Updated: Jul 30
I've been so busy roaming, moving and adjusting to being in Prince Albert, that shamefully, a significant date, which every year since 2014 creates a swelling lump of pain in my throat, was entirely overlooked.
June 6 came and went, and with it, the day of a beloved friend's death.
Of all the people appearing and vanishing from my life, only one had kept his place this last decade. A dear friend, let's call him Papaya.
It happened when I was at work. I worked in a bakery at the time, as a baker and barista. I was steaming milk when Papaya called, his voice was fierce, "Matan drank pills. He tried to commit suicide."
Matan was Papaya's boyfriend for a considerable time of about a year. That's how I got to know him. I still remember the day I went to Jerusalem to meet him for the first time, two years earlier. Papaya described him to me on the phone, "He's cute, but he's a bit judgemental. Don't feel bad if he doesn't like you, he doesn't like anyone that I've introduced to him so far."
We met at Mahane Yehuda market and Papaya made a quick introduction. Quick, because it was a Friday, and we had some shopping to do for the weekend. In Israel, starting from early on Friday afternoon, businesses, shops, and most restaurants begin to close. Everything reopens on Saturday evening after the first three stars appear in the sky. As we wandered from stall to stall, Matan looked down disapprovingly at the countless trinkets designed for tourists. We made a few jokes about anything and everything. While Papaya was rushing us on, helping him choose fresh bread, rice and date cookies, I discovered that Matan had a great sense of humour. After closing time, we went to the greengrocers. At this time on Friday, they would leave leftover produce behind for the poor to collect. We loaded up on everything from fresh kale to cherry tomatoes, crisp Pink Lady apples and Bananas, and then headed off to Papaya's apartment.
We enjoyed the banter, the laughs and the discussions so much that we didn't realize how quickly the time was passing. Within a few hours, the night had come in, and we were still having fun, jabbering on the balcony and smoking until the wee hours. Matan and I went back into the kitchen and rummaged through Papaya's cabinets, opening them one by one in search of anything to munch on. Papaya followed us, chirping in between mouthfuls that the food belonged to his flatmates and pleading us to stop. We weren't in an obliging mood. We stuffed a vegan Schnitzel into pita bread, threw in anything else we could find and for the last touch, over-mustarding and over-dressing.
The next evening, after Matan left, Papaya told me that he'd finally found a friend who Matan loved.
When I heard the news, hot milk splattered and covered my face and arms as I lost focus on steaming. I pulled myself together and asked, "How is he now?"
"I don't know, I'll call you back." He hung up.
I don't know what happened after that phone call, I just remember that somehow I continued to work. I vaguely recall hearing my manager telling me a few things, I nodded but couldn't understand what was said. I only know that my head was spinning. It was Friday, same as other businesses, all public transportation in Israel shuts down on Friday night. I started to plan while working, how long it would take me to get to Jerusalem and whether there would be any public transport.
Jerusalem and I have a history, and Matan filled it with entertainment and pleasure. The year before, I had sublet a studio in Jerusalem for two months to focus on writing my novel. The goal was to break away, but because I'm such a practical person, I found it fit to live in a city where both my best friends, Papaya and Matan, lived. We would spend a lot of time together, especially on weekends that started in Mahane Yehuda. I often spent a night in Papaya's apartment. By this time, Matan was considered a flatmate, although officially, he never moved in. One day he even brought a kitten to the flat and raised her—a sweet black kitten named Elisheva who soon captured everyone's heart, much like her owner. Over time, we saw each other every day. My apartment became a private cafe. In the mornings, when Papaya was at work, Matan would come over for coffee to talk about their relationship.
"He doesn't listen. I tell him something is bothering me, as sensitively as possible. Then, he waits for me to look and does the same thing again, on purpose. He thinks it's funny but it's annoying."
In the afternoon, when Matan would take a nap, Papaya would come for a quick cup of coffee and talk about how he knew that Matan wasn't happy with him, but he didn't know what to do with this "Scorpio" child.
As time went by, I got to know their waves of anger, their moments of affection and the weaknesses and strengths of relationships. I'm a writer, I like seeing things the characters don't know, but which the audience gets.
I called Matan, and no answer. I guessed he was in intensive care and so I called Papaya again.
"I'm freaking out here. What's going on?"
I was unable to respond. I remember dropping slowly to the ground, the hand that was holding the phone was now covering my mouth. My manager leaned over to me and asked what had happened, took the phone and asked Papaya who he was and what he had told me. I was numb, and at that moment, ended my shift and went to Jerusalem.
I vaguely remember the way. How I teared up at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere and how a hippie couple asked if I needed help. I remember hearing Eddie Vedder's song, Without You, twice or three times on the commute and every minute or so Papaya was calling me, asking about my whereabouts. Obviously, there hadn't been a change in an update since he asked a minute ago, but I guess he needed someone to talk to. I thought about the day before. Matan had found his own apartment in Jerusalem, and during that time, his family had also moved, just by coincidence, one street from the bakery where I was working.
