“Are you ready?” Aunt Barbara picked up my gym bag for me.
“I can carry that,” I insisted as I took it from her hand. A nurse was waiting nearby with a wheelchair. I still couldn’t believe it when she and Uncle Ray told me the night before that he had called them and informed them that I could live with them.
“Why?” He had been so insistent that I live with him, his whore and her children. I guess he couldn’t handle having a gay son. Even though I was delighted that I didn’t have to return to his house, I was hurt that he had so readily given up. Even though I hated him, it still hurt to know that he no longer wanted me.
“He called us the other day,” Uncle Ray explained, “and told us to come by the house and pick up your things. We’ve prepared the guest bedroom for you.”
“Did he say anything to you?” I was sure he had told them the reason he didn’t want me to return home is because I was gay.
“We’ll talk later,” my aunt said as looked around the room to see if we had gotten all my personal items. Since she seemed to be avoiding the subject, I determined that they now knew.
I walked over to the mirror and looked at the side of my face. My head where I had hit the window was still swollen and heavily bruised. My short black hair had been shaven, and the nine stitches were obvious. I took the wool cap my aunt had brought me and carefully covered my head.
"Do I have to ride in that?” I looked down at the wheelchair the nurse had pulled up to me.
“Hospital policy,” she replied tersely. She gave me a stern look until I finally relented and sat down. We left the room and headed toward the elevator. My doctor stepped out from the nurses’ station when he saw us approaching.
“Now you take care of yourself,” he said warmly as he extended his hand. I hesitated before finally reaching out and shaking it. “No skateboards for a while.” He started to laugh until he noticed that I rolled my eyes. He reached down, patted my shoulder and walked away.
We rode home in silence. Uncle Ray kept looking in the rearview mirror at me, and Aunt Barbara would occasionally turn and attempt to say something, but she would stop when I’d look out the window. I didn’t mean to be rude. I just... I guess I just wasn’t in the mood for anyone to care about me anymore.
The only two people who loved me, and I loved back, were dead. Love hurt. My heart ached and I couldn’t stop it from hurting. My mother’s death had devastated me. It had drained me of life. Wade had come into my life and given me a ray of hope that I could again find happiness. We had only known each other for a short time, but it was enough for me feel that my life had a new meaning. His death destroyed that.
I no longer wanted to feel anything. I didn’t want anyone to feel anything for me. Life hurt. And I no longer had any will to go on. I was fifteen, and I couldn’t, and didn’t, want to face a dark future.
“Here we are,” Uncle Ray announced as we pulled into the driveway. I got out and walked slowly up the steps and waited for him to open the door. I then walked into my new home. I’d spent many nights with them, so I knew which bedroom was mine. I was surprised when I opened the door and walked inside.
It looked almost identical to my old bedroom- now Freddy’s. My posters were hanging on the walls, and my computer was on the desk that my mother had given me when I was ten. I was surprised to see the cell phone he had given me next to my computer. I picked it up and examined it.
“Is the room all right, Dear?” My aunt walked up and put her hand on my back. “Freddy spent yesterday getting the room ready for you. He’s such a nice young man.”
I stepped away and opened the closet door. Most of my clothing appeared to be hanging inside. My shoes had been placed neatly against the wall.
“Do you need anything?” She walked over to the dresser and checked out the contents on top. “Do you have deodorant?”
“I’ll check later,” I yawned. I toed off my shoes and lay across the bed. She walked over, kissed me on my forehead and then left the room.
I fell asleep for about an hour. I then got up and walked across the hall to the restroom. As I washed my hands, I opened the medicine cabinet door and looked inside. I saw several vials of pills. I carefully read the labels until I found a name I recognized- oxycotin. I had given it to my mother numerous times when she was in severe pain. I stuffed the vial into my pocket and then filled a glass with water. When I was done, I crept back to my room.
I sat on the side of the bed, emptied the pills into my palm and counted them. There were twenty-three. ‘That should be more than enough,’ I thought.
My mind kept telling me that what I was doing was wrong, but my emotions were winning the battle. I thought back to the past three years that I had endured my mother’s sickness, and then her death. I thought of him and how much hatred I had for what he had done to her. And I thought of Wade’s listless body as it slumped into my lap.
I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. Tears wouldn’t flow. I was determined to carry through what I felt I had to do. If I thought about it, became too emotional, then I knew I couldn’t finish the task.
