A Time To Remember
We sat on the ground near the Thomas family grave site. The grass was still short for that time of year when winter was waving goodbye and spring was taking her own sweet time arriving. It was mid-afternoon. The sun had begun its slow decent and would be gone in a couple of hours. A soft breeze blew through the cemetery, ruffling my hair and sending a chill into my arms. I pulled my legs close to my chest and hugged them tight. My head hurt. It always hurts.
Jerry sat to my left. His appearance was a complete contrast to mine. I wore jeans and sneakers and a light coat with plastic sunglasses sitting on the bridge of my nose. He wore a black suit with a white button-down shirt beneath the blazer. His black shoes were as shiny as the day they came off the shelf at the Pic and Pay in the next town over. My hair was a tangled mess, and I hadn’t washed it in a few days. His was neatly combed with a part on the right side. I always wanted a part, but my hair didn’t seem to think it was a good idea.
“The sun’s going down,” he said in his always soft voice.
“It is,” was all I could think to say. We both knew what it meant, but I wasn’t ready to do anything more than acknowledge it.
“Remember when we were little, your dad used to take us fishing?”
“Yes,” I said. “How could I forget?”
Truthfully, I had forgotten. But I remembered Dad, his Popeye arms, dark hair, and stubbled face always in need of a shave. Even after Mom barked at him once and said he had more whiskers than a dog, he still only shaved occasionally.
“Do you remember riding in his boat with those horrible orange life jackets strapped on?”
I smiled. “Yeah. Those were the worst.”
“And the bomb islands. I loved going there. Remember when we found the blown-out shell casing of one bomb? Your dad yelled at you when you picked it up. It didn’t matter that there was a hole in it you could see right through. He yelled all the same.” Jerry raised a fist in the air like an angry old man. “Adam, don’t move!”
“He was afraid I would drop it and it would go off.”
“He ran at us like his hair was on fire that day.”
I laughed. Yeah, I remembered that, but only vaguely. A surge of pain ripped through the right side of my head. I took a deep breath and let it out. I blinked several times, hoping to push the pain away with no luck.
The sun dipped lower and lower. The sky wasn’t quite bright, but more of a fading yellow and orange color, as if someone took a paintbrush and ran it along the skyline.
“Dad never took us back there,” I said.
“I haven’t been back since,” Jerry said, as if I hadn’t spoken at all.
I looked at him. He wasn’t facing me. His hands were behind him in the grass, his legs stretched out in front of him. His eyes faced the sun and there was so much sadness in them.
Neither of us spoke for a while after that. We stared at the dying sun. The sky was less purple and orange and more gray. On the horizon where Earth met the sky was a sliver of intense orange that should have hurt my eyes but didn’t. Still, the pain in my head increased. It felt like my skull was splitting into two.
Jerry licked his lips. “Your dad …” He shook his head. “Man, he liked to drink.”
“Yeah, he did. All the time.”
Jerry let out a deep breath. “I wish he hadn’t been drinking that day.”
I nodded. “I wish he never drank at all.”
“If he hadn’t been drinking …” he shrugged. “Maybe things would be different.”
“It started raining on the way back. Do you remember that, Adam?”
“I do,” I said, and that was the truth. I did remember. A storm came out of nowhere. The sky had darkened with black clouds that blocked out the sun. Lightning streaked across the sky and brought loud booms of thunder with it. And we were on the water in a metal johnboat. The wind had picked up and the waves had become choppy. The boat skipped along the water like a flat rock tossed from a little kid’s hand. I remembered that well.
“He was going too fast as he rounded Charlie’s Cove. Way too fast.”
The pain in my head made things fuzzy, but I could recall the fear I felt as I sat in the bottom of the boat with my hands clutched to its sides.
“He hit that wave … he hit that wave and we went sideways.”
I remembered. He didn’t need to say anymore. The last thing I recalled while being alive was being flung from the boat and landing, headfirst in the water. Then I ended up here.
I looked at Jerry. He looked older than I remembered. We had barely reached our teens when the accident happened. I looked back at me, at the old jeans I wore, the coat and sneakers. The sunglasses on my head had been there when I died. He was a young man, still grieving a friend who had died years prior. I was the friend.
The sun had finally set. In a little while the moon would come up with its calming white, glowing face. Maybe it would bring some stars with it. Maybe …
Jerry stood and wiped his bottom with his hands. He took a deep breath, then a few steps. He stopped at a headstone that was new compared to so many others in the cemetery. He patted the stone. “I miss you, Adam.”
He wiped at his eyes, shoved his hands into his pockets and walked off, his head down. All I could do was watch him go. Eventually, I stood and went to the headstone. I read my name, my age, the Gone Too Soon, inscription. And my headache was gone.