letter to a gone friend

by Lorenzo Sewanan

nicholas bergfeld

yale school of medicine

Dear Mina,     

It took me a long time to write this. I did not want to at first, because I felt like someone else had expressed what I feel better. I searched through catalogues and collections of the greats to see if I could find something touching and poignant. Something that would give me a release from all the emotions I cannot escape from. Everything that I wish I could have said to you, and now never can.

I loved you, Min.

There was a uniqueness about you that seemed otherworldly, and in the end that proved to be true. I had never woken up at first light thinking, “You never know who you will meet today,” and I doubt many people do.

Even if I had, I still would not have guessed it would be you. The naively mature eighteen-year-old traversing across the country alone. I talked to you because you had burns on your legs. Deep, red, freshly made, it looked like someone had held you down and rubbed sandpaper on your calves until much of the skin was gone, until it bleed. I was so surprised with how close my guess was, and that you had done it to yourself.

I never have to wonder why your travels ended up in my city, and me as a result of that. You told me later. You came for the Bridge. The Bridge was how you were going to end it, and for the past few weeks you would walk up and down it waiting for some terrible moment of realization to strike you.

At the time I gave thanks that no evil portent had come, that the horoscopes you were reading, even in their vague way, were never open enough to be misconstrued as a sign. It gave me the time to convince you of a life worth living.

And it worked for some time. I know because you told me so in perfectly crafted letters where you wrote in thoughts and ideas that I can only compare to the greats. Time after time, I watched your thoughts become richer and more profound to the point where your exuberance bordered on mania. We made meals together, and had heart to hearts on a park bench next a homeless man who would not stop humming Aretha Franklin songs. I took you to the museum where we made up titles and symbolism for modern art pieces, and laughed at how mistaken we were.

After every day with you, I cherished getting home to read the next message you wrote me. I could see how you were changing, how you stopped pacing the Bridge early every morning. You had quit your job as a pole dancer and were looking for employment you could enjoy, and not simply something to do until a dark herald found you. Your recounts of our days were always much more elaborate than reality. We were never together physically, but our writing was always together. You loved to hear my story, I think because I would not hide anything from you, and as I would faithfully answer your questions, you opened up to me. We knew all the things no one else did, like when you became a cutter or the first time you kissed a girl. I felt like if someone could listen and appreciate everything you had been through, that you would be more willing to believe them.

If I could go back, I would trade everything I ever said that you accepted to be true, if you had just believed me when I said, “You are incredible and worthwhile.” I can remember your expression when I would say that. Your tired and sunken eyes from insomnia and partial self-imposed starvation would look at me and wince. As though your body and mind had been beaten so badly that positive esteem was fended off like a foreign invader. “I’m just so small,” you would say in almost a whisper, “We’re all so tiny, I can’t see how important we will all be in the big picture of everything, let alone one person. You’re just being nice.”

I never told you this, but the night we went to your first play, there was a moment when I thought it would all work out. We were riding back on the train after just escaping an unexpected rain shower. My coat and clothes were drenched all the way through, but I felt good because I was able to use the over-sized program to keep your head dry. As we collapsed in adjacent seats with a wet slooshing sound, I smiled a little when I saw your dark hair still flowing and with your red ribbon tied in.

The post excitement from catching the train and rhythmic sounds of the wheels on the tracks lulled you to sleep. I remember sitting there with your head resting on my shoulder, and seeing the most contented look on your face that I would ever know.

I stared out the window, watching the city go by while listening to the click-clack of the rail sections. I was thinking about if I was reading too much into that smile, maybe it was just a trick of the lighting in the train or from passing streetlights. I probably would have thought that possible had a man sitting across from us not started to wave to get my attention.

Looking over to acknowledge him, he gestured toward you and said, “She looks so at peace.” I smiled and nodded in agreement as he went on, “You’re a lucky guy, your girlfriend is so beautiful.”

I could have corrected him, and gone on to explain our mutual attraction for women, but at that moment I thought more to agree with him about what I thought was true.

“Yes,” I said, “she is beautiful.”

That is honestly how I felt, and I had such hope for you even after I would have to leave the city. Life travels on, and it was time for me to be going. At first we joked about that day, but I always stopped you when you said something like, “I won’t be able to go on without you.”

I did not like it when you made light of that, and I promised I would keep in touch. That I would still write you letters and try to have funny stories to tell you about the people I met.

As the date got closer you stopped wanting to see me.

I understood that, long goodbyes can be emotionally trying when you are close to someone, and you just wanted it to be over so you could stop thinking about it.

When I left, I kept my promise. I wrote and checked up on you. At first you stayed positive, and I think that was just you putting on a brave face because you did not want to let me down.

Over time the letters from you got less frequent. You started moving around some, and broke up with your partner. In one of your last emails you told me how you were going to go away for a while. Stop seeing others and try make sense of it all. I wrote you back a hurried email pleading that you would not consider me a “people”. “Pretend I am just an extension of your mind,” I said, “I’ll be non-judgemental and let you have something to bounce ideas off of...like a sounding board.”

You agreed that I could be your “non-people friend”, but still I was scared. You tried to make it sound casual and that everything would turn out alright in the end. After that I sent you an email you never replied to:

I don't want to say it will all work out so casually because I think

that's insensitive, and I would be devastated if anything happened to

you. I do have a lot of hope because I trust in your abilities to

reason out tough situations and I think you have the resolve to get

through them.

Weeks passed by without me hearing from you, and my greatest fear was confirmed when I heard of your death.

I cannot stop myself from second-guessing my actions, and wondering if there was something more that I could do. I know it is a crazy question to ask, if I could have kept you alive from across the country with the words in messages forever. If I could trade in every success I had convincing or cajoling someone to fix this failure.

I know it cannot go on indefinitely, but what I wanted was enough time. Enough time for you to have believed me and to realize what our small world is about.

Mina, you were right to say that we are tiny people, and that, ultimately, it does not change the universe. What you did not realize is that we were never designed to do that, and the emotions and feelings we were given are made to appreciate our small but wonderfully complex world.

Life is about tiny people. It’s about holding hands, feeling heartbroken, sharing a smile, walking in a park. It’s about all those tiny things you showed me that you loved. That makes me cry even now when I think about them. Like buying whole pieces of rhubarb and eating them on the street, like singing your favorite song while sitting in a tree, like drawing awful caricatures of people in coffee shops, or having me call all the toy stores in town to ask if they carry pogo sticks and giggling because they all think I am crazy for asking.

I wanted to make you smile, for you know how fantastic people are, and for you to understand that life can get better.

I miss you so much.

Your friend,