Dear, Dead Nick

by Hannah Pralle | December 22, 2021

boise team

The door to your place is a fucking outrage, and you should have done something about it. The house is otherwise so picturesque; its bay windows of what was your bedroom, now staring blankly out across the broad street of the middle class neighborhood, and beyond that the field; earthy smells of farming agents and tilled earth gone dormant for the winter. You mentioned that smell over the phone, how much you enjoyed it.

As for the door, though: moments that should have been solemn, or at least manageable, became instead absurd wrestling matches. Twisting the deadbolt different ways, lifting the door in its frame in combination with exerting various pressures on the latch. Clicks, clacks, thuds, impotence — finally the roommate appearing like a tall specter through the frosted glass panes, offering muffled, helpful instructions; eventually falling forward when the door, slyly, did open, depositing me, flustered, into the entryway. Milo’s tiny, harmless lunges, raspy-barking, upset by all the noise.

My friends and family expressed concern that I was coming, and in fact staying for several nights, in the house where you lived these last months, and died on the floor of the office adjacent to the bedroom with the bay windows. Last night I accidentally stepped in the wet patch on the carpet where they cleaned up your vomit (I heard it was just a little bit) as I was turning around, breathing the air, looking at the items of yours that had been set aside for me after your dad and brother’s inventory.

And I’ll admit, it’s been odd. It’s just that these things were already becoming monoliths in my mind. I arrived at your house four days after you died, in a moment that should have been stricken except for the negotiation of that atrocious door. It’s good that I came, though. The stalagmites and stalactites of seething pathos in the cavern of my mind’s eye must now face disarming specificity: blue towels in your bathroom. One of the slats broken in the blinds on your bay windows. Angles and doorways I’d seen in photos you sent me, now contextualized by an actual floorplan.

I’ve gone around and met your Starting Strength people, in Boise. I thought I wanted to vampirically suck from them the blood of their last interactions with you, jealous and grateful. And I did. But on each occasion, it seemed what overtook me instead was an outpouring, an outburst. I tended to check my own emotionality towards you, these last years, because it set off a cycle between us, and I could never match your volatility. But with your people here I felt, and said, everything. There was no end to it, connected like a magician’s scarves. I’m becoming exhausted, in fact, with what I feel and say about you, which is the gift they’ve given me that no amount of remaining safely in Hawaii could have produced. My mental image of your death and its scene would have festered, proliferated, having nothing concrete to act as a guardrail to my horrified imagination.

And I liked your people! I’d heard so much about them, of course, but for you they were older, and for me they’re younger. Ray Gillenwater — a lion who’s just gotten done having all the things lions need, rendered temporarily tranquil. Rumbling purring, but his claws extend and retract unconsciously as he cat-naps, alert. Ben Gillenwater, who could climb into a time machine, set the coordinates for any civilization of the past, present, or future, and be instinctually received there as an astonishing and noteworthy gentleman. Dave Fox — affably polished and warmly self-possessed. Dave’s mother in law, forever your biggest fan — lovely, wry, perceptive. Avery, one of your peers at SS Boise, unflappable and cheeky. Joe Balbas, the client you trained who brought you to church with him week after week, whose unselfconscious tears made my heart hurt more, and less. Your roommate Michael, primarily involved with helping me achieve entry through the door that had become the final and most meaninglessly humiliating detail of this fever dream; but otherwise gentle, humorous, accepting this twist of fate which brought a troupe of strangers tromping into and out of his home, in the wake of your brief tenancy here.

I talked with Rip on the phone.

I fell forward into each of them, just as I did through the egregiously complicated entryway to your home — selfishly, idiotically, starving, burdened, and wholly received. The same way you fell forward into all of them, in fact, only several months ago.

I sat Indian-style on your cold, quilted, naked mattress last night and looked through the bay windows, with their broken Venetian slat, out past the middle class driveways and porticos, to the dark blankness of the fallow field. Empty hangers in the closet and nothing of you anywhere. But the last of you I’ll ever get.

Here’s one of my favorite memories, which I didn’t tell anyone because it’s too gross and apropos of nothing. And it’s not one of those anecdotes that will turn out to be profound later; some writerly sleight-of-hand. It’s just the last chance I have to sit in your space and write, as I did so often in our times before. Even if I ever come back here, the river of time will have carried everything downstream.

So: it was late April, and we were bringing our trailers up here to pre-position for fire season. Nighttime, traffic, the endless urban conglomeration of Salt Lake City. I was following you in a left lane, and had to really maneuver to shadow your sudden decision to exit right. And yes, as you know, a part of me was always wondering, worrying — is it fatigue? Or something more chemical.