I lifted the pills to my mouth.
Suddenly, I heard footsteps running down the hallway. I slipped the pills into my pocket just as the door sprang open and Andrew came bounding in. He jumped into my arms and buried his head into my shoulder.
“Richie!” he cried. “I’ve missed you so much.” He wrapped his hands around my neck so tightly I could hardly breathe. When I looked up Aunt Barbara was standing in the hallway with tears running down her face. Behind her was my sister, Melinda. She, too, was crying uncontrollably. I held out my arms and she rushed into them.
Aunt Barbara closed the door and left the three of us alone. I held them tightly for several minutes. I had forgotten just how much they had meant to me.
“Why ain’t you living with us anymore?” Andrew finally asked. Melinda looked at me, awaiting an answer.
“I don’t know,” I answered. I couldn’t tell them how much I hated him. From what I had seen when I was there, they both seemed to be adjusting to the new situation. I didn’t want to influence them into thinking like me.
“You’re going to come back home?” Melinda asked hopefully. I had to slap Andrew’s hand away when he started lifting my cap to look at my head.
“Are you all right, Richie?” Andrew asked. He reached for my cap and this time I let him look underneath it. “Ewww!” he screeched.
“Daddy said you’d been in a car wreck.” Melinda said. “Is that what happened.” She wrinkled her nose when she saw the stitches on my head.
“Does it hurt?” Andrew started poking at my head.
“Oww!” I pulled his hand away and pulled the cap back down. “Of course it hurts.”
“I’m sorry, Richie.” I pulled him into a hug when it looked like he was getting ready to cry.
“It’s okay, Big Guy,” I assured him. “I’ll be all right.”
He looked at me and asked, “When are you coming home?”
“I’ll tell you what,” I said as I placed him and Melinda on my knees. “Give me a few days to think about things, and then I may come back. Okay?” They both shook their heads.
Andrew asked, “Can I stay here with you then?”
I frowned. “What about Harley? I thought he was your new brother?”
Andrew leaned in and hugged me tightly. “He’s not you, Richie.” Melinda hugged me tightly also.
The bedroom door opened, and Aunt Barbara walked in. “Your father is back, Kids.”
Melinda asked, “Isn’t he going to come in and see how Richie is?”
Aunt Barbara looked at me and frowned. “You’d better go now,” I said as I put them down on the floor and patted Andrew on his butt. “I’ll see both of you soon.” They gave me another hug before leaving.
I walked over to the window and watched as they got in the car. Harley was waiting anxiously outside the car for Andrew. As he pulled from the driveway, my father looked up and saw me watching them leave. I closed the blinds.
I then retrieved the pills from my pocket and placed them back into the vial. Even though I didn’t feel like living, I couldn’t put Andrew and Melinda through another tragedy. I walked across the hall and put the bottle back into the medicine cabinet.
When I returned to my room, I sat down at my computer and opened my email. There was only one. I had been in a severe accident in which two people died, and only one person had sent me an email. When I opened it, it was only an advertisement for a new video store that had opened downtown.
No one cared. I wasn’t used to getting a lot of email, but several friends always managed to write something each day. What hurt most was that Gabe hadn’t written. In fact, he hadn’t even visited me at the hospital. There was a time when if I got even a splinter in my finger, he would be there helping me until I had dug the sliver out. I had almost died, and he wasn’t even around.
There was a knock on the door. Aunt Barbara entered with a glass of milk and some cookies on a plate. “Are you hungry?” She walked over and sat on the side of the bed. I signed off, and then joined her. She smiled as she handed me the glass of milk.
“Be careful of the cookies,” she warned. “I just took them out of the oven.”
I nibbled on the cookie, aware that she was watching me. Finally, she reached down and took my hand in hers. “Are you all right, Richie?” I looked into her eyes.
My head dropped. “You know, don’t you?” She squeezed my hand tighter.
“Yes, Dear,” she said softly. “Your father had a long talk with Raymond when he went to get your things.”
I started laughing nervously. “I can just imagine what he said.”
“I think you might be surprised,” she said. “He’s very hurt.”
I jumped to my feet and looked down at her. “Hurt! After what he did to Mom, he’s hurt?”
Aunt Barbara patted the side of the bed. “It’s complicated, Richie,” she said as I sat down. “I’m not sure you can even begin to understand.”
“What’s to understand?” I responded angrily. “He left us when we needed him.”
