This piece was originally published in Peaches Lit Mag Fall 2015. Names have been changed.
I guess you would call what Frank and I had a one-night stand.
Then again, maybe not considering we had been texting for days about music, and hiking, and poems we liked. I think we tried to meet up for dinner and couldn’t make our schedules work.
Either way, it is unsettling to have a dead boy’s number in your phone.
For the short night that I spent with him, I did like Frank. I was going to text him when I got back to school in the fall. We had shared arguably one of the most intimate human experiences, yet we were not close; he was not my friend. My grief is not comparable to those who were closest to him. In talking about it I straddle a line between striving for attention and being insensitive. How can I convey that I really cared about this person, really appreciated that time we spent without making it seem like I am just trying to claim my share of pain and without making it into something it wasn’t? Am I even entitled to that pain? I believe there is an episode of Sex and the City where Miranda attends the funeral of a one-night stand. Maybe I should consult this for guidance.
There are specific times in our lives when we are forced to face our own mortality: on airplanes, in hospitals, during a particularly bad thunderstorm. But nothing makes death more pertinent than when it happens to someone you know. I found out Frank had died through Facebook. A mutual friend had posted a status and I thought I recognized the name so I clicked on it. There he was in the profile picture, hugging this giant dog in an armchair. I remember talking about that photo with him, but don’t remember whom the dog or the armchair belonged to. His page was full of condolences. Many of his friends shared fond memories and photos with Frank. I was at work and the office was humming with separate conversations and background music. My eyes had welled up with tears and I felt like I had been sucked into a bubble. Like when you’re in the hallway of a party and you close the door and all the noise gets trapped inside. Then someone asked me if I was ready to go into a meeting, and I said yes and went about my day.
I cried on the subway during rush hour. I practiced a response in my head in case anyone was to ask me what was wrong. “A friend died.” Well, no I guess he was an acquaintance. Or a classmate. “Someone I hooked up with was in a fatal car accident this morning.” Luckily, no one asked.
I told my mother one of my classmates died and she asked how well I knew him. I said he had walked me home from a party and we had stayed up talking really late. She said it might be nice if I wrote a note to his mother letting her know how much her son had touched me. If only she knew, I joked to myself. And then I felt bad because I wouldn’t know what I would say to his mother. I enjoyed talking very late one night with your son about music and hiking. I found it very sweet that he asked before he kissed me, and I guess also before everything else we did. It would appear you raised a very polite and respectful young man.
There were a lot of reasons Frank’s death had initially upset me. It is always shocking to find out a young person has died unexpectedly. When I was seventeen my best friend died from an aneurysm while we were at play practice. Although I couldn’t know exactly how his close friends were feeling, I had an idea. My heart broke knowing how hard it is to look at your friend in a casket. The night before Frank’s death I found out my ex boyfriend had started seeing someone new. He had promised we would reconnect when I returned in the fall and then somewhere in the time span of two weeks a new girl had replaced me. I felt this deep pit of empty promises in my stomach. I felt opportunities being taken out of my hands. I felt out of control; the full weight of the world’s inconsistency.
Frank’s death amplified for me a feeling of loneliness. All I could hear were these repeating thoughts in my head. Was I nice to him? Why didn’t he text me again? Could we have been good together? What if he was alive and we went for a drink in September? It all looks very selfish written down.
We tend to glorify the dead. What do I know about Frank? He liked to cook; he sent me dishes he wanted to cook for me. He played the tuba, and he was passionate about it. We had visited many of the same cities in Minnesota. He had been reading Japanese poetry and like me, he was fascinated in the way they understood and articulated comfort in sadness. There is a version of this story where Frank was just a boy trying to get into my pants. There is a version where he googled Japanese poetry to impress me. Is it rude if I decide to delete his phone number?
When I met Frank he was wearing this adorable green knit hat that matched his coat. Green was his favorite color; he said when I commented on it. He was funny, charming and polite. We sat across from each other with our legs crossed on my twin-sized bed. He had recently learned how to make pasta noodles using vegetables. He enjoyed the outdoors, specifically biking. I told him how I had accepted an internship in New York for the summer and was leaving in only a few weeks. He was going away for the summer too. Somewhere with a lot of trees, I think, because we talked about trees for a while.
Frank and I had met on a dating app, but since we went to the same school I felt much more comfortable getting to know him. In our very first conversation we stayed up until almost 3:00 am talking. He said he had been reading a lot of Japanese poetry. We talked about ‘mono no aware’ which translates from Japanese to ‘the pathos of things.’ There is this awareness in Japanese culture and art that sadness is not only a necessary part of life, but ephemeral. Nothing is permanent; nothing can really stay. That is not some kind of punishment; it’s just how things are.
By the end of our conversation I was intrigued by Frank and wanted to get to know him more. “This might seem really forward, but I’d like to give you my phone number and hopefully we can get together sometime,” I messaged him. “This is the best conversation I’ve had in awhile,” he responded. “I like forward. It’s bold.”
He never told me his last name. His phone number is listed in my phone as just “Frank”.