Michael, you once said that our fingertips don't fade from the lives we touch. Is that true for everybody, or was it just a bunch of poetic bullshit?
The night Michael died is a blur.
The only recollection you still have, the only piece you've kept all for yourself over the years, is the knowledge that you were the one who found him.
Not your parents, when they finally met you inside the hospital lobby after what seemed like, at the time, an eon of city lights and traffic and noise (and oh, God, it was just so fucking loud and you wanted it to stop)—your father speechless, blinking back tears he wouldn't cry until the funeral, and your mother, so raw and broken she fell to her knees. Nor the EMTs and the police, after they'd been called in, the former to extricate the body from the apartment and the latter to ask questions you couldn't answer.
Still having yet to buy a copy for yourself, you'd come over to return a book he'd let you borrow for the umpteenth time, the one with the Greek gods and chopped testicles. It was a little extreme, but it was your favorite and you couldn't get enough of the metaphors, the hidden symbolism that bled between the animations and the lines.
He hadn't answered when you'd called earlier that day to let him know you were stopping by, nor to open the door and let you inside. Sometime between all of this, the afternoon sun, lazy and spilled out across the skyline, had swallowed into the shadows and the December night had crawled in, crisp and so cold you could feel the wind hollowing between your bones, making your teeth chatter and eyes burn.
So you'd do what anyone would: you found the extra key hidden under the doormat, unlocked the door to Room 11 and stepped inside, finding everything looking exactly the same as it did the week before. You'd turned on all of the lights as you made your way down the hall, highlighting various glimpses and pieces of a fractured whole: a pizza box, half-eaten out of, lay on the countertop next to a pile of mail in the kitchen; the decorative pillows on the couch in the living room, hastily strewn about on the cushions, the TV remote thrown on top of the blanket your mother had bought him last Christmas; his toothbrush next to the sink in the bathroom, lined up meticulously next to the toothpaste and dental floss (he'd always had an O.C.D. for neatness); and, finally, the last door on the left—his bedroom.
Your fingers found the knob. You'd twisted it, and when the door still didn't budge you rammed your shoulder up against the wood until it did. The small room, from what you could make out in the shadows, was clean, the bed in the corner, pushed up against the wall with the window view facing the street, made. Laundry piled into the hamper, shoes by the wastebasket. It was almost like he'd just disappeared. The air was damp and smelled of something rotten; something that, at the time, you didn't know could even have a smell.
But it did, and as you stood there in the middle of his bedroom, you saw through the sliver of light that filtered in from the hallway the closet doors, highlighting the slumped form hidden in the rack of clothes, seeming to swallow him whole.
A belt had been hastily looped around his neck; although, oddly, his cheeks were still flushed the lightest shade of pink, hair falling into his eyes like it always was doing no matter how many times he brushed it back. His eyes were wide open, glazed over, seeing nothing. Green like grass, the exact shade of your father's eyes… Of yours.
It was almost as if you were not staring at the person you were then but would become later: A complete stranger, one you didn't recognize at all.