Burn

It’s summer, and I’m fourteen years old. That puts us at 2004. I’m in my room alone, watching the dust motes pass in front of the light that’s filtering through my window. It’s a matter of focus. Either I can look out the window and focus on the too-full dumpster out there, or I can pay attention to the dust motes hanging in the air like tiny planets. I’m alone in here.

A few weeks ago, I was in the hospital visiting Rodhi, watching his chest rise and fall as he was Resting. Only no one else would call it Resting. They’d call it being in a coma. I wasn’t there when his chest stopped rising, stopped falling, but I was there for what happened after, there to watch him be taken up on the wind, his mother standing in front of him, chanting words in Malayalam that I still don’t understand.

He’s gone now, and I’m standing in my room. I can sit down, but I don’t want to. I’m wearing my school uniform even though it’s a Saturday, polo shirt neatly tucked into khakis, belt completing the picture. I don’t know why I’m doing these things. Drew’s at a friend’s house. It seems like I haven’t seen him in days, weeks, and when I do see him he’s stumbling in drunk in the middle of the night, calling out my name in the darkness, trying to wake me, and I’m pretending like I’m asleep even though I’m not. I want to talk to him, but not like that.

I walk over to his side of the room, made obvious by the mounds of clothes and CDs and games and snacks and dirty dishes. My side of the room is almost too clean. I know I shouldn’t, but I start going through his things. I find pictures of friends, girlfriends, sports memorabilia, lighters, dice with suggestive verbs on them. I don’t know what I’m doing.

I sift through movie tickets and receipts and half-completed homework assignments that will never be turned in. Is this what a person is? The tiny bits of miscellania and junk that they leave behind? I don’t know who I am.

On the top of Drew’s dresser, in the center of it, there’s a big bottle of cologne. I pick it up. The bottle is wine-dark, almost black, and I can see that it’s almost full. I hold the bottle in front of my face, spray, and walk into the mist like I’ve seen Drew do so many times before. It makes me smell like a grownup. I spray it again on my neck, my chest, my wrists. I spray it on my hands till they’re soaking wet and rub it all over my body. I hold the bottle in front of my face again, but this time I turn it towards me. I open my mouth and spray.

It tastes like liquid fire. I turn and look at the little motes of dust hanging in the air. Outside, sitting on top of the dumpster, is a single bird. It chirps. I unscrew the bottle’s top and start drinking the cologne inside. It burns terribly, and every instinct inside of me tells me to stop, but I don’t. When I finally finish drinking the bottle, I cough uncontrollably. I try not to make a sound because my mom is home, but I can’t stop the coughing, so I go to the bathroom and I lock the door and I turn the faucet on full blast. My body is telling me to stick my finger down my throat, to drink water, to wash my mouth out, to do something, but I just let the water run, try not to look at myself in the mirror.

When I finally stop coughing, I turn the water off and go back to my room. It’s already gotten dark outside, and I can no longer see the dust motes hanging in the air. I go to bed a little bit after that. I sit on my mattress for hours, unable to fully grasp the fact that I am going to die soon. I wonder if it will be slow or fast, painful or painless, and then I start wondering what it was like for Rodhi. No one can really say, because he was hardly even there at all. One moment he was breathing, and the next he wasn’t. It was as simple as that.

I’m surprised to find that I wake up the next morning. My stomach hurts and my throat burns, but I’m still alive. One day passes after another; the pain in my body slowly recedes.

The other type of pain still lingers, though.

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