The Big Roundtable

Notes From My Suicide

March 10, 2016

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A low point, a bottle, a cat, a gun

The Smith & Wesson SD40 VE low-capacity handgun looked slick on my coffee table, in my hand, anywhere I placed it in my little apartment in Savannah, Georgia.

I let it hang at my side and stared into a mirror, one five-pound trigger pull away from being a killer, a protector, a hero, someone not to mess with. The weight, a pound and a half, traveled up my arm like an extension of my thoughts, an adjunct of power over everything and everyone, including, for once, myself.

I disassembled the weapon. The slide first, then the barrel and chamber with it; a magazine and a spring and the grip attached to the rail where the slide sat. How simple the construction, how basic the mechanics of death.

I reassembled the gun and fanned two ten-round magazines across the table, loading one with a single gold and silver bullet. Another swig of bourbon to make the nerves go down. I closed my eyes and picked a magazine. The one with the bullet? Fifty-fifty chances to make things quick. The slicked magazine clicked and engaged with the latch inside the handle. The room went silent.

Noel strutted around my legs, hopped on my lap, purred, and buried himself between my thighs. He’d always been a loving cat, a trait my mother said he got from me. I eased the pistol slide forward. The striker primed. I pointed the gun away from me and breathed and raised it toward the wall. I disengaged the safety, brought it to my temple, and fired.


At the pawnshop I had told the man I needed a pistol for self-defense. I had two hundred dollars. He handed me a metal piece. A silver rail, durable black grip. Standing there I felt powerful. I found my footing in time and space. I felt grounded. Nothing seemed so terrible, but I could also see the end. It was terrible being alive.

There hadn’t been one big tragedy in my life for which I could blame my depression. I’d seen some things but so had others, worse than me. Sucking it up, I’d long been told, was the proper way to be a man. I had no excuses though I wish I did. That was my burden, feeling too privileged and like a cliché—a writer who drank too much, read Hemingway, and went and bought a gun. How unoriginal.

Loneliness was, at the time, a hollow embrace. It had begun first as something of a small hope against the darkness—knowing how to be alone to get by, a small promise of decompression. But soon I became trapped, the hope inside me faded, and with it I had gone.

Everything about the world was difficult then. Nothing seemed possible or worthwhile. Nobody knew this about me because I wouldn’t say. And nothing they could say would have stopped me once I decided to visit the pawnshop.

I’d gotten up early in the dark of my tiny apartment and readied myself and slipped into the person I was to everyone but me. The person I saw in mirrors wasn’t the person I knew. That boy died years ago. That image in the mirror was the only thing left behind. I showed my teeth to the reflection. A crack in the glass ran down the middle and split my head in two. This could all be over: this is what I thought as I left my apartment and headed out into the morning, hoping it would be my last.

The pawnshop man said I looked liked a good kid. He ran a background check and signed the paperwork and tossed the handgun into a brown paper bag. He threw in an extra clip, saying the extra mag was free, and smiled. He said to have a nice day. I retreated to the apartment.

A search for what led me in the first place to this dank room in Savannah offers no great insights, only a smoking gun. What preceded that moment is a whirling series of traumas that I had let burden me. Had I the broader scope, back when I brought the pistol to my head, to see my life beyond four walls, I might have spent less time worrying and more time embracing family and those who were still alive, more time laying the brick around a hearth of welfare.

I might have avoided telling this story.


Years before my night with the gun, my friend Robert died while studying abroad. This was in 2009, when I was nineteen and Rob had almost made it to twenty. But he had to go study abroad, this boy who wanted to work with third-world children. He wanted to change the world, this hopeful doe-eyed friend of mine. So he went to Italy and fell down a flight of stairs at the Santa Maria d’Aracoeli in Rome.

Of the one hundred twenty four steps, it took only one to kill him. His family called it a tragedy. The newspapers called it an accident. An accident suggested that no one was at fault and meant that some things happen in this world without reason. His sister sent me a text message to let me know what had happened and all she wrote was, “Rob died.” To me, in that moment, no one had ever written such tragic words of grace, least of all a sister who had overnight become an only child. Funny the things we say and how we say them. The last Rob and I spoke he’d gone to see a girl I liked, and I told him I hated him and wished he would die.

