They left the university and returned to the town of his birth. For her, five sections of comp. For him, carpentry again, rehabbing old houses.
A part of the story late one night years before they met, he called. I could hear the outrageous drunken happiness of a woman splashing near him in the pool, and though he knew I would not come over, he loved me enough to want me at the very least to talk to her.
The wife had a child already when they began seeing each other, and she knew the first night he was kind she could trust him with that boy.
He never mentioned his father.
He measured everything three times. A cheater is a butt-cut scrap or block wedged into a space between warped boards to straighten the lines. With his death he straightened a line.
He was neat even before he met her and lived in the trailer. Not a spot anywhere, everything bleached, sprayed with antiseptic.
He laughed often and without volition. When she laughed, he struck his thighs with both hands and whooped. The whoop rose from his psyche and did not come from depression or philosophy.
Among his matched set of friends who read Nietzsche and listened to the Allman Brothers not one believed him unhappy.
Closure, the heaven of positive thinkers, sometimes depends on revenge, and there is no revenge with suicides. What are you going to do? Send them to a retreat?
Crystal meth, said one friend, limits the capacity to produce dopamine, maybe that’s why he did it.
He wore a butch haircut and horn-rimmed glasses. To look like Buddy Holly was to switch on an amp. To fuck-up was to make people laugh.
In his favorite joke a man passes out a friend draws a penis and scrotum on his forehead and as he walks to work he is elated that everyone is smiling.
In his poems death is on every page and if not the main subject—the image, idea, or metaphor he is focused on—it stays in his actual death like the smell of the petrichor incarnated in the downpour.
With any death, not just suicides, the temptation of the living to feel that the death is their fault plays to the heart of narcissism.
I felt culpable. I was his teacher.
Once she had their own child, he helped with the late feedings and the diapers—he did not prefer his son.
When we drank alone together, he drifted inward. He flickered, dimmer and dimmer— he never angered—he went out slowly like a fire.
One day a letter arrived. She had received a fellowship. To celebrate he bought himself a truck.
When he wrote me that he spent his nights driving county roads, drinking Jack Daniels and shooting feral cats, he wrote it like a joke.
Convicted the third time of DUI he was sentenced to home arrest.
The GPS anklet chafed—“Why not just pay a veterinarian to insert a chip?” he said.
One morning he went out to a shed, tied a rope to a crossing piece, made a noose, slipped it over his head, tightened it around his neck, climbed onto a bucket, and decided.
And if he woke in paradise, blushed, and looked off to the side?
Her weeks searching for him, checking the closet, as if he might still be there hidden among empty suits, waiting to spring out and kiss her.
Months later when I called she talked of going forward: completing her research, the kids growing. I had gathered some quotes from Darwin. When birds mate for life and one dies, “a new partner is generally found on the succeeding day.” I sat on Darwin like an egg.
Working hard to imagine her feelings: the prickles coming back through the numbness of the shock: lesson plans, papers, tests. Loving him, knowing he had killed the one she loved.
That habit he had of bending slightly and holding his hand over his mouth to laugh. And how long would it take, convincing him to get serious about being dead?