Closing the Wound Part V

[[~She used her body just like a bandage, she
used my body just like a wound.
I’ll probably never know where she disappeared
But I can see her rising up out of the back seat now
Just like an angel rising up from a tomb…~]]

Life has a way of moving on and for the most part, time does heal wounds. It just leaves scars behind to remind you that you were hurt.

There are no band-aids for death. Those wounds—mental, spiritual, emotional—they never completely go away. Sometimes a memory comes out of nowhere and your mind goes back to that time… that time where you were hurt deeply.

Like flipping through a portfolio of drawings.

I used to draw and paint and experiment with all sorts of imagery. I loved drawing comic book superheroes (and villains). Chris thought it was cool that I could draw Wolverine and Superman and Spiderman and a whole host of others.

“Can you teach me how to draw like that?” he asked me one Sunday before life took its downward spiral.

“Sure.”

And I did. Chris came to my house several times and we’d either sit at the kitchen table or at the picnic table in the back yard drawing. I showed him a few basics on using circles, squares, triangles and rectangles to frame out the characters’ bodies. All simple sketches that created the foundations of the actual pictures.

He got better as time went on. After meeting Christopher, Chris stopped drawing, or at least he stopped coming over for lessons.

While flipping through my portfolio—one my grandmother bought me when I was in high school and wanting to get into a local art school—looking at pictures I had drawn over the years I stumbled across a brown envelope, one I don’t recall putting in there.

I opened it and pulled out several drawings of a superhero, but this one I didn’t draw. They were signed by Chris. My skin tingled as if I had stuck my finger in a light socket. My breath caught and my chest tightened. I wiped my mouth.

The character on the images had a name that could be considered an omen if I had thought about it back when Chris died. His name: Funeral.

No crap. Really.

There were four images, but two of them stuck out. The one of Funeral with his mask pulled over his face, a cape apparently flapping in the wind. His hands were on his hips in that classic Superman stance. Chris had shaded a good chunk of the costume in grays and blacks. It was a good picture.

The second image was simply a casket. Not all that much of a sign you say? What if I told you the casket was closed? That’s right. The casket was closed.

Sometimes little things… little things bring those angels back from the tombs.

Like a picture.

A picture of four guys—two in their early twenties and two in their mid-teens–at a rest stop between Columbia and Charlotte on their way to Carowinds. They stand behind the snack machine bars as if they are prisoners in a slapstick comedy. Four young men, two of them with more in common than I guess they knew and the other two good friends at one time.

Who would have thought that image taken in the summer of 1995 would be the only image of the four of them together? It would also be the last time one of those four seemed genuinely happy with life, however short lived it was.

The picture disappeared long ago and I looked for it every once in a while when Chris came to mind. Then my dad gave it to me one day out of the blue. And memories… oh my goodness the memories that flooded me, that threatened to drown me. All these thoughts and sidebars and random whatevers and lyrics to songs and… and… and events that changed a lot of lives.

They are all things that I never forgot, but pushed way back to the recesses of my mind. They are in one of those books that normally sit on the shelf at the very top where no one else can reach it. But, there it is, sitting on the coffee table of my soul, the pages turning, the images all black and white and some of them a little grainy. If you flip the pages together starting from the beginning of the book, you’ll see the stop motion images play out in a cartoon-like movie. Isn’t that the way of memories?

It doesn’t take much to dislodge The Great Big Book of Memories from the highest shelf.

We live with those memories and we live with the deaths that happen in our lives. If we don’t, then we just die as well, but I’ve said that already. The dead are just that—dead. The living, however, are alive, unless they choose to never let go of the past.

Maybe that’s why I write this. That picture my dad gave me shook those cobwebs off that book of memories and opened up a little sadness that had passed years ago. I haven’t pulled out the images Chris drew. But, I did go back and read the original version of this story. So much was left out before that I tried to put into this one.