The day before his death, he stayed at his parents' house for the night and called me to ask for a haircut, saying his hair was "raging". I came over, cut his hair, we chatted a bit, and that was it. The next day he went to Jerusalem to spend his first night in the new apartment. The apartment where he passed away.
When I arrived in Jerusalem, Papaya was waiting for me at the Central Bus Station. He was broken. When seeing me, he gave me a silent hug. He didn't cry. Papaya doesn't cry, he controls his feelings or changes the subject, but never cries. He just said, "I'm hungry."
We went to Mahane Yehuda, of course. We did some shopping and collected vegetables from the greengrocers, and proceeded to Papaya's apartment.
After we ate, we sat on the porch and Papaya told me the whole story.
The evening after I gave Matan a haircut, he called Papaya from his new apartment asked if he wanted to come over.
"Not today," Papaya said, "I'll come tomorrow."
They would ordinarily spend their evenings together, but on that day, Papaya told me, he didn't feel like it. Matan was quite high maintenance and demanded a lot of energy, love and pampering.
"Please… I don't feel well. Love me." Matan said.
"I love you, but I don't feel like coming today." Papaya ended the call.
After a few minutes, he received a message from Matan: "I don't feel well, and Papaya doesn't love me."
He felt a little guilty about it, and after about an hour decided to go, so he called Matan to tell him he was coming. There was no answer. He guessed Matan had fallen asleep and went to bed too.
The next day, Papaya tried to call Matan again. Three times and no answer. He went to Matan's apartment and found the front door was open to a crack, allowing Papaya to push it completely ajar. He entered, called Matan by name and no answer. He went into his bedroom and found him lying in bed on his back, not moving. For a moment, he thought he was asleep but then saw that he had a bit of white vomit on the side of his mouth. His veins had protruded at the wrists and neck, and he was pale. Papaya touched his neck veins to see if his heart was beating, and a cold sensation shot through his fingers.
Papaya then called Matan's father, an ambulance and me. Of course, he left the room, not before checking if Matan had left a letter, but there was nothing—only a body.
Papaya sat in the stairwell until the ambulance arrived. He could hear the paramedics talking inside the flat, marvelling at the number of empty pill cases thrown on the bedside dresser.
From there, they transferred Matan to the morgue. Indeed, there were a lot of pills, but Matan needed medication. He took Prozac, sleeping pills and heart pills.
Since birth, Matan had a heart defect. When he was a baby, he had heart surgery. He had a scar where he was cut open. Cardiac arrest was the second possible cause of death.
Matan was a sweet guy, a guy so lovable, who always thought he didn't have any friend. Oy Matan... If you could have only seen how many people attended your funeral, you wouldn't have felt that way. How small he was, wrapped in those burial sheets like there was nothing there. I didn't remember him being so small. He was only in his 25th year.
After he passed away, we discovered that there were many things about Matan's life that we didn't know about. And more unfortunate, there were many more things we knew about Matan that his family didn't. Throughout the seven days of Shiva, we had conversations that pretty much gave each side a clearer picture of who Matan was.
Weeks later, I still had an urge to call him and tell him about everything that had happened. And he could tell me how he no longer suffered from depression, insomnia or heartache.
As for Papaya, he couldn't stop thinking about what would have happened if he had come to Matan's place the evening he called.
In the two years that followed, Papaya and I felt more at ease, but grief will always be there. Comprehending your friend took his own life when you had no idea he was in such a bad place, is horrid.
Until we discovered the truth. The results of Matan's analysis had changed the picture. His parents kept the results to themselves for a year and a half. Everything had been swallowed up, digested and washed underground. Talking about Matan in a past tense no longer felt strange, the instinct to call him was no longer natural, and his face had lost its prominence.
Papaya encountered Matan's father one day, and he told him that the results showed Matan did not commit suicide. It was a cardiac arrest. Matan apparently didn't know he was experiencing cardiac arrest. He felt some stabbing and took a sleeping pill and died in his sleep. Matan, my friend, who just rented a new apartment, graduated and went to several job interviews and was waiting for a response. How could anyone think that someone who would invest so much in their future would give it up in two shakes?
And still, until we heard the results, we were sure he had committed suicide, no questions asked.
I never confessed to it, not loudly or heartily to myself, but I was angry with Papaya. It's strange to admit that in writing now, but that's the truth. The same way he was mad at himself for not going, so was I, and I kept lying to him saying, "You couldn't know."
But time heals, and six years is a long time. I can't help but wonder from time to time, what would have happened if Papaya had gone that night. Of all the nights, it was the worst night to be tired and go to sleep.
And now Matan is just a blurry figure who comes naturally to mind with the sound of laughter and lightness and cannabis. Maybe I'm blind, but he was the only one of us who took antidepressants and was still the happiest guy I knew.