That’s how he always signed his missives. Something I’d managed to forget until I stumbled across one. I was in the midst of searching for something completely unrelated in my box of “treasured stuff,” when there it was. His elaborate signature. I wept at the shock of feeling I honestly didn’t know was still present over a decade later. I wept for had been. For what could have been. Most of all, I wept for him.
An age ago, he was my boyfriend. Me, 21; a junior in college. He, a couple of years my senior; a graduate student in psychology. He was warm and loving and thoughtful. He’d fix me lunches: homemade sandwiches, heated and sliced down the middle. He was also organized. Everything had to be exactly where it had to be and no.where.else.
One might reasonably guess him to be an athlete. Slim and toned. Tall. Six feet to my five four. He was “high yella” with hazel-green eyes and a disarming smile. His skin betrayed a heritage he’d just as soon ignore. Who wants to look in the mirror only to be reminded his ancestors were raped? He volunteered with African-themed youth programs. Wanted to do more of that. Planned to develop and implement his own curriculum. Maybe create an organization.
We were together until we weren’t. A few months? Maybe up to a year. I loved him (I can admit it now), but there was always something. I didn’t have the language to articulate how I felt. Usually he was sunshine. But at times he’d be haloed by clouds. After weeks of joy, we were suddenly weighed down by a heaviness I couldn’t name. I felt it, but I couldn’t exactly see it.
This is difficult. I’m trying to share a tongue twister with my mouth full of peanut butter. Words, thoughts, memories mushed. Stuck together. Stalactites in the roof of my mouth. I’ll keep trying.
I knew I couldn’t help him with it. Hell, I didn’t even know what “it” was. He acknowledged it was something. Wished he could explain. Wished I could help. It was an abstract painting in a poorly lit room. We both wondered, what was that? What did it mean? Just a blur of confusing colors splattered on a canvas.
And it was over. And I graduated. Moved back home to Atlanta. He wrote letters from time to time. Signed in his distinctive way…
I returned one weekend and reached out to him. A laughing voice invited me to dinner. The conversation was all smiles, except for his comparison to his brother. Light-hearted jokes, until the admission of overspending to impress his mother. He said he was happy. Or trying to be. He’d suffered a recent heartache. The new girlfriend had complained about the clouds, the heaviness. It remained nameless. I’m working on it. I see it’s really a problem. Still no words for what “it” was. I assumed “it” was feeling as though he were not enough. Always competing. Always wishing he were richer. Darker. Something.
He was weeks away from finishing his degree. Over dinner, we discussed his next steps. Maybe he’d come to Atlanta. Maybe we’d reconcile.
He seemed somehow different that night. Needy? Open? Please don’t leave. If only you understood. I wish I could explain. Just stay. Yet somehow the same. Still warm. I’ll run your bath water for you. Still distractingly meticulous. I don’t want this to hang here. I’ll fold it and move it there.
He cooked breakfast before I departed in the morning. He had insisted. I thought I’d see him again soon. He was weeks away from finishing his degree. Maybe he’d come to Atlanta. Maybe we’d reconcile.
His frat brother called. Do you know K? I frowned at the complete ridiculousness of the question. Of course. I was just with him two days ago. Irritated with this beginning, I neglected to register concern about the call.
He’s dead. They said it was suicide. Gunshot wound to the head.
I stammered a response before I hung up. Spent the next several days in shock. Couldn’t sleep alone. Confused. Muddled. Peanut butter for brains. Tears.
I wish I knew what transpired in the intervening hours. He died the day I saw him last. He was weeks away from finishing his degree. Maybe he’d come to Atlanta. Maybe we’d reconcile.
I write this because I didn’t know. I didn’t have patience for what I didn’t understand. I couldn’t explain. I didn’t have the language. I just knew it was something. I don’t know what, if anything, I could have done differently. Not the last day of his life, nor the year before. But maybe, by contributing my remembrances, it may trigger someone to wonder. To dig deeper. To recognize. To seek help.
I am Nicole D. Collier, and I have #NoShame.