My old college roommate died last week and left all of her books to me.

Actually, to say "she died" would be far too passive a way to put it. She killed herself.

There, I said it.

Unlike a lot of people - her friends, her family, her co-workers - it didn't come as much of a shock to me. I know it sounds weird to say, but even though she had shown next to no signs of depression or angst or any sort of indication that something might be wrong to anybody who knew her, in some ways I knew it would happen, years and years before it finally did. But to leave all of her books to me, now that was a touch that even I couldn't have expected. To be honest, when I first got the news, both that she had died and that she had left anything for me at all, my immediate reaction was "why me?" And I wasn't the only one asking that question. The accusatory looks and cold shoulders I was met with at the funeral confirmed that much. After a couple of day’s thought, I think I figured it out.

----------------

Ten years ago, we met in one of the journalism classes we had together, the second semester of our freshman years. Truthfully, it wasn't even the first class we had together. For some reason or another, we hadn't even had the opportunity to speak with each other, much less study together, work on projects in a group, or any of the other events that eventually led us to becoming roommates. But that second semester, we bonded while reading an autobiography of Anderson Cooper, discussing how we felt about the man over lunch one day after class. Unsurprisingly, I found her to be stunningly attractive, the kind of person who, at first glance, you assumed was on track to specialize in television and broadcast journalism as a reporter or anchor. In reality, she was an aspiring magazine photographer, though to me it felt like a shame to hide such perfect eyes behind layers of glass and metal. She had the kind of looks that most women our age dreamed about. It was not necessarily in the way she dressed or did her makeup, but rather the overall effect of her mere presence was one of effortless elegance that few could pull off convincingly. Furthermore, she had been one of the most interesting and intelligent people in my class. Whenever a class discussion would take place, she was the one that always made the strongest points, real mic-drop kind of statements that would leave the room full of students nodding their heads, whether in agreement with her point or out of respect for being bested. She spoke with her hands as much as she did her words, gesturing and flourishing as she moved from point to point in a logical, easy-to-follow manner. It was mesmerizing. She was a natural speaker, the kind of person who exudes confidence every time she launched into an explanation or asked a question. So it was only natural when she approached me after class and asked me to join her for lunch, I was a little bit intimidated (and by "a little bit intimidated" I mean I somehow managed to mangle the word "sure" into something completely unintelligible). Luckily for me, she turned out to be far more down-to-earth and easy to be around than I had built her up to be in my head. In hindsight, I'm a little embarrassed to admit just how much of a powerful preconception I actually had formed in my mind before we had even had a chance to talk. Add to that the fact that it turned out she had a boyfriend, and suddenly much of the anxiety I had about spending any amount of time with her one-on-one vanished in an instant, allowing me to be as comfortable around her as she already seemed to be around me.

By the end of the year, she had broken up with said boyfriend (some political science major who I found to be extraordinarily pretentious at best and, paradoxically, obnoxiously childish at worst) and she was looking for a roommate for the summer and sophomore year. I was fed up with the dorms and had been saving up some money I was earning working at a bakery a couple miles off campus, so I told her "sure, why not?" (By now I could manage "sure" around her without sounding like I bit my tongue in the process). We moved into a little two bedroom apartment barely a half mile off campus after classes ended, when the dorms were emptied of their various inhabitants, their vile stenches scrubbed from the rooms. I had no interest in going home for the summer, and luckily the bakery didn't rely too heavily on student money so as to suddenly lose business once summer came, so moving in right away only made sense. For her, too, it made more sense to stay in town and try to earn some money herself, since the student newspaper she worked for didn't provide camera gear and she had to find ways to buy her own equipment as well.

It was during this summer that I became acquainted with an unusually peculiar habit of hers, one that I didn't actually notice at first but rather became more and more aware of throughout our first year living together. You see, whenever she would break up with whatever guy she happened to be seeing at the time, she would bury her nose into books and disappear from the living world for days on end. In fact, at a certain point, I was able to predict when one of her relationships was coming to an end when I would come home from work or class and see a new novel or hardcover on the table. Then another, and another, and by the time she had three or four books stocked up and ready to go, she would end her relationship (she was always the one ending things between her and the men she dated, never the other way around) and vanish behind her bedroom door for up to a week, sometimes even longer. Every so often, I'd catch a glimpse of her darting to the restroom or sneaking into the kitchen for a snack or meal, but every time her attention was completely engrossed in whatever she was reading, be it Cloud Atlas or something older, like Anna Karenina. Beyond those fleeting moments, it was as if she had completely and utterly vanished from this world. Whenever I'd run into her during those times, I would offer a "hi" or else ask her how she was doing, but so long as there was a book in her right hand it was as if the rest of the world didn't exist. She would simply go about whatever business had necessitated that she leave her room, and return to it just as quietly as she has left it. Even the door wouldn't make any audible click during those times.

