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IT WAS FIVE years ago now, but I still remember it as if it were just a minute a go that I set the phone on the table, exchanging the air for my weight. Everythi ng seemed heavier then, for some reason unknown to all but the neurons in the bl ack abyss between my ears, commonly known as a brain. Even the air seemed heavy, as if each lonely molecule of oxygen carried the soul of someone long since dep arted on its back, and together, the weight on my shoulders was more than that o f the water that took my best friend’s life. Sometimes, when I’m feeling especially sadistic, I can even make the nerve end ings in my hand tell me that I’m still holding that phone in my hand, even though somewhere in the never-ending expanse of my head, a single neuron still shouts t hat it isn’t true. It still amazes me how that one voice was able to, with military-like precis ion, destroy everything that was anything to me, and make every two-toned beat f eel like a club inside of me, setting everything but my lungs on fire. Somewhere in the distance, a thunderclap sounded, as if it were ashamed for the sound and fury it was about to bring. The raindrops sounded like laughter to me, laughing about some inside joke that I still don’t understand.
TWO I suppose you’re wondering what I’m talking about. I suppose I should start from the beginning, even if it means feeling all those feelings again. _________________ _____________________________________________________________ It happened at midnight, that the phone interrupted my carefree sleep. “Hello?” I answered, annoyed. “Mr. Gold?” a gruff voice asked. Yes, this is Mr. Gold.” “This is the New York City Police Department. I’m sorry I must be the bearer of such bad news, but your friend, Skylar Aria, is dead.” “Is this a joke?” The first stage of mourning. Denial. “I’m very sorry, but it is not.” “Thank you. You’d better go now.” I hung up. I stumbled to the couch, where I crie d until the sun rose. I then drove to the airport and took the earliest flight to New York. The fl ight attendant had to ask me (twice) to please stop crying because I was disturb ing the other passengers.
THREE The plane ride gave me time to think. Too much time. The denial wore off like the golden color of copper, and a green film of ang er took its place. It covered everything, so that nothing existed but it. Anger at the world for taking my friend away from me-and the day before hir 21st birthday! Zie always wanted to drink, but never could. Zie never even got t o taste wine! I dreaded the moment I felt New York City’s soil hardened by life under my fee t and saw hir beloved river that took hir life. I feared what I would do, given this new anger. I had to start preparing the eulogy. I had promised Skylar’s family I would do it. I had promised myself. Each time I set my pencil to the page, it felt as if I were stabbing a dagge r into my heart. Every word I wrote lit a part of me on fire. But I kept writing . I had promised myself.
FOUR Far away, a drop of rain decided there was a better life on solid earth, and eve ntually, the rest decided to follow suit. It was fitting that the rain should wa sh away the tears from my cheeks, though they could not wash the sadness from my heart. The black they wore matched the sky, an ancient ritual I never understood un til now. How could I wrap that life in a package of 10 minutes? “Skylar was the best friend I ever had. Zie was kind, caring, a wonderful list ener, and, above all, a great person. Zie refused to buy anything because, zie s aid, ‘the poor need it more than us.’ Zie would come over to my house everyday after school, and we would talk for hours on end, until hir parents called, annoyed, to tell Skylar it was time to come home and go to bed. I choked back tears, and continued. “The day zie died, Skylar came over to my house in tears. Zie told me that zie was tired of society telling hir that zie wasn’t a person. Zie told me zie was go ing to commit suicide. I was yelling now. “How can we keep letting our society’s narrow-mindedness take so many lives? Bec ause it’s us who are taking their lives. Every building we build without gender-ne utral bathrooms pushes them a little closer to the edge. Every act of intoleranc e makes them reconsider their worth, their lives. Because intolerance does kill.”
I stumbled out of sight, weeping. The mourners burst out in applause. It was the n that I decided my life goal: promoting acceptance of genderqueer people.
FIVE “I just want to talk to Dr. Paul. I’m a friend of one of his patients-or should I sa y late patients.” I wiped the tears from my eyes after speaking those words. “I’m sorry. He’s with a patient right now.” I rolled my eyes. We had been through th is before. “Can you just make me an appointment?” I had given up on getting her to page him for me. “Are you a patient of his?” “I’ve already told you I’m not. Just 15 minutes. I’ll pay out of pocket. It’s really i mportant.” “I’m sorry. He has no time until-” I heard a new voice. “Hello? This is Dr. Paul.” “Hello, doctor. My name is River Gold. I am a friend of one of your late patie nts-Skylar Aria. I would like to talk to you about the circumstances of Skylar’s d eath. “Can you come in-” a short pause “15 minutes?” “I’ll be there. 1209 W. Broadway?” “That’s the one.” I jumped in my car and sped off, anxious to find out more about my friend’s de ath.
SIX “Skylar’s core body temperature was 85 degrees when the paramedics took it. Pulse, 2 0 beats per minute. Respirations, 3. Blood pressure, 30/5. Zie should not have b een alive. Zie had been in the water for 2 days when 911 was called. It took the paramedics 15 minutes to find where Skylar was.” “Do you know the names of the paramedics that treated Skylar?” “The incident report only has the unit number, but that’ll get you to them. It w as NYPD unit M652.” “Thank you so much for your help.” “You’re welcome.” I moved to get up. “Oh-and River?” “Yes?”
“Good luck figuring out what happened to Skylar. And if you ever need help, yo u need only ask.” “Thank you,” I said, deeply moved.
SEVEN “Medic 652, please come to the Chief’s office. Medic 652, please come to the Chief’s o ffice,” announced the loudspeaker. I waited impatiently, reading a magazine. They finally entered, looking confused. “This gentleman has some questions for you about a patient of yours. I’ll leave you all alone now.” The chief left, offering us all drinks. We politely declined.
EIGHT There were two of them-one was tall, with short black hair, around 20, male-bodi ed. The other was shorter, around 18 or 19, long blond hair, and female-bodied. Neither of them spoke, so I spoke first. “My name is River Gold. I believe you tre ated one of my friends, Skylar Aria, a few days ago for hypothermia.” The taller one replied “That is correct.” “Would you mind telling me about the call, your treatment, etc?” The shorter one was the one who ended up telling me about the call. “We were calle d for a 20-year-old found in the Hudson River, apparently dead. We were on scene within 4 minutes of getting the call, but could not find Skylar until 15 minute s after arriving on scene. He-” “Zie,” I corrected. “Zie had been underwater, hidden by various types of debris floating around the ri ver. When we finally found him-” “Hir.” “When we finally found hir, zie was naked and white as a ghost. We did everything we could, but the hypothermia was too severe.” I talked with them for about 15 minutes after that, but found out nothing that I hadn’t known before. Satisfied that I had found out everything I could from them, I thanked them and left.
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