“That is what has hurt him the most,” she said as she held my hand. “He knows that not only did he lose his wife, he lost his son. He came back to make it up to you.”
I started to laugh uncontrollably. “He sure did a good job of that.” Images of him hitting me came surging into my mind.
She reached out and ran her hand over my covered head. “A lot has happened to you. More than anyone your age should ever go through. Perhaps someday you’ll see things differently.”
I looked angrily at her. “You act like you’re forgiving him. Look what he did to your sister.”
“Oh, no,” she laughed. “I still hate the son of a bitch. But then again, he’s not my father.”
I started laughing and then leaned in and gave her a hug. “Just keep an open mind, okay? Hatred can be a bigger and more bitter son of a bitch than him.” I nodded my head into her shoulder.
I sat in the car in front of the small church, refusing to get out. “I thought you wanted to attend the funeral?” My aunt looked worriedly at me. “Would you like for me to take you home?”
I looked at the large oaken door and took a deep breath. “No,” I responded. “I should be here.” My hands trembled as I reached for the door handle.
I knew I needed to attend Wade’s funeral. Aunt Barbara had placed the newspaper on my desk with the obituary section where I could see it.
Chenoweth, Wade, age 15. Died unexpectedly on Monday. Preceded in death by his father, George Chenoweth. Survived by his mother, Frances Gibson, sister Rhonda, brothers George Jr. and Edwin. He is mourned by other family members and friends.
I had closed my bedroom door, lay on my bed and cried for hours. I don’t think even my mother’s death had affected me so much. I had been prepared for hers. In a way, after all the long months of suffering, I had almost welcomed it. She was no longer in pain.
But Wade’s death was cruel. One minute we were laughing and joking, and the next I was holding his dead body in my lap. For days I had tried to give his death some meaning, but I couldn’t. Why would someone like Wade, who enjoyed life and living, be gone in a second? There was no warning. No preparation. It just happened. And I didn’t know why.
My aunt took my hand and led me toward the church. Several people turned when we entered. My body was trembling. I would have collapsed onto the floor when I saw the brown casket had my aunt not reached out to catch me.
She led me to a seat in the back. I fell into the pew and stared forward. The casket was closed, so I could not see Wade’s body. I think it would have been better had I seen him because it was still hard for me to comprehend that he was really gone. Just days before we were holding and kissing each other. I still hadn’t come to accept that I would never again see him.
His family kept turning to look at us. Except for his immediate family, the church was almost empty. No one else had come to mourn his death. I thought that Doug or Stephan might have been there, but even they hadn’t come to mourn him. His foster mother was sitting about three rows behind them. She had her head down and would occasionally daub her eyes with a pink handkerchief.
Only seven people sat looking at the brown casket. There were only two floral arrangements sitting beside it. One was the one my aunt had sent with my name on it. I wanted Wade to have white carnations like my mother had.
She would have liked Wade. She might have even accepted him as my boyfriend. She enjoyed life like he did. Through all the suffering she endured, she rarely complained. I know she cried late at night because I could hear her when I’d stand outside her bedroom. But in the morning, she would greet me with a smile.
Wade was like that. He had been dealt a bad hand. His father had died when he was young. His mother had been absent the past several years and he had to live in a foster home. He hadn’t seen his sister and brothers in years. But he never complained. I guess when you got nothing to lose, you look at life differently than other people. Like him and my mother, when you have nothing to look forward to, then you live each day at a time.
I watched as his mother got up and approached us. She was a small, frail woman. Her face was gaunt, and she seemed to appear much older than she was. Her clothes were shabby, and her hair was unkempt. She appeared like someone who would be scavenging for food in a deserted alley than someone who was attending the funeral of her youngest child. Wade must have looked like his father, I thought. He didn’t have any of her characteristics.
“Thank you for coming,” she said weakly. She extended her hand to my aunt and then me. “Are you one of Wade’s classmates?”
“No, Ma’am.” Tears started to appear in my eyes. “I’m Richie Ferguson. I was with him when he …” My head fell onto my aunt’s shoulder as I continued to cry. His mother sat down beside me and patted my leg.
“It’s all right.” She too began to cry. “He’s in a better place now.”
My immediate instinct was to scream at her. “In a better place! How can you sit here and say that?” But when I turned and saw the hurt in her eyes, I knew that was the only thing that was probably helping her accept Wade’s death. I merely looked at her and nodded.
