I said earlier Chris was a good kid, but a follower. In the summer of 1995 he had met this other kid. His name was Chris as well, but for the sake of this story, we’ll call him Christopher. Okay? Good.
Christopher wasn’t really a leader or a follower. He was one of those middle of the pack kids who dabbled in drugs and liked to talk big, even though he was thin like a rail and looked like a damn weasel. He looked like he could be mean and controlling and Chris was just the person he needed to associate with, someone he could push around, someone he could control.
They became friends. Don’t ask me how. I don’t know. During the time period from late July to Halloween, Chris took a decided step backward. I think Chris knew better, but who was I? Just someone he knew from Church and Christopher wasn’t about church. Christopher was about Christopher.
Chris stopped coming to services and in the months that followed he went from a smiling, seemingly happy teen to a brooding, frowning, grump.
Talking to him did no good. It just pushed him further away and made him hang out with Christopher more. I know. I tried. Maybe he thought Christopher was the only person who ‘understood’ him. Maybe he felt like he ‘belonged’ while hanging out with Christopher. Maybe he was just trying to be friends with the new kid in town. Why not? It makes sense to me. Chris had been the new kid at once and I don’t think he ever felt fully accepted among his peers.
A couple weeks before Halloween, Chris came back to church. He brought Christopher with him. Could he have been trying to sway Christopher to a different path? Could he have realized something was terribly wrong with the way things had gone? I don’t know…
They were both dressed in jeans and t-shirts and their clothes weren’t clean. That really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but what it showed was significant. For Chris, it was a far cry from how he would normally dress for church. Or, really for anything. Sure, he wore jeans from time to time, but he always wore a nice shirt and occasionally a full on suit. He wanted to look his best for the girl of his dream, a former girlfriend who had dumped him long before he met Christopher. He also wanted to be accepted by those in the youth group and possibly by the adults at the church.
[[Sidebar: I can relate to the brooding personality–I am one.
I can also relate to the need to be understood. Maybe not necessarily accepted, but understood. I was once the new kid at a church where none of the other kids were like me. They all came from mostly well off families and they all spoke alike and their humor was different than mine and they were all… joyful. What a contrast for me, a brooding thinker by nature.
The need to be understood went so far as to one evening at the church I went to when I was a teen having the kids sit in front of the congregation and answer questions from the adults. It was daunting and most of us sat quietly.
I don’t remember the question that was asked of us, but I remember responding to it. After no one spoke up for a few seconds I finally did and what I said was that, as teens, we needed the adults to understand us. Not to just write us off as teenagers who don’t know anything. To understand that we are smart and that if we were given a chance by the adults that we could be counted on for more than showing up for the youth group and playing games.
At the time I was sweet on one of the girls there and the comments were aimed more at her father–who was not fond of me at all and with good reason–than anyone else. Sadly, the comments went over his head.
I can relate. I bet many of you can as well. End Sidebar]]
The two youths sat on the back pew and they reeked of what many of us thought was marijuana. But, there was something else. They smelled like crap and that’s not a metaphor or an analogy. They smelled like crap. Not to try to sound funny (or punny), but it raised one hell of a stink with several members of the congregation.
They were confronted by a few folks. I’m not sure those folks were in the right or the wrong, but I know Christopher was indignant to the whole affair, even smiling about it as if he did it on purpose, as if he meant to cause a ruckus among those holy rollers who spoke of God. Maybe Christopher was trying to make a point to Chris, that the church members didn’t care about people who weren’t like them, who didn’t dress nice and give their tithes and sing in the choir and… Hmmm… all the things that Chris had done. Maybe he wanted to show them to be hypocrites.
Maybe he succeeded.
Chris would only come back to the church once after that.
The day before Halloween fell on a Sunday, much like this year. I headed down to the Sunday School wing to do a head count while services were taking place. There were kids in children’s church and the nursery still was not accounted for. I did this every Sunday. Just the normal routine. I opened the door to head into the Children’s Wing and stopped.
Chris stood in the small breezeway between the two buildings. I closed the door and stood in front of him, a little shocked to see him there, especially after what had happened a couple weeks before. He was dressed nicely in clean jeans and a button down shirt. He had a tie on. He didn’t reek of dope or… well, you know. He looked sad, terribly sad.
