The Day I Died

His grandmother’s voice echoes as pictures devastate a 20-year-old man.

I’m 20 years old when I see the pictures that end my life.

It’s 101 degrees outside—morbidly humid. I hear my grandmother’s voice warning me about the heat.

PICTURE Him. My him. With someone else. Another boy. A younger boy.

“Justin, you remember to put shoes on if you go outside, you hear?” my grandmother would say if she were here, it’s so hot.

PICTURE His boat. He has his arm around the boy. They’re smiling.

“I don’t want to hear you crying about scalding your feet if you go out there with no good sense to put on shoes, you hear?” my grandmother’s Southern twang echoes.

PICTURE His apartment. The boy is sitting on the couch where I lay with My Him, where we cuddle; where he tells me he loves me, and that I’m beautiful; where we make love; where I dream of being with him forever.

I’m 20 years old when life as I know it comes to an end.

PICTURE My first love, the man who promised never to break my heart, with another boy.

I’m on my bed, my laptop burning my thighs, Facebook burning my heart.

My vision blinds, and my ears sting. My whole body moves with the beating of my heart. My stomach knots with an anxiety I haven’t felt since Mom died.

Suddenly, I’m choking. My lungs can’t fill with enough oxygen. My room is shrinking. I have to leave my room, or I will die here.

I run out of my bedroom, out of my apartment, gasping for air. Snot runs down my face, and the tears explode.

My bare feet hit the searing hot sidewalk outside my apartment, sending blistering pain through my soles and up into my ankles, but I don’t care. I need to be outside. I have to be outside.

I run barefoot around my apartment complex once, twice, three times. I count the number of strides I take. I don’t know why. I just have to. Everything I’m doing is a must. I can’t stop. I have to run. I have to count. I have to breathe. I have to wonder if it’s all a dream.

No. No wondering. It must be a dream.

On lap 7 or 8, reality punches me in the stomach. Sudden, explosive nausea takes hold. I grab my abdomen, and fall to my knees. My knees scrape the cement.

I vomit in the middle of the sidewalk, because I can’t crawl to the grass in time.

I feel lightheaded. The heat is too much. The adrenaline is waning, and my body needs to cool, but I’d rather die than reenter my apartment.

I stumble into the grass and lie there. I stare directly into the sun, and beg it to kill me.

“Justin, now what did I tell you about putting your shoes on?” my grandmother yells at me as a child when I cry because my feet are burned. “Lord have mercy,” she says, as she gives me a cool bath to make it all better.

My life flashes in the blinding sun: I see him holding me after my grandmother dies. I see us traveling, at concerts, on the lake, and in his bed. I smell his cologne, and the sloppy joes I burned when I tried cooking for him. I feel his arms around me. I feel him kiss the back of my neck.

I feel…blades of grass cut into my skin like a thousand tiny razors.

I turn into a fetal position, and look at sideways apartment buildings. My heart isn’t beating as fast now. I just want to go to sleep. I never want to wake up.

I’m 20 years old when the world takes my breath away, scalds my heart, cuts into my soul. I die emotionally on this day, a 20-year-old who only just has felt what being in love is really all about.

That was four years ago.

It’s amazing how much you learn in so short a time—like when to put your shoes on, or when to stand up, brush yourself off, and make it home for a cool bath.

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