Brandon and my Great, Gaping Heart

Some poems have disappeared over time. Every writer has at least one: a half-memory of some pivotal moment that no longer has any physical proof.

I can clearly picture one day after school in the 7th grade while I watched a boy I didn’t know I loved read a poem I wrote for him. I had no choice; he had to know. The fact that he had moved on to other friends and didn’t talk to me much anymore made little difference.

My memory of the poem itself is pretty fuzzy. It was probably cloaked in friendship and other platonic ideals since at that point in my life, I had no concept of casual dating or harmless crushes. All I knew was that when my great, gaping heart felt love, I had to send it into the world.

I don’t remember how Brandon reacted; I only remember that one of his cool friends read it over his shoulder and looked at me like I was an alien. The next year, we sat next to each other in science class during suburban Oklahoma’s version of sex education. We had to do some kind of activity together that simulated the virtues of abstinence. I don’t think he ever looked me in the eye.

But maybe the only reason I don’t remember much else about him or those moments anymore is that they were all overshadowed by the day he shot himself in the head. Although he died a week later, months before starting high school, there were a few days of naive hopefulness where our classmates gathered in the hospital waiting room. It was someone’s idea to buy him a journal in the gift shop so that we could all write him messages to read after he regained consciousness. During those days, I remember feeling that I had loved him—that we had talked to each other once with our most honest voices before we knew about poetry, that he had touched something inside me that wanted to love the whole world.

I’ve never known or pretended to understand what happened to him, but after he died, I didn’t stop writing for other people. Instead, I spent the next few years writing even longer, more overwrought pieces dedicated to other people who stopped talking to me. I wrote the longest messages in my friends’ yearbooks and cranked out Xanga (then Facebook) posts week after week. At some point in high school, the only thing that changed about my need to express the holes ripping my heart open was that the writing became more encoded for its intended recipients. It didn’t make me any less exposed.

The past ten years have been riddled with crumbs of typewriter paper to get my way back to the person who wanted everyone to feel what I felt—who didn’t care whether it was embarrassing or gathered an audience. In the best moments, a glimmer of that person comes back to say, “I knew you still heard me. Try to remember how it felt to love without fear.”

God help me.

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