“Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, in a letter dated 14 May 1904, Letters to a Young Poet
Not garden-related, except that this photo was taken in a place called Burke’s Garden, near the Jefferson National Forest in southwestern Virginia, in 1977. It’s a picture of my closest friend then, born on 7 Aug. 1960; about six years after I took this photo, 36 years ago, she shot herself to death in a public park.
We spend our days and nights together,
cutting branches in the woods,
collecting trash from the roadways,
living with other girls in a narrow trailer,
eating badly at meals, table for two.
I learn her like
she’s one of those intensive language courses,
not a girl I’ve met
on my high school summer job.
She’s an awkward language to learn,
enough my own
that the differences are land mines,
jolt me raw from solid ground
to a spattered strife of blood and limbs.
She tells me I talk too much.
I’ve never been accused of this sin, and
I work this summer to prove her right.
I speak recklessly, carelessly, and relentlessly.
I want to know everything about her.
She is silent, holds herself like a shimmering
beetle suspended in resin, caught and impervious.
I prod and poke to release her,
but she curls tight,
gives me a warning look I come to know,
this summer and later,
as well as I know my own inward glance.
One night as we sit on the trailer stoop,
the moon signalling darkly, her face its shadow,
she tells me that last year,
after prepping her wrists with ice,
she slashed them with a razor blade.
She slashed horizontally,
a mistake, she now knows.
Real suicides slice vertically and lie in warm water.
“I’m a failure even at suicide,” she says, her body
hunched and small. For once, I’m silent.
I’ve taken aspirin ten at a time before
but anyone knows that’s just a cry for help.
Most nights, we lie awake late, I on the top bunk,
she on the bottom. We share caramel candies, the ones
with white sugar centers; I eat the chewy outsides,
then pass the soft innards down to her. Later,
I write in my journal that we have a symbiotic relationship:
we feed on each other.
Three weeks before summer ends,
she gets another friend and makes me jealous.
She says her new friend doesn’t interrupt her thoughts
with silly chatter.
I want her to miss me.
I want to leave her alone but I can’t.
She is in my blood.
I have begun to understand the deep
fragile silence that cannot keep her safe.
It’s seventeen years later now,
and I live in her silence, enduring and vast.
She finally got it right, ten years ago, this time with a pistol.
She’s in my blood, a familiar parasite,
and now I shed language like skins,
our useless body.
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