I’m in love with this guy.
The only problem is, I think I’m imagining him.
The only problem is, I think I’m imagining him.
Content Warning: Suicide, death, ghosts
You probably clicked on this because you thought it sounded ridiculous. So let me begin by saying that I DO have reason to be crazy. Probably.
I moved into my freshman college dorm this August. The first night, our whole floor had a meeting where the RA told us that we were living in the same building as this boy who had comitted suicide last spring. For our mental health, the RA didn’t want to tell us which room he’d lived in. She was only telling us because the upperclassmen already knew, so she didn’t want us to be alarmed. “If anyone wants to talk to me about this, my door is always open. And the administration knows the situation might be frightening, so if you feel uncomfortable at all, you can request to switch dorms.”
I wasn’t too uncomfortable, so I asked my roommate Elyssa how she felt. It was day one and I didn’t know this girl at all—turns out, she was fascinated with the RA’s announcement. We ended up spending our first night of college stalking the internet for more information. It was morbid, in my opinion, but I didn’t know anyone at school and I wanted Elyssa to like me. So I sat next to her on the twin bed, scrolling through articles. We learned that the boy’s name was Peter Spylaski. He’d hung himself last spring after battling depression all year. He’d been a freshman, just like us.
“Does he have an Instagram?” Elyssa asked me. “You should check.”
I didn’t want to, but I didn’t want her to think I was scared. I typed his name into the search bar and an account appeared right away. @peter.spy was set to private, but the account wasn’t disabled. Before I could stop her, Elyssa clicked “request to follow.”
“Why’d you do that?” I asked.
“Chill,” She said. “It’s not like he’s going to accept the request.”
I stayed up late that night, looking at the tiny little circle of his profile picture. I would never admit it to anyone, but he was kind of cute. He was laughing in the picture, wearing a plaid shirt with dark brown hair and wire-frame glasses like those boys who read John Green books, but wouldn't admit it. Seeing his candid smile made my stomach hurt, so I pushed it out of my mind and tried to sleep.
I quickly forgot about Peter. Soon enough, I had my own drama. Starting college was hard, especially because Elyssa ended up being really weird. I didn’t love hanging out with her or her friends, so I did most things on my own. I wasn’t depressed, per say, but I was definitely counting down the days to go home for Thanksgiving, meet up with my high school friends, and see my dog.
That was until September 12th. It was a Thursday, so I had class at 9 am. I woke up to see a weird alert that @peter.spy had accepted my follow request. I didn’t show Elyssa. I knew she’d obsessively comb through his pictures. Instead, I kept the account to myself. I admit, I scrolled to the end of his posts. He had a fairly common boy instagram: all pictures of basketball games, some shots of nature from camping trips, the occasional posed family picture. The most recent image was the full version of the profile pic: laughing in the plaid shirt, standing in the doorway of a dorm room. I recognized the doors right away. The caption had been deleted, but there was no mistaking the room number on the door. 410. My room.
I tried not to let it get to me, but I ended up calling my mom. I told her that my room was cursed. She was sympathetic, of course—how could she not be?—but I could tell that she thought I was overreacting. “Luce, honey, you should try journaling. You’ve got to put all these thoughts somewhere, if you’re not talking to any friends.”
I’m not a writer, but I’d run out of options. That night, I gave it a shot. I didn’t know how to start, so I started by addressing a letter. Dear Peter, I wrote. I’m so sorry that you felt so alone here. If I’m being honest, I sort of I know how you feel.
The rest of the entry continued on the same thread, saying that maybe if we had both been living in the dorm at the same time, we could have been friends. I talked about how I hated eating alone in the dining hall, mentioning that I wish I had oatmeal packets so that I could just make breakfast in the dorm microwave. Embarrassed and a little creeped out by what I’d written, I hid the journal in my sock drawer and went to bed. This is why you don’t have any friends, I told myself. You write letters to dead people you CREEP!
By midway through the next day, I was so disgusted with the letter I’d written that I decided I was going to throw it away. When I got back from class, though, I completely forgot my initial motivation. There was a box of Quaker oatmeal packets on my bed.
“Elyssa, where did those come from?” I asked, frozen in the doorway.
“They’ve been there since I got back from class,” she shrugged. “Thought you went shopping.”