I couldn’t believe what she said next. “Thank your father for what he’s done.”
I looked blankly at her. “What do you mean?”
She took my hand and squeezed it tightly. “He’s such a generous man. I don’t know what I would have done without his help.”
“What help?” I managed to ask.
“Don’t you know?” I shook my head. “He’s paid for everything. When he found out that I couldn’t afford to bury Wade...” Her voice began to tremble, “he paid for the casket and the other funeral expenses.” She buried her head in her hands and wept.
I looked at my aunt. She looked as surprised as I was. Wade’s sister came back and led his mother back to the front. She sat quietly staring at the brown casket until a minister entered from a side door. He walked over and talked quietly to her for several minutes.
Just as the minister stood before the podium and began to speak, he walked in and took a seat in the back on the other side of the church. My aunt grasped my hand tightly.
“What’s he doing here?” I whispered.
“I don’t know,” she replied as we both looked over at him. He looked at us and nodded slightly.
First, he paid for Wade’s funeral expenses. Now, he suddenly appears at the church. I didn’t even hear the words that the minister spoke. I kept looking past my aunt at him. He never looked at us. He kept his eyes staring straight ahead. Occasionally he would nod at something the minister said.
I wanted to hate him. I wanted to be consumed with the rage I felt at my mother’s funeral, but I couldn’t. I knew that Wade wouldn’t have been buried properly if it had not been for him.
But why? After all the hurtful things I had said at the hospital, I would have expected him to hate me and Wade. He knew Wade was my boyfriend, and now he does this. I couldn’t get ‘why’ out of my thoughts as I sat and looked over at him.
I heard the minister say, “Amen,” as everyone else repeated it. I looked to the front of the church and saw Wade’s mother walk over to the casket and kiss it. She then started weeping softly. His sister tried to comfort her, but she was inconsolable. Finally, his brothers managed to pull her away and lead her toward the back of the church. They stopped and talked briefly to him. She hugged him, and he helped her from the church.
When my aunt and I left the church, we saw some men taking Wade’s casket to the hearse. His mother and sister were sitting in an old car behind it. His brothers were parked behind it in a newer model car. I looked around for him, but he I didn’t see his BMW.
“Do you want to go to the cemetery?” my aunt asked softly.
“No, Ma’am,” I replied. “I just want to go home.”
She led me to her car and helped me get into the passenger’s side. I closed my eyes and rested my head on the headrest on the way back to my aunt’s house. When we arrived, I went straight to my bedroom and slept the rest of the day.
My aunt woke me around six for dinner. I told her I wasn’t hungry, but she insisted that I join her and Uncle Ray. “You can watch us eat,” she joked.
I pushed food around on my plate while my aunt looked worriedly at me. A few times I saw her look at my uncle and shrug her shoulders.
“Are you going back to school tomorrow?” I looked over at my uncle.
“I dunno,” I responded. “Do I have to?”
“You have to go back sometime,” my aunt remarked. I looked down at the green beans and stabbed several onto my fork.
I looked at her and shook my head. “I mean, what’s the use?”
“But you’re going to miss too much work,” she responded worriedly.
“So?” I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. “Look what good it did for Wade.” I pushed my chair back and rushed from the dining room. She started to get up, but Uncle Ray stopped her.
I heard him say, “Let me talk to him.”
It was rare for my uncle to come into my room and talk. He was generally a quiet man who had little to say. My aunt did most of talking; but many times I felt that she was merely echoing what he thought.
I was lying on my stomach with the pillow over my head when he walked into the room and sat on the side of my bed.
I didn’t respond.
“Richie, sit up.” I sat up and wiped the tears from my face. He put his arm around me and pulled me into his chest. I sighed and nestled comfortably into his arms.
I felt like a little boy sitting in his lap before he left my mother. There was a time when I worshipped him. He was strong and determined. There was a time I was proud of my dark hair and brown eyes. There was a time I was proud he was my father.
Then he and my mother began to fight. I’m not even sure when it began. I must have been about ten. It was before she got sick. It started as muted arguments. By the time he walked out and left us, it had turned into loud shouting.
But it wasn’t always like that. He loved to take me fishing. I was about four the first time he took me to the lake. “Our lake,” as he called it. We would drive about an hour to Timberland Lake, just me and him. We’d walk along the bank until we found just the perfect spot. He would make a game of it.
