Letter to an Ex, on the Occasion of His Suicide

In the wake of a troubled ex-lover’s suicide, novelist Masha Hamilton tries to make sense of it in a correspondence to his ghost.

Masha Hamilton | Longreads | August 2016 | 24 minutes (5,851 words)

 

It was morning, after another rough night. You’d barely slept on the floor in Bill’s cave of an apartment, where you’d spent the last three nights watching the hour of the wolf stretch to become every hour that was dark or semi-dark. Now, though the apartment remained as stale and murky as it had been at 1 a.m., then 2 a.m., then 3, you knew it was light outside. A long way from the kind of light you loved, when clouds turn pink from the rising sun, water-coloring men who make coffee in tin kettles with long handles over an open fire. That was Africa—Rwanda or the Congo or maybe Madagascar. This was Manhattan. Fucking Manhattan.

You ate plenty, like a man with plans: two lemon drop cookies, a lemon yogurt and half a pint of strawberry ice cream. That’s what Bill had in his kitchen. You watered the mix with coffee. Then you spilled out the bullets to reduce your payload to two. One was all you truly needed, but somehow you thought it right to have a spare. On any op, the best-laid plans turn to mush once it starts, you’d often said. Contingencies were critical.

You set off, walking toward the East River where dumped bodies, grim blossoms, push their way up each spring once the water thaws. It took only five or six minutes to reach Sutton Place Park, even moving slowly as you do now—did then—with the pain in your hips and feet. You passed East Side professionals on their way to work and the ornate, obscenely expensive brownstones built by Effingham Sutton, who raked it in during the 1849 California Gold Rush. I can imagine you making fun of his first name.

The river drew you first, the park only secondarily. You’d been talking for days about going to the river, though it seemed metaphorical and was never clear what you meant. You chose a bench with a view, not because it mattered, but because, legs cemented in place, they all have views.

Did you take it in? No; you moved too quickly for that, your mind too focused on its end goal, and besides you were way over the city, way beyond wanting to appreciate light cast by an urban sun, the oily shine on the river, the trees insisting even here on renewal. Screw the miracles of life. Yes, you were one; you had been one. That was then. This was now.

The money was gone and you blamed a lawyer named Sid. The pain had sprinted past drugs. Your stepfather no longer wanted to see you and your mother’s senility, many days, got the best of her. The once-lover who you’d said was the woman you’d waited for your whole life was now insisting on friendship. Only friendship. You were still beautiful, though you didn’t know it. Your options, you believed, had washed away like this river washed away crimes.

You’d described to Bill what you planned. No shot to the head, which could leave you a paraplegic but alive.

The day before, you shared lunch in Park Slope with that once-lover—her treat, which you hated, though you ate, even dessert. Later, you called her and left a message. You were intense; even when sleeping, you carried a submerged wave of passion, and the first part of the message, about Sid, was the same. But the last part was measured, soft. You’re not coming back to me, you said into my machine. I really thank you for all your support. I love you.

That morning, early, you’d sent one last text so thick with your voice I can hear you saying it aloud. Please find yourself a high quality guy (s). Laugh, love. I love you with my whole heart and spirit. So much love would kill anyone … Forgive me for this awful hurt. Get over it quick, honey.

Now, all that was past—regrets, apologies, hopes. You’d described to Bill what you planned. No shot to the head, which could leave you a paraplegic but alive, and would then become your life’s biggest fuck-up. “This is my heart,” you’d said, touching the dip in your chest, the place I told you I loved because it was where your outside moved so close to the core of your inside. “Right here. I can feel it beating. I will put the muzzle here. I will pull the trigger. And then I will drop and it will be over, too quick for pain.”

“I didn’t believe he’d do it,” Bill would murmur later. “So many people say it; so few have the guts.” Of course, Bill, the pot-smoking owner of a knife and sword store, was distracted, dying of cancer and emphysema, undergoing weekly chemotherapy treatments, every breath causing his chest to audibly rattle. He didn’t want to ask you for your gun or try to take it from you because you seemed tense, agitated, possibly dangerous. Even actively dying, Bill did not want to die early. Instead, he chose to disbelieve.