This is how I remember things and some may disagree with me on how events unfolded. That’s fine. To each their own and to those I say, have your memories. Again, this is how I recall things. Other folks may have had a different view, but they can tell their own stories, write their own words. This one belongs to me and I tell what I know, what I remember, what I feel…

There’s a lot of negative stuff in here–I’m quite aware of that. It is what it is. But, it’s not always that simple, is it? Chris was a good kid. I can’t stress that enough. Chris was a good kid. Understand that. Know that. Believe that. Like all teenagers, Chris searched for his place among his peers, among those he trusted and liked, among a world that wasn’t necessarily good to him. He and I had a lot of conversations in the course of the short time I knew him. A lot of them centered on that Laura girl I mentioned earlier.

Chris had a lot of questions about life, love, religion and why things happen. Many of those questions no one could answer for him, and to the same, no one can answer them for you. You have to live life to discover them on your own.

In an interesting turn of thoughts, sometimes you don’t realize how sad someone is until they are gone and you spend some time in solitary thought–just you and your mind. That’s when you notice things you missed before. The part of your mind that analyzes things until they are beaten into the ground takes over and you see things for what they were… or your mind tricks you into seeing things that weren’t necessarily there to start with.

I almost feel like Chris was doomed the day his momma gave birth to him. It’s bad to say that. The truth is so many people didn’t listen to him while he was alive. And now that he’s dead, they can still hear his voice…

I’m rambling. The thoughts are all scattered about and there is no real closure to something like this.

October is my favorite month of the year. The leaves are turning colors, the cool breeze is just that: cool. The mornings become nippy and my wife and I tend to snuggle a little closer under the blankets. Should I do one of those smiley face things here?

Halloween has long been my favorite ‘holiday.’ The creepy things, the horror movies, the scary shows, the cheesy songs, the Halloween theme, trick-or-treating and dressing up. I love everything about Halloween. The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is one of my all time favorite Halloween themed shows.

Halloween was also Chris’s favorite…

Maybe at some point this month, my wife and I and maybe even Chad can get to the cemetery and visit him. If we do so, I’d like to do something special. I’m not going to say what that is… just in case. But, if we do make it, I’ll let you know.

***
[[~But it was long ago, and it was far away
Oh God, it seems so very far;
and if life is just a highway, then the soul is just a car. And objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are…~]]

Before reading any further, I would like for you to consider opting out at this point. There is only one other thing that needs to be told, though the actual details of it are a bit sketchy at best.

You see, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. No, it has the type of ending so many senseless deaths have. One with more questions than answers and, really, only two people know the real answers to those questions. One of them is dead. The other one is in jail.

I intentionally left out this part because I felt there was no real need to go into detail with: Chris’s death. I did that because I only have the mixed up confessions of the last person to see him alive as the map to what happened and when it happened.

It was a suicide pact.

It was a drug deal gone bad.

Chris tried to kill Christopher… blah, blah, blah.

Why and how Chris died isn’t the important thing. His life is. Remembering him is.

However, there are those out there who will feel cheated for reading over ten thousand words of this story and not finding out how he died.

Before you read the next couple paragraphs understand something: most of this is speculation, simply because of the information given and where it came from. It is the information put together by word of mouth, the newspapers, the local news stations and the court proceedings that ultimately found Christopher guilty of Chris’s death.

The police searched for a couple days for Christopher. They found him at a friend’s house, a little disoriented, tired and hungry. That’s what happens when you’re on the run and you have no where to go and no way to get there. I’m not certain if the friend called the police to let them know of Christopher’s whereabouts or if the cops had just followed him until he sat still long enough to move in for the arrest. No need for two young adults to die, right?

I gather he was interrogated. With or without an attorney present, I don’t know. I’d like to think he was scared, terrified even. Yeah, that’s what I’m going to say.

His first confession was that it was a suicide pact. That Chris was supposed to shoot Christopher with a shotgun, then turn the gun on himself. But, when it came time to do it, Chris couldn’t pull the trigger, so Christopher did. The problem here is that Christopher then chickened out and instead of following through with the pact, he set the trailer on fire and fled.

He recanted that statement and said it was a drug deal gone bad and that he didn’t even pull the trigger. Someone else did. Then why wasn’t Christopher dead as well? And why couldn’t he give the name of the person who supposedly killed Chris? Fear? Hell, I’d think going to jail or possibly facing the death penalty would be scarier than giving the name of the dealer up, especially if that person could go to jail for a very long time.

He recanted that statement as well and said that Chris tried to kill Christopher, that they struggled and that ultimately Chris was killed.