Eventually, I gave up trying to talk to her until she was ready, instead occupying my free time with video games, listening to music, or whatever else I felt like doing. Strangely enough, I even became friends with a lot of her friends too, because they would try coming over to see her, only to find that she was in “one of those” moods again. While she had never appeared to be unpopular by any means, she had never given me the impression of being all that popular either before we moved in together. In fact, whenever we had hung out before the end of term, it had always been just the two of us, or else the two of us plus her boyfriend (the annoying poli-sci major). Yet whenever she would hole up in her bedroom reading after a breakup, I became acquainted with yet another one of her friends. Before too long I began to consider them my friends as well. I'd cook dinner while they sat around playing video games together or drinking whiskey and smoking. Or else they might occasionally show up with take-out in hand, and we would sit in a circle on the living room floor speculating what my roommate could possibly be doing in her room. We'd make up all sorts of outlandish scenarios, where secret visitors would sneak in through her window at night, tie her up to the bedposts and hold her hostage, or else maybe she had a magical closet, like Narnia, and she was off on crazy adventures without us. But alas, just like when it was just me around by myself, she would sneak out silently every so often, and when one of us caught sight of the "local ghost," she kept on going about her business as if nobody else were around. After anywhere from a few days to a whole week of going on like that, she would emerge from her bedroom, give a big, dramatic stretch as if she had just woken up from a long sleep, then smile at me and say "I'm starving, let's go get something to eat." And just like that, she was back. Every time.

After maybe the third or fourth time this occurred, I finally worked up the courage to ask her what the whole thing was all about.

"I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to ask me about it," she said, grinning as she struggled to fold a massive, greasy slice of New York-style pizza into something more manageable. "My previous roommate damn near called the police to come check on me the very first time she witnessed it."

"I'm not even sure how you managed to totally shut out the world like that in a dorm, that must not have been easy," I said, opting instead for a fork and knife.

"True, it ended up probably being more trouble than it was worth in the end... and it most definitely wasn't a pretty sight, I can guarantee you that much."

"So, what gives then?" I asked. "Not to be pushy or anything, but I think your friends might be beginning to suspect I'd murdered you or something."

She laughed, covering her face with the napkin she had been using to wipe sauce from her cheek. "I hardly even notice when they're over, to be completely honest. But I have seen them there, sitting with you and talking all conspiratorially. I always wondered what you guys talked about. Guess that clears that up."

"Oh ho ho, so you do notice us there, you just choose not to acknowledge us, is that it?" I said, waving my fork at her and matching her grin with one of my own.

"Of course I notice you, I'm not that oblivious," she said, batting my fork away with her free hand. "It's just that I know that if I acknowledge any of you, then I would be forced to lose my place. Not that any of you are a distraction or a burden of any kind, it's just that when I'm focused and in-the-zone like that, I don't like to break that concentration. I hope you guys don't take it personally," she added, with real sincerity in her voice.

"Nah, most of us are kinda used to it at this point," I said with a dismissive wave. "We just all want to know the all-important 'why?' So, if you're done dodging the question..."

My roommate mimed helplessness as she chewed on a piece of crust that was clearly too big to have been a single bite. So I sat patiently with my chin on my hand, elbow on the table, waiting for her to finish. After a minute or two, she ran out of crust to chew and, with a theatrical slap of her hands to rid them of flour followed by a sip of her Arnold Palmer, she began:

"Alright, I suppose I do owe you an explanation, or at least the closest thing to an explanation I can come up with. I wasn't really dodging the question so much as trying to figure out how to explain it in a way you might possibly understand."

I nodded and gestured for her to continue.