You surely glanced behind you before you pulled it out: an FN combat gun, made in Belgium, used by the CIA in the ‘90s in Africa, which you’d said had been your own past. A gun so unusual that the cop who caught your case, though he wouldn’t identify the make to your brother, asked what the hell you did for a living, how the fuck you got that weapon. Your brother didn’t know, the two of you estranged for nearly two decades. You’d left a clip once at my home, full of 20 gold-plated bullets, and when I told you I’d found it, after you’d moved out, after we’d become “just friends,” you said dramatically, “wipe your fingerprints off and then take that somewhere and bury it.”

Did you pause as you felt the gun’s weight in your palm? Did you murmur a plea that some might consider a prayer? Any last words at all? I can imagine you talking to yourself as you often did, but refusing to give any significance to whatever you said. You squared the muzzle with your chest. I hope—I pray, dear man, though like you I can no longer believe in a merciful God—that it was quick. It must have been, because a man walking his dog what could only have been a few minutes later, ignoring the park’s posted no pets policy, found you. Already you had become a “corpse,” which is the word they used to identify you in the paper, instead of who you were.

With my phone—the phone that still holds your last voice mails, your last texts, your last emails—I snapped a photo of the last street corner you passed, where Sutton Square and Sutton Place collide.

A dozen reasons you were amazing:

1) Fall 2013. You caught me when I tumbled in from the trauma of Afghanistan, a wound that kept—that keeps—reopening. When the dead girl’s parents wanted to meet me, we took Amtrak together, and you stood quietly to one side as I told them who was where when, scratching diagrams on a piece of paper, while her mother wept, and her impossibly tall father darkened. Then back at the hotel, exhausted mid-afternoon, you spooned me so I wouldn’t feel alone while I slept, pressing your heart (so beating, so alive, so vital) against my back.

1a) You caught me. Why couldn’t I catch you?

2) You asked clerks and baristas and cashiers their names, and remembered them, and looked directly, deeply into their eyes. You saw them, and I could see how they loved you for that.

3) You connected with what you called “non-human animals” almost instantly, respectfully, intuitively. Though you never wanted to work in a zoo again because, you said, who could ignore the harshness of holding another being captive?

4) You knew about the Central African Republic. You knew about Sudan and Somalia, and you cared. You knew the names of obscure UN mediators and unpronounceable towns that popped onto the world map only briefly because of one event or another. I could discuss these without feeling like I’d dropped a stone down a deep hole and was waiting to hear it land. You were ironic, skeptical, a little bitter about patriotism.

5) You worried—actively, not perfunctorily—about climate change and endangered species.

6) You would never be someone who would say: “Have a nice day.”

7) When my ex-husband, lost in the soft fog of early onset Alzheimer’s, grew agitated one late night, you massaged his shoulders and murmured comforting words for twenty minutes while he sat on the closed toilet in the bathroom groaning in pleasure. I balanced on the edge of the bathtub, a wave of laughter moving silently through me at a scene I knew I’d never forget, both of us exchanging glances that acknowledged the splendid, unexpected absurdity of life.

8) You worked out three times a week, had rough hands and looked to me like a beautiful tough guy, but you talked about your emotions with the readiness of a teenage girl, all the time, shaking them out in the light so they could be pored over. You made yourself vulnerable with such courage—more courage than I had.

9) Your contradictions compelled. Though you were given to melancholia, you could be so funny. Though you said you didn’t do trust, you could be so unguarded. Though you struggled with darkness, you could also be silly, dancing in my robe like an Egyptian. Sometimes when you got angry, your eyes shone and you looked exactly as you must have as a small, indignant boy.

10) You listened, and you loved, so deeply. You were so extraordinarily alive.

11) You picked me up at the airport when I returned from Lebanon, Somalia, South Sudan, my father’s death. I’d never had someone pick me up before. You always spotted me first, and we joked about that. When I saw you, it felt like coming home.

