When I was 7, my mum told me to stick with Alex, he'll be mayor some day.
That was the day I knew that no matter what I did or would ever do, it would never be good enough. Only my abuelita believed in me and encouraged me to do something I loved.
As I grew up, I would watch my father fawn over Alex, he would go to everything that Alex did. He would say to me that Alex was the son he always wanted. I was 15 the first time when left home alone that I would take a knife from the kitchen and run it along my wrists just to see what it would feel like if I just pressed a bit harder. After, there would be white lines from when I dragged the knife across my skin. I kept that knife hidden and would pull it out every now and then when I wanted to feel it. No one knew.
When I was 18, I got the letter saying that I had got into Harvard on a full scholarship. I was excited. Abuelita was excited for me and made my favorite dinner and dessert. When I got home from abuelita's, I found my father consoling Alex because his Harvard letter never came. Alex went back home soon after and my father broke my arm because I dared to get into Harvard instead of Alex. My mum took me to hospital to get my arm looked at. With my arm in a cast, we went home. That night was the first time the knife broke skin and instead of white lines, red lines were left.
I couldn't wait to get to Harvard and away from everything. The knife went with me to Harvard.
At Harvard, I felt free to be myself. I was happy. No one was comparing me to some else. Yes I was known as the poor scholarship kid from the Bronx, but soon people started to see why I was there. I was the person to beat in mock trials. The knife stayed where I put it when I first moved to Harvard.
Eventually, it was graduation day. I was graduating top of my class with a job in a prestigious law firm, first as a paralegal before passing the New York Bar. That year in the law firm, while a great learning experience, and I made a lot of money, I wasn't happy. Abuelita could tell I wasn't happy. My father delighted in informing me that Alex was to marry Yelina my ex-girlfriend. He always said that she was too good for me and was happy that I wasn't happy at the law firm. He said that that was what I deserved for taking Alex's Harvard opportunity from him. I went home and pulled the knife from my safe and sat on my couch. I looked at it as I held it in my hand. I pressed the blade to just below my elbow and ran it across the skin. Blood began to weep from the cut. I sat the knife on the table and pressed the cloth to my arm.
I applied for a position at the Brooklyn DA's office and within a week, I was told the position was mine. I resigned from the law firm and started as an ADA. I was helping people that needed a voice to speak for them. I dated men, women. I had one night stands. But in the back of my mind, my father's voice kept telling me that it was not good enough. When I went to visit my abuelita, she would always have my favorite food ready for me. She would ask me how work was going and she would show me newspaper clippings about cases I handled. I would always stop and see my mum on the way home. This time, Alex and Yelina were there showing off photos of their honeymoon. This time my father didn't wait for them to leave. He would tell me that I was worthless, because I was more interested in working than having a family. That he thought I thought I was better than everyone becomes I went to Harvard. I hit him for the first and only time. I didn't even stay to see the damage. It was also the last time I would see him till his funeral.
Over the years, I would make a name for myself as the Shark. While my work life thrived, my love life stalled. When showering, I would look at the scars that littered my arms. I was happy in my work, but I felt like that was all anyone wanted of me. I would hear what my co-workers had said about me behind my back. I started to take sleeping pills because my mind would race at night with bad thoughts. Soon, the pills stopped losing their effectiveness and I began to take more and more. I had begun to hope that I would take so much, that I wouldn't wake up the next morning.
Then things changed, the scandal at the Manhattan DA's office gave me the chance to transfer to where I always wanted to be. It was one step closer to being a judge that Angelita dreamed for me. My lateral was approved and I was soon working with Manhattan SVU and the legendary Detective Olivia Benson. It was amazing to work with her. We became fast friends. But everytime went to hell with Lewis. I failed everyone by loosing the case, then I found out that Lewis had kidnapped Liv. I went home and brought out that knife. I needed that release, but more importantly, I wanted to feel pain. Liv was found after a few days, but I never felt the same way again.
I went to see a therapist just to talk to someone and he diagnosed me with severe depression and put me on meds. Even though I wasn't supposed to drink with them, I still did, just to keep everyone in the dark. I couldn't let anyone know how much of a failure I was. I kept thinking that if they knew, they wouldn't want to work with me again. It was October when I would run into my old friends again. Eddie was in trouble and my squad was investigation him. Alex, who was running for mayor like my mum once said he would, had come to ask me to see what I could do to help him. Turns out Eddie was innocent and it was actually Alex that was the one that needed to be investigated. That case was hell. Eddie thanked me for helping him, Yelina slapped me for helping the investigation into her husband. Alex went down swinging and even though what he had done was made public, the people hated me. I was sitting in a bar with Liv and Nick when we saw Alex, Yelina and their daughters in the TV at a press conference demonising me. Nick left Liv and I at the bar. I told her a story about when I was 7. She gave me a sad look before heading home.
That night when I went home, was the first time that I actively tried to end my life.
Obviously I didn't succeed.
The months went by, Nick was sent to patrol as punishment, Cragen retired, Liv became Sargent and was fostering a little boy named Noah. I new detective was assigned to the squad, he had been shuffled around different squads before landing in Manhattan. All I could think was that god awful mustache and Staten Island accent. In spite of everything, he was turning out to be a good detective and it helped that he was attending law school at night. I admired him and his dedication. Nick was finally back at SVU and it felt like a full squad.