"As long as I can remember, I've been really terrible at processing or understanding emotions, particularly the really nasty, negative ones. Both my own emotions and those of the people around me too. Of course, I'm always seeking happiness or fun or some other positive emotion, but often times, of course, those are followed by some pretty intense negative ones. It's actually partially why I got into photography: because when I photograph things, I can shield myself from the emotions that are supposed to come with them. That's why I got into magazine photojournalism specifically, in fact. When you look back at all those old LIFE magazine issues, from the Vietnam War and stuff, you see all of these terrible things and wonder how they, the photographers, could possibly be around such terrible things and find reason to get back up the next morning. It's because the camera acts like a shield against all of those emotions that a normal, functioning human being is supposed to feel. It spares them from having to process what they're seeing. They can compartmentalize, stashing away the inconvenient feelings over in this filing cabinet, and the nice, pleasant ones over here. I chose what I do, and what I want to do, because I felt that so long as I could avoid having to feel those things in the first place I could finally go on functioning 'normally.'"

"That makes sense, in a morbid sort of way," I said. "But that doesn't really explain why you disappear for so long every time you break up with a guy."

"Hang on, I'm getting to that, cool your jets," she said impatiently. "Anyway, so the most intense of these negative emotions that I feel is loss. Losing someone important to me, or something important, it gets my heart all twisted up and my mind starts to go bonkers. I can't deal with it the same way I can anything else, by just hiding behind a camera or compartmentalizing. I expect I'll photograph hundreds of deaths and hundreds of destroyed homes, and I'll always be able to hide behind the camera for those, but I'll never have a legitimate reason to hide myself behind a camera when it comes to, say, losing a relationship. But of course, that's not the only time I'll have my little disappearing act. I've done it when my high school best friend and I had a huge falling out, and I did it when my grandpa passed away suddenly last year. It just so happens that relationships come and go much more regularly than big fights with friends or deaths in the family, which I'm extremely thankful for. So, you see, I keep chasing the positive emotions that come with a relationship, and inevitably I get attached to whoever it is that I'm seeing, but then when it comes time to end things, I get all in a tizzy."

"And then you lock yourself up in your room and read for a few days," I finished for her. "Alright, fair enough. But why books?"

"I don't really know," she said as she popped the lid off of her drink and fished around with the straw for ice. "I think it's because I'm looking for something."

"Looking for something?"

"Yeah, like answers maybe, or some way to cope with or channel the loss I feel in those moments into something productive. It's funny, even when I'm not with the guy for long, I still get attached enough that it feels like I'm ripping a piece of myself off every time it ends. So when I read, it feels a bit like I'm putting the pieces back together after I've been ripped apart."

"So in other words, you read because you think you might find yourself buried somewhere in those pages, is that right? That by reading those books, you might be able to pull a patched-up, ready-to-go you right out of the pages?"

"It works every time, doesn't it?" she asked with a gigantic smile. "Am I ever less-than me when you see me at the end of it?" She had a point.

"Still though, there has to be a more healthy way to go about it," I insisted. “What happens if you reach a point that you can’t come back from? Some scenario where you can’t just put yourself back together again? This can’t really be a cure-all every time you lose something important to you, can it?”

She shook her head, a movement that was not overly adamant, but still had a sense of confident finality to it. I could see in her eyes that she meant what she was about to say.

"It isn't as though I'm depressed in those times, far from it," she said, still playing with her straw. "If anything, I feel like the fact that I'm feeling things in the first place makes me more normal than even I give myself credit for. Certainly it's more healthy than when I simply hide behind a camera and disassociate myself from what I'm seeing. I’m not too concerned about it, and you shouldn’t be either."

"But doesn't it cause you problems with work or school?"

"Nah, I told them that I have a doctor's note, and no more questions are really asked, so it hasn't posed much of a problem so far," she said. "And I can get lecture notes from my more responsible classmates, like you," she added cheerfully.

I still wasn't entirely convinced by her explanation, but I decided to drop it for the time. She seemed to have an answer for it all, and so trying to convince her that it was far from normal practice felt like wasted effort. I think deep down, whether she cared to admit it or not, she knew that anyway. Besides, what business was it of mine whether she wanted to hide away for a week every so often? I would have wanted the same now and then. I just wasn’t cunning enough to get away with it. On top of that, letting her borrow my notes or otherwise help her catch up with her work was no imposition, and in fact that kind of discussion helped me as much as it did her, and she was quick enough to catch up faster than I would have done in that position, so even that much was a moot point.

