Ghost of Me

I'm pretty sure that he thinks I'm dead.

I saw the tears.

I smelt the sadness.

He even wore that shirt I like but which he hates to oblivion. Too girly, he says. Too spectacular for words, I say. I followed him all day. I watched him for hours on end - it was like a bad soap opera or the biography of lost hope. There was an angry, psychotic junkie, who was waving a gun around like they were American. Where did they even get a gun like that here? I smiled for the first time in days when he disarmed her calmly and sent her on her merry way with her undies hanging out the top of her jeans and track marks down her pale, bony arms. There is nothing glamorous about being a junkie. Her skin is sallow and her bones protrude. Her hair is lank and greasy and her life is about the hit. The brief moment of bliss and the come down.

Then there was lucrative meeting in which he came away from with a briefcase of cash and a police chase (he got away, but only just, by hiding in an old lady's washing basket. He possible offered the old woman sexual favours for her silence). I called it a day after three disappointingly vague, suspicious conversations. I never knew he was so thoroughly on the wrong side of the law.

Maybe it's best he thinks I'm dead.

I argued with myself all day. Should I let him know that my heart is, in fact, still beating? That blood still runs in my veins and that the brains splattered across my patent leather car seats belonged to a petty criminal and drug addict - probably someone he supplied? Should I walk away and leave him be? Perhaps I should send a cryptic message in the post -

Like water under the bridge,

I'm not here... I'm there.

Okay, so code writing isn't my forte. I figure he doesn't even know my handwriting anyway, where would he have seen it? It isn't like we were pen-pals or anything so cliche. I'm almost certain the only thing he really liked about me is the fact that I - what were his words? "Make him feel normal again." I don't know if this constitutes a large claim on someone but it's all I have and now I see that he was probably telling the truth. I'm pretty sure he never did any 'business' when I was with him and judging by the amount of shifty glances going on today he was really stepping up the pace upon my death.

I follow him home and almost burst into tears when he hand-washes that stupid shirt, hanging it up to dry inside.

He's beautiful, in the way he moves. Everything is measured and he never uses more energy than is needed. He told me one day that when he was a little boy he wanted to be a marathon runner so he could run away from his junkie mother and absent father. I see it now in his lankiness. In the wiry muscles and relaxed, controlled movements. I see how it would be handy as a dealer to be able to run away from things fast and for a long time.

I watch him go through the usual routines after that with a profound sense of loneliness - shower, dinner, a spot of TV, then bed. I gasp in horror when he has a hit before he sleeps. The belt tightens around his biceps.

I can see his veins popping up on his tan arm.

The way his eyes flutter back in his head and the way the muscles in his face twitched and then relaxed scared me. It struck me how alone he was. If I were there he would never inject that stuff. I wish he wouldn't now; it isn't how I want him to remember me.

He is more alone than me. He knows more people but he is far more alone. I've never really had no one in life - I'd always been surrounded with people, not always nice ones, but people all the same. The clamour was constant and the nagging incessant, but at least they cared. I don't think that he has anyone that cares remotely about him, at least, not with me dead and all.

I nicked off to a seedy hotel where I went under a fake name; Marie Curie. My favourite scientist, followed by the brilliant but shunned Darwin.

I laid down to sleep and contemplate the meaning of life. It didn't have much, was the conclusion I came to. Where was the meaning when the one guy I really, really like in life was some sort of drug baron? The next morning I debated with myself before whether to sidle up to him on the street with a cheery hi and a jaunty wave or go with something a little more dramatic - some simulated thunder and a puff of smoke, or brimstone.

The options were a little overwhelming and I felt them swimming around me as I slowly drifted to sleep.

Maybe this would all be easier if he weren't mourning my apparent tragic death. I hadn't meant the note I'd left to be a suicide note - it was just a note to let everyone know I was running away for a while. The extremely unfortunate events which followed were totally out of my hands.

Half the note went missing - I don't know how this happened. Thus it ended with -

I just can't take it anymore...

Yes, I am aware of how that sounds, although in truth I was talking about my family's ridiculous ways, the pressure from school and my own restlessness. Far more innocent than suicide, something I'd never contemplated ever in my life.

My car got stolen on my first stop for fuel. I'm not even kidding. You don't make that shit up.

I was five hundred kilometres from home with no car, no money, no phone and no way of getting home. The no phone thing was a result of my eagerness to 'get in touch with nature.' You know, as close as you can get. And you can get, like, really close, apparently.

It was two days later that I finally managed to get home via walking and hitching rides, something I wouldn't recommend to anyone. A couple of pervy old men tried stuff but I kicked their asses and told them my boyfriend was God's Garbage and kind of protective. They probably didn't believe me fully, but I'm a pretty convincing liar to they kept their hands to themselves after that. There was one guy who went all wolf creek on me so I got out of there so fast you would not believe. I should have called someone - my family, my friends, him, but I was too stubborn and proud.