We lined up against the curb at a Maverick station and grabbed a bite to eat inside. Various breaded, fried, differently sized objects. You wolfed them down via an array of condiments. I was put off, but also hungry, and made the best of it with an awful sweet chili jam.

We bedded down in the back of the Excursion with our little dogs, as usual, and watched an episode of Community on my laptop, as usual. The gas station shot lasers through the windows on the passenger side. I turned away from them, onto my right, looking at your beautiful face.

I felt a little off; you snored as alarming waves of nausea began to wash over me. It was a dull, flushed body panic, a cellular knowledge that I was about to become very ill while truck camping at a gas station. I shifted, trying to alleviate the pressure high up under my ribcage, which only grew and grew.

“S’wrong baby,” you slurred, still asleep, resting your heavy arm across me.

“I think I have to vomit,” I whispered, almost crying with discomfort and alarm.

I knelt down on the dark side of the trailer, between the curb and a chainlink fence speckled with trash, and you rubbed my back while I stuck my fingers down my throat.

“I can’t,” I finally gasped. I’ve never been able to vomit, or make myself vomit. It’s not a problem until it is.

“Do you want me to help?,” you asked. It might surprise people, but before you figured out how to get really big, you had cycled through bulimia and anorexia, trying to get really lean. Forever fussing with your body.

I’ve always wanted to be some kind of sacred feminine idyll to you, to polish up like an emerald-eyed, diamond-collared house cat while living our mangy stray life. A long, complicated economic scramble, you and me in the trenches through thick and thin, relapse and sober, Covid and more Covid, trying to stabilize. We were always one more thing away from it all smoothing out, right? The romance of our story is that we never really had any; we relied on each other utterly.

I’ve never felt my feminine power less in a relationship than with you. You were always bemused by that, but I told you that’s only because you didn’t have to walk around all day seeing you from the outside, and watching every other woman on the planet seeing it too. I wasn’t that way in the beginning, but stuff happens. I second-guessed myself constantly, relative to your love; and you second-guessed yourself relative to mine. You found my insecurities idiotic; I knew yours were. We were jealous, vulnerable, prone to re-injury along old stress fractures.

We’d each found an apple just a bit too perfect not to have a worm. The wheels were always turning in our minds, striking sparks, but we missed each other fiercely in the face of even minor separation. It was unclear whether we were ‘right’ for each other, and probably not. But heaven on earth was you and I, alone.

The point being: I just wanted to be pretty for you. Yet here I was, crouching in the dark, retching and panting like a diseased animal.

“It’s okay, honey,” you said. “I did a lot of this over the years.” You put your left hand on my back firmly, and stuck two fingers down my throat, touching whatever it is I don’t have the courage to. Abject lava spewed from my mouth.

I breathed ragged relief, and then you said, “Ready?” I nodded, and you repeated this maneuver six or eight times. My body clenched and released in grateful paroxysms. The chainlink made dents in my fingers. Your left hand circled and patted my back, rhythmically, between procedures, and you gracefully held your right hand out from your body so as not to drip on your feet.

When I returned to the Excursion from washing my face and hands in the ladies room — flinching at my reflection in the mirror, with its trauma-bay lighting that adds three hundred centuries — you handed me a cup of club soda and we bedded down again. Milo stampeded lightly over our faces and bodies. Buffy continued pretending she was asleep. “Thank you,” I breathed, again and again.

“Aw. My poor baby. My poor girl,” you murmured, running your hand up and down my arm and already falling asleep again.


Everyone in Boise had thoughts. Everyone knew you were magnificent. Everyone knew you were troubled. Everyone knew that, whatever had or hadn’t worked out between us, there was someone in the world named Hannah who had mattered to you. Everyone emphasized that to me, because when your tide washed out, it left the beach littered with the detritus of so much, while I was exiled to ex-girlfriend island. If you were still alive, I swear to god I’d never speak to you again. Like every other thing about you, your death has inflamed my ego. Both of us, bemused by our own, individual artesian wells of crazy — I’m not this way with other people. I don’t know why I’m this way with you.

The kindness of Rip, Ray, Ben, Dave, Joe, Michael, has staggered me. I’ve talked with Daniel, Tony, and Billy from Bluebird Moving — same. You were so loved. You are so missed. And I’ve been received with the utmost kindness. And it doesn’t really help; this still feels like a nightmare.

We moved through so many places in the world together, so many fire camps and road trips and flights and hotels and truck stops and grocery stores and GYMS, so many gyms.

