I steered the car left to enter through the cemetery gates. My head was filled with distant memories, mixed emotions, and deep regrets.
Many years had passed since the last time I’d driven up this long, narrow road. A road surrounded on either side by the gravestones of ones who’ve passed on from this world. Many of them long gone and forgotten, evident by the weathered and unkempt gravestones. Others, more modern, lighter in contrast and surrounded by flowers. Not uncommon for this time of the year. Christmas often reminded us of the loved ones we’ve lost. And that’s what had brought me here this evening.
“Are you sure you’ll be OK, hon? I know this trip has been weighing so heavily on you over the last few days.” I nodded my head, still not lifting my gaze up from the steering wheel. “You don’t have to do this alone you know? Sam and I will be right here any time you need us.”
After letting out another long sigh, I raised my head to reply to my wife. The woman who’s been by my side, through thick and thin. Throughout all my many problems. She’s been my anchor on life for the last fourteen and half years of marriage. “I know, my love, and I’m sorry I’ve been so quiet lately. Especially on the long drive up here. It’s just…” I stopped to gather my thoughts. I needed to get a grip. To pull myself together, for my wife, for my son, and most of all myself. I sighed. “It’s been difficult, Jenny. After reading that article last Friday, it’s brought a lot of old memories back to the surface. I feel like I need some closure, to say goodbye – maybe. I don’t know. I just..I don’t know.”
I grabbed the door handle to leave the warm confines of the car before I lost the little remaining composure I had left in front of them. “Danny, the flowers…” Jenny reminded me. I leaned over to collect them and gave her a quick kiss on the lips, and ruffled my young son’s hair to assure them both that I’d be fine. Only I wasn’t. I wasn’t fine at all. But this was something I had to do nonetheless, and I had to do it alone. “Thanks hon, I won’t be long.” I told her.
I walked the short distance from the car to headstone. A feeling of trepidation hung over me like a dark looming cloud, almost to the point of halting me on my short walk several times. Somehow I found enough courage to keep on moving. It had been a long time coming and I’d put it off for way too long. I owe it not only to myself but to my family to get some sort of closure to the past that’s been haunting me so much since that devastating day. And I owe it to him too.
I finally made it. In front of me was the headstone that honoured my best friend of almost ten years. The boy who I’d grown up with and shared so many of my greatest childhood memories. The boy who would stand beside me, against anyone who would dare to challenge us to a fight. The boy who could make me laugh, even in the most unfunny of moments. The boy I loved so much that he was very much like a brother to me. The boy I loved so deeply…. that I ended up killing.
I knelt down beside the gravestone and found that I couldn’t say much of anything for a while. The words I needed to say were lost somewhere far back in the recesses of my mind, behind all the deep sorrow I was feeling at the moment. I was struggling enough just trying to collect my thoughts. To find those all-important words that needed to be said. I wanted to tell him how very sorry I was. How I wished so much that I could turn back the time. How I wished so much that he was still here. How, after all this time I’d never forgotten him. Never. And…. and how I’d never forgiven myself for what I’d done either. I wanted to tell him how I’d give anything, …anything at all to go back and change what happened on that fateful day.
I finally lost whatever hold I had on my emotional state as tears began to cascade down my cheeks, and I began sobbing quietly. “Oh Sam, I’m so sorry buddy. I’m so, so sorry!” I cried softly as I sat down beside the stone. The many memories came rushing back to the surface. It would have been twenty one years ago this very evening that I lost Sam forever.
Sam was his name. We met for the first time at some point during the first week of school. It was a nerve wrecking experience for me. I was five years old and I was what you’d call a mummy’s boy back then, and I had never really been away from my parents before. I would say that Sam and I met on the first day of school, though I can’t actually remember the first time we met. We were both in the same class, so I assume we must have seen each other at some point on our first day there, but I do recall us gradually drifting towards one another, and by the end of the first month or so, we were both really good friends. In fact Sam was my first and only friend for quite a while. I hadn’t really come out of my shell for another year or so after that first day. And only then was it at the hands of Sam. Practically forcing me out of my social seclusion.
How we first came to be friends I have no idea. We were almost the complete opposite of one another personality-wise. He was outgoing, while I was rather quiet. He would say whatever was on his mind, whenever he felt the need. I was more introverted, I would, more often than not, keep my thoughts to myself. Preferring to work things out on my own. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I was an only child, while Sam had three older brothers. Sam was also quite imaginative, even for a five year old. He would often come up with imaginary adventures for us both to venture on. He was a huge star wars fan at the time – Even as he grew older he never let his adoration for Star Wars outgrow him. – So we’d often play some imaginary adventure based on Star Wars movies, taking it in turns to be the Jedi and the Sith. When we weren’t imagining ourselves in some other sort of adventure, we were climbing trees or building little forts for one of our many battles.
