Kev told me once about a book he read called the legend of Frederick Lake. It prophesied that if any person who had ever lost the will to live, to swim to the bottom of the lake and float back, and that their desire would be revived. In 1666, more than fifty people drowned in the lake. Most of them drowned before they made it to the bottom, and it was said that the weight of their grief had pushed out every speck of air in their lungs, forcing the lifeless bodies back to the surface.
Kev said the legend was a lesson to show the difference between those who had lost the will to live and those who had merely wanted to die. He said that those who'd merely wanted to die were stronger than the others; they were the ones who made it to the bottom.
“It takes more strength to hit rock bottom than to spiral downward,” he said, “most people can't survive the trip.”
Leaves cut at my bare feet as I ran. I picked up speed, sensing the stones and grass blur together. The waves of color melded with my breaths and urgent footsteps. I was getting closer. Three stones left of the oak. My feet halted and my toes curled into the damp mud. My fists clenched tightly, and my eyes were locked open, reading:
Kevin Aaron Paley. January 20, 1991 - April 14, 2010. Beloved son and friend.
The print was slightly muffled by the jagged, spiked rock, making it hard to read. Cracks drooped in from the corners and clusters of dead dandelions and mushrooms dominated the grass beneath it. It's been six months, and the headstone had already begun to deteriorate.
“Hey,” I said, my eyes glued to the cracked square, “sorry I haven't come to visit. School, you know?”
If he was here he'd know I was lying. I breathed in and tried again.
“Your mom's lost it, Kev,” I said at once, “I don't think she's gonna last long after tonight.”
The tombstone appeared morose, urging me to continue.
“I...I know how she feels.” My eyes began to quiver, but I kept them open. I couldn't waver.
“Everyday is different. Different crap to do, different people,” I walked closer. My eyes got heavy, I fought to keep them open, “But I never stop pretending that you weren't really here. I never really stop denying.”
My eyes won. When they closed the floodgates opened, and at once my body was hunched in front of the rock, my fists colliding with the valleyed sediment.
“How could you do this?!” I yelled, “Why did you do this, Kev?! Why did you leave me here?! Why?! Answer me!”
I pounded harder into the stone, its ragged cover scratching my fists. I jabbed into the center and slid my hand down. Paley sliced at my hand, leaving a red flag over the “ale”. C-shaped cuts resembling ribs drenched the side of my palm. The sudden sting stopped my assault. I cupped my aching hands in my lap, crying softly.
A gust of the night wind blew, sending three stray leaves from the oak into my palms. The stems pointed at my wrist, centering at the elevated skin shaded blue by the vein underneath.
From under my hand lay shards of rock broken off by my punches. A long and slender one lay at the top. I picked it up with my good hand and held it in my palm.
“Was the switchblade as sharp as this when you used it?”
I closed my eyes and envisioned him: how his dark green dreadlocks contrasted with his salmon skin, bringing out the sky blue of his eyes, his thin body, a psychedelic picture of John Lennon and Kurt Cobain playing golf; his favorite shirt. Kev had a particular interest in dead musicians. And he always denied their deaths.
“No one that brilliant could be mortal,” he used to say, “John and Kurt aren't dead. They're vacationing in Canada.”
I never knew the denial would continue with his mom. And with me. I broke off the reverie, clenching the rock in my hand.
“I don't want to do this anymore,” I admitted to the headstone, my eyes cemented on the letters, “I want it to be over. I won't deny it anymore.”
I pushed the shard slowly into the blue skin, letting myself feel the flesh rip. Kev stared at me from the oak, his smile saturated with familiarity. I move further up my arm, hissing at the sting. He began to approach me, his dreads shaking with each step. I broke into a smile. The cycle of denial will end tonight.
“Now you'll never leave.”
I drop the shard and lay at his feet, mushrooms rubbing against my earlobes. The sting worsened, burning from under the wound. I forced my eyes closed.It'll be over soon.
A finger brushed my cheek, and I felt shallow breaths on my ears along Kev's voice.
“You hit bottom, eh?” he said softly, “I've been waiting for you.”
I didn't waste any time. I said how I felt at once.
“I've missed you so much.”
He wiped a stray hair from my eye, grazing my forehead with his thumb. “I've missed you too.”
“Why did you do this, Kev?”
“Hmm,” he was silent for awhile, “guess I couldn't survive the trip.”
He kissed me softly, his lips pressing gently on my cheek as if I was fragile. I tried to turn to him, but couldn't move.
“How am I gonna --”
“You'll be fine, Jame.” He brushed my cheek again, “You're not sinking anymore.”
The burning in my wrist began to numb, and I could feel myself being lifted away from him.
“I love you, Kev.” I said desperately into the darkness, “I love you so much.”
“Love you too,” he whispered back. “See ya.”
My body felt as if it was floating upwards in the darkness, my limbs spread out and motionless, no feeling left in my wrist. I tried to force my eyes open. They wouldn't budge. I tried again. And again. And on the third try they started to slowly ascend.