The day after Meg died, I received this letter:
I regret to inform you that I have had to take my own life. This decision has been a long time coming, and was mine alone to make. I know it will cause you pain, and for that I am sorry, but please know that I needed to end my own pain. This has nothing to do with you and everything to do with me. It’s not your fault.
She emailed copies of the letter to her parents and to me, and to the Tacoma police department, along with another note informing them which motel she was at, which room she was in, what poison she had ingested, and how her body should be safely handled. On the pillow at the motel room was another note—instructing the maid to call the police and not touch her body—along with a fifty-dollar tip.
She sent the emails on a time delay. So that she would be long gone by the time we received them.
Of course, I didn’t know any of that until later. So when I first read Meg’s email on the computer at our town’s public library, I thought it had to be some kind of joke. Or a hoax. I called Meg, and when she didn’t answer, I called her parents.
“Did you get Meg’s email?” I asked them.
There are memorial services. And there are vigils. And then there are prayer circles. It gets hard to keep them straight. At the vigils, you hold candles, but sometimes you do that at the prayer circles. At the memorial services, people talk, though what is there to say?
It was bad enough she had to die. On purpose. But for subjecting me to all of this, I could kill her.
“Cody, are you ready?” Tricia calls.
It is late on a Thursday afternoon, and we are going to the fifth service in the past month. This one is a candlelight vigil. I think.
I emerge from my bedroom. My mother is zipping up the black cocktail dress she picked up from the Goodwill after Meg died. She’s been using it as her funeral dress, but I’m sure that once this blows over, it’ll go into rotation as a going-out dress. She looks hot in it. Like so many people in town, mourning becomes her.
“Why aren’t you dressed?” she asks.
“All my nice clothes are dirty.”
“What nice clothes?”
“Fine, all my vaguely funereal clothes are dirty.”
“Dirty never stopped you before.”
We glare at each other. When I was eight, Tricia announced I was old enough to do my own laundry. I hate doing laundry. You can see where this leads.
“I don’t get why we have to go to another one,” I say.
“Because the town needs to process.”
“Cheese needs to process. The town needs to find another drama to distract itself with.”
There are fifteen hundred and seventy-four people in our town, according to the fading sign on the highway. “Fifteen hundred and seventy-three,” Meg said when she escaped to college in Tacoma on a full scholarship last fall. “Fifteen hundred and seventy-two when you come to Seattle and we get our apartment together,” she’d added.
It remains stuck at fifteen hundred and seventy-three now, and I suspect it’ll stay there until someone else is born or dies. Most people don’t leave. Even when Tammy Henthoff and Matt Parner left their respective spouses to run off together—the gossip that was the hottest news before Meg—they moved to an RV park on the edge of town.
“Do I have to go?” I’m not sure why I bother to ask her this. Tricia is my mother, but she’s not an authority in that way. I know I have to go, and I know why. For Joe and Sue.
They’re Meg’s parents. Or they were. I keep stumbling over the verb tenses. Do you cease being someone’s parents because they died? Because they died on purpose?
Joe and Sue look blasted into heartbreak, the hollows under their eyes so deep, I don’t see how they’ll ever go away. And it’s for them I find my least stinky dress and put it on. I get ready to sing. Again.
Amazing Grace. How Vile the Sound.
I’ve written a dozen mental eulogies for Meg, imagining all the things I might say about her. Like how when we met in the first week of kindergarten, she made me a picture of us, with both of our names, and some words I didn’t understand because unlike Meg, I could not yet read or write. “It says ‘best friends,’” she explained. And like all things Meg wanted or predicted, it turned out to be true. I might talk about how I still have that picture. I keep it in a metal toolbox that houses all my most important things, and it is creased from age and multiple viewings.
Or I might talk about how Meg knew things about people that they might not know themselves. She knew the precise number of times in a row everyone generally sneezed; there’s a pattern to it, apparently. I was three; Scottie and Sue four, Joe was two, Meg was five. Meg could also remember what you wore for every picture day, every Halloween. She was like the archive of my history. And also the creator of it too, because almost every one of those Halloweens was spent with her, usually in some costume she dreamed up.
Or I might talk about Meg and her obsession with firefly songs. It started in ninth grade, when she picked up a vinyl single by a band called Heavens to Betsy. She dragged me back to her room and played me the scratchy record on that old turntable she’d bought at a church jumble sale for a dollar and rewired herself, with a little help from YouTube instructional videos. And you will never know how it feels to light up the sky. You will never know how it feels to be a firefly, Corin Tucker sang in a voice so simultaneously strong and vulnerable that it seemed almost inhuman.
After the Heavens to Betsy discovery, Meg went on a mission to find every good firefly song ever written. In true Meg fashion, within a few weeks she’d amassed an exhaustive list. “Have you ever even seen a firefly?” I’d asked her as she worked on her playlist.
I knew she hadn’t. Like me, Meg had never been east of the Rockies. “I have time,” she’d said, opening her arms, as if to demonstrate just how much life there was out there, waiting for her.
x x x
Joe and Sue asked me to speak at that first service, the big one that should’ve been held in the Catholic church the Garcias had attended for years, but wasn’t, because Father Grady, though a friend of the family, was a rules man. He told the Garcias that Meg had committed a cardinal sin and therefore her soul wouldn’t be admitted to heaven, nor her body to the Catholic cemetery.