As we grew older our personalities changed, as it often does with most kids. Ours grew to complement one another’s. Sam’s somewhat exuberant personality had toned down considerably. His imagination began to take on forms in many other ways. He was incredibly artistic for his age. I’d quite often find myself just in awe at many of his amazing drawings. He was very talented on the piano, as well as the guitar. He also loved to write when he had the time.
As Sam changed growing up, I did too. I came out of my little shell, made many other friends at school – although none where quite as close as Sam and I were – I also found a passion for sports, particularly basketball. My taller than average height, long arms and fine coordination gave me a good advantage out on the court, I was considered one of the best players on our school team.
Entering high school was a totally different experience from the one I had starting elementary school. By the age of eleven, I had changed a lot. From the quiet and shy five year old, to a confident assured eleven year old, with a good group of friends, a healthy passion for sports…. And girls.
The day that changed everything between us started out just like any other day. Now fourteen, we were both well in to the throes of puberty. Sam had recently started his own growth spurt. His voice had deepened somewhat, though he was still a few inches shorter than I was. I was well above average height so that wasn’t surprising. His blonde hair had now also darkened somewhat.
Sam had grown quieter still over the last few of years. Ironically, almost as quiet and reserved as I had been back all those years ago, on the first day of school. He spent most of his free time drawing, reading and writing. And besides me, he had very little time for his other friends. In fact most of them had moved on without him anyway. To be honest, I couldn’t really blame them. When he was around them he was mostly quiet. Reluctant to go anywhere, and downright moody at times. Despite his odd behaviour, he was still for the most part, the same old Sam to me. Nothing could ever come between us. I wouldn’t allow it. He was my brother in every other way but by blood.
The day marked the beginning of the Christmas break. The schools had closed down for the holidays, which meant I could sleep in a little and take advantage of having nothing especially to get up for. The Christmas gifts for my friends and family had already been taken care of, so now all I had to do was to relax and enjoy the three or so weeks we had left before school would start up again. I knew that Sam would be around at some point before lunch, so I decided to get my butt out of bed and take a shower.
It wasn’t long after I’d finished drying myself off and was bent over facing away from the bedroom door pulling up a pair of jeans when Sam had walked in to my room. “Morning bro’, and I see there’s a full moon on display today.” Sam chuckled.
“Oh yeah? Well you know you want it, mate.” I teased.
“Sure.” He replied, sarcastically. “So what’s the plan for today? I need to be back home for eight tonight, my folks are giving me some grief about not spending enough time at home, which completely sucks by the way. What’s the point in having Christmas if you have to spend it with the family?”
I laughed. “Well, it beats me. It never crossed my mind that Christmas was about spending time with families.” I joked.
“As for today, I figured we could watch a couple videos, maybe play some Nintendo later too. It’s too cold to do much else. You up for that?”
After beating Sam on Mario Kart through most of the afternoon, we settled on watching the movie, ‘Goonies’, one of my favourite Steven Spielberg movies.
“So Michelle called me up last night,” Sam told me out of the blue. Something about the tone of his voice sounded slightly off. “She told me that she uhh…. She heard rumours about Rick.”
Michelle was a cousin of Sam’s, and from time to time Michelle and her family would stop by to visit Sam’s family, and occasionally bring Rick along with them. Rick was a long-time friend of Michelle’s. Kind of like Sam and I were. Sam believes that Michelle likes Rick in more ways than one. Though I wouldn’t advise anyone to ask Michelle whether or not that’s true. The last time I had, I got a hard punch in the arm as a reply, along with a “Hell no!” The blushing didn’t hide her true feelings though.
So it’s Sam’s theory that Michelle’s trying to give Ricky hints about her true feelings. And either Rick’s not interested, or simply can’t take the hint very well. I’m not sure what I think. To be honest I don’t know Rick all that well. But from what I do know of him, he seems an OK enough guy, I guess.
“Well, apparently, the reason Rick’s not interested in Michelle is because, well, he’s not interested in girls…”
“So what?” I asked.
“So, well he might not be into girls because he’s into guys instead.”
“Who came up with that silly idea?” I asked.
“And Michelle knows all this how?” I asked as I turned to face Sam. “I mean just because he’s not into her, that doesn’t make him a queer.”
Sam looked away for a moment, but he continued. “Yeah… I know. It’s not like it was my idea anyway. Though she might be right, I mean…” I cut Sam off.