The funeral was in New York. I charged north from Georgia, driving over the coiling rope of highway around Dutchess County, hoping to see him off. The road unwound in the darkness ahead of the dying headlamps. A roiling fear ignited in me and I swerved and cried and tried to keep things together. When I got to my hotel that night I started drinking. The booze was like a stalwart friend. Unlike Rob, the whiskey was there.

At the wake, his father and mother apologized. They were sorry their son had died, that I’d lost my best friend. But it’s your son, your boy, I wanted to say. Instead I cried into their chests. They held me and soon I walked away, without paying my respects. The last memory I wanted to have of Rob was not one of him inside a coffin.

Rob and I grew up together. We never lived near one another or attended the same school. We had few mutual friends. But every weekend we’d meet in some distant field to play paintball, a sport we took seriously, and one we played together at the national level. This was when paintball seemed like it could have a spot on ESPN, perhaps in the X-Games, where everyone would know our names. We were at the heart of our teenage years, on a path to figuring out nothing fast. But Rob saw me grow in those years, on all the trips we made to South Carolina and Maryland and Florida and California to play teams from around the world, to shoot at people for sport. Sometimes he’d travel from New York to see me where I lived with my mother and sister in New Jersey, and we’d hang out in mall parking lots, techno turned up, singing until our throats ran dry. He’d encouraged me to apply to Marist, where he was an undergraduate, and I said I’d think about it. When I tumbled through heartless relationships and wrangled my demons, nights with drugs and alcohol, he was there, at any hour, when I had no one else.

Later on I worked at a newspaper and I would write obituaries. They were just assignments. Someone would die; I’d write about who they were, the context of their death. How many had survived them? What had they done with their lives? Had they served themselves and others well? I was assigned to distill those lives into 400 words. Under deadline those decisions were made with little deliberation. Sometimes they were suicides, though that was never mentioned, a common courtesy.

I was just a boy when I first learned about overdose and suicide; someone I knew would try Oxycontin for the first time and fall in love. Then heroin. Then, seeing no point, they’d drop out of high school and everything got worse. By the time I met them we were in rehab, labeled addicts at sixteen, a marker many would keep till death. Same story, different details.

Some of those obituaries said the person died at home. It made for a nice detail, even if most were running from a home they’d broken long ago. I’d learn later that in some states, suicide is considered premeditated murder. I suppose that makes sense. It wasn’t something I imagined anyone approached as an impulse, but rather with a will—a desire to will away whatever ailment. I suppose in that way I sympathized with suicide.


Even as a pre-teen, before rehab, while I was away at a military academy death had established itself, become more frequent, not only with family and friends but sometimes friends of friends of friends. In those days my friend Hillary called to tell me they found her boyfriend in his basement, strung up from the rafters with drugs inside him. They’d only been dating a few weeks and Hillary asked if I could stay on the phone with her until she fell asleep.

Most of my life I’ve been “away.” Yet as a twelve-year-old at Valley Forge Military Academy, because of friends like Hillary, there was a sense that I was not alone. Moreover, I felt less alone because of the inherited notion that this place had stood for centuries, proving it was formidable and resilient against the erosion of time, great men still walking across its yards. Among the alumni were H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of Operation Desert Storm; Jimmy Sturr, the musician; and J.D. Salinger, the author, who graduated more than half a century before I began my studies. Beyond our schooling, Salinger and I had more in common than I realized at the time. We were born and raised in Manhattan, where we attended private schools and, much to the chagrin of our parents, flunked out. Neither of us cared for academia. We would both be sent to Valley Forge, where our Crossed Sabers yearbook photos look like mirrored images, him in the old mid-Century dress uniform, me in the new one, with a marksman’s medal. I was vice president of my class; he was the literary editor of Crossed Sabers. We shared the rank of corporal.

For his graduation, Salinger wrote a poem in the yearbook: Hide not thy tears on this last day/Your sorrow has no shame;/To march no more midst lines of gray;/No longer play the game./Four years have passed in joyful ways—Wouldst stay those old times dear?/ Then cherish now these fleeting days,/The few while you are here.

He must have been about seventeen, the same as Holden Caulfield in Catcher in The Rye, when he graduated the high school. His classes, unlike my own in the middle school, would have been held in Shannon Hall, behind our barracks, and, though I wasn’t supposed to wander, I often wended through Shannon to feel older and brush shoulders with an imaginary Salinger.

Along the halls in Shannon were awards and wartime memorabilia, spelling a history of the school’s core values—Courage, Honor, Conquer—that to me had not yet lost their meaning. Surrounded by those beliefs, it was impossible to let go the immense pride one felt being associated with the Long Line of Grey. Powerful, important, impressive students walked that line, I then among them.

