Ever since my friend Donald died, I’ve been talking to him. It’s easy because I knew him so well, he allowed me in so deeply, that I never have to wonder what he would say. Like when I’m being rung up by a girl whose badge says “Trainee.” I whisper to Donald “is that her name or her designation?” and he says “it’s her name because it rhymes with Renee” and we laugh as she rolls her fake-lashed eyes and stuffs a fat head of cabbage in a plastic bag. Of all the folks I’ve lost, I think I talk to Donald most. He was so fucking funny! Wide open as a window. Once we told a woman at Dulles that we were married, then we feigned an embarrassing and inappropriate argument in front of her. She was horrified. We walked away, fighting back guffaws til we got on the plane. We used to play Scrabble until we ran out of words, our fingertips sore. Endlessly we’d talk about some of the stupid stuff we had each done in the past. (Once he’d handcuffed a girlfriend to his hotel bed for kinky sex. He says it was fun until her shoulder popped out of the socket and they had to call the paramedics). We never felt ashamed of ourselves in front of each other. Sure, I cringed when he told me about his anal fistula but if he’d asked me to rub ointment on it, I would’ve broke out the cream. We used to make each other feel accepted, no matter what. We did a lot of forgiving. When he stole my credit card, we stopped speaking for a while. It still hurts when I remember how hurtful it was to let my anger keep me from inviting him to my wedding. His dark face is the one I miss most in the pictures. I’ll never, ever, ever, ever have another Donald and this makes me want to cry and never stop. (Even as I write this, tears are on the keyboard). I think about that afternoon a demented boyfriend kept calling and threatening me. My boy Don picked up the phone and told him he would come find him and snap off his head if he ever even thought about bothering me again. Freddy Krueger stopped calling. Donald and I broke out the Scrabble for that day’s game number six, some house music and a plate of fried snapper dancing next to our tiles. When diabetes turned him into a shell with breath, our voices stilled. He melted into a coma and never returned to me. For a while, his words left my head. For months I would waddle to the hospital (I was pregnant with my third child), sit next to his bed and wonder if he could hear me begging him to come back home.During a rare, lucid moment, he followed me to the elevator and pleaded “Gayle, please take me. Let’s go for a ride. I don’t want to be here.” When I’m 99, I’ll still remember the desperate sweat seeping from his face. How hard the elevator doors closed between us. The hopelessness of knowing I couldn’t take him with me, and even if I could, his broken body couldn’t endure the ride. But now that he is gone, we talk. Somehow his voice has found its way back inside me and enfolded itself in my veins. The other day, as I was walking through the parking lot of my apartments, we had a chat about the day ahead. I told him I didn’t really feel like going to work and he said “knock it out Baby. I’ll be in the car when you’re finished. We’ll go for a ride. Windows down.” And sure enough, after my last workshop, there he was, waiting. He cranked up and we sailed down 95, the Scrabble board between us. Only the Scrabble board.
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