Elyssa was weird, yes, but I didn’t want her to think I was crazy. I put the box in the drawer with the journal, slammed it shut, grabbed my laptop, and went to the library. I needed to distract myself with some work, so I figured I’d start on a paper that was due the next week. When I opened my computer, though, there was already a Microsoft Word document open. A single line of text, size 12 calibri, everything default, in an untitled document.
Sorry if I scared you. I didn’t mean to freak you out -- just the opposite, in fact. Felt like you needed something familiar. Hope you like Maple & Brown Sugar… that was always my favorite. -- P
It was all I could do to stop myself from screaming. Everything in my mind told me to delete the document, but instead, I saved it as haunted_oatmeal.docx. Maybe, if I treated this as if it wasn’t a huge deal, it would be less frightening. Right?
I couldn’t get the note out of my mind, though. For the next week, I barely did anything besides add to a running list of people I knew that could be tricking me. I didn’t think Elyssa had a reason to be messing with me, strange as she was. I didn’t have any other friends who’d care enough to prank me. And my family was too far away. The only possible suspect in my mind was Peter. Or, more realistically, his ghost.
I needed to find out for certain, though. A week after the initial letter, I wrote to Peter again. This time, I asked him if he’d given me the oatmeal. Before I could stop myself, I scribbled that Maple & Brown Sugar was my favorite flavor, too. I imagined his invisible body reading the entries over my shoulder. It should have freaked me out, but if I’m being honest, it felt sort of nice to have someone care about me. Part of me was terrified that I was conducting a séance through college-ruled loose leaf. But another part of me was thrilled by the mystery.
The answer came the next day. I was studying, alone in my room, and my computer started playing Mirror Master by Young the Giant. My favorite album. I jumped off the bed and ran to my computer, where Spotify was pulled up to a new playlist called “L + P.” The description: Guess we have more in common than I thought.
I did something stupid, then. I added songs to the playlist. I went back to Peter’s instagram, found pictures of him at concerts in high school, and figured he liked indie rock. I wondered if he had been able to listen to new music since he’d died. He was missing out on new Rex Orange County, new Tame Impala. I added it all.
Ever since that moment, there have been more strange occurrences. I’ll leave for class with my clothes fresh out of the dryer; I’ll come back and they’ll be in my drawers, tucked into my drawers in that pathetic way that college boys fold clothes. I’ll leave a problem set open on my desk and come back to see incorrect answers circled lightly in pencil. Two days ago I found a slip of paper in the front pocket of my jeans with a little note: “Have a good day today --P” adorned with the awkward, angular smiley faces that boys draw. I know I should be scared, but something about seeing his handwriting was endearing.
Last night scared me, though. Enough to put all of this into words, enough to finally post this. Elyssa was out at some frat party, so I was doing some homework when I got the text from my mom. My dog, Rudy, had died. She didn’t want me to worry. He’d been sick for weeks. And when I came home for Thanksgiving, he wouldn't be there. I’d never get to see him again.
After the isolation and homesickness of this year, I broke down. It was too much. I mean, God, the only thing getting me through each day was thinking about visiting home—and now I didn’t even want to go back. For a long time, I just sobbed into my hands, knees tucked into my chest.
I was so unbelievably upset. I didn’t know how to process it. I just kept wishing that someone was there to comfort me. I closed my eyes and imagined that someone was holding me. I thought about the warmth of their arms over mine… the tightness of my body closed within someone else’s.... the gentle blow of their breath in my hair… and I think I wanted it so badly that it started to feel real. When I allowed myself to confront my imagination, I realized that I was imaging Peter. His plaid sleeves. His soft hair.
Eyes still closed, I stopped crying for a moment. It was so quiet in the room, everyone in the dorm having gone out on Friday night. That was when I heard the voice, so soft that I could have imagined it.
“Lucy,” It said. “What would you do if you knew I was right here?”
“I don’t know,” I answered into the empty room. “I’d have to think about it.
It’s been a couple months since my last post. Originally, I wasn’t going to give an update—the first post got a lot more attention than I expected—but I’ve had a lot of time in quarantine to think about everything that happened and I guess it would make me feel better to see some feedback. At the very least, it might help me feel less alone. I know it’s weird to confide in the entire internet, but I don’t really know who else to tell.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, you can see my first post here. Basically, as I got ready for Thanksgiving break of my freshman year in college, I was in a rough place. I didn’t have any friends and I wasn’t getting along with my roommate. The only thing I really looked forward to was receiving mysterious gifts from a boy who went by the name of Peter, which is the same name as a guy who died in my dorm room a year earlier. My last post ended the first time he spoke to me:
“What would you do if you knew I was here?”
