Rain hit the hood of my car in gigantic, pounding swings. I could barely see Sunset through the wet gray. A wash of same color sky and concrete with a stab of red, yellow, green across a piece of it. I sat, bleary eyed and useless, in a McDonald's parking lot across from where I was supposed to be. Left my blinkers on. A metronomic way to measure time without you. Say something prophetic to yourself. Say something that’ll get you out of the car. There was only quiet. I felt the hem of my black sweater, over and over, pulling it apart. There are a million ways to break your heart, I kept thinking, and they all hurt, they all take the wind out of you. But it’s not the pain that gets to me, it’s the making sense of it.
Inside it wasn’t better, it wasn’t better than being alone in a fast food chain parking lot. It was more dismal than a 360-degree view of a rainy day. The wallpaper was a floral purple with gold accents that read as a kind of gaudy that wasn’t ironic, wasn’t intentional. Brown leather booths boxed in the perimeter. Standing guard, empty. An open bar to the right of the entrance with a row of perfect margaritas salted at the rim. The line of first defense. Because who could bear it, honestly, without something to take the edge off. A glass of wooden toothpicks, little cups of lime. Take your life and make it comfortable in here, think of it maybe, or not at all. But I came to this as a person who had already squandered the ability to dampen life and its circumstances. I had already exposed alcohol as something that necessitated my absolute attention or none at all. I made a choice, in the face of that, to dissolve its death-drive hold on me and trade it in for some kind of living. I had nothing to do here but think of you. Think of you and try to see the you in this. But I couldn’t find it. Couldn’t find it anywhere.
No one came at first. Just me and a bowl of chips on the table. I took one and crushed it in my hands, flimsy pieces of dull glass pressing into my palms, let them fall to the floor. I did that a few times until the first stranger came through the black-trimmed door. Some Smiths song was playing. You hated Morrissey. I hated him for you, as he howled out while I stared at the stranger’s face. It was a nothing face. I didn’t present myself as a person to be introduced to, just slid farther into the corner of my innocuous booth facing the entrance. More strangers came after that. A pile of broken tortilla chips at my feet. Nice to meet you. Great to see you again. Where are you now? Congratulations! What are you all working on over there? Here’s my card. Anytime, call anytime. I hadn’t seen any of them before. These were the people you filled the empty space of my silhouette with, these were the conversations you must’ve wanted. Finally, I got to meet them all, your strangers, staggered together, sipping drinks. The
room became colder, darker. Someone slipped their hand into mine, introduced themselves, and asked me where I worked.
Your old rehab roommate died of an overdose about two and a half years prior. Your dad flew me out with you to the middle of the country to report for the duty of being your best friend. To hug you when you cried, to make sure you ate. I remember the blinding linoleum room with that girl’s friends and family, how you wailed like a Sicilian mother there and throughout the whole weekend, even on the plane. The pre-packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crust cut off that dissolved in my mouth without chewing, someone’s grandmother telling me I looked like a model while I washed my hands in the bathroom, telling you later that would only happen off the coasts. We sat in the living room of that girl’s parent’s house, and I thought, I could live anywhere but Los Angeles. I told someone’s sister I could live in a place like this, while she flipped through photos of her daughter, who wanted to be an actress. She’d come to LA with her soon. I said I’d show them around, and I could feel us feeling relief in lying to each other between the kitchen island and all these heaving sobs, how nice it was to feel a feeling that wasn’t pain. Opioids are overprescribed and they steal people — your brother, your wife. You wrote an angry article about it that was almost immediately published and then threw up in the hotel bathroom later that night. I sunk behind the door, telling you I’d stay until you felt better, but you never did, so I slept there. Eventually, we both left North Carolina exhausted and never talked about that girl again.