After that conversation at the pizza parlor, my roommate’s episodes seemed to become less and less frequent. In fact, if I remember correctly, that was the last such event that particular academic year. And the following year, when we renewed our lease, it was another several months before another of these incidents. She had taken a powerful renewed interest in her photography around that time and found that she had very little time for things like dating, instead spending her time attending workshops in places like California and New York and eventually being rewarded with an internship with the local major newspaper. In her free time, at least from what I could tell, she was perfectly content being around me and her other friends. Loneliness, it seemed, hadn't visited her in some time, so she had been able to focus entirely on her work. By then, I had nearly forgotten about her little habit, so it had taken some time to get used to again when it happened again. Even still, it was one of very few times over the next couple of years she vanished behind the doors of her bedroom like that.

Then, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, toward the end of our third year at school, we started dating. Shortly after classes ended, we moved to a bigger place a bit further from campus. The rent was on par with what we were paying at the old place, but we gained quite a bit of extra space, so the trade off of having to be a little further away from campus was a minor inconvenience at best. Furthermore, now that we were a "thing," it made more sense to have a bigger place to host get togethers with our friends every once in a while, as well as make sure we had enough room to have some time alone if we felt like we needed it. For some reason, though, the time apart hardly ever felt necessary. We got along famously, and even more so once we finally realized that being together was exactly what each of us had wanted all along. Even our friends, who joked that now they would never see us again now that we were bound to spend more time together, believed that it had only been a matter of time before the two of us started "hooking up," as they liked to joke. But in reality, it seemed as though we saw them even more often, as the perceived need to split our time had disappeared. Very little changed in our relationship when we started dating, as the friendship we had had prior to becoming a couple had always bordered on intimate anyways. The biggest change, of course, was that we were sleeping together now, and had thus combined our rooms into one, freeing up the second bedroom to use as a photo studio and workroom for her.

I remember the night we finally gave in to each other as clearly as any memory I could possibly be asked to dig up. It was raining outside, a steady downpour the likes of which we hadn't seen all spring. We sat cross-legged on the floor of the living room, just the two of us, with one of Chopin's piano concertos playing sweetly from the speakers hooked up to my computer. The television was off (neither of us was that big into watching movies or TV shows anyway) and the room seemed a shade or two darker than normal, as if to match the mood the weather outside had created. The steady drumming of raindrops on the pavement outside seemed to keep time with the piano melody that played ever so softly in the background. It was her birthday, and so after I cooked us dinner, I pulled a pan of tiramisu that I had tried (and failed) to make earlier in the day. The sad little concoction was soggy enough to look as though I had stored it outside rather than in the fridge, the recipe I followed having inaccurately quoted the size of the pan and the amount of ingredients necessary. Thankfully though, it was just solid enough to hold the single candle I had stuck in the middle and lit with my trusty Zippo lighter. When I switched the lights off and brought the tiramisu to the center of the living room, her smile glittered in the darkened room. I had never seen her so happy. By then, the candle atop the makeshift cake was tilting to the side, so I hurried to place it atop the table. In hindsight, I don't even remember what the tiramisu tasted like, or if we even ate it at all that night, for the next thing I knew her face was directly in front of mine, no more than a hand's width apart. I could feel her warm breath on my lips, and my eyes drifted shut, savoring the sensation. We seemed to float there like that for what felt like an eternity, but it couldn't have been more than just a moment, as gravity pulled us closer and closer together until, finally, her soft lips met mine and we were kissing with all the passion that two people could possibly muster. In the darkness, our hands sought each other out, drawn together by the same gravity that had brought our faces together, our fingers intertwining and holding on as if at any moment we could be ripped apart. Thinking back to that night, I can't even remember which of us actually blew out her candle. From that moment forward, all I can remember is her hand, squeezing mine as if trying to communicate everything she was feeling in that moment to me, and I squeezed back to tell her I felt the same. Our lips parted, as slowly as they had come together, and she stood up, led me by the hand to her bedroom, and the rest is history.

"Now this," she breathed in my ear as we laid wrapped up in each other's arms, "is right out of a book. Perfection."

--------------

Despite all of that, the wonderful year we spent in each other's loving embrace, why do I insist on still calling her "my former roommate," rather than my "ex-girlfriend," or even "ex-lover?" I suppose it really is because things didn't change all that much between us, and up to that point "roommates" is all that we had ever been. It was hard to think of her as anything but. If we had stayed together and gotten married, I might have still referred to her as my roommate. I wonder if she felt the same. But like all great things in life, this too had an expiration date on it. As we wound up our fourth year at the university, the future that had seemed so far away mere months before was suddenly looming before us like the hull of a giant ship threatening to smash the little raft we had built for ourselves. We graduated, and it wasn't long before my ambitious, career-driven roommate received a job offer in New York, to work for the magazine she had set her eyes on from the very beginning. She had taken the opportunity she had been given while off at her workshop in the countryside of New York to cultivate a strong working relationship with the head photography editor there, and now that she was ready to enter the workforce, he came calling. I, on the other hand, had taken an internship with a big-name technology company whose headquarters were right there in my hometown and was now being offered a full time position on their public relations team. When I told her I was willing to turn it down and try my hand at finding work in New York, she shook her head sadly and smiled that brilliant smile of hers.