Now I'm standing outside his house in the bloody rain wondering how I'm going to tell him that my death (re: the idiot who stole my car went and totaled it killing themselves - they were mashed into unrecognisable little pieces. Me size pieces) was a total lie. I realise that it shouldn't be so hard to just tell people I'm not dead but I'd been given a fresh start - a chance to start my life all over again, start it completely anew and that's a chance not many people get.

He put that shirt on again and stole some flowers out of his next door neighbours garden - she saw him through the kitchen window but couldn't get to the door fast enough to throw the rake that she keeps handy by the front door at him. I drift along behind as he weaves purposefully through the streets with that stupid, straggly bunch of flowers and a slightly defeated slant to his shoulders. Eventually we end up at the graveyard. Gee, they haven't wasted much time putting 'me' in the ground. There'd barely been a funeral! He made his way to my grave, after placing the flowers in front of the headstone he sat down to the side and just stared expectantly. What was he waiting for?

Maybe he didn't really think I was dead.

Maybe that's wishful thinking.

I slip closer, as silently as possible in the circumstances. I take a closer look at his wan face and see the shine of tear marks down his careworn, stubbly cheeks. I chew on my bottom lip until it's raw and aching, wanting desperately to cling to him and ask him not to cry for me but at the same time reluctant to end the display which tells me exactly how he felt about me. I may be a silly little school girl, but I am a silly little school girl that he misses desperately and that he wants back.

The age difference didn't even matter now. That had been holding me back, all along. Seven years is not so much, really, not when you can see how they cry after you're dead. No one else ever knew about us when I was alive, I mean, before my fake death - we met randomly and somehow, in defiance of statistics, never saw anyone I knew... know. Our relationship was strange and unconventional. We were using each other - I wanted the thrill of disobeying my parents and the escape from studying, and he was clinging to something he used to have when he was my age - normality, or at least the semblance of it. Against all odds he had graduated high school and gone to university, at least for a brief time. Then he dropped out for more profitable things. Namely, the family business.

But I think, now I've seen his tears, that his need for me was deeper than the desperation for life on the other side. Maybe deeper than he thought too.

For months I had no idea of the life he lead - I only knew that he made me feel special. He wanted me for me. More than anything he never wanted me to change and whenever we went somewhere or did anything together I would catch him looking at me with a certain expression on his face.

I think I fell in love with that expression.

The first time I heard about his less than legal entrepreneurial goings on was actually through one of my hard-core punk friends. Patrick had been 'collecting supplies' for a two day punk-rock festival the next state over which he was road-tripping to. I was assisting (more like directing - the boy had no idea about camping. 'Will I need a deck chair?' 'No, Patrick, I don't expect so, unless punk mosh pits are radically different from ordinary ones.' 'How about a kettle? For coffee and shit?' 'Yeah, sure. Where are you going to plug it in? Your ass? Grow a brain, please!'). When we'd finished (what an epic day that had been) he announced there was one final thing left to do.

I'd slumped to the ground moaning that my legs refused to walk anymore. He'd grinned and pulled a folded scrap of paper out of his hands - 'All that's left is the ganja.' Naively I'd asked where he was going to get that from. 'Sweetie,' he'd said, 'I have ways. This guy,' waved the paper in my face, 'is the fucking shit. Dirt cheap, quality goods and like a goddamn shadow. One moment he's there, the next poof! He's gone.' Patrick had shook his head in disbelief. 'None of that seedy business either.' I'd nodded sagely and snatched the paper from his hand. I wish I hadn't. There it was - his name and phone number written in capitals in smudged, dark lead pencil in his half scrawl-half cursive hand. I knew it well enough from when he'd written exactly the same thing down for me. I don't know how long I sat there staring at this little bit of paper but eventually Patrick pried it out of my hands, 'What's up, sweetie? You know this guy?'

'Not exactly' I'd replied, debating whether to hotfoot it out of there before he showed up or to stay and act cool as a cucumber. In the end I stayed and when he showed up... Well, let's just say at that point I never wanted to see the look on his face again. The rage mingled with disappointment was heartbreaking but it was the shame behind it all which really tore me open. I saw it - he wanted to be a better person for me and he felt like a better person when he was around me because I didn't know what he did for a living. That look, it killed me. For weeks afterwards I avoided his calls. I left school the back way in case he was waiting for me, I even avoided my own home in case he showed up.

Eventually he caught me though. I was sitting outside a cafe sipping something, I can't recall what, and reading some meaningless fluff romance when he appeared in front of me. 'You've been avoiding me.' He said. I shrugged and acted about a hundred and ten percent cooler than what I actually am. Then he just pulled me out of the chair and wrapped his arms around me, pulling me tight against him. My face was smushed into his chest and my back was cramping a little from holding an awkward half-standing position as I bent around the arm of the chair but it was still the best hug I've ever had. It was agreed upon in those moments, I think, that I would never ask about the shadier side of his life again and he would do his utmost to keep it away from me.

