Empty rooms always feel colder than full ones. I’m sure there is some scientific explanation, but I don’t care about science right now. I sit in the corner and wonder if a room has ever felt as empty as a funeral home kitchen. Maybe it’s not the room that is empty. Maybe it’s me. The linoleum floors start to make my legs go numb. Despite how badly I want to curl up in the fetal position, I stretch my legs out in front of me. I think life gave me the wrong story. I’m supposed to get a fairy godmother that gives me a makeover and helps me fall in love. Not a phone call telling me my best friend is dead.
My best friend is dead. ...My best friend...is dead.
After a week of knowing, you would think I would be a little more used to thinking of him as dead, but it hasn’t gotten any easier. I haven’t come any closer to forgiving the river for what it took from me, who it took from me.
The day before it happened, we had lunch together, and we talked about stupid things like school and what we would do next week. When we left lunch, he told me he would see me on Monday. He lied to me. He may not have meant to, but he lied. That night, after I got the call, I went to his house to see his family. None of us had much to say, so we just sat there. We sat there for hours. His mom scared me. The way she was sitting there. I don’t know how, but I could tell just from looking at her that something irreparable had been broken inside her. She sat with us as long as she could, but eventually, she escaped upstairs with a whispered “I can’t.”
We could hear every step of her walking, haunted, to her bedroom. More than anything, we heard her scream as she collapsed to the floor in anguish. We knew better than to go to her. We stayed where we were, wishing we could scream too.
Today is his funeral. I haven’t been to school since it happened. I tried, that first day after the call. I made it all of thirty minutes before I had a panic attack. I never thought about them announcing that he was dead. They said it over the intercom. Apparently, a dead student doesn’t warrant an assembly.
I couldn’t handle all of the pitying stares or the crocodile tears of people who didn’t realize he existed until that stupid announcement. They thought I couldn’t hear them asking, “Who was he again?”
Now it has been a week, and it hasn’t stopped raining since he died. The weather caused the river to take him and now it doesn’t even have the courtesy to stop for his funeral. I hear the soft padding of shoes on the carpet coming down the hall of the funeral home. I see my mom round the corner into the room and stop in the doorway.
“Hey, baby. The visitation line is over. You can stop hiding.” She speaks quietly, but it sounds so loud in the silence I’ve been sitting in.
“I wasn’t hiding,” I whisper. “ I just didn’t want to see people looking at him.” “That’s okay too,” she reassures me like I’m a toddler, but I’m too exhausted to be mad. “Daisy is looking for you.” “Yes ma’am,” I finally meet her gaze. “I’ll go find her.” My words fall like rocks as I make no move to act on them.
My mom slowly walks toward me and sits beside me with her legs crossed. She puts her hand on my leg and I collapse against her, no longer able to sit up.
“Hey, Momma,” I ask, face buried in her shoulder, “am I a bad friend for hiding during his funeral?”
“No,” she said, her tone leaving no room for question. “You can’t be a bad friend for grieving. He would never want you to be uncomfortable for him. He knew you too well to expect you to be in a crowded room when you feel this way.”
“Okay.” I’m not convinced, but she doesn’t have to know that. I take a deep breath and lift my head from her shoulder, taking a long time to meet her eyes. “I’ll go find Daisy now.”
I get up to leave the room, but hold out my hand and wait for my mom to join me. Once she does, I wrap both of my arms around her one and hug her tight, like I did to her leg when I was little and saw a stranger I didn’t want to meet. I take another deep breath and squeeze to let her know I’m ready, and she starts to lead me out of the room toward Daisy.
Daisy is his mom. She and my mom were friends when they got pregnant at the same time, so of course, they decided their babies would be friends too. Maybe we were a cliche, but we never felt that way. Daisy is my second mom. In sixth grade, I decided I was old enough to stop being formal and just call her Daisy. She looked like she could have whooped me right then and there, but then she laughed and didn’t say a word. Then it was like a joke between us. I haven’t called her “Mrs. Daisy” since.
Daisy hasn’t been the same since he died. Every day, I can hear her scream echoing in my ears. The scream of a mother who lost her son isn’t easy to forget. She hasn’t cried since that night, but, then again, neither have I. She moves like a ghost through the world: confused and alone. As Momma and I approach her, she looks lost. I want to reach out to her, but I can’t seem to find my voice away from my hiding place.
“Daisy,” my mom speaks up for me, “I found her hiding in the kitchen.” Daisy looks at me and smiles softly. I let go of my mom’s arm and walk over to her. I hold out my hand and she takes it gently. She takes her other hand and rests it on the side of my
face. We don’t say anything. We just stand there, holding hands, before she has to walk away to be alone again.
I watch her walk away down the long, carpeted hall and sink into my mom again. I no longer have the strength to hold myself up for more than a few minutes at a time.
“People have started to leave,” my mom starts. “We could go sit for a little while.” She must feel me tense because she amends, “You don’t have to look at him. The coffin is closed.” “It’s not about it being open,” I counter. “It’s about him being in it.” But I follow her anyway. As my mom and I walk toward the reception room, someone from school comes running up to us in a panic. My knees go weak, not ready for any more emotions.
