Disclaimer- I don't own Rent, never did, never will…
They say that you can know just how much a person was loved and appreciated only after he goes. I never believed it. I always thought it was just a ridiculous cliché.
I believe it now, because I see it with my own eyes.
And my heart is breaking.
I push this feeling away. Drama queens are not supposed to break.
The scent of flowers is carried heavily in the air as we enter the church together. We move as one, as always. We are united, body and soul, until the very end. Until death breaks us apart. For a moment, I forget that it did just that, or at least, it tried breaking us apart, by taking one of us away. Then I realize it's not completely accurate. Our body may lack an organ today, but still, we are not breaking.
Roger and Collins go in first. Benny and his new wife Allison are right behind them. I notice Roger, who tries to back away, out to the street. Maybe he thinks that if he will, it will mean that none of all this ever happened.
Collins puts an arm on his shoulder, whispers something in his ear. Benny and Allison nod as if in agreement. Roger drops his head in defeat and keeps on walking.
Mark and I are in the rear. I lean against him as we slowly follow our friends, and he holds my hands tightly in his. His hands are cold. So are mine. I'm not sure which one of us is trying to draw more support from the other. I guess our need for comfort is mutual.
The church is small and packed. I don't think I've ever seen so many people crowded together in such a small space, all gathered to pay a final respect for the same person, who was loved by so many.
A person who, apparently, didn't know it, or didn't really care.
We approach her parents who are standing next to the front rows, shake their hands, exchange quiet words of grief and condolences. I glance at the coffin. It's open, but I don't dare to step forward and look at her. I know what might happen if I will. So I don't.
We take our seats at the second row, right behind her parents. Mark is sitting to my right. He looks as if he got there by mistake, like he should have been at his Bar Mitzvah, wearing his only good dark suit and a dark skullcap on his tousled blonde hair. He catches my glance and manages a small smile. It's weak but soothing, yet I cannot return it. I nod and look away.
Collins is to my left. He doesn't remove his gaze from Roger, who keeps staring at the coffin. He still looks somewhat numb, as if it hadn't dawned on him yet that she was gone, that she was not coming back. I fill with sudden urge to shake him and yell it at his face, but I stop myself. Knowing Roger, it will take some time for everything to sink in, but it will, eventually. While the rest of us will need to heal from the loss of our friend, he will have some more issues, other than healing, to face with. I shudder as I think of the note she had left behind for him, his death sentence. She couldn't handle the cruel punishment life had given her, so she took her own life and got it over with. I wonder if Roger can handle things better. I hope he can. I don't think we'll be able to face another death so soon.
The service begins, but I can't listen. I'm distracted as my gaze keeps wandering from the priest to the coffin to Roger. All around me people are sniffing or sobbing or wiping their eyes. I hear Mark cough softly and I know he tries to hide the fact that he is crying, too. I take his hand in mine and squeeze it, just so he'll know I'm there.
Roger's gaze is fixated forward but he doesn't cry. It doesn't surprise me. I didn't shed a single tear over April since this whole nightmare began.
Mark and I had gone out to watch a movie. I insisted he'd leave his own films for one night and come with me to watch other people's work for a change. And we could make out in the darkness of the theater if we'd get really bored, I added in a more seductive tone. By the look on his face I knew I got him fully convinced with that last promise.
So we went out, and got back to the loft after almost two and a half hours of making out in the dark movie theater and on the subway. We were pretty much continuing what we were doing so far and were on our way to the bedroom when I had no choice but killing the mood. I had to use the bathroom before we go any further.
The door was locked, and I thought it was strange. Roger was not home. He and his band had a gig downtown that night. Also, his guitar case wasn't anywhere to be found. I knocked lightly, feeling quite stupid, and even more stupid when I didn't get any answer. Mark joined me in the hall, his expression concerned. The TV in Roger's bedroom was on but no one was there. April's shoes and purse were thrown on the floor, her coat was on his bed, but she wasn't in the room.
I felt as if my heart was sinking. I tried to ignore the chills that washed all over me all of a sudden. I needed to push away the unavoidable thoughts that were creeping inside my mind.
I banged at the door, yelling April's name, but to no avail. I did that for full five minutes before we decided to break down the door.
I opened my mouth to scream but no sound came out, as if my voice was freezing somewhere on its way up my throat. I fought back nausea and dizziness as I walked into the room. Mark was right behind me. I heard him gasp and murmur something that sounded like "Oh my God", but I wasn't really sure. I felt as if I would faint in a moment, but I didn't. Instead, I forced myself to open my eyes and take in the scene in front of me.
