The room was what you'd expect from a teenage football star at their high school: vibrant, walls painted in blue with awards and medals on shelves, pictures of trophies being held up, teammates gathered for the picture, of the current girlfriend stealing a kiss with the star. The desk was messy with stationary and other paraphernalia, and the room was slightly cluttered. But the life in the room was sucked away by the young man in a black suit, looking over the contents of the discarded brown envelope that now laid on the ground.
Photos. Each photo a printed memory of simple moments of his life. Mixed in with them were candid shots, imperfect but striking in their own right. Each candid shot was focused on him, almost everything else blurred away. There were sketches, too; little attempts at recreating a memory missed. All this dedication screamed love, adoration.
Holding them in his hands now was baffling.
His arms were tense, the hands surprisingly gentle, fearing they would crumple the delicate sheet of paper. His chest felt hollow as he looked around his room, the realization dawning on him in a way that he never felt before. There was no grief like this before. This alien feeling wormed its way inch by insipid inch into his heart the moment he heard the news.
It was a fight. A simple fight. He thought it was, at least. It all started with what he thought was a joke, a silly joke that his friend kept pushing. He was drunk, too; not in his right mind. But he should have figured that the less he saw his friend, the worse it was getting. He should have seen the signs. He remembered little hints: catching glimpses of him eating alone outside the cafeteria, his own friends asking about where he'd been, that moment he saw him leaving the hardware store.
He didn't hear it from the news. Or from any letter. There was no note, nothing to explain, nothing that foretold what was to come. There was no warning. Nothing except...
[Could we talk?]
That was the last thing he saw: a text from him, and a missed call.
He didn't send a text back. Nothing except that one message after the second call.
What was the young man doing during those last missed calls? He remembered a party. He remembered dragging his girlfriend somewhere quiet. He remembered killing the call and putting it on silent so they could get down to business. He remembered barely anything about it.
Busy was right. Busy in the worst ways.
The service itself was sparse, with only a few friends and family bothering to visit. There was no grand announcement at school, only whispers, as if it was gossip to revel in. With startling clarity, he remembered every miserable comment made with that friendly smile of his, joking.
He thought he was joking.
All it took was a moment.
The tear that fell on the frayed paper blurred the ink it landed on. He gently set it aside and stuffed the photos back in their envelope, afraid of damaging what was left. They only found the body when a group of hikers stumbled upon the site, the reports said. The belongings were scattered by the wind, but recovered as best as they could. The personal affects in the bag were kept by the family, but it looked like they dug out what would have been a sort of last will and testament.
A message without words. Each kodak moment was captured with such love and adoration. You could feel it bleeding through the pictures, how a set of eyes always were trained on one man. What felt even more jarring was the lack of presence from the man behind the lens.
Words unsaid. Always a third party. Watching the world alone.
That wasn't fair. They were friends. That friend listened. Always, he listened. Always, he watched. Almost every game, almost every date, almost every trip out of town, he was there. Nothing to remember him by, but pictures he took of someone else. No one ever offered to take his picture. No one ever offered to bring him into pictures. No one ever offered to invite him, not without reason.
There wasn't even a picture on the coffin.
The realization hit him. The feral scream he let out as he clutched the sheets and curled in on himself. He tossed, kicked, and screamed as trophies and plaques hit the floor, punches dented the wooden walls, kicks cracked the mirror, paper flew and tore over his desk. Nothing numbed that empty void throbbing inside him. It took the smashing of the chair against the floor and splinters flying for him to notice again the quiet envelope sitting on the floor, just by the bed.
This wasn't his first tantrum, but it was the first he'd had to go through such impossible pain all alone.
He never could have pictured this happening. He'd always thought of his friend as calm, insightful, independent. Firm and able to stand on his own two feet in solitude. In reality, he failed to notice how gentle and fragile this man was. He'd failed to notice this man at all.
The confession was quiet, sudden. He didn't think much of it. But now, it was all that was left.
If there was one bright lining behind this, it was that it seemed, until the end, there were only good memories his friend kept of him. Why bring the object you hate to your most vulnerable moment? No, there was no hate. There were just pictures.