But it wasn’t enough and I always felt the need to prove myself to people who, I realize now, didn’t think as hard about me as I did. Whatever medals I earned amounted to nothing more than strips of cloth. The one medal I could not be awarded was worn by a young man we’ll call Buchanan here, an older student who never said much about how he, an athlete with preternatural academic and JROTC scores, earned the White Star.

The other medals Buchanan wore—proudly, in three strips of ribbons below several medals—meant everything inside the small, fake, militarized world in which we lived. The tip of his Polish-Army-style ceremonial rope was always shined. The pips on his epaulets refracted light to announce him wherever he went. His crisp white shirt rattled. Somewhere below his lapel but above the ribbons was the White Star. Or there it should have been. He never wore it, and was embarrassed by it and didn’t want to seem ostentatious. That is what the other boys said, anyway. That he did not want to talk about the night he saved a man’s life. One of a handful to ever get the medal, Buchanan, this cadet, this teenager, chose never to display it.

But his tale became timeless: He’d returned home for a weekend leave and he was driving or walking and came to the scene of a car accident. The boys who talked about Buchanan said he pulled an older man from the wreckage and saved his life. It made me feel oddly guilty. Had I, without realizing it, missed the chance to lift up someone who’d been hanging on? Would there be other chances in the future? I worried someone would die because I’d refuse to help.


Some years after military school, high school, and rehab, as an undergraduate college student, I moved to Georgia, where I had a place of my own on Bolton Street in Savannah, just outside the historic district. Passion had driven me there, but the girl I followed south didn’t much care for me after I arrived. It’s a story I don’t much like talking about other than to say she had loved me moments before she did not. Unburdened then, crushed, and with nowhere else to go, I stayed in Georgia.

I stayed because I didn’t know what unrequited meant. And I stayed because I’d heard about my old rehab roommates, Tom and Jacob. One killed himself and the other was murdered. After Valley Forge and before college, they’d been close friends at the teen at-risk programs we attended together.

And after we were released from treatment, about the time other teens our age were earning high school diplomas, we could never find where to belong. Tom was in his twenties when he died and Jacob was seventeen. I think Tom overdosed, maybe committed suicide, but I never knew for sure. The obituary did not include a cause. Jacob had his story all over the news. The press noted that he sustained stab wounds consistent with self-defense. His attacker never stood trial.

Jacob and Tom had seen me sober; they’d been there when I struggled with abusive staff or regimental punishments at various residential treatment programs and lockdowns we lived in. They had witnessed my story of redemption—how I made it through juvenile rehabilitation and detention centers, then gone onward to college, toward a life in which I could ostensibly be happy. Still, without them, my story was all my own—there was no one to challenge my memory, which at best erred always in my favor.

The Spanish moss and Wild Oaks and Azaleas in Georgia tempered the anger inside me. To clear my head, I often turned to a bottle or the streets, struck with reverence for the Gingerbread Victorians, the Dutch Colonials, the Civil War monuments stranded across town, wondering what could, if not the serenity of Savannah, make me happy.

Then Rob died.

I could not reconcile for what purpose he had died, and I couldn’t accept it. How could someone die whose work with Invisible Children changed the lives of countless young boys? How could that be? How could someone perish who was more genuine than anyone I’d known? It seemed more reasonable for me to die and for him to go on living.

After the initial shock, the burial in New York, and my return to the little apartment in Savannah, I shriveled in fear. The loneliness seemed more somber and terrifying. I felt an intense burning, an urgent desire to run—and fast. I was racing against the countdown to my quietus, something I wanted to meet on my own terms.

I wandered through my early twenties, the years after the deaths of Rob, Jacob, and Tom, struggling to find where I belonged, sensing that because of my past I was, without chances of appeal, alienated and ostracized from any given group of people. Drink, blow, huff. Wake up cradling the toilet, another half-liter gone. A blur of time and space that seemed to my memory something plucked from fiction—could that have been me? I couldn’t decide. Everyone and no one was watching.


Outside the pawnshop, the indifferent world moved about its day. I took a sip of bourbon from a bottle beneath my truck seat and looked out over the parking lot at people pushing carts and holding hands. In the fall I would turn twenty-two. But if I was gone, nothing much would change. What, then, was the point of striving and seeking, never yielding? For what purpose? Why not just lie down? In my absence, the world would still turn. Spring, again, would give way to summer.