“I don’t know.” I said, “I’d have to think about it.”
There was a silence after that, and I felt a pressure squeeze my arms, only confirming that there was really someone holding me.
“Well,” he said. “Think about it.”
My eyes were shut. I didn’t want to open them. Hearing a voice is one thing, but opening your eyes and realizing you’re alone? Hearing things? I didn’t know what was scarier. Seeing him… or seeing empty air...
“I’d probably just go with it,” I said into the dark, though I was focusing so hard on calming myself that I didn’t know where the words were coming from. Perhaps it was easy to be so flippant when I was half-convinced this was all a hallucination. “And wait to ask all the logistical questions for some other time.”
I heard a chuckle, a soft breath tickling the back of my neck. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know. ‘Why can I hear you? Can everybody hear you? Does this make me any more crazy, or you any less dead?’ The usual questions when the non-threatening paranormal activity starts.”
“Who said anything about non-threatening?”
I had to smile, raising my head from my knees. “If I open my eyes right now, will I see you?”
“Dead boys can’t bother you if you don’t want them to, Lucy. This is all on your terms. If you want to see me, you’ll see me.”
“See, that’s the thing I don’t know.”
“Well, then open your eyes and find out.”
I did. I saw the blank arc of drywall on either side of the door to room 410. Slowly, I let my gaze drift downward. Linked around me, two arms flecked with brown hair, punctuated by the occasional freckle, fringed by the soft cuff of a flannel shirt. Beneath the light skin, blue veins lightly pushed at the surface. I wondered if blood still ran through them. I didn’t know how to check.
“I can see you,” I said quietly. I pulled one of my arms from underneath the hook of his grasp and stroked his forearm with one index finger. I pushed inward, feeling the skin relent, hinting at a deeper level of muscle and bone.
“I guess that means I wanted to,” I said, tracing one vein to his wrist. When I got there, he twisted his grip, taking mine, and I felt the very human composition of a hand: rigid fingers, soft skin, loose and tight at the same time. The firmness of it all felt very alive.
I don’t know how long we stayed like that. I let him run his ghost hands through my hair for a long time, watching in my peripheral vision as pieces fell forward, proof that some force moved them, letting him hold me while I gathered the courage to look at his face: this odd limbo of time before I figured out whether or not I was delusional. And then, I turned. It was odd how familiar he looked. I hadn’t realized until that moment how many times I’d imagined his face. How many times I’d seen it on his Instagram account, on memorial Facebook posts from students who had known him before I even came to college. He’d been in my mind every time he left me a contact-free note, my fascination equal parts guilt-inducing and morbid and longing.
“It’s really you,” I said, touching the dented part of his chin. The rough plain of his cheek. The flat area beside his eye.
I was fascinated with his smile, with the animation of a mouth I’d only ever seen before in pictures: the way lines appeared on either side of his lips, the way his eyes lifted. “I’m kind of feeling the same way right now.”
I didn’t know what to say, but my breath was shaky in my chest.
“I didn’t think you’d be able to see me,” The smile cracked open, filling even more of his face. “Damn. Lucy. Damn.”
“You can feel this, right? When I…”
I moved my finger to his lip, tracing the curved edge. He opened his mouth, tilting to clamp my fingers inside, and dragged slowly outward.
From there, there was no stopping—don’t forget that we’re college students alone in a dorm room, albeit college students with varying levels of vitality—and I cupped his face in my hand with my wet finger on his jaw and pulled him toward me. My other hand fumbled for the back of his neck, finding a notch in the curve of it, warmer underneath his fringe of hair, so vivid and corporeal that I knew I couldn’t be hallucinating any of it.
At that exact moment, I heard the familiar click of the door being unlocked. I whipped my head around to see Elyssa ducking into the room. The feeling of hands on my body evaporated with impossible velocity. When I looked back at Peter, he was gone. It was just me, kneeling on the bed, hands hovering in midair.
It was just like he said: when I didn’t want him there, he was gone.
“Lucy, is everything okay?”
I told her that my dog died. It was the truth, and her sympathetic reaction overwhelmed any awkwardness that might have otherwise punctuated the conversation. But when she ducked behind the closet door to put her coat away, I felt a pressure around my hand like someone was squeezing it—proof that he was still there—before he slipped away for good.
