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Dear Zoe

You convinced me of the queer soul of the world.

Fiction | Fiction, Flash Fiction
June 9, 2023

Your laugh haunts me. When I heard you’d died on my birthday, when I stayed up until 6 a.m. memorializing you with your friends in the States, it was your laugh I remembered. That witch’s cackle that turned men into swine and changed the color of the moon. It seemed to emanate from your very core, and when we hugged, rocking back and forth, the tighter I squeezed you, the more that infectious, maniacal laughter shook your body and mine. 

In the cold, pale place where we studied together, a white landscape blanketed half the year in even more inhospitable white, your trucker-hatted, leopard-printed glamor pulled me into your orbit. You wore inch-long acrylic nails bedecked with gemstones and rehydrated flowers and baked towering, frosted cakes late into the night. You loved eating out, loved meat and gossip, and when we split the bill, you paid me back in fistfuls of twenties. 

You wouldn’t take any shit, and you wouldn’t let me take any either. “You don’t have to explain yourself, not ever,” you wrote in the margins of a manuscript where I described congee as Filipino porridge. “Fuck everyone who doesn’t understand.” 

You knew long before I did that I’d go to Greece and never come back, that in that warm, chaotic country, I’d finally become the version of myself I wanted. You told me, too, that I needed someone to take care of me. I wish you could’ve met Andreas. During lockdown, he flew to Athens so we could spend my birthday together (“Damn,” you might’ve said, “that’s goddamn love”). We laughed so hard our stomachs cramped and ate pralines in bed. He said being with me made him happy for the first time in his life that he was gay. I wept when I heard that. I think you would’ve, too, tough as you were.

Zoe, you convinced me of the queer soul of the world. Everything was gay to you: dogs, hockey, rap, Sailor Moon. You were the queen of oversharing, the queen of giving absolutely zero fucks. One Easter, your family came up from Brooklyn with a bag of Alaskan king crab legs because “Jesus died for our sins.” I felt like I already knew them from all the stories you’d told me. My fierce, limitless love for Andreas is based on the love you showed me then: unwavering loyalty to your chosen family and an ability to laugh at anything while never forgetting your own worth.

News outlets across the country reported on your death, and presidential candidates retweeted your story, calling for racial equality in testing and treatment. I was—I am—furious. Fuck them for only caring now that you’re gone, for not believing you when you said you couldn’t breathe. Fuck everyone for acknowledging you as one more victim of our broken healthcare system rather than the gifted writer and teacher you were. Andreas taught me the Greek condolence Να ζήσεις να τη θυμάσαι: “May you live to remember her.” The joy I feel each April 27th has been muted since you passed, but we share it now, and that’s some consolation.

In grad school, we often joked about death, laughing with abandon so we wouldn’t scream. What do I do without your wisecracks, your raffish wisdom? “You think I’m gonna haunt your fuckin’ ass?” you’d tell me, admiring your nails. “Bitch, who has time for that shit? Not me.”