I drove through the muggy heat. When I looked at the gun inside the brown paper bag on the empty passenger’s seat, I realized I’d forgotten to buy bullets. Passing under a green light, then a yellow one, then through a red light, I pointed the white pickup truck toward another gun shop just off the parkway.

As I drove it bothered me to think about what others might say once I was gone. I worked myself up, thinking about the clichés of suicide—how someone would try and talk me down, how they’d say there was so much to live for. Yeah, like what? It was my life and I could choose to do with it what I wanted. How dare you. This doesn’t concern you. All these things I might have said had there been anyone to listen.

As it happens, my mother called me just as I reached the gun and ammo shop. I answered the phone. Her voice lit me up inside; it reminded me I hadn’t always been this way, morose and dark and scared about everything and nothing. I was once unbreakable, never quite this brittle.

I described to my mother the way of the weather, how that particular day was muggy and unbearable but thank God my air conditioner still worked back in the apartment. She asked how the writing life went and I told her it went fine. “I’m so proud of you. My Kenny, all grown up. Your mother knows best. I always said you’d be some kind of artist. A writer! Wow! You get it from me, you know. The Italian side. Not your father’s. He couldn’t put together an Ikea set if he tried. Remember your crib I put together all by myself….” Yes I knew. I remembered. She’d told me a thousand times.

She wanted to know how Noel, my black and white spotted cat, was doing. She wanted to know if he was enough to keep me company. I said Noel was fine and growing fast—that he missed her; that she’d have to come visit us soon. I don’t know why I said that, but she promised that she would.

A box of fifty rounds set me back twenty dollars. Part of me cringed. The cost of suicide was mounting, not that it mattered.

Driving home it seemed for all the world as if I was suspended in time. At intersections I prayed for a head-on collision. A foreign notion—not “voices” and not unwelcome, perhaps one that had been there all along—told me it was time to go. Life seemed like a Hollywood set, supported by two-by-fours, a gust away from collapse. The traffic light turned green.

For the last time I drove to the beach, where, if you can forgive the ephemeral calm, the restless can find a respite. Waves cracked along the shoreline, ebbed into fluid greenery, the troubles of a worried mind drifting out to sea, eyelids shut against the bright sun and the sand too hot to touch. The seaweed and oceanic refuse bobbed under frothy whitecaps. I hated the beach. I couldn’t stand the scantily clothed women with their arms wrapped around large men: women I could never have; men I would never be.

I was convinced it was the sense of loss and lonesomeness that was driving me mad. Or was it something else? Could it be the booze? Had everyone gone because I pushed them away? Was this all my fault? Had I done this to myself? A couple strolling through the crosswalk looked at me. Can they hear me?

Back in my apartment, paint cans, roller brushes, sandpaper, and Spackle littered the floor—here was the evidence of another layer of my hysteria. I’d had a bad trip in the apartment on some tabs of acid I had taken while far too drunk to go any further toward opening my chakras. That night I had returned to this place only to discover that the garish renter’s yellow on the walls no longer looked okay. The walls seemed to undulate against an unseen heat wave. And I had to make it stop.

When I started coming down, I was able to run to a hardware store. On my way back—the world’s saturation level turned up to HIGH; smells coming to me from long distance—I felt like a cartoon character about to stumble. I had returned with enough supplies to paint four walls, three in a stale blue and an accent wall of deep purple. The walls were riddled with holes from hatchet and knife throwing—loud nights spent alone.

Now back from the beach, I found the hatchet leaning against a wall, its handle sticky with rivulets of paint. Holding the hatchet, I felt light-headed from all the chemicals. Or was it the whiskey? I put the hatchet and gun on the table and reclined into my couch. The day was almost over.


The red-brick building where I stayed was tucked away off Bolton Street and two blocks from the park. I lived on the other side of a plain white door with a red lettered sign left by the apartment and its former tenant: Janitor.

I had moved in a few months after Rob died, and would sometimes stand outside on the wooden porch, smoking and surveying the paved slab that served as my front yard. Piles of bricks and wooden pallets covered the cement patch, which was surrounded by a chain-link fence. Discarded furniture created an outdoor hobo living area. The back of the building housed four apartments, two-by-two; a mildewed staircase connected H and G at the top, D—my apartment—and B at the bottom. Katie and April lived upstairs. Shy and timid, they sometimes peeked over the railing to talk down to me, but always they were busy.

