"It's easy. You just have both,” he said with an ear-splitting grin. He had suddenly cut his hair into bangs and come over to clean our rain gutters. On our front lawn, I roasted sausages and couldn't decide whether to eat those or cheesecake because Jewish girls can't eat dairy after meat for six hours. Because I never give myself permission to indulge. I could only eat one, but the twinkle in his eye disagreed. You know what? I ate both.
I know his father. He is tall. Owns property. Groomed me as a child. His mother is short. Almond-shaped eyes. Doesn't talk much. Perma scowl.
In general, it took years. In specific, it took nine years to track down what really happened. I sniffed down this particular trail until it got cold and then one day when I was sleeping on my friend's couch because frost was starting to gather on the ground and I didn't have a home and she had kindly offered, I told her a story about him. The telling of it was really in passing. My drowsiness had me ready to sleep. When I finished telling it, she said "Wow, that's really sad..." in the absent, drifting manner of a person who's heard every kind of unspeakable sadness before. With growing focus, she continued, "Wait, that sounds familiar. My friend Raizy told me a story just like that once, about a boy... I think his name was…" Yes, I confirmed. That was it. That was his name. "Want me to message her?"
"Yes," I replied, filled with the torment of pretending not to care when I intensely did. Turning over, I wrapped myself tight in a blanket and fell asleep on the closest thing to a bed in what felt like years. The next morning, I woke up in that shit apartment. Raizy had messaged back. "Should I FaceTime her now?"
"Sure," I said, feigning nonchalance.
Raizy picked up right away. "Yes, I remember David," she began. "He was a nice kid. But really fucked up. Actually, he was really depressing towards the end, and all of us started kind of avoiding him, which I felt shitty about, but all he wanted to do is get high all the time and talk about wanting to kill himself." I perched on the couch and wrapped the blanket around me, nine years of waiting poured into one moment.
"So at first we tried to be there for him but eventually it just got too much you know?" Her voice rose at the end of her sentences. I grew cold. I wrapped the blanket tighter. "The police called me because I was the last number dialed on his phone," Raizy continued. "Earlier that night, I saw he called. I didn't pick up. They asked me to come down to identify his body."
"I went down and told them it was him. I gave the cops his father's number because they didn't have it. Then I left," she said. "But what was really fucked up," she continued, and suddenly, I was gripped with an irrational panic of her seeing me. The camera is facing the other way, I reassured myself, in the shitty apartment where we had recently breakfasted on poorly fried scrambled eggs and grilled cheese. "...was what his father did to Lazer."
This was new. My soft nose hit the trail once again, and as I listened, the memories back stinging. I wasn’t invited to Lazer's party. At the time, I thought maybe I didn't get invited because I wasn't cool enough, or, more horrifyingly, maybe I was an afterthought. Being actively uninvited due to uncoolness would at least have been a certain form of recognition, but being forgotten was unthinkable.
"What did he do to Lazer?" My friend asked. I was grateful to her for asking the obvious question, because I couldn’t speak. "He called him while he was in rehab, when Lazer was finally getting clean and said "I blame you for my son's death. You're the one who gave him the drugs. It's your fault he's dead. And I will never forgive you.""
"And then Lazer relapsed because of what David's father accused him of. He overdosed. He couldn't live with the guilt. But it wasn't even true," she continued. "David did drugs because he was in pain. Lazer never got him into drugs. And now Lazer's dead too."
When I think of those two boys, I always see them buried side-by-side. They're not, but it doesn't stop me from seeing two best friends buried beside each other, dead before twenty-five. Something Raizy said drifts back to me in a haze of supreme wrongness, "If he were alive, he'd be thirty now."
Two years later, it dawned on me. The police only called Raizy because they couldn't find a 'mom' or 'dad' saved in his contacts. I remember the funeral. I remember visiting the shiva house and the black signs on the walls and the mirrors covered with black garbage bags. It was sad he died young, they said. But I was preoccupied, twelve years old and wondering — why had no one cared enough to help him while he was alive? I felt sorry for the cyclist who just wanted an ordinary ride but found a corpse instead. But I couldn't rest until I found out what really happened to the beautiful boy with the corner dimples. The boy who, when his paycheck was late, coded "Pay me!" into the website he was building instead of an email.
I know Lazer's parents. His father is short. Nice smile. Handy. His mother is tall. Talkative. Gossipy. Although I was just their neighbor, I could tell: They were not without flaw. Even so, something tells me that if you had checked Lazer’s phone, you would have found both their numbers inside.
Ali Luck is a lesbian poet whose work focuses on intention, dystopia, trauma and her experience leaving ultra Orthodox Judaism. She started writing professionally because she was broke and desperately hoping for a quick, wholesome way to make a career out of nothing. She is most inspired by topics she finds both profoundly touching and disturbing.