Little Kevin and I were a couple the year before he died. For a few months we held hands, wore matching gold necklaces, and called each other “Boo,” a name said once as a joke that endeared and endured. The one time he wrote down my real name, he spelled it wrong.
Ours was a La Brea tar pit kind of relationship, something we wandered into casually, but the more we struggled against its confines, the deeper we sank into its problems. Feeling stuck, we argued. We didn’t last long once that started. We were hardly speaking at the time he died.
His new boyfriend found him face down in bed, a heart attack at forty-three.
I hadn’t been a good friend. I didn’t think I deserved to be sad. Though I tried to avoid him, I bumped into LK’s new boyfriend on the way out of the memorial. He put his fingers gently on my arm. “Kevin never said a bad thing about you,” he said. Kind words meant to comfort, but I heard them as a recrimination: I’d said plenty of shit about him.
But why? What was the point? To push him away? To show that I was hurt? What a stingy little catalog of hurts my pride had scribed! LK’s death magically transformed those pages. Now I could see only the good. What I had missed out on, and what I would forever miss.
LK loved history, especially French royalty. He had an academic’s interest in Marie Antoinette. “See this shape? This is the mark of the aristocracy,” he said at the beach one day, running his fingers along the clean line of his nose before burying it back in his book. He had a way of ending conversations suddenly, of shutting people out when he grew bored. I remember rolling over on the blanket and staring at the ocean, thinking what lineage my potato-shaped nose alluded to—probably farm stock.
LK liked to stay in bed smoking cigarettes and watching the History Channel. Once in a while he’d rouse himself to get up and fry a pork chop. The passion we shared was like a gas fireplace. On and off with a switch. No real heat.
Mornings, before leaving, I would sit fully dressed on the edge of the bed. LK slept face down in a rumpled pair of threadbare boxers. I would study his broad, freckled back and kiss the length of it, bury my face in an armpit. I was like an explorer mapping the length of my own loneliness. He slept through all of this, or pretended to.
But we enjoyed little nights out, dinners outside, candles and cocktails and oily salads, rickety tables rocking on dirty summer sidewalks, and all the city’s steam and heat and headlights and shadows would flicker and flash across LK’s unreadable face. I’d such a strong urge to take care of him. He was so skinny, it made me feel good just to watch him eat.
I remember watching him play in the ocean at Rockaway Beach, diving sideways through a wave to catch a rainbow-colored ball. When he surfaced, the water ran in thick streams across his shoulders, his gold chain glistening. I felt some kind of swelling in my chest then. Maybe it’s the same way a parent would feel watching a child, or even a dog.
All my other memories of LK are impressions of a summer that his death squashed flat. The time we spent together now seems ominous in its very casualness, the way a beach bag is upturned and emptied of sand with the certainty that everything precious has already been removed, while something irreplaceable—an heirloom ring, an antique key—falls unnoticed, buried in a footprint, lost.
A year after he died, I had the chance to visit Versailles, someplace LK had always wanted to see. The day I set out from Paris, I packed the little hanky-wrapped bundle I’d brought from the States: a sugar skull, a photograph, and the gold necklace we wore when we were “boos.” It was my necklace. I had nothing of his. After LK died, everything he’d owned had been tossed into garbage bags by his family and thrown out on the street.
I didn’t know French history. I thought Versailles would be one thing, not many different estates associated with different monarchs. I didn’t know who would have been important to LK and therefore where to put “the remains.” The face LK would’ve made then! Had I ever heard a word he’d said?
Daylight was running out when I noticed a stone wall that ran around part of the property, partially obscured by a large hedge. I found a loose spot between stones, unpacked my bundle, and stuffed the hole with damp leaves.
I pictured the leaves decomposing over the winter, mice gnawing at the sugar skull, moisture mottling the picture of LK. It was a photograph he’d taken himself, of his shadow, unmistakably him. Of the few photos I had, that one seemed the most like him, or maybe it was the best representation of the phantom I’d created.
As I crossed the lawn on my way out, I remembered a picnic LK and I’d once gone on in Brooklyn, on a wide swath of grass near the water, and the way the sky looked over Manhattan that day, blue and gold, and striped with grey clouds. The buildings were also grey. As the night drew nearer, their shapes grew darker and more pronounced. They lost their forms as individual things and became a mass, the skyline.
I remember hearing crickets, traffic from the BQE, boat horns. City sounds. I drank wine and pulled at the grass, a little restless. LK was lying next to me, shirt up, scratching his belly. He walked two fingers over to where I sat, and they jumped up on my arm, and tried to soothe me. I looked at him and his eyes blinked twice, slowly, the way I heard cats do when they’re trying to tell you they love you. Then he slept.