There was this dream I had. Anthony Fusco’s funeral procession was parked all in a line at the end of my long, winding, rural Connecticut driveway. Something was holding them up. There were 20 or 30 unidentifiable faces, bodies wrapped in black suits or tasteful black dresses and reasonable heels. And though their distinct personas were out of the reach of my mind, I knew that I knew them all. Their eyes all fixed on me. Unbiased. Patient. Not one of the solemn procession was in a hurry, but they hesitated in anticipation of some cue that I was supposed to supply. They were waiting for me to do something. I studied them all and finally asked why they stopped. They don’t answer. They don’t know how. And I can’t get out of my driveway, so I turn and start to run home—away from them—down the long, winding hill in the pitch black. I’m sprinting on the absolute tips of my toes leaning as forward as possible. But then I suddenly lose traction with the Earth, floating away in a violent, uncontrollable manner. That’s where my REM cycle stopped. That’s when I awoke, staring into a pillow, trying in vain to catch what happened next, trying to catch myself as I floated away in an ancient past life that happened seconds ago in a self-manifested world. There’s always been a theme to all of my unpleasant dreams: at their conclusion, I’m always ripped away from something; something unfinished, or not yet understood.

Yesterday, I woke up estranged from all social responsibilities. I had been ambushed by a sudden rush of anxiety and mania on the previous Sunday night, resulting in a day spent paralysed by a mind spinning out of control, and a good hour huddled in a ball on the floor surrounded by shoes and collared shirts, hiding from a malfunctioning brain and an intense desire to end both it and me. The feeling returned the next day, convincing me to no-show on day one of a new job, which, amusingly, was scheduled to begin on April 1st. April Fools! I think I’d qualify. Now that I had successfully self-sabotaged myself, it was time to hit the reset button. The snow has kept up throughout March, and I can’t wait for spring any longer. I need to head south until I feel better. But firstly, I needed a cigarette, and I needed it in New York. Brooklyn, preferably. And sooner rather than later. The city has the best oxygen for cigarette combustion. Anything less than the best simply would not do for this psychological meltdown.

My mind sleeps behind opened eyes and a firmly grasped steering wheel from New Hampshire through Massachusetts. But when I hit the Connecticut border, my subconscious wanderings are interrupted by a state that never lets me forget where I come from. Instantly, the leisurely drive turns into a high speed life or death race. Interstate I-84 West through Connecticut is low gear and high torque. 4,500 RPMs in third gear gets you through the Route 8 mixer in style and authority. Fourth gear at 4,000 RPMs maintains the vehicle at a comfortable 85 miles per hour from Waterbury through Danbury and into West Plains. Once safely in New York, the engine can relax into fifth for the duration of I-684, up until my favorite stretch of highway on the planet: the Saw Mill Parkway. For a two-lane no-median death roller-coaster, 60 MPH is fast, 70 is flying, and 80 is suicidal. I stay between 70 and 80 because I’m going to Brooklyn and I see it appropriate that my driving reflects the on-again-off-again suicidal urges that have been pulsating through my body for the past 2 days, that have been on-again-off-again for the past decade.

The roller-coaster comes to an end, and the Saw Mill Parkway melts into the West Side Drive, flanking Manhattan dangerously close to New Jersey. Every time I round that corner underneath the George Washington Bridge, I feel like the curtain opens, and I’m stepping onto a stage commanding the immediate attention of eight million pairs of eyes. The smell of the forest and water mixed with exhaust and garbage. The contrast of movement and energy against the unstoppable stillness of skyscrapers, bridges, and apartment buildings. I’m telling myself that this excursion to the city is a sanity check and an effort to regroup and recharge. But that may be a stretch. I’m far beyond achieving any state even remotely resembling consistent, long-term sanity. No director would ever cast me to play that role. But I can’t just jump right into suicide. That wouldn’t do. The city demands a full performance from each of its guest actors.

But my mind shifts gears in parallel with the transmission, and I realize it’s nearly been a year since Tony’s (Anthony’s) suicide. The anniversary is coming up, yet I’m still unsure whether I have the right to suffer because of it. There’s this badgering, soundless voice that lives somewhere in my head that insists my friendship with Tony wasn’t significant enough, and that this denied me access to the tight-knit social circle, the members of which had earned the privilege to mourn and cry over the loss of him. This voice announced that I was on the outside and wasn’t worthy of sadness. They earned it. I hadn’t. I didn’t put in the time. I didn’t make the cut. I lacked the memories and closeness needed to share my feelings about the matter. That it wasn’t my fight. A subconscious battle between this voice and my memories of the happy high school kid Tony was has been raging inside, and only now am I beginning to acknowledge the conflict. Only now, shifting gears through turns and straightaways, Brooklyn-bound with a vague intention of ending my own life, has the entirety of this emotional shitstorm stolen my full focus. I can’t hide from my thoughts when alone on a road trip. I think that’s why I take so many.

