I read in the alumni magazine that this girl who I’d had a threesome with had died. Though I hadn’t thought of her in years, instantly I saw her face. Ethereal cloud of black hair, not quite an afro, less dense, eyebrows like a 1930s film star, a thin queenly nose, and skin the color of milky tea grown cold, when it gets that dull cloudiness. She had eczema—her skin was rough, lizardy. I always thought all girl skin was soft like mine. Her nipples were dark brown, thick and chewy.
Her affect was one of terminal boredom; her favorite word was “ennui.” She took pills. She seemed older than the senior on the five-year plan she was. She’d lived in Paris and Manhattan, was briefly engaged to a boy, still had the diamond ring. I was from the Midwest, had never left the country and wore a promise ring, no diamond.
At a formal she got falling-down-drunk. She split her lip and the next day her swollen mouth looked like Marge Simpson, but with dark stitches. She drank through a straw and sometimes held a red Chinese folding fan in front of her face during the period of healing. I don’t remember a scar.
The threesome felt like a setup. In her bedroom an Edith Piaf album was playing on vinyl. We—she, my boyfriend, and I—got drunk together, but I got really drunk. I wasn’t coerced, not exactly, but sort of. She had just met my boyfriend. He was definitely the coercive type. It’s fuzzy. They must have planned it when I was in the bathroom or something, because they seemed like this united front. I remember swaying and kneeling naked with her on the bed, boyfriend behind me groping, and then a fucking sandwich with me in the middle. The next day, a vase with three roses near my door: two yellow and a red. Who were the yellow and who was the red? It could have gone any of three ways. I’m not sure—and I hope this isn’t true—but I don’t think I ever spoke to her after that, after the roses.
When I learned of her death, thinking of her made me remember this other girl, this singer-songwriter, who was radiant when she was manic. She too had tea-colored skin, but her skin and teeth glowed, her skin was supple and her nose was broad and cute, not narrow and regal. This girl killed herself. Hanging. During the times when the bipolar was encaging her, apparently she couldn’t even speak. She endured months like that, and then she’d break free and write songs and sing like Zee Avi, only with way more wisdom. She hung out in the bar during her manic phases, and after my shift we’d walk through the park and talk all night. Once she kissed me. Her lips were plush and they gripped mine a little bit, like soft tentacles, or if a flower petal could have tentacles. Then she laughed and told me she had sort of a boyfriend. I told her I sort of did too.
I went to her celebration of life. Her family was rad. They loved her so much they trusted her decision. They believed only she could know her torment and she made the choice she needed to make. I mean, they were sad, heartbroken, but they honored her and accepted her, even in death. They played a video of her singing, and they set one of her beautiful suicidal poems to music. A sort of eerie, lovely chant with a keening sound. My eyes burned from seeing so much love up close. I’d like that kind of love at my funeral. That kind of acceptance. I think that’s part of why I cried, knowing I won’t have it.
My psychiatrist thinks my accident-proneness is suicidal ideation. I will admit to having dark thoughts, but accidents are a boring way to go out. I mean, if you can’t even control your own suicide—if you have to leave it up to chance—what does that say about a person? I said that in session, and Dr. Murray asked me what it says about a person. Duh, that the person is boring! She looked in my eyes for a moment and then called time. I’m taking a break from her.
Dr. Murray wanted to discuss my favorite movie, “Harold and Maude.” That film could never be made today. I think the point is Harold hasn’t found the right way to go out. Maude does. Harold rehearses because he wants to get it right. Dr. Murray said she thought the “message” was that life is beautiful and worth living, and that’s why he walks away with his banjo. She’s a bit of a Pollyanna, that woman. I think I make her uncomfortable.
I’d like that girl from college to consider me the red rose. Back then, I probably was one of the yellow ones, but I think time and experiences, some of them bad, have made me more of a red rose. I wish I’d spoken to her after she left the flowers, after I broke up with the boyfriend. Maybe we’d be friends. If she hadn’t died I could have friended her. But she probably wasn’t into Facebook. After I read the post in the alumni magazine, I googled her. Her father was famous and his obituary was right after I graduated. She was named one of his surviving children, but then nothing else. It seemed strange there was no trace of her, even with a famous dead father. How many people have no trace on the Internet? It’s like she was wiped clean. I think she killed herself. I picture her taking pills, soaking in a bath. She liked hot water, though it was bad for her eczema. Maybe she also slit her wrists. I imagine her watching the blooming red in the water. She didn’t die an ordinary boring death.
Shelley Elkovich earned the MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and BA in English literature from Wellesley College. She’s attended the Tin House workshop and her novel-in-progress was supported by a Playa residency. Her work was published in The Flexible Persona and The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review.
Image: Katya Zyu