Everything for the next three days, was like dream to me. I wasn’t sure from one minute until the next, what was real. When I woke up, the morning after Jeremy’s death, I heard noise coming from downstairs, and then the sound of the front door closing. I went to the window and looked out. Mom and Dad were walking over to Jeremy’s, but before they could get there, Jeremy’s mom and dad came out, and they all got in our car and drove off. I was confused for a moment, and wondered who was with Jeremy. Then I remembered, and sat down on the floor with a gasp.
I wasn’t really crying. I was just sitting there with tears streaming down my face. I was vaguely aware of someone sitting up in my bed. He got out of my bed and came over and sat next to me. “Tony? Tony, are you alright?” It was Tommy, but it never occurred to me to wonder what he was doing in my bed. I just looked at him without answering. “Come on, Tony, let’s get you back in bed, okay?” Again, I didn’t answer, but obediently allowed him to help me up and lead me by the arm back to the bed. He told me to lie back down and then he pulled the blanket back over me.
I watched as Tommy dressed. He told me he was going to get something to eat and asked if I was hungry. I shook my head no and retreated into my own thoughts again. A little later, I felt someone sit on the edge of the bed. It was Silvy, and her eyes were red and swollen. It was obvious she’d been crying. “How are you feeling?” she asked.
She nodded. “I know, me too. I’m going to miss him, Tony, he was my brother too.” She was crying again, so I sat up and we held onto each other.
“What is Tommy doing here?” I asked her, after we’d both calmed back down.
“He’s not. He left for school this morning. He helped Dad get you in bed last night, and then Dad asked his parents if he could stay with you for the night, because they were going to be with Jeremy’s mom and dad most of the night.”
“Where are Mom and Dad now?”
“They went along with Jeremy’s Mom and Dad to make all the arrangements and things. I made you some soup and a sandwich, Tony, do you want me to bring it up here or come down to eat it?”
“Soup and a sandwich for breakfast? You’re going to make a wonderful wife and mother some day.”
“It’s not breakfast, silly, it’s lunch. It’s almost twelve-thirty.”
“It’s after noon? It can’t be. I just woke up and Tommy left just a few minutes ago.”
Silvy reached over and took my hand. “That was five hours ago, Tony. You’ve just been lying here staring at the ceiling since then.”
I was stunned. Five hours? It seemed like only minutes. Where had my mind been? I couldn’t remember thinking about anything in particular. Hell, I couldn’t remember thinking at all. “I’ll be down in a minute,” I told her. “I need to get dressed.”
When I got downstairs, Mom and Dad were sitting at the table. They looked exhausted. Mom got up, came over and hugged me. “How are you doing, Sweetie?”
I shrugged, “Okay, I guess.”
“That’s all any of us can do for awhile, be just okay. The next few days are going to be hard on all of us.”
“How can it get any harder?” I asked.
“It will, Tony. His mom and dad have made all the funeral arrangements now. The visitation will be from two until eight tomorrow, and the funeral and burial will be on Sunday at two.”
I hadn’t even considered what would happen after his death. I hoped I could make it through it okay.
“I’m bushed,” Dad said. “I think I’m going to lie down for awhile.”
“Me too,” Mom said. “Silvy? Can you see to dinner? There’s ground beef in the freezer and sauce in the cupboard if you want to make spaghetti.”
“Okay, Mom. Tommy’s bringing my assignments and books home and then we’re going to do homework together. Is it okay if he has dinner with us?”
“Of course, Dear.”
“I wonder if we can list him as a deduction on our taxes?” I heard Dad say.
“That’s funny,” Mom told him. “I remember my dad saying the same thing about you a long time ago.” They were smiling at each other as they walked by me. Jeremy had died less than twenty-four hours ago and they’re smiling? I couldn’t believe it.
I went out to sit on the front steps. Jeremy’s dad came out of their house to get the morning newspaper. I guess he hadn’t had time to get it this morning. He never looked over towards our house. He walked with his head down, picked up the paper, and went back into the house.
I decided to go see them and walked over, but stopped at the front door. I had no idea what to say to them, and almost changed my mind. I knocked and stood there, waiting for one of them to open the door, and thinking about what I was going to say. Mrs. Palmer answered and looked at me in surprise. “Tony, what’s wrong? Why did you knock?” She stepped back and let me enter.
“I don’t know. I guess I wasn’t sure if I was disturbing you or not.”
“Well, you did disturb me.”