Whatever.

Then he went back to his original statement, the suicide pact. Only this time he said it was Chris’s idea.

When all the information came out about what happened, I called bullshit on a lot of it. Chris told me he was getting away from Christopher. I believed him. I speculated that Chris told Christopher that he wanted nothing to do with him anymore and Christopher got mad about it. Do I think drugs were involved. It’s possible. But, I also thought that Christopher stood to lose a lot if Chris told anything to anyone about the drugs and wear they came from. In a panic, Christopher took the shotgun and took off part of Chris’s head before setting his body on fire to hide the evidence. That’s what I speculated then.

As I’ve thought about this over the last few weeks, I’m becoming more and more convinced that my speculation was wrong. My thinking has changed. Why?

Goodbye.

Goodbye is so final.

Chris told me goodbye that morning as if he knew–KNEW–that I would never see him again. At least not alive. I keep coming back to that. Do you understand? He said GOODBYE. If I’m completely honest with myself, I think I knew as well, though I might have thought he would run away and not come back. I never thought he would die…

As I’ve pondered this I’m closer and closer to believing that the two boys had a suicide pact. I’m not so certain that it was Chris’s idea. After all, he was a follower, not a leader. I also believe that it was more a murder/suicide pact where one would kill the other then turn the weapon on themselves. Chris wouldn’t have been able to follow through on this. Christopher would have been–or so he may have thought. I believe Christopher shot my friend in the head and the scene that played out in front of him as and after he pulled that trigger was so devastating that he couldn’t follow through. Panic probably set in for him–that Oh Shit factor that we’ve all experienced from time to time–and he had to do something with the body, but have you seen what a shotgun does to a person? There was a mess to clean up and Christopher didn’t have it in him to do that cleaning. Instead, he set Chris on fire and ran, hoping that by burning the body and the trailer that there would be no real evidence that a murder had taken place.

The problem with his thinking is that the fire department was quick to react to the phone call it received about a fire in Starmount. They were able to put the flames out before the trailer was completely burned down. And what they found inside was the body of a teenage boy, shot to death and burned.

There you have it. The somewhat inaccurate/accurate portrayal of the death of a friend. I only wrote this part for those who wanted to know, who would have been angry to not find out, who would have bitched and moaned and groaned about me wasting their time and not giving out the details of the murder/suicide or whatever it was.

I write. I paint pictures for readers by using words and showing them what I see in my head. I give them scenery and try to build characters and try to create situations for my characters to figure out and I let them figure out how to deal with it. But, I’m not painting this picture any more than what I have in these last few paragraphs. If you can picture the scene, go right ahead. I, personally, don’t want to see it anymore than my mind will allow…

There is one final piece to this story, one final thing that needs to be told. Until tomorrow…

Closing the Wound Part IV

The sun was going into hiding for the night. The moon seemed to rise earlier than normal. I guess she didn’t want to miss anything. She probably got her eyeful the night before when she watched the events unfold in a single wide trailer in Starmount.

Steve pulled up in his pick-up truck. He was the youth leader at that time and one thing you could bank on is he really cared about those kids. I know–he told me so on many occasions. If there was ever a fault in that guy it was how much he worried about stuff and those teens were chief among those worries. We were close friends–at least at that time we were–and I could tell you how much he talked about the various problems they had, how much he tried to figure out how to help each one of those youths.

I sat on the steps outside the pastor’s study, which was part of the Children’s Wing. Steve got out and I stood. He rounded the front of the truck, his keys in hand and gave me a curious look. “Jeff, I got a call to be here early tonight. Earls said it’s important.”

I nodded. What was I thinking when I said I would tell him? I wasn’t prepared for this.

“Do you know what’s going on?”

I hesitated. “Yeah.”

“What?”

“Steve–”

“Does it involve any of the kids in the youth group?”

It’s an honest question, one that rightfully was asked. There were a few troubled kids in the group, most of them girls, and being the youth leader, it was a legitimate question with a legitimate concern.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Who?”

“Steve–”

“Who?” I think he knew before I said it.

“It’s Chris.” My voice felt so small I wasn’t sure I had spoken.

“What about him? What about Chris?”

