I got the text message on my phone this morning. It was from Soup Boy. “You remember Gretel?”
“Of course,” I typed back. I had met Gretel a few times here and there. We had been extras together once, but the first time I saw her she was asleep on my sofa. I imagined, now that Soup Boy has broken up with his girlfriend, that forthcoming would be an interesting story about the two of them.
It wasn’t long before the next message came in, short and to the point, the way phone text messages are. “She’s dead. She committed suicide yesterday.”
“Wholly crap,” I responded, and that’s it. A few hours later, it’s still about all I can come up with. That and questions. There’s a threshold, the line between life and death, and you can only cross it once. What was it about yesterday that made it her last? She was far from home; what was she hoping to find when she came to Prague? And, of course, the big one, the one only she could ever answer, and probably even then I wouldn’t understand: Why?
Now she’s gone. I have odd regrets. I wish I’d known when her heart beat for the last time, so I could put down whatever meaningless task I was performing and mark her passage. I wish I could have known before that and somehow brought her the happiness she ultimately despaired of ever finding. I wish I’d taken the time and had the courage to get to know her better. I wish she wasn’t dead.
We all have our private and public faces — some of us even have different personalities for different occasions. Gretel, the few times I talked to her, seemed chipper and upbeat, clever and conversational. Of course, that is what she wanted me to see of her. I’ve had some experience with people who are skilled at hiding their troubled thoughts. I was married to one. How many others do I know, among my happy and well-adjusted friends, who, when they are alone, face demons no one else knows about? How many sit in the darkness and wonder if it might be better not to be?
Do I even want to know the answer to that?