12) You caught me after the trauma of Afghanistan.

12a) Why couldn’t I catch you?

Seven days afterwards, I rode the subway from Brooklyn to the east side of Manhattan and then went to the last place you’d been. I timed it so I could be there on Tuesday morning at precisely the same hour, as if the bench where you chose to shoot yourself was an exacting taskmaster, and I had an ironclad appointment. I imagined that you could see me and feel that I was trying to honor your life, both what I’d known of it and what I hadn’t. I wanted you to know I was there. I wanted that so badly that it was a live, throbbing ache in the middle of my chest, perhaps a mirror of the ache in your own a week earlier.

With my phone—the phone that still holds your last voice mails, your last texts, your last emails—I snapped a photo of the last street corner you passed, where Sutton Square and Sutton Place collide. It took me a while to find the bench where you sat; I identified it from the photo in the New York Post. I balanced uneasily. A brown-haired girl draped in a purple sweatshirt sat to my right, head dipped over a book. I silently willed her to leave, but she paid me no mind. I stared for a while at the Queensboro Bridge that hogs the skyline there, insistently urban, disdainfully famous. The sky hung lower, more moody than it had been the week before. The river was irritable.

Were there veins within you that believed me at fault, me—at least in part—responsible? Was I?

I examined the bench, trying to imagine you fallen beneath it, your shoulders still muscular, your chest now jagged. I smoothed it with my hand, absorbing its texture. I searched for any signs of your prior presence. I wanted so badly, dear G, to find a drop of your blood on the wood. I wanted to touch it with my finger, touch you—exchange something with you—one more time. I saw nothing, gave up and looked back at the water, working at each breath I took.

I picked up the sound of children playing nearby, chanting some kind of rhyme in their high, childish voices. I could just make out the words, repeated over and over: “What are those secrets? What are those lies?” It was new to me, an odd kind of children’s tune, but no more so than “step on a crack, break your mother’s back,” or “London Bridge is falling down,” perhaps modernized for the Snowden era.

“What are those secrets? What are those lies?” The chanting got louder, clearer, until I realized, disbelieving my own ears at first, that what I had thought to be the voices of children was actually an approaching police siren.

You might think I made that up, my love. I didn’t.

The stories you told me of your past weren’t what impressed me; they weren’t important beyond signaling, perhaps inadvertently, where cracks lived, where scars might hide. The man you demonstrated yourself to be for the months into years that I knew you is what I cared about.

So why now should I be scratching at these stories as a chicken at bare ground? What does it matter, what is true or what is not?

Because suicide is a particular kind of death, isn’t it, dear G? Suicide leaves behind a dung’s trail of doubt, guilt and questions. Now I pore over the emails and texts of the final five, six days before you planted that muzzle against your chest, and I see hints salted in between the promises and plans for a future.

Less than a day before you left, you wrote out of what seemed to be nowhere: There is no blame. But there is fault and responsibility. I didn’t know what you meant and told you so, by text, asking to understand. I should have ended with how lovely it was to see you and how I yearn for you, you responded. Enough, ignore anything else.

But something delicate is balanced within those words. I can’t quite make it out. Were there veins within you that believed me at fault, me—at least in part—responsible?

Was I?

The stories you told, a partial list:

1) Covert work: you’d been recruited in Kenya when you were still a teenager, when you were going into the US Embassy in Nairobi to collect mail from home. You received years of training. You worked, at some point, with SEAL Team 2. Primarily, you were a contractor.

2) Prisoner: you were taken. Twice. One of those times you were tied upside down and beaten in the face and mouth with the butt of a gun. An African general made a deal and got you out. You were flown to Germany and spent time recovering in Walter Reed.

3) Africa: you helped protect Tutsis in a settlement in Rwanda during the tail end of the genocide, standing in the dark outside a fence with a gun. Once you had to run through the Central African Republic, fleeing, for more than a day. You helped fight the M23 rebels in the Congo.

