Tristes Recuerdos: At Your Own Risk

*Story first published in 2011

Perhaps sitting here in the middle of a dark and noisy tejano bar isn’t necessarily the best place for me to gather my thoughts, but this is one of the most difficult things I have ever tried to do. I’ve thought about it for a while, how I should begin this conversation, and I really don’t think I can. Speaking about Raul’s death doesn’t come naturally as everyone tells me it should by now.

Let’s suppose the reason I reminisce about him is because of the music the jukebox keeps playing. Raul sure did love his cumbias. A bit of Michael Salgado and Ramon Ayala would fill his soul and have him buying up a round of tequila for everyone at our table. Maybe the music reminds me of the last conversation I had with him. When he dared me to take the mic for some karaoke. I laughed at how nervous I was, and he laughed right with me. I thought we were happy. I thought he was fine.

I don’t know. I can’t say I was right, and I can’t say I was wrong. Feelings, I’ve learned, can change in a matter of seconds.

Couples dancing to the spirit of good-ol’-Friday-night whiz right past my table as if I don’t even exist. That’s the way keeping this entire situation a secret makes me feel sometimes.

When Raul died, nobody told me it was my fault. Nobody blamed me. Nobody blamed anybody else but him. But, eventually, they asked questions I misunderstood as accusations. That made me defensive and made me shut down.

I don’t know why I put the burden on myself to keep hushed about his death. It only makes me silence his memory, because how can I talk about him without risking being asked where he is now? Not talking about him, and not talking about these feelings, makes me sense our story doesn’t exist when I can’t share who I am without fearing I share too much.

Trust me, I know how crazy I will sound if I keep babbling on like this.

But how can I not?

This I talk about is a mess that’s taken me years to accept, even if I held it inside and pretended there was nothing tugging at my chest. Raul’s death by suicide was a big old mess left behind for his family, his friends, and me to clean up. Sure I’d love to let you in, but it’s at your own risk. In big, bold letters: “AT YOUR OWN RISK!”

Why did he do this, and what did I have to do with it? His family? Was he in some kind of trouble? These must be questions you are asking yourself, trying to find a reason for what happened. If I knew, I would have told you by now.

People are naturally curious, and the intuition of knowing this urged me to keep everything so secretive. I had no explanation, just guilt. Why hadn’t I seen the signs? There must’ve been signs, but why didn’t I notice them? I remember so many things that could’ve maybe-possibly-somehow-just-maybe been signs, but how was I supposed to know?

I can feel a tingle on my skin as I think about our last dance together. It was more of twisting and shouting than dancing, but it was our last dance. I can hear him singing in the silliest tone that always made me laugh, more of embarrassment than amusement. I think about how I could have changed his life, my life as well, if I’d seen signs. I sit here trying to be a strong person, trying not to ask myself the same redundant question, “Could I have saved him?”

I clearly remember the phone call I received to tell me of his death, but I can’t remember who told me it was wrong to cry. Nor who told me it was wrong to speak out about how I felt over his death. I think it was the stereotype society has put on the victims of suicide. I don’t know what to tell you about the blame that comes with losing a loved one like this. Who wants to deal with that?

For me, there was so much hate at first. I remember often feeling so many wanting to blame his death on me. Then, after the hate and blaming, came the denial. Then came the forgiveness: him, his family, those who snicker behind my back about his suicide, myself. The denial part took me longer than I’ve been told it should have. But this is my process, and this is my healing. I go at my own pace. Healing involves time and patience, and everyone heals at a different rate. Speaking out about it, they say, is a key ingredient to breaking out from the grasp of guilt.

I’m not an idiot to think I can guide you through the healing process when I am halfway there, but I can tell you that you are not alone. You are not alone.

I sit here in a bar full of living and cheerful people, remembering Raul and bearing the look from my friends asking me, “Why don’t you just move on?”

Why should I move on?

Why should I forget?

Forgetting would be pretending nothing ever happened. And I’ve been there, done that.

Forgetting would be not having grown from my experience.

Forgetting would mean turning my back on Raul.

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