“Hey! They’re about to close down the bridge due to flooding! If you don’t live on this side of the bridge, you need to go home,” they yell as they hurry off through the halls. I stop and lean forward for my mom to catch me once again. There have been so many emotions flying around my body today that a flood doesn’t even seem out of the question. Of course, there is a flood cutting short my best friend’s funeral.
My mom starts to rub the back of my head with a sigh. “Let’s go find Daisy.” Mom scratches my head one last time as I ready myself to stand on my own again. Finding my feet, we head off in the direction we last saw Daisy.
She is in the kitchen looking as stressed as ever. I can’t remember the last time I saw Daisy stressed, so I pool my remaining energy into a smile.
“Hey, man,” I say, trying to sound offended, “this is my hiding spot.” I cross my arms, partially to sell the joke, but partially because they feel like dead weights hanging at my sides.
Daisy tries to smile back, but it just makes me sadder. Daisy has the best smile. I haven’t seen it in a while. “Sorry, kiddo.” “I hear there’s a flood, but I wanted to tell you I’m sorry I didn’t stick around for the line.” I hang my head in shame for leaving Daisy alone to face those people, but she rubs my shoulder like she wants to warm me up. Too bad she can’t rub my heart.
“Never apologize for taking care of yourself. But I think you’re right. We should all head home.” “Momma,” I say turning towards her, “do you want to drive?” Asking is just a formality, I haven’t wanted to drive since we got the news. I was driving home from the movies, and I’m just superstitious enough that I don’t want to risk it right now. “Sure, baby.” We both say goodbye to Daisy and head for the car.
Looking back, that flood was a God-send. People out in the county weren’t able to get to town, so school was closed for a week. I got a whole extra week of rest after the funeral. By the time school started back, I had figured out how to look normal again. I didn’t quite feel normal, but that doesn’t matter in the real world. No one cares how you feel, they only care how you look.
It’s been almost four years since he died. I still forget, sometimes. That probably sounds terrible, but life is so different now. I’m in college. He should be off somewhere doing something. Sometimes, I think of him and it takes a few seconds to remember that he’s dead. Sometimes, for a few happy seconds, I just think of him. Like every time I hear Coldplay. Those
are probably the happiest thoughts I have. I have a moment to remember him without thinking of rain and screams and funeral homes.
I still haven’t cried. Not over him anyways. I’ve cried about a lot of other things, but I never just cry because I miss him. My therapist says that I’m doing better, though. I guess I have to believe her. I only took Intro to Psych. Part of me thinks I’m just not telling her the whole truth. It’s still hard to talk about him. I want to desperately, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to protect him once I do. I won’t be able to see what people think about him.
I still think life gave me the wrong story. Or maybe life gave him the wrong story. I’m not really sure. What I know is that I am learning to be okay with the story I have. It’s messy. It hurts. It would make any sane person cry. But it gave me him, even if it was only for sixteen years. Even if it made the rest of my story a little harder. And now, almost four years later, I finally feel like I’m living my life again.
I’m going to school to be a teacher. I never got to tell him that. People always tell me they think I’m crazy, but I can see him in those kids. I don’t know if he would have been happy for me, but I hope he would have at least been proud.
I want to be a teacher so I can try to touch the lives of students. I want to see that unadulterated joy and love that kids feel so freely, because I know it doesn’t always last. I want to protect as many children as I can from the harshness of the future. And if I can’t protect them, maybe I can at least prepare them for what lies ahead.
Tyler, I keep trying to write your story. That’s why I started writing this. I realize now that I can’t write your story yet. I can’t relive that. So instead, I wrote someone else’s story. This
person is a lot like me, and her best friend is a lot like you. I kept as much of the story the same as I could, but I changed what I had to. You didn’t drown in the river. You weren’t my best friend. You were two years older than me. You were like family. A flood really did ruin your funeral. You bled by the creek, and you died in the ambulance. You told me that you would see me later. You chose to make that a lie. I love you. I love your sister. I love your mother. None of that changed when you left, but other things did.
Our dads reconnected. They text each other all the time. Our moms drifted apart. My mom didn’t know what to do. But they’re figuring it out. We all are.
I really am going to school to be a teacher. I never told you. You would probably think I’m crazy, but the kids I work with remind me of you.
Sometimes I hate you. I always love you, but I hate you sometimes too. I hate you because you were selfish. I gave my character a best friend who didn’t choose to leave her. He wasn’t selfish like you.
I finally cried for you. A photo came up in my memories of the two of us together. I remember taking it to send to your mom. She was in the room with us. I don’t remember why I saved it. I’m just glad I did. I saw the photo, curled up next to my roommate’s bed, and cried for you. It only took three and a half years.
I wrote this story for you. I may never be able to write your story. But you should know that every story is for you, is because of you. You helped me see that nothing can happen if I don’t speak. So here I am, speaking to you, and you aren’t even here. Even so, I’m going to keep talking. That’s what I do. I keep going even though you decided to stop. I’m not sure where I’ll end up, but at least I know I’ll see you again someday.