Of course, that was our first interaction. I soon realized that summoning Peter was easy; whenever I was alone in my room and wanted company, he would materialize. It was seamless every time, without me ever seeing him fade in or out like the ghosts of literature and film: I’d glance at the floor or out the window, and when I looked back up, he’d be there. Firm and whole and real. Wearing the same flannel, smelling of clover.
When Elyssa was out of the room, we talked for hours. I wanted to know everything about him. I asked about his childhood, his family. He told me about the time he went cliff jumping and shattered his heel, the time his father dropped the clay vase he made in elementary school art class, the time his aunt drove across three states to see him speak at a debate championship. He told me that the first thing he loved about me was my handwriting, that he saw the color blue when he kissed me, and that he’d give me his flannel, except that it would be invisible on me. We always joked about his condition like that, making remarks about how he didn’t have to eat or sleep and couldn’t leave the room as if they were minor inconveniences. I jokingly called him “my boo.”
We pretended, most of the time, as if he hadn’t killed himself in that very room. We had picnics on the bed where I ate and he spent minutes basking in the smell of food; we skipped class to watch movies until I’d seen all of his favorites; I took sips straight from the handle and he got drunk from kissing vodka off my lips. We stayed in every weekend. We blocked the rest of the world out.
I learned that Peter was always there, invisible and untouchable until I pulled him into visibility. He said that he got bored and read the screen from over my shoulder whenever I was on the computer. (I was scrolling through Twitter once and came across a viral tweet: Every time you yawn in October, a ghost puts his dick in your mouth. Suddenly, I heard his voice behind me. “If that’s a hint, girl, I would be more than happy to.” I almost choked laughing.) At one point, he even mentioned he’d read my initial Reddit post. (He said it was ‘cute,’ for the record, but I think he was more flattered by your comments.)
At first, I never saw him when Elyssa was in the room. Eventually, though, I started wanting him to be there even when I wasn’t alone. I started doing homework on my bed so that he could sit next to me. I put enough pillows in my bed that Elyssa wouldn’t raise an eyebrow at the noticeable lump under the sheets. And at night, when she was sleeping, I’d pull up the Notes app on my phone and type out messages, knowing that Peter could see them, and he would speak back in a voice only I could hear.
Elyssa, of course, thought I was the lamest person on Earth—which I guess is fair, since it did sort of look like I didn’t have a social life. For Halloween, she begged me to go out. “Please, please, please,” She said, coming at me with black eyeliner. “You never do anything fun! I’ll do your makeup! You don’t even need a costume! You can just be a cat! I have ears you could borrow. Let’s go out!”
“No, don’t go Luce,” Peter groaned. “Why would you go if you know you’re not going to have a good time?”
She had a point, though. I never went out. It was Halloween! And I’d be back to see Peter again when the parties ended—he knew that. So I let her draw whiskers on my face and we made our way to the Fraternity Quad, where dozens of girls wearing the same thing funneled through various doorways. Elyssa led the way, apparently having decided some private mental hierarchy of frat favoritism in the past couple months. We wove our way through sweaty, clustered hallways until we reached what must have been the bar, but bore more resemblance to a lemonade stand after dark. A frat guy dressed as a guy from a different frat—a poor costume I didn’t care enough to remark on—handed us red solo cups. Orange juice with only a minor overtone of nail polish smell. And then, we joined the masses.
For an unknown period of time, I just sipped on my drink and wove through the crowd, introducing myself to everyone who seemed to know Elyssa. I smiled at people I recognized from class, but I regretted the decision just like Peter said I would. After only a few minutes, my mouth ached from the fake smile I was doing. The drunk people seemed lifeless when they met my eyes, more ghostlike than Peter, and it scared me. I wondered how long I had to be there before it was no longer rude to leave.
I tapped Elyssa on the shoulder. “Hey, I don’t feel great. I’m going to head back.”
“Lucy, we just got here!”
“I know, I know…” Before I could finish my excuse, though, I froze. Through the crowd, I could see a dark man in a flannel shirt, face painted with stage makeup to give him hollowed eyes. Around his neck, a jagged red ribbon of paint, dripping with fake droplets of blood. His shirt read Peter.
I don’t remember running. I just remember smacking into a tall body on my way out the door, falling onto the hardwood floor in the frat house living room.