Then Vlad moved into the vacant apartment on the lower floor next to mine.

At first I mistook him for a bum. Vagrants had long used the abandoned porch next door as a home. Cardboard boxes, padded mover’s blankets, and empty plastic fifths of gin occupied the space before he moved in. When I first saw him, I asked him if he needed help. Was he lost? He wore a close-cropped cap of salt and pepper hair, his beard trimmed to a stubble. His eyes were deep blue marbles that shone in the moribund light of the porch lamps. He said he wasn’t lost and introduced himself as Vladimir Mishnaevski, in the grand style of pronouncement I’d come to associate with post-Soviet Russia. Then he offered me a beer from his plastic six-ring, of which there were three left.

Maybe I was just a cynic, but I never believed a word he said, perhaps because I saw a bit of my grandiosity in the way he told his stories. And since he was a natural conversationalist, there was a lot to sift through. Most nights, once I finished writing and opened my front door for the first time that day, I’d walk past his apartment at just the moment he was returning from work on a ratty bicycle, a beer in one hand, a package of tobacco in the other. The bike would crash. He’d stumble, right himself, and smile.

“Mr. Rosen,” he’d say, and straighten his posture. He would ask about the news, about anything I was working on; he would offer beer and cigarettes and, if I was up to it, a game of chess. In his late fifties, he had the studied gaze of an academic. He had deep angular cheeks that seemed deflated as if permanently pulling long on one of his hand-rolled cigarettes. It was as though he had long ago begun to cave into himself.

He was animated and excitable when telling his stories—“Mr. Rosen, Mr. Rosen, you’re not getting me. Listen, OK?” I couldn’t be certain but I believed he had received three citations for driving under the influence, the last one a felony, and that was, I believed, the reason he chose to bike everywhere, the reason for so much else that he’d unravel over the course of our short friendship.

I’d come to meet a lot of drunks who passed through that apartment—by invitation or by knowing my home was never dry—and whom Vlad referred to as disreputables. But I knew Vlad was one of the good ones. I never once thought I couldn’t share something with him, as if we’d been brothers for our entire lives, him the older one looking out after the tyke who was on the loose. He always pretended to know better than me, even if at times his words came through slurred, because he had seen enough horrors that he wished I would never see.

He was a painter and each day—from the houses, apartments, municipal buildings, and school dormitories that he painted—he returned to the red-brick building off Bolton Street covered in paint. Sometimes he’d clean himself, slick back his hair, shave the greying stubble. At times his eyes emanated a sort of internal peace, something I tried to emulate on those nights when we stayed up talking late. But mostly his eyes were grey-blue and stiff, marbles still, but kind and weakened by something unmentionable. Sometimes I’d see him bloodied, his face scratched up. “You know,” he’d say, dumping his bike and cracking another beer, “That pavement comes up real quick.”

I worried that he never ate, and too often biked recklessly. I soon came to care about him the way I suppose a son cares for an ailing father. Even when I knew things were wrong, I did my best to help, even though he often wouldn’t allow it. Most times he would deflect my questions.

When I told him about the bad acid trip and how I had painted my apartment, how I should have asked for his help, Vlad came over and studied the walls, kicking aside discarded whiskey bottles and adding to the pile a can or two of his own. “Mr. Rosen,” he said shaking his head. “This is terrible.”

“Oh come on, it’s not that bad.”

“Miserable isn’t even the word for this…this travesty. That is what this is.”

“You’re being unreasonable,” I told him.

He looked over the wall again. “We’ll have to start fresh, with new paints.” The shadow of a bird passed across the wall, its silhouette revealing further imperfections in my Spackle work.

Later we sat on his porch, arched over a chessboard as we talked about Leonard Bernstein, classic cinematography, writing, his family—the story of his wife. She was the first of two. They were living in Roanoke, Michigan when she was carjacked and killed. Maybe he was there with her, saw the whole thing. I can’t remember exactly—maybe because I discounted so much of what he said as drunken banter, maybe because I myself was too blotto. By then, too, my memory was getting muddied by drink. I figured someone wouldn’t handle death so nonchalantly. It must have been the alcohol.