Ben asked me last night: “Do you also enjoy lifting?”

I laughed. “I do. I have no idea if I’m any good at it. No idea. It was all just a haze of push, pull, legs, rampages all over the country, these last years. And my only workout partner ever has been this one dude, on gear, thirteen years younger, who’s just bonkers for gains.”

You and I were awful, just awful about PDA, sometimes. Smacking each other’s asses in the squat rack, locking eyes in the mirror. Other times, we didn’t let a lift interrupt an argument we’d been having for three days straight. I remember people bailing out of the spa at one gym, willing to skip their soak. You and I whisper-yelled at each other, splashing and gesticulating in the chlorine froth.

And now. All those lifts, all those gyms, all those roads, all those endless recalibrations of how to be in the world together and pay our bills — now it’s just this house, that room, the wet spot on the carpet, and the blue towels in the bathroom.

I hope that, if anyone got anything out of my crash landing of a post-mortem visit, here, it’s that I was at least half of this shit show. You would seem to bear the brunt, for being an addict, but I was a brilliant negotiator: I’ll let you be a wrecking ball if you let me be important to you.

So now, let’s see. My shit is spilling out of my suitcase all over the floor of the *other* spare room. Milo’s gone with the family. There’s a stack of photos of me and you that your brother left on the desk for me, along with some ladies clothes. “Looks like they’re not yours.” Thanks. Some boxes in the garage, and two federal contracting trailers parked in covered storage with no tow vehicles. I feel totally overwhelmed. I have a bunch of new friends, and one less ex. I’m gonna shower, and dry off with a blue towel, and it doesn’t matter to me what my reflection looks like in the mirror any more.

You always told me I was beautiful, the most beautiful woman you’d ever been with. Why don’t you act like it, then. You made me sullen, childish. I made you want throw your phone across the room, apparently. That was your thing. I never knew why you didn’t find a more affordable object to destroy, if it was gonna be a trend.

I can write, and hear myself tell friends how I’m feeling, and submit to them telling me how it isn’t my fault, and get dragged behind the horse of the post-you days and nights, cantering madly ahead into the future whether I’m ready or not. I can just be a person moving through the world, doing things I know would make you throw your phone — like meeting men for coffee or, I don’t know, breathing, just existing at all. I can stop frustrating my friends with the endless battering of my moth wings against your lamp.

Dear, dead Nick — I hate your door. I hate the wet spot on your carpet and I hate the tree in the yard.

You called it “the Hannah tree”. You said you’d sit out on the back patio and suck on your beta, virgin vape pen, and consume god knows what else, and contemplate the tree until you could see its aura, its connection to yourself, to all things, to me across the ocean. Just like everyone else in this fucking town, that tree got to have you, in the last months of your life. Everything and everyone but me. (Ego: inflamed.)

I didn’t speak respectfully to your memory when I met with your friends here. Not disrespectfully either — I just vomited pain, and for the first time since we met I didn’t care how that affected you or your image. I didn’t even care how it affected me. I don’t care how it affects me to sleep in this house and use your blue towels. Everything is so finally tangible that it’s ultimately unreal. This is the fakest movie prop of a world they ever built. The only thing that’s real are Joe Balbas’s crystal tears running down his cheeks, in the booth across from me at Red Robin. The only thing that’s real is my last glimpse of Milo in his pajamas, being carried out the terrible door, and the cigars I’ve been smoking in the blistering cold, in the plastic Adirondack chair outside your bay windows with their one broken blind.

The Hannah tree — I’m less angry at that tree than at most other objects. Having no mechanism within yourself to stop being unhappy, you exiled me so that I could “be happy”. And as much as everyone wants being happy to be important to me, I find the concept obnoxious. Maybe this is me being happy — lunging forward recklessly. Yeah, I saw the red flags. We should have been a great team. We’re both total berserkers but in different ways. I didn’t want you to be some bullshit definition of happy, and I damn sure didn’t want you to be normal, because you just weren’t. God never made a better thing than you.

Dear, dead Nick — I didn’t want to be happy, I wanted you. You met me when you were 29, and I was 42. I’d had 42 years to be happy. That was plenty. It was fine. I’d rather be hanging on a chainlink fence getting force-vomited by you, than happy. I’d rather be arguing with you in a public hot tub, than happy. And apparently, I’d rather be writing an essay twenty five feet from where you died facedown, than happy.

It’s almost time to make like a tree and leave. Maybe the Hannah tree out back will connect us still, in whatever totally ineffectual way it did before. I wish you’d cut yourself and bled on its roots, so that I could too, before I go.

Love always,


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