“Do you think the fish are biting here?” he would ask me. Then he’d roar with laughter when I’d shake my head and point out that the fish looked better “over there.” Then we’d walk to the spot I picked out. He’d put a worm on my fishing pole, then I’d sit beside him and watch for the bobber to go under the water.
“I got one!” I would shriek with joy.
“Pull it in, Son,” he encouraged me. “Good job!” he’d say with pride as I held up the little blue gill.
Those were the happy moments- before he left us.
My body began to shake as I quietly sobbed into Uncle Ray’s shoulder. He held me tighter as he wrapped his strong arms around me.
“I know you don’t believe this now, Richie,” he said softly. “But things will get better someday.”
“I doubt it,” I cried.
He pulled away and looked at me. There was a tenderness I had never seen in him before. “Life is filled with ups and downs. You probably feel right now that life isn’t worth living.” I nodded as I wiped tears from my eyes.
“But things don’t last forever. The biggest thrills in life are only temporary. And the worst moments don’t last forever, either. That’s why we cherish the good times because we never know when a worst moment will come into our life.”
He pulled me into him, and I rested my head once again on his shoulder. “Your mother was a wonderful woman. I don’t think there’s anyone I admired more. That even goes for your aunt.” He started laughing. “Don’t ever tell her I said that.” I nodded my head into his shoulder.
“She had a strength about her. Even in the worst of times, she still found time to see the good around her.” He looked down at me with tears in his eyes. “You were one of those good things around her, Richie.” I leaned back into his shoulder and started crying.
“I’m not all that good,” I sobbed.
“Yes, you are.” He squeezed me tighter. “You’re just in one of those worst moments. Sometimes they make us lose our way. Sometimes we think that there’s no end to the suffering.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that tomorrow will be a better day. Maybe not next week or next month. But one thing you must believe, things will get better. Someday all the hurt and pain will be a memory. But it’s the bad times that make us appreciate the good times more. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
I nodded into his shoulder. “I think so,” I muttered.
“You shared a lot of good times with your mother,” he said. “Focus on those. She loved you, Andrew and Melinda very much. You were her world. And I never met Wade, but I’m sure he was a wonderful young man.”
I nodded once again. “He was,” I replied softly.
“Then think about the good times you had. Just because you only knew him for a short time doesn’t mean that the hurt is any less.”
“I think I loved him,” I responded sadly.
“Of course, you did.” He again squeezed me tightly in his arms. “And don’t ever let anyone tell you that you didn’t. Just because you were young didn’t mean you didn’t feel strongly for each other.”
I sat up and looked over at him. “So, what do I do now? I don’t know what to do.”
“Of course you don’t,” he said. “And I don’t know what to tell you. We each come to terms with our grief and mourning differently. Some people recover quickly and move on to their next journey in life. For others the process is a little slower.”
He reached out and held me by my shoulders. “But someday you have to start making the journey forward. That doesn’t mean you have to shut out the past. Your mourning is now a part of you. Until the day you die, your mother and Wade will be a part of you. Their deaths have now defined the man you’ll become.
“Your future is now up to you. You can live forever in the past. You can live with the might-have-been, or you can accept that which has happened. Sometimes our grief makes us stronger.”
“I doubt that,” I replied. He smiled down at me.
“I know that’s hard to understand,” he said. “But many great men and women have experienced grief and pain, and then gone on to change the world.”
“Yes,” he said. “Look at Helen Keller.”
“She was born blind. She had a horrible childhood,” he explained. “But she overcame it and changed how the world viewed blind people.”
“Or Franklin Roosevelt.”
“He was a great president,” he said. “He led us through one of America’s worse times, the Depression and World War II.”
“I remember studying about him in school.”
“Did they tell you he suffered from polio?” I shook my head.
“He suffered almost his adult life, but he never let it get him down. He faced it head on and made a great impact on the world.” He pulled me into him and hugged me. “What I’m trying to say, Richie, is that the world is filled with people who have faced bad times. Some people let it destroy them. For others, it has made them stronger. I could give you thousands of examples. Read your history books and find out for yourself.” I nodded.
He pulled back the cover on the bed and I climbed in. I felt like a little boy once again when he pulled the cover over me and kissed me gently on the forehead.
“Think about what I’ve said, Richie. Dig deep and find the strength I know you have within you.”
“I will, Uncle Ray.” He got up and started to leave the room.
“Thanks. I love you.”
“I love you too, Richie.” He turned out the lights and closed the door.