4) Killing: yes. Including by “wet work.” But you almost always believed they were the right people to kill. Still, you regretted. You said that often. You went rogue at least once, killing an animal poacher in Madagascar because he didn’t take you seriously when you told him to stop.

5) The money: in the ‘90s, in or around the Congo where no official US presence was supposed to be, under instructions from the local government, you made a “luck shot,” as you called it, with a surface-to-air missile and hit a departing plane on its wing. It spiraled to the ground and, as a reward, the head of the country gave you blood diamonds. You later converted them to cash, but moved the money around to avoid having it taken or taxed. “Sid” was your ally in this, well-connected in Washington, you said, but someone who “plays both sides.”

6) The last betrayal: near the end, because your bluntness and go-it-aloneness had managed to piss people off, someone from within your own former ranks worked a private deal and sent someone else to off you. They failed, and a kind of truce was reached, but it left you stripped and raw.

I believed it. More or less, I believed it all. Then came Sutton Place Park, and your brother, dismissing every story, and it becomes part of the larger pile of questions.

Sure, Robert Zimmerman invented Bob Dylan. Janet Cooke invented Jimmy. “Art is the lie that makes us realize the truth,” said Picasso. Perhaps it can also be reversed: lying is the art that makes us realize the truth.

This I know: you showed the realtor who helped you get a Brooklyn apartment your bank account records with a million dollars, un-invested, in your name—money you said was from blood diamonds, you sent offshore and, in the end, couldn’t get back. In your sleep, or your nightmares, you reran the stories, spoke them aloud until I gently shook you awake. You often said you didn’t want the worst of it in my head, as it was in yours.

Did you think you weren’t enough without these pieces of a past, absolutely true, slightly exaggerated, or completely invented? I may never know the answer. But if so, how corrosive that must have been. Listen, my weary dearest. Passionate and profound was so much more than enough, and that I could verify.

Your brother says in a phone call that you’ve been cremated, adding “so that is done” in a tone of a man who has just wiped dirty hands on his pants. He adds that there will be no memorial service, and that I should definitely not pay a condolence visit to your mother or stepfather.

The first time your brother ignores my question, but when I ask again, he says no decisions have been reached about what to do with your remains. And my mind begins to wander.

Green-Wood Cemetery. Though you grew up in Harlem and Brooklyn, you’d never been there before I took you. Teddy Roosevelt’s first wife and mother are buried there, along with Leonard Bernstein and Laura Keene, who was on the stage when President Lincoln was shot. Famous courtesans and inventors, murder victims and murder suspects, Robert Garnett, the first general killed in the American Civil War, and William “Bill the Butcher” Poole, a bare-knuckled boxer and a member of the Bowery Boys Gang. Braided among those trees and tombstones, along the paths weaving through the hills, rest so many stories.

I’d like to ask your brother if I could have a pinch of your ashes to scatter there. Maybe that is presumptuous, even if what you said was true and I was the love of your life who came late in the game. But if I’m right to think that you wouldn’t mind a bit of you there for eternity, how much would I have to explain to your family to make that happen?

Would I need to say that Green-Wood is where we fed the koi-carp with our fingers entwined, and dreamed about walking the length of Rwanda or visiting Venice, my particular obsessions that you had taken on as yours? That this is where we came after that horrible break-up, the second one, climbing to the grave of “Our Little Emily” and then wandering on, speaking for hours, finally separating, tipsy with weariness, not sure what would happen next, but you calling out to me as I left, telling me how much you loved me, that you’d never stopped. That this is where we made love, joyfully leaning against a gravestone, or tucked beneath an evergreen, breathless tenderness mixed with laughter, convinced with adolescent arrogance that we carried such strong and powerful feelings it had to make even the dead happy? (I want you right now, you wrote me once, on this table I write at, or anywhere you care for, in any way, were we Gods and could do anything we liked with impunity.)

We talked about everything in that cemetery, sprawled on the grass like picnickers or weaving giddily among the gravestones. We touched each other everywhere in that cemetery.