“I’m sorry, I’ll come back later,” I said dejectedly and turned to leave.
“No, no, no, Tony. I didn’t mean it like that. I meant I was disturbed because you knocked instead of just coming in. Two weeks after you and Jeremy met, you both gave up knocking at either house and came and went as you pleased. Don’t do it again. This is still your other house and you come in whenever you want. Okay?”
“Okay,” I said sheepishly.
She put her hands behind my head, pulled my head down and kissed my forehead. She pulled me into a hug and asked, “How are you doing, Tony?”
“Okay, I guess. I’m not really sure. It’s all like a dream. I keep thinking I’m going to wake up but I don’t.”
“It’ll get better, Tony. I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but it will. Come on, I want to show you something.”
Mr. Palmer was sitting in his chair, reading the paper, but looked up and said hi as we walked in. She had me sit on the couch, sat next to me and opened a box that was sitting on the coffee table. It looked like it was full of pictures. “I’ve been intending to sort these out for a long time. This is as good a time as any I think.”
We started going through the pictures and putting them in stacks, depending on who was in them. She would examine and comment on each picture before she’d put it in its stack. I couldn’t do that. I’d look at each picture only long enough to see which stack it belonged in and get rid of it, like it was burning my hand. Before long, Mr. Taylor was sitting next to her and the two of them were reminiscing about nearly every picture they looked at.
Occasionally, they’d spend more time on a single picture and often would laugh at the memory it brought back. Every time one of them would chuckle or laugh, it was like a knife stabbing my heart. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore and made an excuse to leave. As I got up to leave, Mr. Palmer also stood. He stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. “Wait, Tony. Look at those stacks of pictures. Do you see the one so much bigger than all the rest combined?” I nodded. “Every one of those pictures is of you and Jeremy, and each of them depicts a happy time in your lives. Each is a snapshot of a happy memory.” He looked into my eyes and I could see the tears forming in his. “Don’t lose those memories, Son. If you lose the happy memories, you’ll have nothing left.”
When I went into our house, Tommy and Silvy were sitting on the living room floor with their books spread out on the coffee table. Silvy was studying, but Tommy had his elbows on the table and his hands under his chin, supporting his head as he just stared at Silvy. “Hey, Tony,” he said as I walked in. “Jen said to tell you she’d be here after she got off at the hospital.”
“She went to work?”
I nodded and walked through the house and out the back door to the rear deck. I sat down in a chair and brooded. Mom and Dad smiling and flirting with each other; Jeremy’s mom and dad looking at pictures and laughing at them; Silvy and Tommy doing homework and Tommy making moony eyes at Silvy; and now Jen goes to work instead of coming over. It was all so normal. Was I the only one who missed Jeremy? The only one grieving his loss?
Later, Silvy came out and said dinner was ready. I told her I wasn’t hungry and she went back inside. Not long after that, Mom came out with a plate and a glass of tea. She set it down on the patio table and told me to come and eat. “I’m not hungry, Mom,” I said. “I’ll eat later.”
“No, you won’t. You’ll come eat now. Silvy said you haven’t eaten all day and you will eat now.” It was that tone of voice mothers use when you know it’ll do no good to argue, so I sat at the table. I pushed the food around a little and took a bite, pushed the food around a little more, and took another bite. “Stop playing with it and start eating, Tony.” Mom said. I gave up and took a big bite, and before I knew it, I’d finished the plate. I guess I was hungry after all.
“We all miss him, Tony. Don’t make it harder on all of us by making us worry about you.” She hugged me from the rear, kissed me on top of my head, picked up the empty plate and went back into the house.
How was I making it harder for them? I wondered. They were making it harder on me with their apparent indifference to Jeremy’s death. I picked up one of the chairs and moved it out on to the lawn, where I could sit in the sun. The days were getting shorter, and although not cold, the late afternoons and evenings were definitely cooler.
I heard the rear door open and close, and the sound of someone dragging one of the other deck chairs out to where I was. Jennifer pulled her chair up next to mine and sat down. “Hi, Tony. You feeling better today?”
For some reason, this angered me. “Do you really care how I’m feeling? If you care so much, why did you go to the hospital, instead of coming over after school?”
She looked at me with an expression of hurt, which quickly faded to one of sadness. “I had an obligation to, Tony. Do you know what I do at the hospital?”
“Yeah. You pass out books and candy to people.”
