By Artie Kuyper
Asher wrote his suicide note on the back of an unsent love letter. The crumpled and re-crumpled notebook page sat in his bedside drawer beneath his freshman yearbook, bottle of Aleve, and worn paperback of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
“I’m not supposed to feel this way.”
The ink grew smudged as the paper decayed, stained with sweat and tears. If he hadn’t written it himself and memorized every word, he would assume he was staring at an inkblot test.
“I don’t want to lose everyone, but I don’t have a choice anymore.”
The moon shone through the crack in his curtains, illuminating the metal cross his mom fastened to his door when the room was still his nursery. The cicadas were as restless as he, drowning out the silence of the night, but not the chorus in his head.
“I’ve been lying to everyone my whole life, including myself. I’m too tired to keep up the charade.”
He ran his thumb over the edge of the page. It wasn’t sharp enough. Instead, he gripped the metal turtle on the chain around his neck, letting it dig into his palm. Images of the curly-haired boy he’d met back in grade school flashed through his head. Daniel. His shining brown eyes, freckles peppered across his cheeks, and the gap between his teeth.
“I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.”
They just started high school, and they sat shoulder-to-shoulder beneath a giant oak. The heat radiating from Daniel’s body was enough to make him forget about the rough bark scratching at his back. With his rolled-up sleeves and ripped jeans, the sunset highlighting his smooth skin and glittering eyes, Daniel wouldn’t have looked out of place on the cover of a romance novel. In the cool breeze of late August, Asher couldn’t stop sweating. His palms, his skin, his heart, all burning. And if he could, he would have kept the flame lit indefinitely. His chest tightened as he finally let himself breathe.
“I’ve had these thoughts for a long time, but I’ve been too afraid to say anything.”
When winter drove into their small town, Daniel invited him over to stay the night, to celebrate the new year with junk food, movies, and staying up until sunrise. They sat on the hardwood floor in front of the Christmas tree, playing video games while wrapped up in blankets from Daniel’s bed. His parents were holed away in their bedroom, waiting to watch the ball drop.
“I got you a present.” Daniel handed Asher a green, gift-wrapped box with a neatly tied bow on top. Inside was a necklace with a turtle charm on the end, its shell a mosaic of blues and greens. “I saw you eyeing it at the thrift shop, so I had to go back and get it for you. I hope that’s not weird.”
Asher could have said a lot: how the gesture made his heart flutter, how he loved the necklace, but loved the fact Daniel noticed much more. How this moment was perfectly painful, fueling impossible fantasies like cuddling next to the fireplace, collecting ornaments together, and waking up tangled together.
And when Daniel joked about them kissing at midnight, Asher pretended it didn’t make his gut twist.
The next night, back in his own bed, he poured his heart out into the love letter he’d never dare send.
“Does this make me a bad person?”
Gina was tall, slim, and confident. For three months, she was hooked onto Daniel’s arm. Asher was forced to watch as they stole kisses and grasped at each other’s hands like life rafts.
He buried his feelings in church pews, in the silence of family dinners, in the eyes of those with slurs on their lips. While everyone frolicked in the blooming flowers, he sank beneath his blankets, escaping into his mind to torture himself. He limped through memories scattered with skeletons that didn’t fit in the closet with him. The road stretched indefinitely.
On the last day of freshman year, he wrote his goodbye with every intention to find the end.
“I love you, and I’m sorry.”
He didn’t know what stopped him. Fear, hope, laziness, lack of ability to make a commitment, maybe. Summer dragged on, Gina left the picture, and life went back to normal.
Daniel pulled him to the pool like old times. Watching him leap from the high dive, graceful like an angel, Asher’s heart stopped. If he lived in a dream, Daniel would swoop down and scoop him up. But when the waves crashed, Asher did what he did best and stopped dreaming.
“I want to make you a promise, but I don’t know anything.”
Tears welled in his eyes as he reread the letter, the weight of his comforter cradling him. Without looking over, his hand found his bedside table, smacking against the wood as he fiddled for the knob. His ears rang, sharp and out of tune. He fished out the white bottle.
Letter in one hand. Pills in the other. Both trembled. He choked back tired tears.
“I’ve tried everything.”
Tried. Failed. Tried to be honest. Tried to lie. Tried to survive. Tried to live. Tried to die.
On the bedside table, his phone buzzed with a text. He jumped, dropping the bottle. As he reached over, the turtle charm hung limp around his neck. He swallowed.
It was Daniel.
“Are you awake?”
Asher didn’t remember making the decision. But what was left to stop him? He risked nothing by handing over his stuttering heart.
“I have feelings for you.”
He laid back and held his phone against his chest, the letter falling to his comforter. His heart pounded.
The silence was heavy. Suffocating. Polluting his chest.
He pulled his phone up again, typing out words he couldn’t fully comprehend before deleting them again.
“I couldn’t keep hiding it.”
“Please don’t hate me.”
But before he could send anything, Daniel replied.