Though I tried not to notice it when we spent time together, death was inescapable. The spring before I bought my gun, Vlad and I had been outside grilling lunch when a neighbor came running through a hole in the chain-link fence. I had been standing in my boxers, shirtless and hunched over the grill. A whiskey bottle in one hand, spatula in the other. On my feet were tube socks. Holy fuck, we need help real quick, said the small and emaciated woman. He is all blue in the face, she said.

Vlad drank from his beer and spilled some on his chin before he asked, Who is turning blue? Some kid, she said almost screaming. He’s our friend and he looks terrible. I think he might be overdosing. Please do something.

I flipped the burger. It was charred well on both sides, but I wasn’t sure it had cooked through. I poked it with the spatula. Blood pooled on the surface of the meat. I decided to let it cook a few minutes longer. He wasn’t a friend, the almost-victim, but rather some addict passing through. I associated with addicts, too, as did Vlad. There was something comforting about surrounding ourselves with people who made us feel superior.

Vlad suggested she go call 911 and she said they had but was worried they that they’d arrive too late. I asked Vlad if he wanted cheese on his burger and he said that he did not, preferring to pluck the patty straight from the grill and into his mouth. The sirens weren’t far away and when they did arrive, the paramedics revived the kid, saved his life. Saved. His. Life. That phrase never made sense to me. I told Vlad, who nodded in agreement.

I could have compressed the addict’s chest, made him gag, saved his life. Stepping in, I could have kept him alive just long enough for the ambulance and paramedics to take over. Nice job, kid, they’d have said. It could have been me, like Buchannan at Valley Forge. But where was the incentive? Besides, anyone who was there to bear witness—Vlad, the emaciated neighbor—would also soon vanish.

Vlad did indeed disappear after the sheriff evicted him. He was all but a walking corpse. The alcohol had emaciated him to a feeble state where each night, when Vlad fell—and he always did fall—he’d break something new. And soon he too was gone.

Before he left, I used to leave my apartment and step into the night, often hoping Vlad was there. When he wasn’t, I’d wander around the city, stumbling with a cup of booze because that was the one thing that remained a constant. One night I ran from a police cruiser that had shone a light on me. I ran, not only because I wanted someone to chase me, but to see if I was worth catching. Within minutes I was in cuffs, police officers rifling through my pockets to produce my wallet. They thumbed through the business cards and various school and press identifications until they came to a Marine Corps recruiter’s telephone number. They said I should have enlisted sooner, fitted me into the back of a squad car, and brought me to a cage where I spent the night. If ever there were warning signs that the worse was yet to come, this was one of them, a slow progression toward dependency, the pull of the universe telling me I’d reached a crossroads and was headed the wrong way.

Vlad had left and with him went our games of chess, the conversations about Russian literature, my hopes and fears of a year alone inside a bottle. There was less of me in his absence, another void I could not fill. Not again.


The firing pin engaged and the room went dark. My ears rang with the blast and I worried about Noel. Sulfur flitted in front of my eyes, but only for a moment. A hole in the sheetrock of the wall puffed out scarves of smoke.

But the only blood came from my left hand, where the whiskey bottle I had been holding had shattered like the image in a fractured mirror.

The cat. The fucking cat. Where’s the fucking cat?

Things faded in and out of view. There was no way I could have missed, but I had. Pulled away at the last second? Chickened out? I’ll never know. Divine intervention some might say. Or bad fucking luck. A pinging trailed off in my ears and my voice—I could finally hear my voice, but from a distance, calling for Noel.

Here boy. Come here, boy. Where the fuck are you? Oh, God …

I placed the gun on the table and stumbled around the apartment, tripping over bottles and books, slipping on papers. Everything was black and white. Everything seemed new and distinguished and not my own. I’d entered someone else’s apartment. I was an intruder in my own home. I wondered if I had more bourbon, something to keep the room from spinning. I used my hands to find the walls and clung to them like a child to its father. I used my hands to guide me and crawled on my knees. I felt my way around the room until I reached something wet and dripping from the walls.

Noel had knocked over a bucket of purple paint, splattering the wall near the closet, as well as a pile of clothes where he’d curled into himself, unharmed, his eyes wide and searching, as though asking me if I’d heard that loud bang, too. The walls were ruined, but weren’t they already? I picked him up and brought him to my chest.

We sat on the floor, rocking together. Maybe I wasn’t exactly alone. Noel was there, maybe watching over me. But alone was what I felt. No one came to my door. Nobody banged on the wall. There were no sirens calling from outside, not the slightest movement anywhere at all.

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