How we met. Early autumn. I’m upstairs on the computer when I hear a voice calling from below. “Hello?” You’ve walked into our Brooklyn bed and breakfast; you’ve stayed here before and know all my family except me—I’ve been gone, overseas. This time you are arriving a day in advance of a scheduled foot surgery.

I run down to meet you and offer an ice chest that you can load with juice and yogurt to keep within easy reach, post-surgery. “Can I help you get it?” you say. “No need,” I respond, but you still follow me down to the basement, stand behind me while I find the ice chest, look searchingly in my eyes as you take it from my hands. From the beginning, I was very aware of your physical presence.

You plan to stay only a few days, though you will end up staying more than a month, joining us for a Thanksgiving meal. Somewhere in the midst of that time, conversations lengthen, glances are exchanged, something begins to grow, though I push it away—we both do—until you are gone from the B&B, living in an apartment on 3rd Avenue, and we share a meal, a movie, and then, finally, an acknowledgement.

This is the hard section, the bit I’ve avoided. Because people aren’t just one thing, are they? MLK Jr. slept around. Gandhi called some women “whores.” Even Mother Teresa was a PR machine.

So though I want to only remember the finest parts of you, that’s not true to the whole of you, at least what I know of you in your last years. I’m sorry, forgive me, but I have to write it all if I’m ever to understand.

You were loyal and generous and loving and attentive and strong and vulnerable and honest and inimitable. I adored you, and told you so.

But when angered, often over something illusionary, you swung all the way in the other direction. You became abusive and menacing. You called me ugly names and attacked me as a mother, a writer, a human. Once you lunged toward me with knotted fist. “Are you afraid I’ll hit you?” you asked sneeringly. “No,” I lied. Another time, in a voicemail, you threatened to “put out your fucking eye.” At those times, you became someone I didn’t know, someone who scared me.

You became lost.

You lived with me for four months. After your first enraged episode, nearly a year and a half after I met you, I asked you to leave, changed the locks and never gave you a key again. That wounded you, badly. You said you’d never actually hurt me, or my family. But I’d seen what could happen, how quickly a moment could shift.

When you would turn “sane” again, and reasonable—when you would turn back into yourself—I would tell you that you could feel whatever you felt, but you had to take responsibility for those feelings, and learn how to express them without a slash-and-burn mentality. I told you I came from steady stock, and knew people made mistakes—I made plenty—and I was not troubled by disagreements, but I was troubled by cruelty, by threats.

When I tell my friends about Sutton Place Park, they say, ‘Oh, Masha,’ and in the next breath, they say, ‘but you are not to blame.’ The speed of that reaction seems only to heighten its inauthenticity.

You would apologize. And mean it. And swear that you’d changed. And believe it. You’d told me long ago, though, about your temper, how you had to be ever-vigilant.

The first time you broke into enraged insanity, fueled, perhaps in part, by paranoia and despair, I was confused. Almost immediately, I wiped out those painful emails and texts and voicemails. The second time, I kept them. I wanted to be sure I remembered what I was getting into. That I made the choice consciously, if I was going to make it at all.

And I tried again, but cautiously.

I forgave you; I always knew you were doing the best you could. And I did not doubt that you loved me. I told myself I could bear it, the name-calling and threats. Then I asked myself why I should have to.

We know this story; we talked it all through. What I still don’t know is why. The PTSD you claimed? The drugs your psychiatrist, Dr. H, prescribed: a cocktail that included methadone for pain and Lyrica for sleep (but no lithium)? Mixed mood disorder? Some other brain imbalance that had gone untreated, that you couldn’t define, that I couldn’t understand?

I want, even now, to understand. From early on, you told me I was your once-in-a-lifetime woman and your actions underlined that. Though you might have been the man of my life, I never said the same to you. I was more guarded; I wanted more time; I wanted to see. And maybe because I withheld those words, a loop ran in your head that told you I would turn away from you in time, and that this would leave you mortally wounded. Maybe my caution fed your vulnerability. Perhaps this fueled your emotional inconsistency: the fear of approaching hurt, the ugly moments, the regret followed by a calmer, lighter period, then the birth of more fears, eventually setting an undeniable pattern. Intermittently brilliantly self-aware, and then darkly volatile.