“That’s part of my job, yeah, but it’s just a small part and not the most important. There are elderly people there who are dying, and mostly because they want to die. They’ve outlived their families and friends and are all alone in the world. We Candy Stripers are the only visitors they have. We give them something to look forward to everyday. If it weren’t for us visiting them everyday, they’d have no one. Jeremy had all of us around him and didn’t have to spend his last weeks all alone like that. Do you think he’d want me to abandon these people now?”
I felt terrible for what I’d said. “No, and neither do I. I’m sorry, Jen, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I can’t seem to think straight right now.”
“I know, Tony, I know. You’re hurting right now. It’ll get easier after a while. I can’t promise you how long it’ll take, only that it will.” She reached over, took my hand, leaned toward me, and kissed me softly. “And when it does, I’ll still be here.”
The next day was the visitation. I was dreading it, but made it through it with less trouble than I’d anticipated. I sat in a corner and spent most of my time just remembering. A lot of people came up and talked to me, but I don’t remember any of them except TJ. He came over and stood in front of me. He looked as sad as I felt inside. He put one hand on my shoulder, giving it a little squeeze, and turned and walked away. Jennifer was there with me the whole time, and my mom and Jeremy’s would each come over and sit with me for a while before they had to go greet other people as they arrived. Jennifer made sure I would get up and walk around for fresh air every couple of hours, and before I knew it, it was over and time to go home. I hoped things would go as easily at the funeral the next day.
We were at the church early, so Jeremy’s parents could make sure everything was set up correctly. Jennifer and Tommy had ridden with us. I was amazed at all the flowers people had sent. They pretty much filled the front of the church and were all around the closed casket, with the big picture of Jeremy sitting atop it.
I could hear people coming in and sitting down, but never really turned to look around. We were all sitting in the front pew with the Palmers. Dad was on the aisle with Jeremy’s dad next to him. Then came Jeremy’s mom, my mom, me, Jennifer, and then Silvy and Tommy. It was nearly time to start, when Silvy whispered to me, “TJ’s in the back all alone.”
I turned to look and saw him sit down in the last pew, on the aisle. “I’ll be right back,” I told her. I got up and went to Jeremy’s mom and told her.
She looked back and saw him. “Come with me,” she said.
I couldn’t believe how crowded the church was. All the seats were filled, and people were standing along the sides and rear walls. TJ saw us coming back toward him, and stood up when we stopped beside him. He and Mrs. Palmer embraced. “You belong up front with the rest of the family,” she told him. He looked at me and I smiled at him. Mrs. Palmer took his hand and led him to the front and had him sit between her and Mom.
The service started, but I remember absolutely nothing of it. I know people got up and spoke, but my attention was riveted on the picture of Jeremy, and my thoughts locked on the loss of my best friend. There were times I could barely make it out through my tears.
When the service was over, and Jeremy’s casket had been carried out to the hearse by men from their church, and the flowers loaded for transfer to the grave site, I was like a zombie. I just blindly followed whoever had my hand and pulled me in the direction they wanted me to move.
We arrived at the cemetery and were seated while the flowers were arranged and his casket was placed on the thing that would lower it into the grave. I could hear the murmur of people talking softly and a even a few people quietly crying. I was dry-eyed though. I supposed the well had just run dry and there were no more tears in me. I was wrong though.
The service resumed and the minister said some more things and then made one last prayer. Jeremy’s mom and dad walked up to the casket, and each placed a single blossom on top and stood silently there for a few minutes. They stood to one side, and the rest of us in the front row walked up and placed our flowers on the casket, and then lined up beside Jeremy’s parents.
The rest of the mourners then stood and filed by the casket, and then down along the line of those of us standing there. I was still dry-eyed and managed to thank the people who offered me their condolences. A lot of the girls from school hugged me, while the boys just shook my hand uncomfortably.
Jennifer’s mom was hugging her, and Mom and Dad were hugging, so neither of them had a hold of me anymore. I felt completely lost, and the dam broke. I couldn’t control the tears, and fell into one of the chairs in the front row. I had my face buried in my hands and was sobbing uncontrollably, when Mom and Jen noticed at nearly the same time. They sat on each side of me, and each had her arms around me, trying to comfort me. Jeremy’s mom came over, and Jennifer moved so she could sit beside me. I buried my face in her shoulder and just cried. She consoled me for a while and then said, “We have to go now, Tony.”
“I can’t,” I sobbed.
“We have to, Honey, we have to let him go now.”
“He’s afraid of being alone,” I cried. “We can’t just go away and leave him here alone.”
