This Isn’t Like Our Other Stories

Becca Schuh

The other day I was at a party. After several hours of my friends and I recounting to a man named Rick the stories that composed the history of said friend group, we said, “We’ve gone on long enough. Tell us about you, Rick.”

“What do you want to know?” he asked.

Before I could stop myself, I said, “I want to know how it is possible that you look so much like my dead friend.”

Then, I had to clarify: “I’m not making a joke. This isn’t like our other stories. I know my voice is in the same cadence as those stories, but my friend actually died a month or two ago and it was really, truly horrible, and you look so much like him.”

This is something I’ve noticed since Gian died. I say everything in the same cadence. So then I have to say in a matter of fact voice, “It has been very horrible for me and many of the people I care about. It may be the worst thing that I have ever been in proximity to.”

I waited weeks to write this. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve written a word since Gian died, in general. I have written copy for my several content shill jobs, and I have written text messages.

Gian was a writer, but he was also a liver. As in, he lived, and though I can’t chart what he thought was important on a hierarchy, I think he thought that living was more important than writing. It’s taken me a long time to admit to my concentric circles of writer peers that I think the same. I’ve never regretted writing, but I’ve also never regretted not-writing. Sometimes I don’t have anything to say. Sometimes things happen to me and they matter to me but they wouldn’t matter to anyone else. And that’s fine. Gian knew that was fine. So many writers aren’t willing to admit that, that we’re all just clear little eye worms floating here and that not everything matters.

People ask me how Italy was.

“As amazing as you’d expect,” I say.

They look at me to go on.

“I went to a writing workshop in Italy with my mentor and her friend, a genius independent publisher who terrified everyone but was actually the kindest, most gentle man in the world. We wrote and read each other's work and talked about books and made fun of ourselves for talking about books and we ate meals his husband Giuseppe made that were the best I’ve ever eaten. We toured Italian villages and churches and ate the largest pizza I’ve ever seen in Napoli. We drank aperol spritzes and smoked cigarettes and gossiped. It was exactly as amazing as it sounds.”

No more, no less. Exact.

After Gian died I sat on my couch and didn’t move for ten days. I did not read or write. I talked to the people who knew him and loved him.

I told my various gigs that I could not work, and I thought they’d say ‘you have to,’ or ‘you’re gig-fired,’ but instead they all said I’m so sorry, take all the time you need.

I wondered if I was close enough to Gian to be this sad, this shattered, this much lying under a lead blanket that I could not lift.

The day Gian died, I was at his hotel waiting for him. We’d made plans to talk about his new projects for an interview, and catch up, talk shit, drink, eat.

I got a haircut and took the train to Bowery. I was a little early so I sat outside Cooper Union. I wondered if I should text him to confirm but it had been only a few days since we talked so I figured it was fine. I walked up to the desk at the Bowery Hotel and said I’m here to meet someone, can I go sit in the back and wait for him? She asked his name and I said Giancarlo DiTrapano.

She said go ahead, and waved me to the yard.

I sat on a piece of patio furniture. I got an espresso from the waiter. I said I’d wait for my companion to order more. Then I ordered a drink. I drank it for a few minutes, laughing, thinking Gian was ditching me because he was off with someone cool, or maybe sleeping. I messaged Gian on Twitter. I ordered a salad. I messaged him on Instagram.

I kept seeing an older man walk through the door to the patio and thinking it was him. But it never was. It was a man older than Gian would ever be, every time.

One of my friends is dating someone whose parents have a penthouse apartment on top of the Whole Foods in Tribeca. I went to hang out with them after I didn’t see Gian. I said I was worried and my friend said it would be fine. We made spring rolls. When she walked me downstairs she said “Thank you for being so chill about the apartment. It’s so nice. When people freak out it’s awkward.”

“I’ve lived here too long for you to worry about me doing that,” I laughed. “I see insane things all the time.”

The next day, when I found out he was dead, a blanket from a French brand on sale from Anthropologie had just come in the mail. I was listening to Taylor Swift and Lana del Rey. I wasn’t getting any work done. I was laying under the French blanket on a red couch that was a hand me down from my friend’s husband when I found out he was dead.