Probably I should have shrieked at him to get away from me - this time last year if someone had said I would willingly date a drug dealer I would have slapped them down and hauled them to court for blasphemy or whatever. I guess it was his sincerity which caught me, hook, line and sinker. His beautiful sincerity which, to me, seemed to overpower any legally questionable activities he was involved in.

The sincerity which made me the most important thing in the world.

Even now as I follow him home at a distance with my mother's emergency cash supply tucked safely in my pocket, burning a hole in me, I can see that his heart isn't in it. He follows the same old path and walks in the same old shoes but he isn't really there. He's with me, back at the graveyard.

This makes me more happy than you'll ever know.

I watch him and I watch him and slowly my money runs out.

Slowly my heart breaks.

Slowly he puts his back together.

Two weeks pass and I know that it's time. I can't make myself do it but it's time.

I spend most days waiting for him to lurk up behind me; 'Surprise! I knew you weren't dead - I just thought it was kinda hot to have you stalking me...' But he didn't.

I watch him drive himself into the ground. In the last two weeks he's progressed from being out most of everyday to being stuck in his house, high. It kills me; hit after hit after hit. And he never wakes up from it. And I cry for him. And my heart breaks a little more every time he falls away. And then, well then I walk away with tears on my cheeks and pieces of my heart in a trail down the road.

I remember the first time we slept together. He'd been away for a week and I'd missed him more than I ever would've admitted to him. It was late on a Sunday evening and he called me, told me he was home, told me that if he didn't see me he would go crazy. I said I had school in the morning. He said he didn't care and that if I didn't leave the house, he would climb in my window. I told him my dad would snap his legs if he did so I snuck out of the house and met him in the park near my home.

I remember he was sitting on the swing set and for a moment I saw him as a little boy. A lost little boy who needed me to tell him where he belonged. I couldn't though, because I was scared it wouldn't be with me. I reached him and he glowed when he saw me, then he kissed me like he hadn't seen me in a year. He took me to his home and whispered that I was the most beautiful, most pure girl he'd ever known. He whispered that I was the best thing in his life. I remember that doubt in my mind; I remember thinking that he was just saying it so I would sleep with him. I did anyway because I was young and curious and I wanted him. We went to his room and I could smell that he'd washed the sheets only recently and I could smell him in the room; his deodorant, his aftershave. I remember thinking it was beautiful. I remember drowning in it, with him.

The sex was awful, of course. He was so nervous about hurting me that he didn't enjoy it. It was my first time so I was awkward and uncomfortable and it hurt. It was still the most lovely thing I've ever experienced though. That moment, at the end, when we were lying there and he was holding me close and we both said nothing. That was the most beautiful moment of them all.

I'd like to say it got better after that, but it didn't. It never happened again; we never got the chance because a week later, I died.

And now, I know it's time. I can feel it. When he leaves his house the next morning I follow. He looks like he's been run over; he's thinner and his skin is sallow and grey. His expression is ten years older.

I follow him into a busy market place where he's doing something. Probably it's drug related. I want to tell him I felt every needle. I want to tell him that he needs to choose life. When I see him hand over a questionable little package, I know what I have to do. I get close, keeping my head down, I get so close I can smell him. He smells clean; of soap and his aftershave. I don't think I'll ever forget that smell, I don't think I ever want to. He looks sad and distant; like he hasn't woken up yet.

I step between two squabbling people in front of him and I grab him. I pull him close, wrapping my arms around his neck and I kiss him. I kiss him with everything I have and he's frozen there. Then he's awake and he's kissing me back. His hands are feverish on my body, clinging desperately.

I pull back and it's the hardest thing I ever do. I grab his left arm and press my lips to the soft, pale skin on the crook of his elbow. I kiss the bruising and track marks and then I pull back,

"Alex," I whisper, "You're killing yourself." Then I slip into the crowd like a wraith. He won't catch me - he was always useless at getting through crowds. I'm away before he realises I'm gone.

The tears that came so easily in the last weeks are gone. My eyes are dry and my chest is empty. I feel like the ghost I've become for him. I leave him alone in the crowd, broken and bleeding.

I leave him alone when I'm the only one who can fix him.

I leave him alone and it's the most brutal, awful thing I've ever done.

I leave him alone and I start my life afresh, away from everything and everyone I've ever known. I run away to a place that I've never mentioned and never even thought about and I know that they have no hope of finding me here. I make it as hard as I possibly can. I change my name and my hair and my style. I change my life.

But, somewhere in me, I hope that he will find me. And I hope, that when he does, the bruises on his arms are a distant memory because he was killing himself with every hit.

He was killing us both.