"I can't let you do that," she said with a firm shake of her head.

"Why not?" I half-pleaded. "It's just a job, I can find any number of jobs out there in New York, where I can be close to you."

"Because, this is the opportunity of a lifetime," she said. "This isn't just any job, you're being given a chance right out of school to work at one of the biggest companies in the world. Most people never get more than one or two such opportunities in their lifetime, and I can't ask you to give it up for something as sentimental as a relationship."

"You wouldn’t be asking me to do anything, it's a choice that I am willing to make," I countered. "Work is work, but a relationship like ours, that is the kind of thing people spend their whole lives looking for. Can't you see that?"

She wouldn't hear any arguments I made to try and convince her it was the right thing to do. "I couldn't respect you anymore if you made a choice like that," she would say. "It would ruin anything we had if you were to throw away this opportunity and follow me to New York. We'd be doomed anyway if you did. I'd rather we end it now, when all we have are wonderful, positive memories of our time together than for that to happen."

So it ended. She got rid of most of her already meager possessions, shipped boxes full of books and clothing ahead of her to the new apartment near Central Park that her new boss had helped her secure, and I stood there outside of the security line at the airport as she prepared to leave me forever. Having given her one final kiss and the biggest hug I could muster, we waved goodbye and I watched her ponytail bounce back and forth as she disappeared into the crowd of people. It was the last time I ever saw her.

After she left, I kept up with her work as much as I could and even got treated to some sneak peeks to projects she was working on here and there. Over the course of those years away, between traveling to faraway places and spending months at a time in countries whose names I could barely even pronounce, she racked up quite the reputation for capturing life as it really was. Awards and prizes were practically thrown in her direction in recognition of the fine work she was doing, and despite all of the troubles the magazine industry as a whole was experiencing in that tumultuous time, she still kept getting job offer after job offer. Still, she was insistent that she remain based in New York, working for the same magazine that had hired her away all that time ago. Of course, the magazine made it worth her while to stay, giving her generous raises every time she was offered another glamorous position.

I, meanwhile, had worked my way up to managing the public relations department at the same company I had started at and was doing pretty well myself. I often found myself wondering, though, if for some reason things went awry and I was to be let go from my position, would that mean another opportunity to follow her to New York and try again anew? Would I even want to now, after so much time had passed? As one might expect, the intense feelings I had for her faded over time, the way a name that's written in the sand is gradually washed away by the rising of the tide. That’s not to say I stopped loving her. Instead, I convinced myself that she was right, that nothing either of us could have done would change a thing. So instead, brick-by-brick, I built a home for my feelings somewhere deep down, so sturdy that no amount of huffing or puffing could ever bring it down. There was only one person who could open the door, should she ever come knocking. But she never did. So well were those feelings locked away in her absence, that I even managed to meet another woman, fall in love, and marry her six or seven years later. My old roommate, of course, couldn't make the ceremony due to being on assignment in Libya at the time, but she made sure to send a lovely card and belated gift (a stunning, colorful, peacock-themed tapestry she had picked up during a stint in Turkey earlier in the year).  

Despite our respective busy schedules, we always tried our best to keep in touch. Even as the years marched upward in a vain attempt to match the number of miles that now separated us, our friendship was one steady rock we could always depend on, a landmark to help us find our way. I didn't hear from her even once, though, in those first two weeks that she spent in New York after she left me, beyond the courtesy phone call she made when she arrived safely to her new home. At the time, I simply thought she was too busy to think about me, trying to get acclimated to life in the big city before her work began in earnest. Now, of course, I realize that she must have been shut up in her new apartment, alone with her books, repairing whatever holes I had left in her soul.