But in fact, I never left, at least not fully. I loved you too much—the way you saw the world, the way you cared about words and feelings. I told you that you needed to stabilize—your mood, your money, your living situation, your health. After that, who knew? In the meantime, we could be friends.

Now I reread the emails and texts from the last few weeks before you left, and the words pile one upon another:

I love you. Please don’t forget it no matter what happens.

I have always loved you from the neck up and the neck down.

I see you, honey, does that scare you?

I send love throughout the long night.

I so want the simple pleasure of us lying against one another.

Please love me back.

A week before you left, you wrote: I am so sorry for the horrible names I called you…I have been hit hard by my ownership of what I did to you: us. I have destroyed us. And a few days later: There is too much in what I did for you to ever trust me. I’m sure I’d feel the same way.

My tender one. Know this: the best of you will be with me forever.

Post-death confessions (or bits of news you will never hear):

1) I met your brother at a coffee shop. His request, not mine, after hours of phone conversations. I know you wouldn’t have liked it. He looks nothing like you but has some of your mannerisms. He falls into a rant if inflamed. When we parted, he stood still and watched me leave, as you would. That gave me such an eerie, bereft feeling.

2) Your mother called after I sent the condolence note. Twice, because she forgot making the first call. I told her she’d created an incredible man.

3) My sleeping habits suck now. We frequently mused on sleep; you, in an ongoing fight with insomnia, rose most nights to stretch a muscle, eat spoonfuls of ice cream, read a few pages. I used to sleep straight through the night—like the innocent, I told you, laughing. Now I wake and listen to noises. I’m not afraid of the dark. But I no longer sleep like the innocent.

4) When I tell my friends about Sutton Place Park, they say, “Oh, Masha,” and in the next breath, they say, “but you are not to blame.” The speed of that reaction seems only to heighten its inauthenticity. The more time goes on, the more I think being a grown-up means accepting that you might have done your best, but still it wasn’t enough to prevent harm. It wasn’t enough. And for this I bear responsibility.

5) Six weeks after you left, I saw two birds swirling in midair—playing, courting, mating?—so linked that they managed only at the last minute to avoid hurtling together to the ground. There it was: what had scared me.

After you left, I kept expecting that something would arrive from you in the mail. Or someone would appear at my door bringing your message. I couldn’t imagine it all simply gone.

Crazy, isn’t it? Unreasonable.

Still, why didn’t you send me something, at least to elaborate? You always elaborated.

Sometimes I can’t believe you are gone.

‘It’s not that I couldn’t stand pain,’ you wrote me in that last morning’s text, ‘indeed I’ve been living with it for years—but it is way over the top now.’

Your brother says, with some impatience, that you’d made threats before, off and on for years. Your friend S notes the same, but indicates they were in a lighter vein: “I told him I’d be seriously put out, and he laughed.” You’d told me, too, that you’d considered breaking with life, adding adamantly that you believed it your right to choose and that, having been taken prisoner twice, you never wanted to go somewhere you might be held against your will, even with the best of intentions. “But look, I’m still here,” you would reassure me, calling me your “terminal weakness, and life-saving strength.”

I’ve thought of you daily. Bottled, those thoughts would make a potent brew. I ache for you immoderately. I’m not getting over it quick, honey. Is Sutton Place Park for sure what you wanted? Would you take it back now, if you could?

Suicide is everywhere, isn’t it? I never knew; I didn’t pay sufficient attention. But after you, I looked it up: a suicide occurs every 12 minutes in the US, making it the 10th leading cause of death here. Men kill themselves 3.5 times more often than women, and guns are used almost 50 percent of the time.

Even to write those statistics is as if to generalize it, which is not what I mean. You were never one to be generalized.

