As children, we talked about enlisting together. We didn’t feel like children then.
He was too sick to enlist when I left. I don’t know if we would have stayed close otherwise. Our lives were already very different before his diagnosis. I visited him in the hospital every time I took leave. It was like a pilgrimage. The first time, both our heads were shaved.
He stopped going to the hospital, and I visited him at his mom’s house. The small town around us seemed as sick as he was, but one of them was improving. I quit going by after he got better. I moved on with my life. I went to college and made new friends. I went home less and less, though I lived much closer. I don’t remember what I was doing when I found out. I remember consciously not asking for details. I felt guilty enough already.
There was another pilgrimage. Our class had all left, but we were still in driving distance.
I brought a suit, serious and adult. I found out that everyone would be wearing a simple black shirt. That was more his style.
We drank. I guess it was a wake, though we don’t call it that.
I stayed out late enough that most stores were closed, though that isn’t particularly late there.
In the closet at my parent’s house, I found a black button-up from high school. It fit, but a dry cleaning bag had disintegrated on it. I spent an hour picking small pieces of plastic off of it. I never got them all and it felt itchy all day.
At the funeral home, most of his friends were missing. They had stayed out later than me. They had drank more than me. And they didn’t have black shirts. Someone had rushed to buy some.
When it was time to bring the casket to the church, the designated pallbearers still weren’t there. My dad told me I should volunteer, but I hung back. I felt such strong guilt. I couldn’t stomach the thought of taking someone else’s place. Someone who had stayed closer.
At the last minute, they arrived. There was a crush of people, healthy young men in new black shirts, all pushing close enough to put a hand on the polished wood. We brought him to the church. The priest was new, but he talked like he’d known him. We put him in the ground. People were making plans to drink. I drove back to college instead.
Image courtesy of Gnusam. Some rights reserved.