“Hey, Chris,” I said.
He gave his hello and it was as if he were the kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He looked down at his feet, then out toward the road, behind him to the Children’s Wing; anywhere but up at me. His hands were shoved as far as they would go into his front pockets. I think he wished they could have gone further and maybe taken the rest of him with them.
“How’s it going?” I asked.
A nod followed and then that shrug–that simple gesture of the shoulders that said he didn’t know just how things were going. He confirmed it with his answer. “I don’t know.” His voice was small. It cracked a little. He still didn’t look at me.
I looked passed him, beyond the steps and sidewalk behind him to the blue pick-up truck that belonged to Steve, who also served as the youth pastor. The road ran along that side of the church, ending at the main road that ran along the front. I scanned what little bit of area I could see. From where I stood it was about ten feet to where the sidewalk T-boned. If you went right, you headed toward the front of the church and the main road. If you hooked a left, you went toward the parking lot and the Fellowship Hall. I couldn’t see much more beyond the walls of the building and that blue pick-up.
With Chris standing there all sheepish acting, I wasn’t sure what was going on myself. Part of me wanted to step down the steps and look around the sides of the building. The other part of me–that cautious bastard who I normally toss aside like any other stupid male–said it would be wiser if I stayed put. For once in my life I listened to the cautious side.
“Where’s Christopher?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said and looked up at me. His eyes were the color of bruises, not that they were blackened by a punch, but more that shade because of exhaustion or maybe drugs. “I’m done with him.”
I couldn’t help but lift my eyebrows at this; maybe I cocked my head to the side. “You’re done with him?”
A nod. A shrug. “Yeah.”
“What’s that mean? ‘Yeah?'”
“I’m done with him. He’s into drugs and he scares me and I don’t want to be around him anymore.”
It was my turn to nod.
“I’m sorry,” he said. I believe he was sincere. It’s hard enough being an adult and saying you’re sorry, but being a teenager faced with the reality of things that you’ve done wrong… that’s tough.
“Yeah. I want to make things right. I want to apologize to everyone. I want to get right with God and with everyone here.”
[[Sidebar: This last part I had to think about a little. In my head I recall this conversation clearly. It was a Sunday morning and we were in the breezeway between the two buildings. That part is correct. However, I was wrong in my earlier recollection that it was the day before Halloween. The day before Halloween didn’t fall on a Sunday in 1995. It fell on a Monday. I called my wife at home as I sat and pondered this. She even said Halloween fell on a Monday that year.
Not satisfied with both her and I thinking the same thing, I looked it up, that’s right on the world wide spider’s web. I went to the Almanac and lo and behold, Halloween fell on a Tuesday that year. That would put the conversation Chris and I had on Sunday, the 29th of October.
It’s funny how trying to remember the past sometimes escapes you. The finer details have a way of fading out in the wash and leaving only the major part of the story to be told. It’s kind of like having a pair of socks and both of them go in the wash and then the dryer, but only one of them comes out when everything is said and done.
“You know we’re having the harvest festival on Halloween. It’ll give you a chance to talk to some people, you know? If you want to come, I can pick you up and bring you.”
“I don’t know. My sister might be here and if she is she’ll want to go trick or treating and–”
“We can bring her along, too. Then afterward we can take her trick or treating. I know I’m taking my sister and Catherine’s taking hers, so you guys are welcome to come along.”
I should have known by the slow nod, by the way he had that trapped look on his face, the one that said I have other plans that I don’t want to tell you about. I should have known. In hindsight, I guess I really wanted to believe he was done with the other Chris, that he wanted to make amends and get things right… to straighten his young life out. Maybe he did, but he hadn’t worked up the courage to tell Christopher yet.
“I tell you what, I’ll call you before I get off work and you let me know. If you want to go, then I’ll pick you up.”
I find it interesting and sad that I don’t remember anything else of that day. I don’t recall if he went into the church or if he turned around and walked away. Did we go out to eat after church? Did he stick around long enough to make those amends he claimed to want to make? I have no clue. I’m willing to bet not many people remember things that don’t seem to matter at the time before a tragedy. Little things that are said or actions that are done are forgotten as soon as they have occurred.
The next thing I remember is Halloween morning.
To be continued…