“You mean, he might be one of those people? Man that’s just stupid. Give the guy some respect. Jees!”
“Dude, don’t blow my head off about it. I was just saying, and it’s just a thought. Don’t get so worked up about it. I’m sorry I even mentioned it.”
I apologised for my outburst. To be honest I’m not sure where it came from. It’s just that Michelle thinks she’s hot as shit. But the truth is that Ricky probably just isn’t interested in her.
“It’s fine,” he told me. But then continued to press the issue. “But so what if he is gay? I mean it’s his life, right?”
I had to think about that. I mean this is the 80s, those queers just seem really odd to me. They dye their hair in really bright colours like pink or purple, pierce themselves everywhere, and wear super-tight jeans that leave nothing to the imagination. My experience of gays is limited to the weirdos that I see on TV , on MTV usually. I do see some, at least I think some, wandering around the city. But never around these parts, in the suburbs. They just stand out a mile. Who’d want to be a queer anyway? I mean It’s just… weird!
“Sam, Ricky’s not a queer, Jesus! Just leave it alone, dude.”
“You’re not answering the question. What if he was? So what!?”
Because it’s … it’s just weird. That’s what! They’re weird..And and they try to feel us normal guys up. I don’t like it!
“That’s not true at all! Where did you get a dumb idea like that?”
“…Anyone could be gay, and you wouldn’t even know it.”
“God dude, will you just chill? I don’t care. You’re not queer. I’m certainly not a queer. I’m pretty damn sure Ricky isn’t too. We’re not freaks, so who cares?” Sam was beginning to really annoy me now with all these damn questions.
As soon as I said that, Sam stood up. “Well… Well maybe I AM gay, huh, how about that!?” He demanded, then suddenly looked like he really regretted his outburst.
I was stunned. I didn’t know what to think.
I swallowed the lump back forming in my throat. “And what’s the supposed to mean? That’s not something to joke about, Sam.”
Sam remained stood. Frozen. His gaze focused intently on my bedroom carpet. he wasn’t saying anything at all.
“It’s true, Danny.” He finally told me.
I was speechless. Sam, my best friend, Sam’s a poof?!? No way!
“No!” I shook my head. “No you’re not!” I stood up.
“It’s true, Dan. But it doesn’t chan-”
“Get out!” I shouted at him.
Sam stood there. Frozen. Looking terrified at my outburst..
I was furious. And he still wasn’t moving!
“I said get the fuck out of my house!”
Looking like he was about to breakdown and sob his heart out right there on my floor (the look that would come to haunt my dreams every night for the next twenty years). He nodded slowly, and turned to leave. As he disappeared from my line of sight, thoughts suddenly invaded my mind all at once. Oh my god! What have I just done? Sam? Oh no..Shit! Sam wait!
I really had to apologise. I knew I needed time alone to think about all this mess, but I couldn’t let him just leave like this. I had to stop him. I needed to apologise for snapping at him the way I just did.
“Sam?” I rushed out from my room and ran down the stairs. “Sam, wait up. I’m sorry,” I still hadn’t managed to find him.
“Sam, please hold up, bud. Where are you? Lemme explain.”
“Too late Danny, I trusted you! Leave me alone!”
I could hear him, but I couldn’t see him anywhere. “Sam….Sam… Wait please!” I rushed towards the front door after I’d heard him slam it shut. I opened it and ran out after him.
As I reached the door, I called out to him. Pleading with him to not to go, but he was having none of it.
“No, Danny. You’ve done enough already,” I tried to interrupt but he was was having none of it. He continued on, sobbing. “I need to…just go and think about things. You should too.”
The look on his face, I’ll never forget, nor forgive myself for causing it. His face was a mess. Tears streaked across his cheeks. His eyes were red from the crying. He’d trusted me as a friend, and I’d betrayed him in the worst possible way. I’d thrown ten years of friendship right back in his face.
Defeated, I nodded reluctantly, and Sam turned around to head home.
I spent the remainder of my day deep in thought. Assessing my preconceived opinion on gay people, and comparing it to what I knew for sure about Sam. To say I changed my entire opinions on gays on that one afternoon, would be lying. I was still really confused about it all. Still trying to figure out what sexuality was all about. Confused what the truth about what gay people was, and how they lived out their lives.
How much of it was nasty, untrue rumours about them, and how much was real, I was yet to learn.
