Last year, for vacation, Kevin decided to mail himself to Hawaii. The postage would be more expensive than usual, the space cramped for longer than his usual jaunts to the Wisconsin Dells, Atlantic City—even California seemed like a short trip in comparison. Still, he folded himself down into the 8.5”X11” envelope, spending extra for the bubble wrap padding, pulling knees and elbows in and having thetired woman working the counter at the post office lick the tab to seal him inside. This was the last any of us ever saw of Kevin. He sent Matt a postcard once, when he had only been gone a month. It read:
Hawaii is awesome!! So warm! You all would love it. I miss everyone like crazy. See you when I see you.
We’re still waiting to see him.
When Matt found out that he had leukemia, we all met up at his house bringing bottles of wine and cases of beer and the special whiskey we kept above the refrigerator for special moments. Matt wanted to throw a party, bought a few pizzas with the works, sat on a stool wearing a bed sheet around his neck and had us take turns preemptively shaving parts of his head. His apartment was small, a one bedroom, but we all were comfortable enough being close to one another. Especially now, though Matt didn’t want anyone to be sad.
“They caught it early,” he said. “I’ve got good insurance. This is a party to tell leukemia that it can go fuck itself.”
When the evening started winding down, when most of us were too drunk to do anything other than collapse in a cuddle puddle on the couch, legs and arms intertwining, Matt and I propped ourselves up against the kitchen walls, slurring memories about college and that time and what’s her name.
“Kevin would have loved this,” Matt said, running his hand over his smooth skull.
“Kevin loved everything,” I responded.
“I fuckin’ miss him, you know?”
When Matt’s leukemia turned into Leukemia and then Leukemia, when he didn’t respond the way that the doctors wanted him to, we tried writing to Kevin. He should know. We sent a letter to every island. We addressed them:
Wherever he’s staying
Kauai, Hawaii 96701
But we never got a response. At some point, Charlotte said she was going to go after him. To head to the islands herself and find him and bring him back and force him to be with Matt because maybe just being by him would make Matt better. But we didn’t have the money for a flight, and Charlotte, the smallest of all of us, couldn’t fit inside the envelope no matter how hard she tried. Matt tried staying in good spirits, eyes a little sunken, skin a little loose.
“He’ll show up when it’s his time. You know that’s how he works.”
And we’d pretend to laugh and Matt would close his eyes and take a rest.
Other times, the days that I’d swing by to help Matt out with chores around the house, where we’d send letters to his family telling them not to worry, he’d tell me things. Things like:
“I don’t feel well.”
“I don’t know how long I can do this.”
“I can’t feel myself.”
That last one always confused me. And I’d ask if his legs went numb like they sometimes did, where we’d prop his legs up and I’d massage the blood around, but he’d say “No. I can’t feel myself. Like, I’m not sure I’m here anymore. I feel like I’m somewhere else. I feel like I’m dying.”
I wish that this is where Kevin comes through the door unannounced or shows up with the junk mail and hospital bills, but it doesn’t work like that. He sent Matt a postcard, though. He didn’t mention our letters, but it’s like he knew. He said he was planning on coming home soon, and that he and Matt had a bunch of awesome stuff to talk about, so Matt better be ready. He wrote it in that Kevin voice of his, where you can basically hear him reading the words off the paper like he’s next to you. And Matt got stronger, and went into remission and we waited two years and the doctors said they didn’t like to throw around the word “cured” but they were pretty confident.
Charlotte wasn’t content to not fit in the envelope, so she worked on it, going to yoga and stretching every day and eventually was able to mail herself off to Bali. And more time went by and a couple others moved for work or family or to go back to school for art like they wanted to in the first place. And last week, it was just Matt and I hanging out in his kitchen, drunk on cheap red wine and talking about college and that time and what’s her name, and we were propped up against the walls and smiling. And it was ok that our friends were probably never coming back. Because we didn’t need them to be here to know that they meant something. We knew they were there because we could still feel them. We knew we were still here because we could still feel ourselves.