The hymns sounded like screaming.
Or, rather, they sounded like the desire bubbling in my chest to scream. Or cry. Or do anything. But I couldn’t move. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the body in front of me, dressed up like it was prom night. Hell, never in a million years did I expect to see Tobias Seyton dressed in a suit… not even for his own funeral.
Well, wake to be exact. But it’s the same thing, right? Toby’s not here anymore. Nothing even matters if he isn’t here anymore. I mean look at him. Look at me. How pathetic, I’m still waiting for him to jump out of the casket and convince me it was all just a senior year prank, a big ol’ horah to end our last year of university. He didn’t. I forced my feet away from the casket, away from the sniffling faces I’d never even seen before in my life. Where were you? I wanted to scream at all of them, friends, family, coworkers, classmates. Where were you when he died?
Where was I?
Toby’s family was sobbing in the front pew. I stared at his mess of a mother, feeling nothing but revolting anger. Her husband must have felt my dagger of a glare because he approached me.
“Sorry for your loss,” I mumbled to the ground, not giving a shit about these people who never gave a shit about their son when he was still alive.
“Thank you. Were you a friend of Tobias’?” Of course they wouldn’t know me. Of course they wouldn’t know a single damn thing about me. I didn’t bother answering. I just walked out of that damn church and all those fucking liars, got in my car, and drove away. It wasn’t until I pulled up to my trashy sublet sorry-excuse of a flat and put the car in park that all the emotions of the day caught up with my brain. I slammed my hands on the wheel, over and over, and I screamed. I screamed until my voice was hoarse and hot tears streamed pointlessly down the sides of my face.
I wanted to hate everyone, point the finger until it breaks beneath the force of my waving it around. But I knew. I knew it was my fault. I was the only person I could blame. It’s not fair. None of this is fair. I was supposed to be the one person Toby could confide in. In the end, did he just lump me in with the rest of them? Was I only ever going to amount to their facade? Someone who could never fully earn his trust?
A knock tapped at the window beside me. I jumped and wiped at my tears. It was the neighbor, old Mrs. Fredaline. I lowered the window.
“Are you ok deary?” She asked with that kind, papery voice of hers. I put on my normal face, praying the cracks in my mask didn’t show as I replied, “I’m ok, Freda. Thank you.”
She smiled a bit sadly before reaching through the window to pat my shoulder. “I heard about that young man’s funeral today. That’s where you were, weren’t you?” Maybe a crack deepened because the old woman rushed to say, “I didn’t mean to pry-”
“It’s alright, Freda. Yes. Tobias was… a good friend.”
“Right,” she nodded, suppressing a frown as she did so. “Kind lad.” The knowing look in her eyes told me more than I wanted to know. I turned away, unable to face it; the truth.
“I’m right next door if you need me. Get some rest, Christy.” God I hate that nickname.
I waited until old Mrs. Fredaline was back in her house before I dragged my sorry ass inside. I locked the door, walking to the room to throw everything that belonged to or reminded me of Tobias in a growing pathetic pile in the corner of the bedroom. I didn’t even know I was crying until my vision blurred into pointless colors and meaningless light. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
I carelessly rummaged through my cabinets in the kitchen, knocking over empty bottles and breaking glasses. I didn’t even bother to clean it up, just grabbed the half-full bottle of whiskey and unscrewed the bottle with lazy movements from my bruised and cut fingers. I knocked the bottle back, chugging the burning liquid until my chest screamed and I couldn’t breathe.
I gasped for air, staggering through the empty, shitty flat until I reached the stained porcelain of the tub in the only bathroom of the place. I climbed inside and drank as I cried. Nothing fucking matters anymore. Because Toby isn’t here. And no one knows. No one cares. To his family, I’m just a stranger, worth less than dog shit on the back of their shoes. My whole fucking world was stolen from me when Toby took his life. But no one knows. No one cares.
The only other person besides Ria who knew about us is dead. It feels like him and I never existed in the first place. And now, confronted with these overwhelmingly painful feelings, I wish that were true. I love him. What do I do with these feelings now that he’s gone forever?
Why did you leave me, Toby? It was you and me forever. You and me even when your mother forced that bitch Alyssa on you. You and me even when I used to get bullied in high school for being a freak. You and me even though life in this godforsaken town is utter shit. You and me even though college was never as merciful as we thought it would be. You and me even though.