I hadn't thought about that knife in over a year, when a case came in. A well respected author was a victim of possible rape. The case was something that was for sure. The wife was giving him blue pills and his daughters were accusing her of torturing him. He eventually died due to a heart attack from being shuffled around the city in his condition. The case ended up being settled and Sonny who was a huge fan of the author was angry about the case's outcome. A couple of days later I received a phone call from my mum about my abuelita. We had been looking into nursing homes for abuelita as she had become to sick to look after herself full time. When I got to abuelita's apartment building, I found my mum in the lobby crying. Abuelita had died in her sleep in her apartment like she wanted to. My heart was broken. The only person in my life that truly cared about me was gone.
I blamed myself for her death. I kept insisting that she move out of her 6th floor walk-up and into one of the nursing homes we had looked at. I failed her. I never got to say goodbye and that I loved her. She died thinking that I didn't care about her. I made my decision that night. I grabbed my knife, a bottle of sleeping pills and a glass of scotch. I never got to do anything as my phone rang. It was Sonny offering his condolences after hearing about what had happened. He told me about when his own beloved grandmother had died and what she had meant to him. We spent hours on the phone talking till after the sun had come up.
I had taken some time off work for the funeral. When I got back, I decided that I was going to help Sonny with his studies for his JD and the bar.
When Sonny graduated from law school, I felt proud of him and when he got his bar results, I took him out for a fancy dinner. I joked about when he finally becomes an ADA, I would call him a baby ADA. He laughed at that. I was becoming happy again and thought that maybe there might be something between Sonny and I.
There was that nagging feeling that I would never be good enough for him. He had the happy childhood and family. Everyone liked him. Then I heard from Liv that he had begun seeing someone and I knew I had missed my chance.
I went to visit Alex in prison. I wanted to know why everyone preferred him over me. His answer was simple, he had worth about him. Everyone knew that he would be and would something important and worthwhile, while I was nothing, a weakling. Alex admitted to me that my father wished I had never been born and that my mother had wanted to abort me. I left the prison and went to get answers from my mother.
The look on her face when I asked her if what Alex had told me was true was all the answer I needed. I finally knew the truth. I really was nothing, worthless and not wanted.
I went home cooked my favorite dinner, locked my door and turned everything off. I would not wake in the morning.
If you are reading this Sonny, then you have just returned home from my funeral. I want to say that I enjoyed our time together and that I am extremely proud of you. A week before writing this letter, I suggested that the DA should offer you a position as an ADA. You should take it, with your background as a SVU detective, you will do great.
I am very thankful that I met you. I wish I could be there to watch and guide you as an ADA. But just know that where ever I end up, I will be there for you. It was a true honor that you choose me to be your mentor. But sometimes, it feels like the end.
Your friend and mentor
Sonny put down the letter and saw that there were tear stains on it. He pulled out the card that was handed out at Rafael's funeral. The picture that Lucia had chosen was of Rafael smiling. The information on the back was standard, born in the Bronx to Cuban immigrants. Graduated top of his class in both highschool and Harvard. Brooklyn DA's office before Manhattan DA's. That he was single with no children.
Sonny thought back to that morning when he got that fateful phone call from Liv. He rushed over to Rafael's apartment to find Liv crying in Fin's arms and people preparing Rafael's body for transport to the hospital. When he saw the body bag go past him, Sonny collapsed onto his knees and Amanda who didn't know what to do wrapped her arms around him. They were told that they had to leave the apartment. They couldn't go back to either Liv's or Amanda's because of their kids, so they went back to Fin's.
Liv explained that Rafael hadn't been answering his phone so she went to his apartment. She had a key to his apartment as she offered to water his plants whenever he was on holiday. She let herself in and called out for him. She saw that his bedroom door was closed, so she knocked but there was no answer. She said that she pushed open the door and that it took her a couple of minutes to realize that his comforter did not actually have any red parts to it. She walked closer to him and saw that there was what looked like a well cared for old knife beside him, a open bottle of sleeping pills and a glass of scotch on his bedside table. When the shock wore off, she called 911 before calling her team.
The following days saw everyone in shock and not sure what to do. Sonny met Lucia for the first time, but he wished it was under happier circumstances. The investigation was closed saying that after a lifelong battle with severe depression and many attempts to take his own life. In spite of no suicide note being found, Rafael's death was ruled suicide. Both Sonny and Liv offered to help Lucia plan her only child's funeral. The day of the funeral was overcast and threatening to rain. Sonny saw a man about Rafael's age and what must have been his son sitting next to Lucia crying. He was trying to understand why Rafael would take his own life.
3 months after the funeral, the DA offered Sonny the position of Manhattan SVU's new ADA, saying that it was what Rafael wanted. Sonny of course took it.
The Sunday before he was due to start as an ADA, Sonny visited Rafael's grave
"hi Rafael, it's Sonny, yeah I know, I haven't been by to see you. I wasn't sure how this would go. I got your letter. I wished you would have talked to me. What Liv didn't tell you was that the person I was seeing dumped me after a couple of days because they could tell that I was completely in love with you. You didn't miss your chance, I did. I also wanted to thank you for helping me and being my mentor. I took the job. I start as the ADA for our squad tomorrow. Just know that I am extremely proud to have known you Rafael.
I promise to do your memory proud. And I promise to come around more often."
Sonny pressed a kiss to the top of the headstone before laying Rafael's favorite flowers down. And finally looked at what was said.
Here lies Rafael Eduardo Barba
Beloved son, grandson, friend and mentor
may your life be worthwhile
The next morning, as Sonny stepped into 1 Hogan Place as an ADA for the first time, he caught a whiff of the smell of coffee, pretzels and Rafael's cologne. Sonny knew then that where ever Rafael was, he was there for him. Sonny smiled and continued walking in remembering the promise he made yesterday and planned on living up to the memory of his good friend and mentor Rafael Barba.