I kept thinking about how I thought I saw his silhouette coming toward me in the lobby, but every time it was the same older man, skinnier than Gian was, but the same lion-esque stature.

Later that week, after his funeral, I took a walk. The sun was too bright, it was like an assault in my mind and memory and time. That was the world to me in that moment, shining too much in my face while someone I loved wasn’t there to see it, someone I wish I’d had more time with, but someone whose idea of the world had infiltrated me ever since I’d met him. This isn’t meaningful. It’s just these moments that made me see.

It’s cliche, but in this case, true: a part of me will always be there waiting for him. I was waiting for friends the other day at a bar and I realized that every time I’m sitting at a bar waiting for someone, for the rest of my life, I will remember sitting and waiting for him and thinking it was fine and how it was the furthest thing from fine a thing can be. Gian missing a meeting made complete sense, Gian being dead made no sense at all. It still doesn’t.

How many times have I sat on patios of New York restaurants waiting for someone? I can’t count. How is it that this time the person was dead, and that it was Gian?

The second time I talked to my therapist after he died, she asked if I had any more details about how. I said no, and that I didn’t need them, that’s none of my business. Usually I want all the details, I want to know everything the memoirist left out, I want to put it all together. Not here, not this time, not anymore.

I lit a candle when I found out he died, and when it burnt down, I used the same flame to light another. I kept doing this, I left them burning.

One day my friend was over and we were going to dinner and she blew out the last candle. I hadn’t told her what they were for, she just thought it was time to blow out a candle because we were leaving the house. I didn’t say anything. I would have kept them lit forever if someone hadn’t stopped me.

After the ten days where I did nothing, I did the exact thing you are not supposed to do. I tried to compartmentalize what happened in my mind so that I could keep working my stupid little jobs to pay rent on my falling apart-apartment and buy dumb little trinkets online that make me feel good for an hour while I take breaks from my stupid little jobs to open them and stare at the purple stained tone on a pair of stemless wine glasses and try to feel something. It’s all so fucking stupid. I’m sick of living in this world where work matters more than pain. I feel like if I told Gian that he’d laugh. We’re all so sick of it. What are we trying to do about it?

Maybe I’m editorializing but I think Gian was trying to do something about it, or his work was inherently doing something about it, even if that wasn’t his stated goal. The times I feel the most free from the maze are when I’m with friends in the world, living.

Gian’s death has made me think about everything in my life. It has made me examine every one of my friendships, how I relate to animals, to food, to drugs and alcohol, to nature, to beauty, to love. I wish I was exaggerating. It has made me recontextualize everything. It should be ridiculous for me to say that, but he was that kind of person. His life was the type of life that makes you reconsider your own.

I never knew if Gian really liked my writing or not. I know he didn’t not like it, but I don’t know if he loved it. But I never cared. How could I not care? Because I knew he liked me as a person. We were cut from the same cloth. Aquarians with Taurus moons. Aliens here on earth, living by our own constitution and surrounding ourselves with love and luxury.

My memories of Gian are inextricably interspersed with my memories of the people that he and I both loved. Paul and I standing high as kites in line for the last day of the Hilma af Klimt show and calling Sally Rooney ‘candy floss.’ Rachel and I sitting in a hotel room at 4 am in Toronto threatening (threatening whom? The universe?) to spread a rumor that Cheryl Strayed and Lin-Manuel Miranda had a threesome with someone in the NYC literary community. I think of laying across Mila’s lap in Tampa, telling her how much she would love Italy.

I remember standing in a Barnes and Noble in San Diego, where I lived before I moved to New York, and seeing Preparation for the Next Life sitting on the New Releases table. I remember picking it up and buying it and bringing it home. I didn’t know anything about Atticus Lish or Gordon Lish or Giancarlo DiTrapano. I just saw the book and knew it was for me.

Becca Schuh is the co-founder of the Triangle House Review. She lives in Brooklyn.