I wailed in that tub, hoping to fuck I would choke on my own vomit and liquor and never wake up again. Because nothing matters anymore, not without Toby.
But I’m not a lucky bastard. I’m just pathetic.
“Christopher I swear to all things good in this world if you’re still trying to drink yourself to death I’m going to beat the shit out of you.” Ria’s voice sounded like nails on a chalkboard when hungover. I scrambled out of the tub and lunged for the toilet just in time to puke into the nasty bowl. The bathroom felt like a prison. The fluorescents kept spinning. Ugh it feels like I’m dying.
The door was kicked open and Ria stood on the other side, hands on her hips and her curly hair tied back into a pony-tail.
“Christopher,” she sighed.
“My boyfriend died. Leave me the fuck alone.”
"Almost four months ago, Christy.”
“Don’t fucking call me that,” I slurred as bitter bile coated my tongue, preparing my body for another round of ruthless puking.
“You’ve barely left the house since he died. And this place is a pigsty,” she scolded as I barfed my guts out.
“I said leave me alone!” I yelled, saliva dangling from my lips as I spit the bile into the gross mixture.
“Dammit Christopher,” Ria huffed as she knelt beside me, holding my hair back as the last of my puke left my body. I know she was just concerned but I didn’t need a mother right now. I needed my best friend. And my boyfriend. It feels like I have neither of those anymore.
“I let you take your time wallowing in self pity but enough is enough. I know you love him and that won’t change but I can’t lose you too. So take a damn shower because you need one and get ready. We’re going out.”
“I’m not,” I whined. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Christopher Lodovik we are going to go for a stroll to the grocery store and get you some actual food instead of those cup-of-ramen and energy drinks.”
“Just let me die already Ria,” I whispered, not feeling in the mood to argue. I’m tired of living. There’s no meaning anymore. I can’t handle it anymore, all this hurt. If I’m not drunk or high, I’m staring down the prescription painkillers my doctor gave me for a bruised rib I got a while back in a fight. Only a few hours of pain and then it will all go away. How tempting.
“No fucking way. You only have a few more credits to go before you graduate. If you go back to school-”
“I’m not going back,” I spat. “Not without him.”
“Eugghhh!” Ria yelled in frustration. “Take a fucking shower you stubborn bastard and talk to me when you’ve completely sobered up.” She got up and slammed the bathroom door behind her as she stormed out. I threw a nearby box of tissues at the door with a grunt. Don’t get it mixed, the only reason I’m taking off my clothes and getting in the shower is because I’m covered in puke and dried up vodka, not because Ria told me to.
“Asshole,” I muttered, angrily slapping soap onto my body and shampoo onto my long hair. I decided to shave and nicked myself in the process. Whatever. I don’t even give a shit anymore.
“You look somewhat human again, look at that,” Ria acknowledged as I stepped naked into the bedroom. I ignored her as she slapped me with a fresh pair of clothes.
“Put these on and stop waving your tiny dick around.”
“Yes master,” I lolled lazily as I slipped on the boxers, jeans, and sweatshirt on. They all sagged off my frame, evidence of all the weight I lost since that wake. It felt like just yesterday. I could tell Ria was thinking the same thing I was as she frowned at the way my clothes hung from my limbs.
“Chris, I love you to the moon and back. You know that, right?”
“Is that why you’re being such an ass?”
“Yes! You know what? It is. I loved him too. He was my cousin, for chrissake. But this isn’t healthy. You’re wasting your life-”
“Who are you to tell me how I can and cannot grieve? He was your cousin but he was my lover. The closest damn thing I had to family I had left!” I could tell my words hit her right where it hurt.
“What about me? Am I not your family, Chris?” She croaked. It’s true, Ria’s been there for me since early middle school. She’s been my family when my own blood turned their backs on me at a young age. Her parents practically raised me. Of course she’s family. But my groggy, intoxicated and yet hungover brain was full of agony and anger and no one to take it out on but her. Sorry Ria.
I turned away from her, not answering. She laughed humorlessly and said, “I’m going to be in the living room. Come out and talk to me like a decent human being when you stop being such a fucking asshole.”
I watched in bitter remorse as my closest and only friend/family stomped out of the room, sinking on the dirty sheets as I stared down the popcorn ceiling. I hate this place.