“Whoa, there. You okay?”
“She’s not okay!” Elyssa called out behind me, scrambling to catch up. “Somebody came to the party dressed as the kid who died last year. God, that’s awful. What fucking idiot...”
“Holy shit,” The guy bent down and touched my shoulder. “Hey, hey. Look at me.”
“Don’t touch me.” I swung away from his grip.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to touch you. Just, please listen. I’m going to go kick that kid out of here. That’s such an inappropriate costume. Peter was my friend last year. Really cool kid. I miss him a lot. This really fucking hurts.”
He started walking away, but as I watched him start walking, I called back. “Hey!”
“Don’t pretend you knew him,” I said. “It’s one thing to be shitty enough to dress up like him on Halloween. It’s another thing entirely to be shitty enough to dress up like his friend every other day.”
Before Elyssa could stop me, I left the frat house. In seven minutes, I was back in the dorm, borrowed cat slippers clapping up the stairs. I ran all the way down the hall and back through the doorway to the room that Peter had died in, where he was waiting for me on the bed.
“You were right,” I said. “I shouldn’t have gone.”
He didn’t ask what happened, but pulled me into his arms. “Don’t leave me again,” He said, squeezing, and in that moment, it didn’t seem like a crazy request. I felt like we could never be close enough, that even when he was holding me tight, there was still this unexplainable distance between us, a layer of clothing we couldn’t remove, some dimension of reality between us.
“I’m joking, of course,” he said, tone lighter. “But also. Not joking.”
I took a deep breath, but I couldn’t erase the image of the bleeding neck from my mind. Was that supposed to mean Peter had hung himself? Come to think of it, I didn’t even know how Peter died. After all of our conversations, that was one thing we’d never talked about. I wanted to ask. I was going to. But for some reason, when I opened my mouth, different words came out.
“Peter,” I asked. “How come only I can see you?”
“Because,” He said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “I came back for you.”
“What does that mean?”
And that exact moment, the door swung open. Elyssa’s silhouette appeared in the light of the hallway, and when her voice arrived, it was furious.
“Don’t say anything,” She shouted. “I went out of my way to invite you to come out with me and meet my friends and have fun because I felt bad for you. How do you think I feel, having to babysit you all night and worry about whether or not you’re having a good time? How do you think I feel, pitying you for being so sensitive, only to realize that you just want to fight with people? How am I supposed to go back to that frat now? Of course you don’t care. Because you don’t think about anyone but yourself.”
I was so stunned and upset that, subconsciously, I didn’t even want Peter to be there. On October 31st, for the first night in months, I laid in bed alone, thinking of Elyssa’s kinetic anger on the other side of the room. I hated her and myself equally.
As a result of the traumatic Halloween experience and newfound identity as a killjoy, I gave up on going out much in public. I still went to class, occasionally, but I was skipping most of the time. It was easy enough to do most of the work from my room. Elyssa used to make pointed remarks about how often I was missing, but by that point she had stopped caring about me completely. And before I knew it, it was time for Thanksgiving break: the longest time I’d gone without Peter since we met.
Can you be addicted to a person? Can you go through withdrawals for something even though you know you’ll get it back? It wasn’t even a full week—just Wednesday through Sunday—but I was barely able to enjoy the time. Without my dog, doing even the most mundane activities at home felt incomplete, like listening to music through one earbud. My sister’s enthusiasm seemed more annoying than endearing, the realization of which caused waves of guilt to ripple in my stomach. And of course, I hated sleeping in a cold bed without Peter’s touch. Going on my phone seemed pointless without someone reading over my shoulder to laugh at Tweets or remark on posts with me. I didn’t realize how obvious I’d been acting about my newfound hometown misery until my mother was pulling the car outside of the dorm on Sunday night.
“Luce, are you happy here?” She said, shifting into park in front of the dorm.
“You seem different since you went to school. You were so quiet this whole weekend. I just… I worry about you. That’s all.”
“I am happy here,” I sighed. “I’m excited to go back.”
“Well, I won’t keep you.” She kissed me on the cheek, her lips so dry and soft that it was like touching an orchid—so unlike the passionate way I ended up kissing Peter five minutes later.
“Fuck,” He breathed in the moments when his mouth left my skin. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too.”
When Elyssa arrived later, she had a gift for me: a special Thanksgiving-edition box of pumpkin spice oatmeal. “I’m sorry I was mean to you on Halloween,” She blurted.