I looked at him. Could he see it in my eyes? Could he see it in the way my lips were turned down? Could he see it in the way I stood?

“Steve.”

“Jeff, what’s wrong with Chris?”

And it came out. Two words, so simply stated and carrying all the weight in the world and wielding all the impact of a hammer to a nail. “He’s dead.”

I saw that hammer strike that nail right on the head. Steve’s face screwed up tight as the words reached his brain and the realization hit home. He turned, slung his keys toward the pastor’s study and walked a few feet away.

I looked away. Part of me felt like the meanest person in the world for telling him. I spotted his keys on the ground. It may not have meant anything to anyone else, but those keys became important to me. With what had happened, with the loss of a teenager to a senseless crime, those keys couldn’t be lost. I walked over, picked them up and held them tight in my fist. They were hot. Or maybe it was just me.

***

That Wednesday night service was nothing like it normally was. I guess that goes without saying. There was no singing and there was no message. The youth didn’t meet in the youth room. The only thing that seemed semi-normal was the nursery had kids in it.

We sat in the sanctuary on light colored pews with green cushions that matched the carpet. No one did much talking. For those who knew about Chris, they sat or stood in shock. I sat a few pews behind Steve and next to the girl I would marry one day.

Pastor Earls stood. His face, a study in grief and pale, his eyes rimmed red as if he had been asleep or crying. I believe it was the latter of those two things. He straightened his blazer, cleared his throat and began to speak. His voice was strong, without the first quiver.

I don’t remember everything he said, but the gist of it remains. He spoke of Chris’s death without going into any details–details most of us would find out over the next few days as things began to unfold.

Then the quiver came right along with the tears that followed. With the exception of people crying quietly in their pews, no one spoke.

The weight of a young life, gone way too soon, now sat squarely on each of our shoulders.

***

“How did… umm… how did Laura take it?”

“Who cares how she took it?”

He frowned, confused. “She was his girlfri—“

“No, she wasn’t.” I was a little too sharp in my tone.

“She said she was.”

“She lied. Chris was nuts about her. Absolutely nuts about her. He worshipped the ground she walked on. He would have done anything for her. Anything.”

I could feel the heat rising. My face was probably flushed red. I talked through gritted teeth.

“And you know what she did? She ignored him. He followed her like a lost puppy and she wouldn’t give him the time of day. He bought stuff for her and she took it, said thank you or maybe not and then had nothing to do with him.”

“But, I thought she loved him.”

Bullshit.

That’s the first word that came to my mind. I didn’t say that, but I wanted to.

“You know,” I said and picked up my drink. I took a big gulp, swished the somewhat watered down soda around in my mouth before swallowing. “She never loved him. She toyed with him. Played him like a fool. It really pissed me off to hear her say how much she loved him after he died and to go on and on about how her boyfriend was murdered–you know he was murdered, right?” I probably shouldn’t have mocked her at that point, but damn I was angry.

I looked down at the table.

Deep breaths, man. Deep breaths.

Back up at him, I could see his eyes were a little wider behind his glasses.

“Chad, she wanted a pity party. Oh, poor Laura lost the love of her life. She wanted the attention. I think she liked it. The truth is it wasn’t true. She didn’t love him at all, and if she did, she had a funny way of showing it.”

He fidgeted with his cup for a moment, then changed the subject. I don’t blame him. If I were him I would have tried to do the same thing.

“How was the funeral?”

“It was nice,” I said. Totally the truth there. It was nice, even if it left me feeling a bit like the way Laura acted did.

***

I thought I got their early enough. Not so. I arrived at the church nearly an hour before the ceremony. The parking lot sat packed with vehicles. I only recall a couple times when the lot was packed like that and, sadly enough, they were all for funerals.

I went around to the front of the building like everyone else. I guess I could have gone in the back way, but no need making the entrance where folks paying attention would notice. At the door stood the ushers, members of the church who I knew well. I thought back to that blue teeth incident and forced a smile as the ushers greeted me and handed over one of the bulletins that held the order of service in it. On the front of the single folded page was a school picture of Chris, taken the year before. He smiled happily.