If my educational experience was a play, then I only showed up for the first and last act. I’d been in the public school system from kindergarten until sixth grade, and then departed to prep school from seventh grade until my junior year expulsion (due to self-destructive tendencies and a general disinterest in homework). This brought me back to the public high school for senior year and the reunion with all my former actors was a shock, especially Tony. The last time I saw him, in grade school, he was Anthony (and not yet Tony). He always smiled—especially his eyes—with the most sincere expression of joy and contentment I’ve ever seen on a human face. Because of it, I wrote him off as goofy, and perhaps a bit simple. No intelligent person could possibly find that much to be happy about. But holy shit did my perceptions of him change when we met again that senior year in 2003. He wasn’t Anthony anymore; he was Tony, or Fusco, and he was fucking massive. Professional football player massive. A huge build with the strength and speed to back it all up. Six foot three and 300 pounds. Immediately, my brain tried to reject the notion that this monster standing before me was the same Anthony whom I hadn’t seen in five years. But then I caught a glimpse of those bright, smiling eyes, and I knew without a doubt it was really him. Not only had he become one of the best ball players in the state, but he was logging straight As in class to boot. A card-carrying member of the honor society. And I had written him off as simple. All so hilarious coming from the prep school reject who failed year two Latin. Ironic.

That final year of school from 2003 to 2004 was simultaneously the happiest, most turbulent, and most memorable of my life. The cast, now all reunited, continued right where we left off in the play, a play that would have no audience but our own varied levels of self-reflection. It felt like they had kept my role vacant in anticipation of my comeback. But no one had a part like Tony did. And not only would Tony slap me and everyone else around on the football field, but he would repeat the shellacking in nearly every event he took part in: Halo, poker, drunken wrestling. All the while with those smiling eyes. And despite the seemingly limitless superiority of his towering superlative, I never heard a condescending or damning word come from his mouth, and I think Kai and Bill would concur for the most part. Always humble. Always content. From football games, to parties, to late night diner outings, our group made a concerted effort to enjoy every moment of the company shared. Even the girlfriends got along (except mine, for she was nonexistent). I crammed an entire high school experience into those moments: All my frustration, the madness, the hopelessness…all that shit was relentlessly redeemed by the joy and comfort that only that group of friends could bring about without any of them even saying a word. I just needed them there. That’s all. That was enough. No further ritual was required.

But that year, as with all years, came to an end. The inevitable splits and fissures made their way into our circle. Different colleges meant a usually unbridgeable gap of time and space. The girlfriends all disintegrated in the wake of new interests and experiences (except for mine, because, as I mentioned earlier, she was nonexistent). Kai, Bill, and I would make the drive and return to Connecticut every few months to drink shit-quality beer and harass one another until out of breath. Tony was usually absent, though; he was admitted to West Point, and the Army life was all consuming. I only saw him once or twice during those college years. The encounters were brief, but, preceding any words or pleasantries, I’d always get a massive bear-hug from that bear of a man, the type of hug that let you know he could squish the life out of you on a whim, yet, without any doubt, would never dream of actually doing so. There was a universal comfort in the knowledge that someone of such strength and power could be so kind, and the thought of those hugs have stayed with me. But as it turned out, Tony would not.

I lost touch with him for nearly five years. He graduated from West Point as the captain of the football team and a newly anointed soldier and was promptly shipped off to somewhere in Iraq. None of us were worried, as this was well after the so-called resurgence, and according to the news, nothing much happened over there anymore. Kai told me there was a better chance of being killed in a Houston bank robbery than hitting an IED in present day Iraq. But I just had such trouble picturing those smiling eyes looking down the sites of a rifle, beneath a helmet and above a body padded in Kevlar. I couldn’t imagine what those eyes could be smiling at over there in that shithole of a country and that fuck-show of a war. So maybe that’s why. Maybe that’s why the news shocked me, yet didn’t surprise me. Maybe I knew such a happy, kind person couldn’t survive in this world.