It meant a lot that she remembered I liked oatmeal, but for some reason, it was difficult to conjure a smile on my face. I forced myself to hug her, enjoying the brief moment when her head was over my shoulder and I didn’t have to look her in the eyes. To feign my enthusiasm, I texted my mom a picture of Elyssa holding the gift to convince both of them that I was happy. All of my human relationships were starting to feel like one prolonged act.
I wanted to bring this up with Peter, but by the time we crawled into bed together, I had forgotten my earlier numbness. I felt his familiar warmth wrap itself around me and felt as if I was slipping back into the life I’d missed. His fingers drew on my back: I love you. That same jagged handwriting he’d once used to leave notes in my clothes. It seemed like ages ago.
I pulled my phone out, not wanting to wake Elyssa. I typed: I love you too.
“I wish it could be like this forever,” he said.
I try not to think about winter break. Or spring break. Or having to move out for the summer.
“What if they give this room to someone else next year?”
Then I’ll become friends with them. And come in here all the time to see you. :]
Does it have to be that way? I want to be with you.
“You are with me.”
You know what I mean. I want to stay with you, here. In this room. Forever.
“Well, I try not to think about that, because it’s impossible…”
“I should kill myself,” I whispered, the realization dawning so quickly that I didn’t want to type it out in fear of seeing it in words. I shifted in bed, making eye contact with Peter, waiting for him to soften under the realization that I was serious—but instead, his face tightened.
“Lucy. No. God, no. That is not at all the point of… this. Of me. Of us.”
I reached for the phone, but he swatted my hand back down.
“No, don’t type, just listen. I’ll tell you everything. Okay? I should have said this sooner. But you’ll understand why I didn’t in a second.”
I swallowed, realizing on some deep level that this was going to be important.
“I decided I wanted to kill myself last spring a couple weeks before school was about to end. I had pills leftover from getting my wisdom teeth out. I had dry sockets, then never took them, so I had a lot. Way too many, enough that the dentist joked that they’d be lethal. So I swallowed the whole bottle—fifty doses—laid in bed like I was sleeping, and just waited. And as the drugs were kicking in, I thought about college. Everything I thought it would be, everything it wasn’t. I don’t know why I thought of it, but I realized I was dying before I got the chance to fall in love. And in that moment, everything was getting hazy and melty, but I wanted to love somebody so badly that I couldn’t think of anything else. Which is how I ended up here. It was the weirdest thing. I got up and tried to throw away the pill bottles, but I couldn’t pick them up. My hands went right through them. And there was this body in my bed that looked like me, but I couldn’t move him. And then I had to watch my roommate come home, and he was drunk, and he just got in bed and passed out. And I had to watch him wake up the next day, find my dead body, and realize that he’d been sleeping next to a corpse all night. I had to watch the panic in his eyes when he realized it was too late. I had to watch the RA walk in and scream. I had to watch the paramedics take my body away, my parents come remove my belongings, the school disinfect the room. It was empty, then, for a whole summer, and then you moved in.
“I didn’t know I was going to fall in love with you. I was just excited to have something to watch, for a moment, that didn’t remind me of myself. But then one day I saw what you were writing in your journal and it was addressed to me so I couldn’t help but read it. And I realized how much we had in common. I saw a lot of myself in you.
“But here’s the crazy thing, Lucy. I was going to apply to be an RA. Most likely, I would have lived in this dorm, if I wouldn’t have died. I might not have fallen in love with you. But I would have met you. And in another universe, I like to think that we’d hit it off.”
“But we don’t live in that universe. You live in this one, where I’m not around at all. I missed out on the best relationship of my life… because I didn’t know things were going to get better.”
I just sat there, breathing. I felt the breath leave my mouth, noticing the way I pulled it back in, focusing, for a moment, on the way it seemed to seep through my body, expanding my lungs, flooding my chest.
“This is why I didn’t want to tell you,” He said. “Because now you know everything, including the fact that I love you, Lucy. I love you so much that I want you to stay here, stay alive, so that you can find somebody who can leave this damn room with you.”
I opened my mouth, ready to protest, but before I could speak, he shoved his face against mine and kissed me with the ardency of someone dying, sucking my lips like it was the only thing keeping him in this world. And then he leaned back, no parts of us touching. Only inches from my body, but when he spoke, his voice suddenly sounded far away.