“Oh, Honey!” she hugged me tighter and then tried pushing me away. I wouldn’t let go, though. “Tony? Look at me!” she said, sternly. “Look at me, Honey,” she said more softly. I relaxed my hold on her and allowed myself to be pushed back enough that we could look into each other’s face. “Jeremy isn’t scared any more and he’s not alone. That’s not Jeremy down there, Honey, that’s just a body he borrowed for awhile. He’s not alone, because now he’s here,” she said, placing her hand over my heart. “And here,” she continued, placing her hand over her own. “He’s with us all now, Tony. He’s in the heart of everyone that knew and loved him, and as long as we remember him and keep him there, he’ll never be alone again. It’s up to us now, Tony.”
We held each other, softly crying, for a while longer. “Are you ready to go now?” she asked me. I nodded and we got up to leave. Nearly everyone was gone by now, but I saw TJ there with tears streaming down his face. He was flanked by Silvy, who had her arm around him, and Tommy, who had his hand on TJ’s shoulder. I was glad he had someone to comfort him too. We looked into each other’s eyes, sharing our grief, as Mom and Jennifer led me back to the car.
I was emotionally exhausted when we got home, so I undressed and just dropped my clothes where I removed them, and wearing only my Sponge Bob boxers Jeremy had given me, I went to bed.
I didn’t go to school the next three days. I just couldn’t do it. Mom brought me food Monday, but Tuesday she told me if I wanted to eat, I’d have to come down. I don’t remember if I ate or not. All I could think about was that Jeremy was gone. His mom had told me he was in our hearts now, but he wasn’t in mine. He was gone, and now nothing was the same.
I couldn’t understand how the others could just ignore this. I could hear them. When school was out, I could hear Silvy and Tommy talking and doing their homework. Sometimes, they’d even be laughing about something. Mom and Dad just went about their lives like nothing had changed. Mom worked around the house and Dad went to work everyday as usual. Mom would check on me several times a day, but she usually just shook her head sadly and left. The others, Tommy included, would stop at my room and ask me how I was doing a couple times a night but I rarely answered them. When I did, I’d lie and say I was fine. Jennifer called every night, but I just didn’t feel like talking.
Wednesday was much the same, at least until after dinner. I heard the doorbell and then Dad talking to Jennifer. “Just the same,” I heard him say and then I heard them coming up the stairs.
Jennifer came into the room followed by Dad and she looked angry! For a few seconds, the anger changed to sadness, but quickly changed to anger again. “Look at you, Tony, you’re a mess! Is this how you’re going to spend the rest of your life? I want you out of that bed and dressed! We’re going for a walk.”
“I don’t really want to do....”
“I didn’t ask what you wanted to do!” she interrupted, “I told you what you’re going to do!” She walked over and jerked the blanket off me, “Now get up!” Suddenly, her nose wrinkled and she made a face. “You smell! When was the last time you showered?” I could only shrug. I still had on the Sponge Bob underwear from the funeral, so I supposed that was the last shower I had. “Well, it’s time now.” she took one of my hands and pulled me out of bed. If I hadn’t stood up, she’d have pulled me right out onto the floor. She got behind me and was pushing me toward the door. “You get in there and shower. I’ll get you some clothes out to wear.”
“I said go shower! Don’t make me drag you in there and bathe you like a two year old!”
That got my attention. My eyes opened to the size of saucers, I bet. I looked to Dad for help and support, but he only smiled and shrugged. I decided to go shower.
The warm water washing over me did feel good. As I lathered up for the second time, I started thinking about her threat to bathe me. Suddenly, it didn’t seem to be such a bad idea. The combination of the warm water, the slippery soap, and the thought of being bathed by Jennifer made a part of me begin to feel alive again. “No,” I thought to myself. “This isn’t the time or place. The mood she’s in, she could come busting through the bathroom door at any second because she thought I was taking too long in the shower!”
After drying myself off, I realized I hadn’t brought any underwear with me. I wrapped a towel around me and opened the bathroom door. “Dad? I need some underwear,” I said.
“It’s safe,Tony. Jennifer’s downstairs waiting for you.”
I hurried to my room. There were some clothes laying on the bed for me, and Dad was sitting in my computer chair. I grabbed the underwear and put it on, then turned to Dad. “What am I going to do? I need help, Dad.”
