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I was 24 when Adam died. We were both 24. I had a missed call at 3am on my phone from my old roommate in Albuquerque, Eric. My boyfriend Chris dropped me off at my apartment early in the morning so I could get ready for work and I listened to the voicemail as I walked in my front door. Eric sounded distraught. “Call me back,” was all he said. So I called him back, even though it was 5am where he was.
“Our friend, Adam,” he said, choking through tears, “he’s gone. He killed himself.”
I didn’t believe him. I demanded an explanation.
“He hanged himself,” he told me.
I couldn’t stand up. I leaned against the oven in the kitchen. I slid to the dirty linoleum floor.
“Liz called me last night,” Eric explained. “She and Adam had the same therapist. The therapist told her.”
I hung up the phone and I dialed Adam’s number, leaving message after message. “Adam, this better not be true,” I demanded. “Call me back. Call me back!”
I called Chris, panicking. I felt like I was screaming. Chris came and got me.
I called out from work, frantic. I couldn’t breathe.
I called everyone I knew. I called everyone who I knew had ever met Adam. It was late October and it was cold in northern New Jersey. I walked through the park with Chris so I didn’t have to be inside and I made call after call on my phone, looking through the numbers I had and telling everyone.
Adam was my best friend.
Somehow Chris and I drove to my parents’ apartment in Washington, D.C. so that I could get a flight home to Albuquerque for the memorial service.
I felt like a mother hen gathering my chickens. As Adam’s best friend from afar, I was relegated to the “kids’ table” at the memorial service. I wasn’t part of the organizing. But everyone who saw me told me through tears, “He loved you, he loved you.” I had a troupe of Adam’s ex-girlfriends and the friends his parents didn’t know. We went out for Halloween the night before his memorial service, dressed as zombie baristas. It was a perfect costume. None of us could do much other than stare into space.
I went to his parents’ house while they were cleaning out the boxes of his stuff. There were letters and postcards from me that he’d saved, and letters he’d started writing to me but hadn’t finished. Some of the letters to me devolved into nonsense after a few pages. I couldn’t tell if he had been trying to be experimental in his writing or if it was because he was fighting his schizophrenia.
I couldn’t sleep. Chris would feel me tossing and turning in bed next to him. He told me stories to get my mind off things. Sometimes he would get up, take my hand, lead me to the couch, and turn on the classic movie channel without saying anything. I’d watch, crying, until I fell asleep.
I couldn’t eat. I lost 15 pounds quickly, even though I wasn’t exercising and I was certainly drinking too much alcohol. When I tried to eat I would be overwhelmed by nausea.
I went to a psychiatrist, who prescribed a lot of drugs. Effexor, Lamictal, Trazodone. They made me sleepy. I started calling out from work just to sleep for entire weekends. I still don’t know if it was just the sadness or the drugs that made me so exhausted.
My sister gave me a book to read, “No Time to Say Goodbye.” Her high school boyfriend had tried to kill himself. She understood to some extent what this was like.
Everyone else in my family tried politely to ignore that this momentous event had happened to me. I felt completely alone.
I would be overwhelmed by sadness at random intervals throughout the day. I would start crying at my desk at work. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom, holed up in a stall. It was good to be out of the house, but I couldn’t concentrate on much. I had just started a master’s degree program for creative writing in New York City. We had started reading one of Adam’s favorite books. I couldn’t read it. I couldn’t write anything new. I brought old stories to my workshops. I went to class, I went to work, I went out with friends, but every time, I felt like a ghost.
I wanted to talk about Adam, to anyone who would listen. I called our 9th grade history teacher and told her what had happened. I called his high school girlfriend, who said she hadn’t thought of him in years. I would tell strangers on the subway about him. I was annoying in my classes at night, and when I would have a drink or two, I’d just devolve into tears. On New Year’s Eve, Chris and I went to a friend’s house for a party, and at midnight I sat on the stairs, bawling, trying to hide alone, away from these nice people I couldn’t be happy with.
On what would have been Adam’s 25th birthday, Chris sent me flowers at work and a note saying, “I will always be there for you.” It was the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me.
I stopped crying all the time. A year after Adam died I was able to sit in a bath and read his letters. I cried, but it wasn’t as desperate. I got a new job and was able to concentrate on work. My life had come back, without my noticing.
Part of me fantasized that somehow, he’d been recruited by the CIA and had to fake his own death. I thought maybe I’d run into him somewhere, some day, sure it was him. He’d have to pretend he didn’t know me and deny his identity, but he’d give me a sign, something only he and I would understand, so that I’d know he was okay. He’d let me know that he hadn’t destroyed my entire life without giving the act a second thought.
I re-read the blogs he’d written in the months before he’d died. When he’d written them, I’d thought they were satire. Now I saw them through a new lens and realized they were expressions of his descent into madness.
In some ways, it was a comfort to know that Adam’s suicide was due to schizophrenia. It was as if it hadn’t been him anymore — that he had been taken over by another person who believed that the police were coming to get him.
Eventually Chris and I broke up. I finished my master’s degree, somehow, and moved home to New Mexico.
I quit taking the drugs because I couldn’t afford them without insurance. They were very hard to stop, even though I phased them down slowly, taking just a little bit less each day. I had brain zaps and mood swings. I gained weight. But I stopped being as sleepy. I felt less foggy.
I couldn’t write fiction anymore. Adam had been one of my muses. I tried to write letters to other friends, to start up something of a conversation like what Adam and I had once shared. There was nothing comparable. I felt like he’d taken all of that away from me.
I felt like he’d taken away my ability to trust that friendship mattered. How could he have done this to me? How could he have put me through this if he’d loved me? How could I ever believe that anyone I dared to love wouldn’t drag me through this again?
In my darkest moments, I reminded myself of the pain he’d caused me, and swore I’d never do that to anyone else. Or let anyone do it to me.
Every year on October 26, I would light a candle to think of Adam. I would wish him happy birthday each August on social media.
I would get mad at him and scream at him when I was alone.
I would dream about him. He wouldn’t know he was dead. I wouldn’t tell him because I knew once he found out he’d be gone. But he would be gone when I woke up, anyway.
I became friends with his younger brother. We played kickball together. He was a veteran who had been in Iraq when Adam had died. We shared stories about him. We cried a lot.
I spent some time with Adam’s mother. At one point she told me that she and Adam’s father had always hoped Adam and I would end up together. This made me tear up, but it felt like a sort of peace. He had loved me, enough that his family knew who I was, and knew that I’d mattered.
In October 2016, we marked 10 years since Adam’s passing. I decided to hold a seance to mark the occasion with Adam’s mother and his two younger brothers. I called around to local metaphysical shops until I found a woman who would perform the seance with a Ouija board. I followed her instructions and put salt around the perimeter of the house and burned sage in all the corners.
We sat around a square table in my living room. The guide “found” Adam. His mother and brothers took turns asking him questions. I took notes. “It’s so good to talk to you,” this Adam said. And it was for us.
The thing about grief is that it never goes away; it just changes shape. Every death is different, even if they’re remarkably the same. I find solace in talking to people who have lost someone young, especially to suicide. We understand each other on a certain level, the ravages to our mental health, that others don’t. We know what it’s like to stare into an abyss of sadness and know that, in the morning, it won’t look quite as deep, as long as we can sit with it for as long as we need to.