I really didn’t mean that. Of course I love Ria. But I’m always either angry or empty or overcome by my own helpless sorrow I don’t know what to do. And everyone else seems to be fine. I’m pissed off that they all moved on. Or maybe I’m just pissed off that I still haven’t even left the damn tub. I haven’t slept in this bed in three and a half months. Too many memories. Maybe I’ll take Ria and move to Pennsylvania or some shit. It has to be better than this place. Anywhere has to be better. Maybe my spine won’t permanently be warped like this from the porcelain tub. I should go apologize.
Ria was curled up on my couch. I slid beside her and wrapped my arms around her, leading to her instantly sinking into my shoulder.
“Sorry, Ria. That was bitchy of me. I didn’t mean it. You’re the only family I have left.”
“I’m sorry too, Chris. I know everyone has different grieving processes and it’s all just a matter of coping until the initial pain subsides but-” she sighed. “I’ve just been worried about you, you dick. Because I meant what I said. I can’t lose you too. I’d be alone for real without you. And you… mean more to me than you think.”
A silence fell over us. Her presence numbed the aching void within me for just a moment.
“Hey,” she said, shattering that silence. “Let’s clean this pigsty. We can go out tonight. But for now, I’ll help you out.”
“You’d do that?”
“Of course I would, Christy.”
“I mean if you insist,” I chuckled. I dreaded fixing this place back up. There was shattered glass still in the kitchen, liquor everywhere, and that pile of Toby’s shit still sitting in the corner of the bedroom. Thankfully, Ria took care of both. She sweeped up the glass and vacuumed the whole place and dumped all of my late boyfriend’s things into a large trash bag. She didn’t tell me where she put it, but I knew she didn’t throw it out. In the time it took her to do that, I stuck my sheets in the wash and cleaned and dried my clothes. We even moved the furniture around so I wasn’t reminded of our old room arrangement everytime I walked in here.
Thanks to Ria, the place practically sparkled by the end of our cleaning session. It didn’t even look like my flat.
“That was fun and all,” I said as we laid on my freshly made bed, head to head. “but what do you think about moving to Pennsylvania with me?”
“Pennsylvania? Why Pennsylvania?”
“I don’t know dude, just anywhere but here.”
“As incredible as that sounds, I have a job here, Chris. I can’t just pack up my shit and leave.”
“Yeah,” I nodded with a sigh. “It was a far-fetched dream anyways.”
“You know what you need?” She offered.
“A road trip.”
“Oh fuck off.”
“I’m serious! I’ve read so many books about people who have this incredible adventure on a roadtrip and end up finding themselves or something.”
“That is such bullshit.”
“My life isn’t some inspiring memoir. It’s a fucking nightmare.”
“Oh come on! What’s the worst that could happen?”
“I could get mauled by a fucking bear. Or die on the streets of some foreign city or get sold into prostitution.”
“While all are somehow possibilities, I know you’re not scared of any of those. What’s the real reason you don't want to?”
“I-” I sighed, rubbing my tired eyes with my hands. “What if I do, you know, have some life-changing adventure? What if I do move on?”
“Isn’t that a good thing?”
“How could I possibly forgive myself if I leave the only man I’ve ever loved in my twenty four years of living behind? I promised him, Ria. I can’t just leave him, not like he did to me.”
“How can I keep living when he’s gone? How do you live with that kind of guilt?” The tears just began falling without my permission. I didn’t bother brushing them away, knowing more would just take their place. It doesn’t matter anyways.
“Christopher, look at me. I know that guilt of moving on. But he’s gone. He’s gone now. And we both know he would have wanted you to enjoy the rest of this life, even if it couldn’t be shared with him.”
Another wave of silence passed as I continued to cry. And, once again, Ria broke that silence.
“I… I was told to give this to you on your birthday but… I’m just going to give it to you now. It’s a month early. Don’t tell anyone.” She handed me a sealed envelope from her sweater pocket, crumpled and crinkled from the touch.
“What is it?” I asked, taking it from her.
“Hell if I know.”
“And you’ve just been carrying this on you until my birthday?”
“Well,” she shrugged. She didn’t give me much explanation other than that. “Look who it’s from.” I flipped the envelope over, reading the messy handwriting I had grown to love so damn much it made my chest ache like a heart attack. Tobias Seyton. I looked up at Ria.
“What’s with that face? You’re going to make me cry,” she replied with a hasty laugh, wiping the tears away from her eyes before they could fall. I tore open the envelope and pulled out a folded letter. Ignoring the pain clenching my gut, I began to read.
And my heart sank.