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I died today, exactly a year ago.
The funny thing about death is how comfortable it is. You don’t see a faraway light or hear a deep voice. There aren’t any hellish fires or golden gates. It just brushes your cheek gently, you look, and it folds around you like an old blanket. There is a small smile in the beat of silence that follows.
And then you leave.
I was shot in the back while helping a boy up from the sidewalk. I didn’t feel anything until the asphalt swam up and grated my face into organic sawdust. I was vaguely aware of the terrible wracking in my ribs, as if my lungs had become vacuums, sucking in all the air there was and swallowing me up from the inside. I remember trying to push the black hole out of me, how my hands tugged at my chest, as if my hands were large enough to pull an ocean of quicksand out of me. I was an origami balloon, a mined submarine, sinking into myself and exploding at the same time, being assaulted by a single violet monsoon that dampened my skin and sent me fraying at the edges.
I remember thinking about Prince Rupert drops. How you can pummel the glass bulb and it would stand invincible, but the smallest splinter in the tail would send waves of pressure through the stem, pounding out a storm of powdered glass that pierced the veil between beauty and destruction so quickly it almost seemed as if there were no veil at all.
Nothing is invincible. I’m not invincible.
I peeled off my body in centimeters, carefully, slowly, as if the violence of my death could tear apart my soul too. Eventually, I clung to the earth by only my fingertips, the pads of my pinkies and forefingers holding the weight of my life on this planet against the absence of gravity. I was so heavy but so light, just a tiny soul exhaling oxygen out of leaden lungs for the last time. I waited for the next breeze to pass, and when it did, I clothed myself with time and stood aside to let the paramedics through.
I died with my eyes open. The man who lifted me onto the stretcher closed them for me. His hands trembled; the dead aren’t meant to see. I kissed his cheek as he left, but he didn’t notice me.
That man would die with his eyes open, but no one would be around to close his eyes for him. So it goes.
The man who killed me was trying to shoot at the boy my body hid. He was too weak to feel guilt, but the boy wasn’t—he was just sixteen, only a year younger than me when I died, but he let the guilt stay inside him without paying rent. It kissed his lips like an old lover and beat him black and blue in the middle of the night.
I settled in his bones and cleansed the smoke he breathed from cheap cigarettes. I dug the circles under his eyes and drugged his insomnia with artificial sleep. He could never forget how the blood never showed on my red coat—how it was all the shades of red, every hue of vermillion, of scarlet, of burgundy, of ruby, that they mixed together and glinted in the sunlight, as if iridescence replaced my pulse when I left this planet.
Blood doesn’t stain. It actually washes off really easily. It’s the smell that doesn’t go away.
* * *
He visited my grave only once, six months after I died. He buried a broken watch he had found by the gutters next to the wilted roses beneath my stone name. He could have pawned it, but he left it there for me. I was in the earth at his feet that soaked up his tears as he cried.
He hanged himself the day after.
When I was younger, I had no name for the horizon. I always left a gap between the sky and the earth in my Crayola drawings. I called it my in-between—the divide between right here and out there.
I still call it my in-between, except it’s not just between the ground and the sky. It’s in the creases between my fingers, the cracks in the sidewalk, the streaks in airplane trails.
The universe is very lovely from here. I hope he finds his in-between too.