Teenagers filed in, most of them dressed nicely, some of them looking as if they belonged in a fashion show instead of at a funeral. As I watched the many youths enter the church I began to wonder… Admittedly, it’s something that probably should have never crossed my mind, but it did and if I’m going to be honest with you all, I have to tell you what that thing was. If you’ve paid attention throughout this, you would remember that I said Chris was a follower, someone always searching for people to fit in with. He’s the polar opposite of me. What do I mean? I’ve never cared if people like me. If they do, great. If not, well, their loss. Chris, however, did care if people liked him. He wanted his peers to like him. In some way I think he needed people to like him.

As teenager after teenager packed the small Nazarene church in Cayce, I couldn’t help but think, just how many of the well over a hundred kids there were actually friends with Chris and how many of them just wanted a day off from school or just wanted to say ‘hey, I knew him and he was a friend of mine and I went to his funeral and…’ You get what I’m saying? We all know those people. We all know them quite well; those people who use someone else’s tragedy to bring attention to themselves. People like Laura…

I met Catherine and we took a seat near the front of the church. The casket sat closed in front of the pulpit.

Closed.

That’s pretty final.

Catherine sniffled and we talked in hushed tones. I had the hardest time taking my eyes off that closed casket. Goodbye came to mind. You know, goodbye? That thing you say when you don’t ever plan on seeing someone again. That goodbye has lingered with me for years, even when I think Chris is in the rearview mirror a long way off.

[[~…and there was so much left to dream…~]]

The next part of that lyric is ‘and so much time to make it real.’ Time ran out on Chris. Whatever dreams he or anyone had for him died on Halloween night of 1995.

I think about that goodbye and part of what Christopher later said when being interrogated by the police made a lot of sense as to why he said that. I’ll get to that later…

But, it’s still there. I can still see his face, hear his voice. I can still see it in his eyes–I would never see him again and I believe he knew. That feeling that crawled all over me when he said that… I should have gotten out the car, walked over to where he went and pulled him away from there. At the risk of him being pissed at me for doing so, I should have stuck my nose in his business right then and there…

…but I didn’t.

No, I don’t blame myself. Like so many others, when someone dies, we wonder if there were anything we could have done to prevent it. Maybe. Maybe not. We often kick ourselves or worry ourselves over what we could have done. The past is the past and no matter what, you have to move on. You have to live or you just die with the person who left already.

Pastor Earls gave his message that day and Michael W. Smith’s Friends played over the P.A. system. I think it was at that point that most of the tears fell. Catherine wept on my shoulder…

To be continued…

Closing the Wound Part I

It’s almost Halloween–my favortie day of the year. Sixteen years ago on Halloween night I lost a young friend. So, in remembrance of him, I wrote this piece. It’s long and it will take several blogs to cover the entire story (at least what I wish to tell of it).

***

Take a deep breath.

That’s what I tell myself before talking about this–or in this case, writing about it.

Take a deep breath.

No matter how long it’s been it still bugs me, still bothers me. I guess you could say it haunts me a little.

So, I’ll take that deep breath, thank you very much and if I could drink, that breath would be on the rocks with something harder than strawberry Kool-aid. But, I don’t drink and that’s probably a good thing. I’d be one mean as hell drunk.

A few years ago, Meat Loaf sang a song titled Objects In the Rearview Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are. That’s a long winded title, isn’t it? Just for the record, the song was written by Jim Steinman and released in 1994 off the Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell album. I had to look that last part up for clarity’s sake. The song is kind of ironic in and of itself. The story I’m about to tell you is about a kid who died in 1995, the year after the song was released and the song… the song is so appropriate for such a story as this, where the past seems so much closer than it really is.

I’ve told this story a few times, but it keeps coming back and each time it does, I leave something out. Some of it is probably not important to the reader, but all of it is relevant to me, to those involved.

If you have a few moments, sit back and read on. If you’d like, grab your beverage of choice and come down this memory lane with me. Watch your step, though. The cobblestones are a little loose and there seems to be more dirt on this road than there ever was before.

Catherine and I had been married nearly five years and Chloe, my little girl, was almost two. It was the beginning of February and the world wasn’t as cold outside as it should have been. We had just closed on our house the day before and spent our first night there. Our mattress lay on the floor in the living room, boxes all around us. It felt good to have our own home, but it was exhausting. On that night I slept—and slept well—which was something of a rarity back then.