They took out a photo of you that they’d blown up cheaply, stretched and pixelated across some craft paper, and placed it near my booth. A book below had some more photographs in plastic body bags, hard to turn pages. They stuck together like little specks of land trying to become a bigger island. When I really looked at them, I realized they were all printed from your Facebook. Photos I recognized. Photos I looked over carefully in fits of caring and curiosity, trying to piece your before life together and into how I knew you at that moment, which was at the time very well. That was a happier exercise than whatever this was. I wasn’t fitting anything into a contemporary context, just estrangement. Everything here was foreign, and you were gone. The photographs laid out were missed exit signs, the potential was behind us. I caught eyes with the intern I knew found your body, two days after the company that threw this party fired you, and bolted for the exit as they started passing canapés.
Los Angeles is an open wound, sprawling, indefinite. Even in the sunshine you get lost. I went back to my dismal parking lot where it made more sense, where twilight would hit and darkness would come for me, where I could be alone. I flicked on my engine and drove to your apartment. Not the place you lived last, the place you lived when I knew you. Santa Monica was almost empty, Western felt endless. Past the donut shop where you preferred the one with the Lucky Charms, the several restaurants you got us kicked out of, the Titanic-themed dive bar you took meetings at to make people uncomfortable, to test them the way you were always testing people, seeing if they could stand up to you. More often than not they couldn’t, so you were mainly by yourself -or with me. Your wrangler. The person you let near you for a while without biting them. You were a brilliant, irreverent, one-of-a-kind asshole, I thought, before clipping a red light onto Wilshire. When you stopped talking to me, about a year before this drive and for no reason I could think of, I really thought you’d come back. I spent my time after that becoming someone I thought was worthy of an apology. Went to a million twelve-step meetings, because if I was sober when I knew you, when you were gone I had to be perfect. Did intimacy workshops, tried to understand what it meant to know someone and be known by someone, realized in the process that anyone that has an answer that isn’t vague is lying. Danced with middle-aged women and a shaman in Santa Monica until my back gave out. Did crystal rituals I didn’t understand in that park above Beverly Hills. That whole time, waiting.
Trying to shake you off of me, but it didn’t work. It never worked. And now I’m just this person.
Better for no reason. I double parked because what’s a ticket really, and jimmied the lock to your front gate with a pen.
Clara Bow, Judy Garland, Bette Davis. They lived here, too. Though I never knew which apartments and neither did you. Everything looked the same, felt the same. The musty scent, the yellow glow of the Edison bulbs retrofitted into candelabras in the foyer, the burnt red walls, the slow gurgle of the fountain in the courtyard. A cart in the corner of the lobby that brewed stale popcorn I ate often and in fistfuls. Every neighbor of yours seemed crazy. Especially the one with the little dogs, always mumbling to himself, looking around for something he had lost. For whatever reason you had a lot of patience for him, which was rare for you. I’d stand next to you for a good while, listening to you answer simple questions, if we’d seen it, no, if we’d keep a look out for it, yes, of course. He wasn’t there this time. This time I was alone.
I couldn’t go to your door, so I took the stairs to the roof. I’m always surprised by the way Los Angeles looks when you’re above it. Like a declawed kitten — innocuous, fragile. Smog lit up the sky. I realized since I washed up here I’d been a million places and I couldn’t tell you why I was at any of them. Not really. Driving, always driving. Arriving sometimes or coming home, meeting you and losing you twice between pit stops, between the garage and the gas station. I stumbled out and around for the big sign that had the apartment’s name on it, the one I felt was always watching me when I was down below. I looked for it but I couldn’t see it in the dark. Restless, having found the reason I was here suddenly and accidentally, to see this thing, this looming piece of metal, I fumbled for the steps that led to the next tier of the roof. I found them, finally, almost breathless and with an urgency I couldn’t explain. “Are you coming?” The words came clear as day, clear as you ever were, and in looking up I lost my footing, tripped up the next step and toward the sound.
Abigail Thomas grew up on the Upper West Side of New York City. A product of two artists, she was quick to fall in love with her own creative outlet - writing. After graduating from Goucher College with a degree in Creative Writing, she moved to LA to pursue screenwriting under Alan Ball (SIX FEET UNDER, AMERICAN BEAUTY.) Currently, she lives and works in East LA with her two dogs, Bandit and Levi. On Losing Someone Twice is an interpretation of the events surrounding the suicide of Abigail's best friend.