He looked thoughtful for a minute and then said, “I think you’re going for a walk.” He walked over to me and placed his hand on my shoulder. “Welcome to the world of wives and girlfriends, Tony.” He gave a gentle squeeze and started to leave, but, as he was walking out the door, he stopped and turned. “Oh, and I wouldn’t take too much time getting dressed. She may decide to come up and dress you herself.” He walked away, laughing evilly. I thought he was probably right, so I hurried up and dressed. I was downstairs almost before he was.
Jennifer came up to me and handed me my hoodie. “You look nice and smell sooo much better,” she said, giving me a peck on the cheek. She took my hand as soon as we were outside, and we walked up the street towards the park. I took several deep breaths; the cool fall air was invigorating. I hadn’t been too happy about going out, but I had to admit, it felt good.
We stopped at one of the picnic tables and sat down on the top with our feet on the seat. “You can’t go on like this, Tony. You can’t hide in your room for the rest of your life. We all miss him too, you know.”
I snorted. “Yeah, it sure looks like it. Everyone is acting like there never was a Jeremy and everything’s the same as always.”
“That’s not fair, Tony. You don’t know any more about how everyone else feels than we know what you’re feeling right now, and you won’t until you start talking to people. You lost someone you considered a brother. Well, so did Silvy. Tommy has told me how, sometimes, she just tears up and is quiet for a while. And what about your mom and dad? They lost someone who was a second son to them. They’re grieving too. Don’t you think Jeremy’s mom and dad cry themselves to sleep at night?”
“Do you know what the difference is between them and you? They miss Jeremy as much as you do, but they all know that they still have to live the rest of their lives. You’ve given up. You’ve decided to hide away and withdraw from the rest of your life. Is that what you think Jeremy would want you to do, or do you think he’d want you to go on living and remember the good times you had together?”
I remembered my conversation with Jeremy the night I’d asked Jennifer for a date. I was doing the opposite of what Jeremy would want me to do, and I knew it, but I didn’t know how to change. I let go of Jennifer’s hand and got off the table. I walked away a few feet and angrily kicked a trash can. Then I broke into tears, and kicked the can over and over again. Jennifer came over and held me. I held on to her for dear life as I cried until the tears were all used up.
We stood holding each other for several minutes. “Jeremy tried to warn me,” I finally said. “And so did his mom and dad,” I added, remembering sitting with them looking at pictures in their living room.
“What did they all say?”
“Jeremy warned me to not lose the happy memories, that if I lost them, I’d have nothing left. His mom and dad showed me a lot of pictures from over the years, and pointed out that there were a lot more happy memories than bad ones. I want to remember those happy times,” I added sadly, “But I don’t know how.”
“Why don’t you tell me about them?” she asked, taking my hand and starting to walk again. “That might be a good way to start.”
We spent the next hour just walking around and talking about things Jeremy and I had done. I told her about him breaking his arm on our homemade fire escape for the tree house. About how I was the only kid in the neighborhood he’d let sign the cast because, “Only real firefighters get to sign it.” How his mom and dad had taken us down to the fire station and gotten all the firefighters there to sign the cast for him. He was so proud of that cast, he insisted on keeping it when it was removed, and it was still in his closet in his room.
There were times we cried on our walk, and even, to my surprise, times we laughed. There were times we did both simultaneously. It felt like a weight was being taken off of me, the more we walked and talked. I began to feel alive again and noticed things I hadn’t before.
“Look at the trees,” I told her. They were ablaze in their fall colors and I hadn’t even noticed them changing. I felt like I’d been asleep for nearly three months, ever since I’d learned of Jeremy’s illness. No...not asleep. I was just so focused on Jeremy for that time that I’d been, nearly totally, unaware of of what had been going on in all our lives. I had a girlfriend now and my little sister had turned into a young woman with a great boyfriend of her own. I had two terrific new friends in Tommy and Duane. I had a lot of catching up and making up to do.
Jennifer came in with me when we got back to my house, but wasn’t going to stay. Tommy decided to walk home with her, and he and Silvy went outside to say goodbye. Jennifer and I said goodbye inside. “Feeling better?” she asked. I nodded yes. “Good,” she said. “I’ll be by to walk to school with you in the morning. You better be dressed and ready to go; not laying in that bed, or I’ll get Tommy and Silvia to help, and we’ll drag you to school in your underwear if we have to!” She gave me a goodbye peck and left.
I heard Dad chuckling, and when I looked at him, he said, “I think she means it.”
“I do too!” I said. “Dad? Whatever you do, don’t let me oversleep tomorrow!”
He looked at me and smiled. “You got it, Son.”