on your skull. With each minute it tightens further and further past the potentiality of wrinkles or movement.
You start to gush over the merits of your doctor, painting a picture of the wondrous ways he could correct me, but I am no longer listening. Instead I stare at you curiously in the haze of my cigarette smoke, my gaze moving over the aching contours of your skull. My eyes transfix on your eyes. Its eyes. Suspended between fear of death and fear of life.