I met my friend, Isaac, for the first time within a few weeks of holding a steak knife against my wrist.

My mother had died suddenly, and taken my understanding of the world along with her. Her heart stopped the night before Mother’s Day, and—almost a year later—I sat across from Isaac in a dive bar in New York, telling him what my apocalypse had looked like. All I knew for sure was that I was lost, unsure of what to do next, so I just kept talking. Without knowing me well he somehow managed to know me perfectly. “You’re gonna come visit me in San Francisco,” he said. “You’re gonna crash on my couch.” Eventually, I did.

Friends come into our lives for all kinds of reasons. Isaac came to teach me how to say “yes” to the rest of my life. I’d tell him about the book I was working on and he’d convince me it was going to be the best book ever written. Isaac rarely looks happier than when he is championing the work and lives of his friends. He made me feel like a king, even if I had no claim to a crown.

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Alive at the End of the World

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Saying “yes” got easier, and more important each time. Yes like a heartbeat that won’t quit, yes like a promise to keep trying, yes like a brass knuckle. We promised each other that if I could keep saying “yes” for an entire year, we would get matching crown tattoos. Basquiat would paint little gold, imperfect crowns above objects he loved most in his paintings. After a year of “yes,” Isaac and I trudged through a blizzard in Brooklyn until we made it to a tattoo shop called Three Kings.

If you say “yes” enough, your life starts saying “yes” back. Isaac and I have crowns etched in our skin because if you want to stake a claim to your life, it begins with shouting, “I am my own kingdom.”

Saeed Jones is the author of the memoir How We Fight For Our Lives, and his new poetry collection is Alive at the End of the World.

Reprinted by the permission of Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency as agent for the author. Copyright © 2014 by Saeed Jones.