Still, context helps. About a month after you went to Sutton Place Park, I met a fellow writer who appeared like an angel. She shared a part of her story she’s rarely told, but a part I needed to hear. She’d felt suicidal for two years, growing closer and closer to ending her life. She loves her husband and two children, but felt an overwhelming depression and sense of worthlessness she couldn’t escape. She was a good actress; so good that no one, not even her husband or best friends, knew. Her plan (pills and vodka) included a brief note she would leave, an apology, saying her mental suffering was unbearable and asking her family and friends to please forgive her.

Then, when a longtime friend hung himself, shocking and traumatizing her and so many others, she knew she could be next and sought professional help.

“You reach a point,” she told me, “where you can’t bear to feel that much pain every day. Where you’re so ill and wretched, you believe everyone would be better off without you.”

But we had joy. We still had joy. I wish I’d know how fragile it felt to you. I wish I could shake your head now as I used to when you were over-thinking or growing too dark, and call you “idiot” as a term of endearment that made you laugh.

Perhaps right now you would tell me, impatiently, to stop looking for what Joan Didion called “the sermon in the suicide.”

The last time we slept together was 39 days before Sutton Place Park, the evening I broke my right wrist while walking through lower Manhattan. Just back from wrapping up my dead parents’ affairs, I was physically and psychically exhausted. I tripped over a simple crack in the sidewalk, fell hard and fast, and put out my right hand to catch myself.

Deformed, quickly swelling, I knew immediately my wrist was broken. I carried it with my left hand as if it were a wounded animal as I walked to a nearby emergency room. You called while I was there, and then drove so quickly from Brooklyn it seemed you arrived on the wind. Two doctors, were about to join forces to shove my wrist into some kind of recognizable shape. So, without words, we became a perfect triangle, them muttering to each other as they worked, me squeezing your hand to shut out the pain, you holding my eyes with your own.

You drove me home, and we held hands all night, and I leaned my head into yours, and you kissed me and fetched me water and fed me painkillers when I stirred.

You were so dear.

Still, I have to use the word “angry” in here somewhere; I have to use the word “pissed.” Goddammit, G. Why?

I find myself calling Bill, over and over. He was, after all, the last person you knew to see you alive, only moments before. I think he might have some secret, even without realizing it. Bill doesn’t have much more to say, but he is patient with me, willing to engage each time, trying to answer even the questions I can’t clearly ask.

“Hope. He had none,” Bill tells me in one of our phone calls, unexpectedly poetic. He sighs then, a deep and rattling breath.

It’s not that I couldn’t stand pain, you wrote me in that last morning’s text, indeed I’ve been living with it for years—but it is way over the top now, which could have been helped by Dr. H possibly. It’s the pain/deep depression and the loss of my athleticism and strength, it is that I have no options the way I see it. Much love once more.

Before I met you, when I was still in Afghanistan and my oldest son spoke of you staying at our B&B, the way he sometimes did of guests, I had an intuitive sense of loss for no reason I could name. Though I can’t remember what he said, and it couldn’t have been much, I thought, or perhaps more accurately felt, a tinge of regret, the certain knowledge that I was missing out on some connection that mattered. I’d never met or seen you, of course, so the feeling was inexplicable, unlike anything I’d experienced before, based on nothing more than a few passing words on a phone line between Kabul and Brooklyn. I forgot it until I met you. Months later, I told you about it. I’d come to believe, in one war zone or another, in intuition. But still it shocked me, the surety of the sense within me, and how right it turned out to be.

As it happened, we didn’t miss out. Yes, loss was there, waiting, a hole cavernous enough to consume me, if I let it. But before that, we got to share a piece of the miracle. For a slice of time, we were something beyond words, beyond logic, beyond questions and doubts.

Deepest forever apologies, my sorrowful, my lost one.

So much gratitude, my idiot, my love.

* * *

Masha Hamilton is the author of five novels, most recently What Changes Everything (2013) and the founder of two non-profits, the Afghan Women’s Writing Project and the Camel Book Drive. In 2012-2013, she served as Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

Editor: Sari Botton