At 8:47 AM on May 14th, 2013, Bill called Kai on the phone. He told him that Tony…that Anthony was dead, that he had shot himself in his home. I can’t remember where I was when Kai relayed the news to me. I can’t remember if it was in person, or if he called me on the phone. But I do remember that I didn’t know how to respond, that I felt like an actor whom was given the wrong cue. My character wasn’t ready for this. We never rehearsed any scene in that whole fucking play where any of us died. The only person I expected to drop dead in the near future was me. And maybe Kai, too, but from doing some dumb, thrill-seeking bullshit…the kind of hilarious tragedy that would make us cry, then make us laugh until we cried again, singing out from pints of beer and a bottle of Tequila, “That crazy asshole died doing the type of dumb fucking shit he loved doing! That’s sure as fuck how I want to go out!” But not this shit; not the image of that unrivalled giant of a man slumped and bloodied in the corner; not the sight of those eyes without their smiling glimmer; not the thought of the happiest fucking person I’ve ever met dead and gone because he ran out of reasons to smile. I can’t do this scene. I can’t act this out. Suicide was my fate. Those were my lines. That was my scene. Why the fuck did Tony do my scene? He didn’t have to. He didn’t fucking need to. I had already prepared for it. I had done the dress rehearsals with a loaded gun and a hopeless mind. I was ready to act out my final moments with a lonely, long-winded monologue, the lowest of bows, and a bullet exiting stage left. Why did he he do my scene?! Why the fuck would he say my lines?!

I became choked up as I sat erect in my car trying to catch my breath, trying to control a heaving chest and tears that obstructed my vision of the road. The heaving transitioned into convulsions and the tears into salty streams that stained long, zig-zagging lines from my ocular cavities to the base of my neck on a freshly shaven face. Those nondescript notions of terror and hopelessness rushed back into my mind. Thoughts of those dreams returned, sensations of being hurled into the sky away from everybody and everything. They weren’t dreams; they were just terror. Lack of control. A refined element of chaos. I’m remembering Tony’s hug and am looking into his smiling eyes that now are trying to tell me something. Attempting to convey something other than joy. And I’m damning everyone in that fucking town who raised us, every teacher and coach we ever had, because not one of them ever told Tony it was okay to suffer. Not fucking one of them gave him permission to be anything but happy, but perfect. No one helped him. They just set expectations. They should have known. They were the fucking adults. They should have seen that pleading look hidden behind a big, ever-present grin. It was their fucking responsibility. They should have done something. They should have fucking known.

The road approached faster now. I’m unnaturally focused on the asphalt. It’s taking a life of its own separating me from reality. And then I’m thrown into a dream, but this time I’m awake, still gripping the steering wheel, navigating the road. But I have no control over my words or the images they bring with them. It’s my final monologue, my last scene in the play. Tony took mine away, so now I need to conclude in a different manner. The curtains silently slide open. The whole graduating class stands in the audience, in poses most familiar to me with relaxed demeanors, all awaiting my first line. The set chosen by the invisible director is the inside of my hockey team’s locker room. There I sit, shoulders slumped forward, in full game-day attire with helmet off, garbed in a seemingly endless coating of hard-plastic armor that could protect against anything life could throw at me, except the death of a friend. My head is hanging slightly forward, with hair partially obstructing my face. My lips separate, but not a word comes out, and I take a moment to catch my breath and let the heaving subside. Kai and Bill both sit to my right, dressed as I am, eyes staring out emotionlessly just below horizon. My mouth opens again, but emotion fills my lungs, so my first line rings silently in my head only. Tony is there, sitting directly between the stage and the audience, his profile perpendicular to both. Everyone can see him, but he can’t look at any of us. He just sits there, calm and smiling. I finally speak, “It’s okay to suffer, it’s okay to suffer, it’s okay to suffer.” I can see the physical manifestation of my words: some of them land lightly on Tony, and the rest are absorbed among the audience. I start to cry, pausing to catch my breath, and then repeat the mantra, “It’s okay to suffer, it’s okay to suffer, it’s okay to fucking suffer.”

A small eternity passes before my attention is thrown back to the road. The West Side Drive comes to an end, and I sink into the tunnel, proceeding from Manhattan into Brooklyn. I should be disappointed. I wanted to take the Brooklyn Bridge, which I was considering for my final prop in my final scene. No other bridge would do (I’ve always been picky). But while I’m stuck within the walls of that tunnel, all urges to examine the desired instrument for my metaphorical finale and literal suicide disappeared. And they disappeared because Tony took them from me. Tony took my suicide like a postmortem act of kindness; for if I took my own life, there would be one less person around to keep and spread the memory of Anthony Fusco. And to ignore that responsibility is something I could never live with, and the thought of those smiling eyes is one thing I never want to live without.