April was sprawled on the floor, as white as a sheet and as lifeless as a rag doll. Her eyes were opened slightly, in a frozen look of terror, as if she was surprised by pain but at the same time, too numb of blood loss to do something about it. It felt as if she was looking straight at me, through me, with her expressionless stare. Her recently dyed red hair was framing her face and falling down her shoulders in tangles. There was blood everywhere and I was too panicked to realize at first where it came from. When I moved closer I could see the razor she used to slit her wrists with. My jeans were soaked with her blood as I knelt on the floor beside her but I wasn't even aware of that. I touched her neck gently, fighting the urge to throw up or run away as my fingers made contact with her skin. It had already begun to stiffen a bit. No pulse. I could guess it by looking at her only.
Mark ran to call an ambulance though we both knew there was really no point. She was dead for at least two hours.
It was then when I spotted something next to the razor on the floor. A note. I picked it up and stared at April's last words, scribbled in an unsteady handwriting, purple ink against snow white paper.
Three words that were about to change everything.
I snatched it and ran out of the room. My hands were shaking as I handed it to Mark who read it and went pale. His eyes were filled with tears for his best friend's fate as he dropped himself on the couch. I watched him as tears started streaming down his face. I held him as he cried. I didn't cry. I didn't break.
We sat there, holding each other, until the paramedics finally showed up. After confirming what we had already guessed they gently put her body on a stretcher and covered it with a thick sheet. They sent one of the younger paramedics to clean the bathroom and started asking us thousands of questions. Did she leave a note? Was she suicidal? Had anything like that ever happen before? Could we locate her parents to inform them what happened?
We managed to answer, the little we knew of. Then we drove with them to the hospital, where we started calling everyone we could think of. Mark tried to reach Roger in that godforsaken club, and Collins who was teaching out of town. My hands were shaking as I dialed April's parents' number in Virginia. I found their number in her purse, and as I listened to the dial tone, I wondered how the hell was I going to break that to them.
Somehow, I did. I couldn't resist hating April for making me do that to her parents. Her father answered the phone, but soon I could hear her mother as well, probably from another phone in the house. I flinched as she started crying. That sound pierced my heart. April's father asked me questions about the funeral arrangements and said that they'd be there as soon as possible.
My eyes remained dry as I returned the receiver to its hook.
I joined Mark in the waiting room. It was nearly deserted. We sat there in total silence, sipping coffee from plastic cups. When Roger finally got there, the dawn was breaking outside. He stormed into the room but froze as he noticed us. He slowly approached us, pale and horror stricken. Then he caught a glimpse of my blood stained jeans and stopped again. I didn't have time to change before we left with the paramedics, and I was cursing myself for it when I saw Roger flinch at the sight. We met him halfway and Mark took April's note out of his coat pocket. He handed it to Roger who silently observed it. For a moment, his expression remained blank. Then, as if in a slow motion, one tear appeared in the corner of his greenish-blue eyes. Then another, then another… He dropped to the floor. I knelt beside him and wrapped my arms around him. I could feel his tears soaking through my sweater as he wept like a four-year-old after a bad dream, but I didn't care. I kept rubbing his back and whispering soothing words in his ear. Everything would be all right, I told him.
I hated lying to him like that.
I remember these three fatal words that April had left behind as I steal another glance at Roger. We've got AIDS. An involuntary shudder goes through me. Suddenly I can't help but wonder how long did she know. Did she find it out that morning? Did she know it for several months and never told us? How could she hide such a thing from us? How could she hide it from Roger? How could she break it down to him the way she did?
There are million other questions that are whirling mercilessly in my head. My heart is suddenly filled with scorns and accusations against my best friend who was now dead, for leaving us all behind to deal with her baggage. I think how selfish it was of her, giving up so easily, so soon, forcing us to face the pain of her sudden death as well, as if we didn't have enough. Did she even think of Roger when she wrote that note and locked herself in the bathroom? What was she thinking in the first place, killing herself because she learned something she didn't want to hear?
I bite my lips, fighting my urge to scream. My grip tightens around Mark's hand. Damn it, April, how could you do this?
The service is coming to an end. All around me people are getting up. I do too. I follow Collins and Roger to the aisle. I hesitate, then tell them I'll meet them outside.
There are so many people there, but somehow I'm able to find my way among them. I know exactly where I'm headed. Mark is calling my name but I ignore him. I move forward, before I'll change my mind.
I'm so close now, too close to back away. I take another step forward, and I can see her now.
She is just lying there, silent and peaceful, as fragile as a porcelain doll. I want to scream at her, I want to go there and shake her and force her to face the difficulties of life, the difficulties that she created for herself, I want to slap her for destroying Roger's life, all our lives. But I can't. Because she is no longer.
My legs feel like rubber as I collapse on the church's floor. I can hardly see anything and I realize that my own tears that are blurring my vision. Someone touches my shoulder gently and I know that it's Mark without even looking back. A sob escapes my throat as he wraps his arms around me. I turn to face him and bury my face in his dress shirt.
And this is when it happens.