“Thank you for helping me feel alive, if only for a little while.”
He laced one hand into my hair, weaving the strands between his fingers, but I didn’t feel it. Looking over, I saw that his hand had gone through my hair, like a hologram. When I reached out to touch his face, I felt nothing, my hand trembling in the open air.
“I wish I wouldn’t have done it, Luce. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
DONE WHAT? I wanted to ask. FALL IN LOVE WITH ME? TELL ME THE TRUTH? KILL YOURSELF? DIE? COME BACK! I LOVE YOU PETER. DON’T LEAVE ME! YOU’RE ALL I HAVE...
When he disappeared, I rubbed my eyes. In the dark room, there was suddenly only empty air where he had been, face so close to mine, so real. And now, nothing. I rubbed my eyes again and again, hard, until I saw the universe on the back of both eyelids, and when he wasn’t there when they opened, I started to cry.
I hadn’t left the room in days, but that night, I ran out of 408. Down the hallway, down the stairs, into the lobby where two kids sat with cans of Redbull, doing homework. I ran outside and collapsed into the cold grass, dewy like 4 a.m., and tore at the lawn with bare hands until a carpet of grass surrounded me. I hated every blade for being such a bright shade of green in the fluorescent light of the street. They were dead.
When I tried to go back inside, I realized I didn’t have my key card. I stood there, in the seemingly endless quiet, pounding against the door with my living fist, until one of the Redbull kids let me back in.
When I got back to the room, Peter was not there. He would not be there the next time I returned, or the next time, or the next time.
Or ever again.
When I woke up the next morning, it was around noon. I’d slept through my first class. I found patches of mud on the knees of my sweatpants from the previous night, so I threw them in the wash and jumped in the shower. When I got back to the room, Elyssa and two of her friends were sitting on her bed. Joanne and Virginia. They’d been waiting for me.
“Lucy, are you going anywhere right now?” Elyssa asked.
“Okay, good. We wanted to talk with you.”
“Is everything okay?”
“Actually, we’re worried about you. I’ve been noticing how little you leave the room, but it’s more than that. I hear you talking to yourself sometimes. I see you on your phone for hours at night, and sometimes you’re just writing yourself notes and staring at them. And the other night in the middle of the night, I heard you say that you were going to kill yourself. I have to take that seriously. I can’t just ignore that.”
“We think you’re depressed,” Joanne said. “We want you to know that we’re here to talk to. But we also want to point you toward getting help.”
My hands started shaking. “Oh…oh God, you guys are so sweet. I’m—shit, I’m so sorry freaked you out—I promise, it’s… not like that.”
I didn’t have an answer. My eyes started watering. My overwhelming feeling was guilt: these girls were worried about me and I had scared them and caused them anxiety, which was a horribly selfish and thoughtless thing for me to have done...
“It’s textbook signs,” Joanne continued while Elyssa just stared at me. “Staying in the room. Skipping class. Not going out…”
“But I’m not dep--”
“And the night of the Halloween party, you blew up at that guy. I didn’t know what to say. But I remember thinking that something had really been bothering you, for you to act like that. I wish I would have tried to talk to you instead of getting angry. I told you that you were only thinking of yourself. But I was, too.”
I paused, unsure how to ensure them that everything was okay. They were right about the signs. I hadn’t left the room in days, had missed most of my classes in November, and hadn’t gone out in months. Looking down at my hands, I wanted, more than anything, for Peter to materialize. Put his hands on my shoulders, tell me that everything was going to be alright. Brush my hair with his gentle hand, kiss the corner of my mouth.
He won’t come back, I told myself. It had only been eight hours since I’d seen him. Less than a day, yet he felt less real than ever before. Was it possible that he never existed at all? Was it possible that I’d hallucinated our entire relationship?
“It’s okay, Lucy. You’re not alone,” Elyssa was saying. “We can help you. We can… find you someone to talk to. We can help you talk to your parents.”
I wasn’t listening. I was searching my brain for any artefact that proved Peter was real. All those nights we lay in bed talking, the notes on my phone only included my half of the conversation. I had documents on my computer with his messages to me, but there was no way of proving he’d left them. I had Spotify playlists, but he’d made those on my account. There was the oatmeal, but I’d finished eating that weeks ago. But then I remembered: The notes.