In fact, in my later teen years I met another gay teen, Barry. Barry had been through such an ordeal, from outright rejection by his family, as well as abuse at home, and in school. I learned so much about what gays were like in general from Barry, so much so that it greatly influenced the career path that I would eventually choose. I became a social worker, I wanted to become someone who could help other boys and girls out there like Sam and Barry. Also to help educate others, so they weren’t badly misinformed about gay people like I had been. Granted – It was the 80s and not so much was known about homosexuals back then, other than the typical stereotypical trash of the time. But the way I reacted to my friend – my best friend – who needed my support, was totally unforgivable.
What I did manage to do that night was to reflect on what being friends with Sam meant to me. How much he did mean to me, and that it would take a lot more than him being gay to ever come between us. I know I loved Sam like a brother, and so what if he happened to love another guy in a different way? I wasn’t going to allow my ignorance to upset things between us.
At some point late that evening I must have fallen asleep, because my mother had to shake me awake.
“Daniel, hon… wake up,” I groaned from being woken, and tried to shake off the remaining sleep.
The first thing my vision caught as I opened my eyelids was the deeply saddened expression on my mother’s face, accentuated by the visible red rings around her eyes. I could tell she’d been crying.
“Mum? Mum, what’s wrong? What is it?”
My mother just shook her head for a moment, unable to form any words, it seemed.
“It’s Sam honey…He was hit by a car driven a drunk driver on his way home this afternoon….. He didn’t make it.”
My mother reached her arms around me and pulled my close in to her chest, and she wept uncontrollably. I was paralysed. Numb. Refused to believe it for a second. ‘No! Sam’s not dead! No way. It’s not true!
I stood up. “No! You’re lying. Sam’s not dead. He can’t be. He left here not long ago.” I wanted to cry, but if I cried, in my mind it would make it true, and I couldn’t have that.
“Danny that was several hours ago, sweetie. You must have fallen asleep a while back.” My mother once again tried to approach me and offer some comfort.
I backed away though, in shock by now, and ran upstairs to get away from her, back to the semblance of my room – My shelter from the horrifying truth.
It took a while to hit me, but when reality struck, and it finally sunk in the Sam was no longer alive, and that I could no longer see him any more. I broke down completely. I cried like I’d never cried before. And when I realised that it was all my fault – that I was to blame for his death – I completely lost it. I cried hysterically, smashing my fists against the wall until they were bloody and bruised. I was crying now, and screaming out about ‘how sorry I was’ and how it was ‘all my fault… All my fault.
My mother barged in to my room and forced me in to an embrace – This time I didn’t refuse it, I just collapsed in to her arms and cried myself out completely.
“I wish I could tell you face to face how sorry I am, Sam. That if I’d accepted you right from the beginning, you wouldn’t have had to leave when you had, and you wouldn’t have been there to get hit by that drunken idiot. I also wish you could have been here for me to introduce you to my wife, Jennifer, and my son. I named him after you too, Sam. He reminds me so much of you at his age,” I laughed.” You would have made a such great uncle, I’m sure. I tell him about you, and he’s always interested to hear more about our Star wars adventures.” I wiped away the drying tears from my cheeks with my sleeve. “Merry Christmas, Sam.”
I stood up and made my way back towards the car. Back to my wife and son, feeling a little better, and feeling much less sorrowful than I had on the journey here. The ache and regret was still there deep down inside, it probably always will be. But I felt relieved if anything at all. I’d come and done what needed to be done – which I should have done a long time ago.
I’ll always love Sam, and I’ll always miss him too, but he’ll always be a part of me, and that’s what counts now.
I was able to muster up a genuine smile for my wife as I got into the car. I think she could sense the relief in me.
“Danny – Who’s that?” Jenny asked in a voice sounding somewhere between shock, and amazement.
I turned to face her. “Who’s who hon?” I followed her line of sight, and what I saw shocked me right to the core!
There he was.
Appearing exactly how I remembered him all those years ago. The same navy-blue denim jeans. Same scarlet-red hooded top, the dirty blonde hair. Just like I’d remembered him.
Sam was standing in the same spot that I’d been sitting in just a few moments ago. But what got me the most of all is that, even under the pale light given off by the surrounding street lights, I could clearly see Sam smiling. Instinctively, I somehow knew he was telling me that he wanted me to let go of my past regrets and move on with my life now. That he was proud to see what I’d made of my life. That he was proud of my work as a social worker, and happy to see my family. It was like he was telepathically telling me all this. His way of allowing me some closure to my past.
As suddenly as he’d appeared, he’d disappeared again. Leaving me feeling numb. I found my cheeks wet once again, although for very different reasons this time, for I was smiling too.
Copyright @ Mike, 2011