Nona called me from Chicago and said, "Emma's dead," and I started laughing because I didn't understand what she was saying. I repeated it to my boyfriend, whom I'll call Reis here. He was sitting right next to me, and I watched his nose crinkle and his head cock, and I was rewired so fast. I began repeating "Emma's dead" over and over again, at top speed, out loud. Eleven days later, Reis sat in front of me in my childhood bedroom on the Upper West Side of Manhattan while I practiced Emma's and my favorite camp song, "Changes" by Phil Ochs, all morning before I went to sing it at her funeral. It was at a stodgy funeral home meant for the very old, not the very young like Emma. And the funeral was a lot like the funeral home. It was very cold; lots and lots of poems were read, but I couldn't feel or see Emma anywhere. An impossibility, I suppose, since she wasn't there.
But Emma would come alive in my dreams. So I slept. I slept, and slept, and slept. Once, I dreamed we were back in our Quaker high school, Friends Seminary, sitting with the seniors, looking out onto the rest of the school during silent meeting, laughing hysterically. It was so close to real life: in high school, we'd often muffle our laughter with scarves when it was cold, or each other's bare shoulders in warmer months. But my eyes were forced open (by her ghost, I was sure) when I had dreams that were always too close to real life. I'd cry, shaking and confused at what the real truth was. The line between life and death, between this world and neverness, had never been so approximate, so shriveled. Reis held me every time I woke up until I was sure Emma was gone from the room. Until I was able to recall her death.
I stopped wanting to see alive Emma, so I stopped sleeping. Dead Emma, I didn't want her either, and my relationship with Reis, unfortunately, was a casualty in all that. We didn't break up, but I couldn't look at him without seeing Emma. We became distant. Housemates who sometimes had sex and occasionally made granola together.
I was skinny and sleepless from dead Emma when I saw a friend who I'll call Wade. He was with some other boys I grew up with on a balmy night in March at Botanica, our old underage haunt. My hair was frizzy, and I was insecure about that. Wade's already-olive skin was extra browned by a birthright trip to Israel and his rogue travels through Jordan. His blithe enthusiasm for the dog tags that hung from his neck, given to him by a young Israeli soldier, was trite. But I didn't mind. His energy hooked me. He whispered in my ear all night, looked at me goofy on purpose, and asked me to the movies. The next evening, Wade and I went to a movie because Rosario Dawson was in it and we both thought she was a total babe. Afterward, he walked me to Sadye and Jesse's, where I had to sit shivah because Jesse's grandpa had died. We walked two miles from the theater to their house, never missing a beat. Our banter was so entertaining, I wanted to remember every word and turn it into a scene in a romantic comedy. Right before I went upstairs, he tried to kiss me. I told him that I couldn't, that I had a boyfriend. But dead Emma, I couldn't yet tell him about.
I saw Wade at least three times a week after that. We spent a lot of lazy afternoons on the Upper West Side, sitting in Riverside Park, laughing really hard about how often the two of us, more than anyone else in the world, had to pee. We made plans to travel, but not to obvious tourist destinations. We would go to Russia, the most foreign place we could think of. When I said I'd heard it was racist, he told me he'd do his best to protect me, at least until a mobster came and took me away. In May, for my birthday, he got me a guidebook to the country. On the first page he wrote "For us, Russia 2010."