My boyfriend did not die in 1991. I told a lie and it turned into a fact, forever repeated in my official biography. He died on Christmas Day, 1990, when his family disconnected the mechanical breathing machine. He was a composer in the school of music. We were working on a piece for voice and strings. I liked writing the words under the whole notes, hyphenating them to make them last. I liked sitting on the bed in his apartment, writing on the sheet music—bigger paper, thicker, how it sounded when it fell to the floor when we got tired. It was winter break, friends in town, we hopped from party to party, catching up but separately. It was late, the night was clear, the roads were empty. The four of them were sober, the driver in the other car was not. I was a few miles away, in a bar, waiting. When the bar closed, I left him an angry message for standing me up. A few hours later, a friend called and told me. He suggested I break into the apartment and start removing things before the family arrived. For several minutes I didn’t understand, then—evidence. He hadn’t told his family and it didn’t seem right to tell them now, to suggest that they didn’t really know him. I drove in the darkness between the accident and dawn. I climbed through the window. I couldn’t figure which things looked suspicious and which things would be missed. I was sloppy, rushed. I grabbed the wrong sheet music. It was a piece that had already been performed. A few days after Christmas there was a memorial. I sat in the back. As part of his speech, his father mentioned the missing music and made an appeal for its return. I couldn’t give it back. On New Year’s Eve, in a black velvet jacket, at a party in the lobby of a downtown hotel, with a drink in each hand—one for him, one for me—I kept asking where he was, if anyone had seen him. I had his passport in my back pocket. I shouldn’t have taken that either. It was the only picture of him I could find.
Richard Siken is a poet, painter, and filmmaker. His book Crush won the 2004 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, selected by Louise Glück, a Lambda Literary Award, a Thom Gunn Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His other books are War of the Foxes (Copper Canyon Press, 2015) and I Do Know Some Things (forthcoming, Copper Canyon Press, 2024). Siken is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize, two Lannan Fellowships, two Arizona Commission on the Arts grants, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.