---

I always wondered how books could weigh so much. They were really little more than pieces of paper, easily torn and flexible, stacked one on top of the other and bound together by glue. Why should such fragile little things like that be so heavy? Was it the ink placed on the pages that made them so heavy, or, perhaps, was it the words themselves? Carrying the box of books she left behind when she departed this world, I was reminded of the tremendous weight such things could have. It struck me as strange, too, that there was only one box of books when I had seen her reading so much in those days. But her letter had been unambiguous, if not a little stale considering her incredible ability with words: I was to be bequeathed her entire library of books. While part of me wondered why so few books remained of the mountainous volumes she had taken with her when she left, mostly I was grateful there had not been another half dozen boxes bearing all of the books she must have collected in the years since I last saw her. How many more times had she shut herself up in her room, reading novel after novel until she could emerge again, good as new? It wasn't unusual for us to go weeks at a time without so much as a text message, much less a phone call, the intervals between which grew longer and longer as time marched on. From what I had gathered at her funeral, she hadn't been seeing anyone at the time of her death, and I was the closest thing to an ex-lover that had even shown up. Still though, her death and the box of books that arrived in its aftermath carried with it fresh wondering, packed down deep, somewhere between Fitzgerald and Tolstoy.

It took me three days before I could bring myself to open the box and finally unpack the books she had left me. Partially it was due to an emergency at work that had me tied up from morning until night almost immediately after returning home, but partially it was because I was simply afraid that what I might find contained between the box's cardboard walls would truly be nothing more than millions of words upon thousands of sheets of paper. At the bottom of the box was a heavily worn paperback copy of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. I had seen her with that particular book covering her face any number of times. It was, I assumed, one of her favorites, and thinking back it was one of the few books I could remember her reading multiple times whenever she would sneak away from her bedroom back then.

I sat on the couch and opened the book. Its pages fell open easily, the spine of the book having been worn out for probably a decade or more. I began to flip forward toward page one, when I came across handwritten words in her compact, distinctive handwriting on one of the blank pages after the copyright. I blinked twice at having discovered a hidden gem like this so easily, then held the book up closer to read the words written on the page.

If you are reading this right now, know that doing so has made me the happiest person in whatever world follows the one you continue to occupy now. It's been ten years, eight months, twelve days, three hours, and sixteen minutes between the last time I saw you and right now, as I write this letter. Eighteen minutes now. Writing this is the second hardest thing I've ever done and will ever do.

When I left you standing there at the airport, all those years ago, I left part of myself there as well. Perhaps that part of me is still standing there at the airport, hand in yours, wishing the rest of me hadn't gone. Or perhaps you had tucked that piece of me into your shirt pocket to be close to your heart (I rather like the thought of that). Regardless of whether or not it's still there at the airport waiting for me to return, I was never able to fully repair myself after I left. No matter how many books I read, or how many pictures I took, I never did emerge from my room as happy and whole and quintessentially me as I used to back then. I've been to many places, so full of pain and suffering, and my camera had spared me those feelings just like I said it would. I've been through wars, through famines, through assassination, revolution, and back again. Yet little by little, I could feel those things filling the void I left behind that day.

I turned the page.

Don't misunderstand me - I was never depressed. Not even once. But the more those little spaces in my being were filled by scenes of intense violence or sadness, the more I found myself feeling lonely. A powerful loneliness that I can only imagine you yourself must have felt when I left. Before long, I stopped feeling lonely and simply became Lonely. It infiltrated my very being, until there was nothing left that I could truly call “me.” Though I never again dated another human being, I still needed to take time to read like I used to... you know what I mean. You know that I don't deal with loss well, and when I began to realize that what I had lost was not you, but rather me, I realized that no amount of reading, no pretty words or insightful one-liners would ever bring that back.

And so, here I am, writing to you just like Robert Frobisher wrote to Sixsmith before his own exit. And just like him, I am going out by my own lucid choice. I hope you read this book and can understand what I am doing and why I am doing it, and I sincerely hope you don't blame yourself.

I turned another page.

Know that reading this has made me happier than I have been in a decade. That you're reading this now is confirmation that there is, in fact, salvation in life. With that, though, I must bid you farewell. May you always be the most you that you can possibly be. Can't wait to see you in the next life.

Sunt lacrimae rerum.

I stared at her final words for what felt like a decade. I let them wash over me like the tide, then recess, then repeat. While she hadn't addressed the letter to me by name, there was nobody else in the galaxy it could possibly have been for. That thought bored straight through my chest and left a gaping hole where my heart used to be. I closed my eyes and, for the first time since I learned of her death, allowed a tear to fall from my face. It landed with a soft tap on the pages below.

Taking a deep breath and, wiping the tears from my eyes, I turned the page and began to read.

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