I scrambled to the desk where I had saved them, ignoring the girls’ gaze as I yanked the drawer open. I pulled the knob, dread swelling in my chest as I wondered if maybe the items would be gone—figments of my imagination. But no—thank God—they were there. The same. With trembling hands, I cupped the notes in my open palms like water. I peered down at his crooked handwriting, boyish in its angles and pressure, and closed my eyes.
A week later, I knocked on the RA’s door. She opened immediately, hair in a messy ponytail. “What’s up?”
“Hi. Um, so this probably sounds really random,” I started. “But at the beginning of this semester you mentioned that if we felt uncomfortable being in the dorm where Peter died last year to come talk to you. And, well, I know it’s really late in the year, but I think I need to request to switch rooms.”
I finished my exams on a wintry day in December. As you can imagine, I didn’t do great. I hadn’t gone to that many classes and I hadn’t been putting in much effort. However, they were all intro-level classes. There was a chance I could pull through with respectable grades if I nailed my exams. Elyssa let me borrow her study guides for the classes we shared. She’d been overwhelmingly kind to me since the confrontation. At first, it had seemed annoying how helpful she’d seemed, but when I was able to briefly ignore the guilt and self-hatred her obvious concern inflicted, I was starting to warm up to her.
The RA responded only 48 hours after I’d knocked on her door, letting me know that the university had found an empty dorm room on the other side of campus. They were allowing us to move when the semester ended; my mom rented a truck so that Elyssa and I could do it all in one trip before we went home for the winter holidays. When I came back for Spring, I wouldn’t even pass by the dorm where Peter died, fell in love with me, and died again. I didn’t really know how to feel. On one hand, it seemed like the right thing to do. But on the other hand, I knew that leaving the room would be leaving Peter, irreversibly. And every day, a part of me still hoped that he would come back.
When my Mom texted to let me know she was close, I tumbled down the stairs and wandered onto the lawn. I was wearing one of those outfits you wear when you know you’re only going to be outside for a couple minutes: feet in slippers, hair in a bun, no coat in the December chill. The grass was wet against my bare heels, this time with frost instead of dew. I kicked it back and forth, creating swipes of darker green while I waited for her U-Haul, so that it never had the chance to freeze and become snow.
A blue car pulled up, window rolling down. “Lucy?”
It was too deep a voice to be my mother, too small a car to be her rental. Looking up, I recognized a boy I’d seen before. It took me a moment to place him: the frat guy from the Halloween party, the one from the living room, the one who’d claimed to know Peter.
“Hey,” I said back. I didn’t remember his name.
“Need a ride to the airport or anything? I’m headed that way.”
“Actually, can I talk to you for a sec?”
I stumbled across the lawn and opened the passenger door, sliding in. “Listen, I’m sorry for saying all that shit to you on Halloween.”
“Nah, it’s cool. I figured you were drunk.”
“Well, okay. But I wanted to apologize.”
“After what you went through, I’d be running out of there too.”
I sighed, pushing the image from my mind. “Well, thank you. I’m glad you’re not offended, even if you probably should be. I didn’t mean that thing I said about Peter. I… didn’t know him. I lived in his room, though. So sometimes, I feel like I do.”
He looked into my eyes. It was painful, like touching twin wounds we hadn’t given each other.
I took that as my cue to leave. “Anyway, enjoy winter break,” I said. I watched his car roll away.
Standing in the crisp air with my slippers soaked, I wondered how much I would tell my mother on the drive home. I wondered if maybe he had been genuine, back at the party. He said he’d been friends with Peter, and I dismissed that, remembering that Peter had been depressed and lonely. As if I knew him better—but maybe the Peter I knew never existed. He could have been a figment of my imagination, the manifestation of my own self-denial, brewed over weeks of isolation.
I chose not to believe that. First, because it was fucking creepy to believe I had that much brainpower. And second, because I so badly wanted to believe I had shown Peter what it was like to fall in love. He’d certainly shown me.
That’s really the end of this story, and I’m sorry for taking so long to update you all. I guess maybe I wanted a more dramatic ending—perhaps we all did. I still think about the boy in the blue car. Peter had said he was alone in the world; that boy had said they’d been friends. Maybe they were both right. Maybe it was possible to have friends and still be lonely. Maybe it was possible to be liked and still dislike yourself. Maybe it was possible to be loved and not feel like it.
Maybe, we live a decent chunk of our lives inside our heads.