The phone rang. I opened both eyes and lifted my head. The alarm clock sat on the floor, its bright red digital display telling me it was barely after eight o’clock. I thought the clock was laughing at me. If it weren’t maybe the phone was. Maybe it was all in my head. I didn’t care. All I knew is that the phone was ringing and there was no answering machine set up at the time and there was a one year old that I wanted to keep asleep for a little while longer.

I crawled from the bed—literally–and found the phone. It was a green hand held and it lit up every time it rang. I’m not sure, but I think I gave a weak ‘hello.’

The voice on the other end sounded tired. “Are you awake?” he asked.

It was Chad, a good friend, younger by a few years.

His teenage years weren’t what most folks would care to recall later on in life. Some of it may even have been a haze, brought on by anti-depressants and maybe a substance or two that didn’t quite mesh with those meds. Chad had always been like a little brother to me, one troubled by the world and people around him. But, he was a good person, had a good heart and life had changed for him–in very much a positive way.

“I am now,” I said. I’m sure I didn’t sound like Mary Poppins, all cheerful and singing about Supercalifragi… whatever that song is. I probably sounded more like the Grinch with his heart two sizes too small.

“Sorry, man, but I’ve been up all night.”

“So, you decided to call me and wake me up?”

Understand something: I’ve never been a good sleeper. I considered four hours a good night for me, but often, like 28 out of 30 days, sleep didn’t make it to four hours. I had been sleeping well and I’m somewhat of a bear when I get woke up prematurely.

“You’re the only one I know who can answer my questions,” he said.

Great. A question and answer session. Again, the Grinch in me had come along when I woke.

I sat down in one of the kitchen chairs, pushed aside a few boxes and placed my elbows on the table. I rubbed my eyes with one hand. “What questions, Chad?”

“What happened that night?”

This could have drawn my normal sarcasm. A little more specific please? Are you talking about the night Catherine and I got married? I hope you would know what happened that night. Which night? Last night? We moved into our house. Which night, dude?

No sarcasm came. Just a simple, “When?”

I wasn’t prepared for his answer.

“You know, the night Chris died.”

Talk about a gut shot. If I hadn’t been fully awake before, I was then. Those groggy, sleep induced cobwebs faded quick, as if they were never there to start with. It had been a couple years since I had talked about Chris, about his death. And in that moment it all came rushing back, kind of like those objects in the rearview mirror. Try passing a few cars out on the interstate and then slam on the breaks. Watch how fast those cars catch up to you. That’s what it was like, slamming on the breaks and watching…

[[~There are times I think I see him peeling out of the dark
I think he’s right behind me now and he’s gaining ground~]]

“You know what happened, Chad,” I said. I’m not going to lie. I wanted to avoid the subject.

“Jeff, I was on meds during that time period. Things are fuzzy. I don’t remember a lot of what happened.” He paused, then added, “Did I go to his funeral?”

“No.”

He had chosen not to go, not to be part of the circus of teens that may or may not have been Chris’s friends. He chose to mourn in his own way, even though Chris had been his friend, even though some others thought he was being selfish.

I heard the deep sigh through the phone.

“Meet me at Denny’s and we’ll talk,” I said.

A half hour later I sat in a booth across from a very tired looking Chad. His eyes held the type of sadness in them that I remember seeing when he was in his teens. We ordered coffee and some breakfast. I think we downed more coffee than we ate.

“I don’t remember anything,” he said. “What happened?”

Deep breaths. In and out.

I closed my eyes, rubbed the bridge of my nose and looked across the table at him.

***

Chris and Chad had one thing very much in common. Both of them lived with someone other than their parents, whether by their choice or their parents’ choice doesn’t matter. The fact is, they were kids whose struggles began when the parents didn’t seem to want them.

Chad lived with his grandfather, Chris with his aunt.

They had a bond, though at the time I don’t think either of them realized it.

The difference between the two of them is Chad was more of a loner. He had no issues with being alone and living inside his head. Chad could stand on his own two feet. Chris, on the other hand, wanted to be more popular. I hate saying this, but it’s pretty much the truth: Chris was a follower. Plain and simple. I think that trait, among other things, had a direct link to his death.

***

[[~The skies were pure and the fields were green,
and the sun was brighter than it’s ever been…~]]

I met Chris at church one Saturday. It was a church workday. Another man, Steve, and I were stripping the carpet off the front porch of the church. It was that indoor/outdoor stuff that so many people put on their porches back in the nineties and it was a real pain to get off. Chris walked up and asked if he could help. He had this goofy smile on his face, his hands tucked into his pockets.

“Sure,” one of us said and a friendship was born. That simple. He helped us that day with quite a few things and then in the coming couple years he constantly hung around, trying to play practical jokes or making smart remarks to us. He always seemed to get the worst end of those jokes.

There was this one time when Chris tried to play a joke on us. He was proud of himself. I don’t remember what the joke was, but Steve and I decided to up the ante a little. We went to a store called Spencers. It sat in the mall and they were one of those novelty type businesses. You know, the ones with the shot glasses, cheesy costumes, sex games and naughty cards and racy t-shirts. They also had gag gifts and we were there for one of those. We purchased a pack of chewing gum that turned your mouth blue.

The next morning, I opened a pack of gum, took out the stick and popped it into my mouth. Carefully, I wrapped a piece of the blue gum in the foil and slid it back into the sleeve the other piece came out of. Chris had a habit of asking me for gum and on that Sunday morning, he did just that. I slid the gag gum out and handed it to him. I also told him not to chew it until after we were done with the choir and ushering. See, I tried to show some sort of responsibility.

The boy didn’t listen all that well sometimes.

He popped that stick in his mouth just before we walked down the center aisle and picked up the offering plates. He chewed it all the way down and through the prayer. Chris looked at me, picked up the offering plate and smiled.

Uh oh…

His lips and gums were purple and his teeth were the color of Smurfs.

I turned away from him, doing my best to stifle laughter. When we finished we took the plates into the counting room. He had this confused look on his face.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

He gave a shrug–the way only Chris could–and shook his head slightly. “Several people were laughing out there.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I wonder what’s so funny.”

I said nothing and walked out of the room, barely containing the giggles. After the service he popped into the bathroom. A scream came from behind the door. When he came out, his face was as dark red as his teeth were blue.

We had a good laugh over that one. Even Chris laughed once he realized what had happened.

“I’ll get you guys for this.”

He tried, but looking back, I don’t think he ever succeeded.

***

I had to answer Chad’s question, but I wasn’t sure what to say. I simply said in that crass way I’ve been known for, “He died.”

It wasn’t the answer Chad wanted and I could see it on his face; the way he frowned; the way he ran his fork over the tops of his pancakes without so much as actually cutting through them.

I relented.

“You really want to know what happened?”

[[Sidebar: Why do folks asks that question? Do you really want to know? Yes, people want to know what happened, even if they are only mildly curious. It’s been proven time and time again, especially in this day and age of the internet and all the bagillions of things out there on the World Wide Web (which I think is an appropriate name for it. The internet is like a spider’s web and how often do people get tangled up with misinformation they found on it? Damn spiders…). If you go to Yahoo’s homepage off to the right is the most popular searches and in the center of the page is what’s hot now.

People want to know about the stupidest things. Did you hear about the rabbit that bit the nipple off of a man? No? Look it up on the internet and its all there. You want to know who the losing pitcher was in game two of the World Series of 1922, look it up on the web and you’ll get thousands of responses. (For the record, that was a trick question. Game 2 of the 1922 World Series between the Giants and Yankees was suspended with the score tied at three. Why? Darkness. There was no losing or winning pitcher in that game.)

You get the picture and I have rambled away from my story. I’m sorry. I do that sometimes. End Sidebar]]

Chad simply said, “Yes,” to my question.

I stared at him for a long time as the memories trudged themselves out of the closets and boxes and bags I had stored them away in. A few of them came down from the attic while others hobbled up from the basement, pulling themselves along splintered rails until the reached the top. They dusted themselves off and made their way across the labyrinth that is the warehouse of remembrance inside my head. One by one they appeared, said hey and took a seat in chairs that weren’t there seconds earlier. Each one was there to give their voice to a story I don’t completely know the entire truth to.

“Okay,” I said and so I told the story the best I could.

To be continued…