November 6, 2007

When Life Turns To Stone

There’s a little something in my writing which the reader has no way of picking up on. In my novels, I honor my best friend who died when he was only twenty one years old way back in 1985. The Wade Thompson I knew would have scoffed at anyone doing something so trite; but, the way I see it, he may have changed his mind if he was alive today.

In my first novel, I have a character with the initials W.T. In my second novel, the protagonist buries a suitcase full of stolen cash in three feet of snow at a cemetery, in front of the headstone of Robert Wade Thompson. In my last novel one of the characters based solely on his personality. My visits to him in my stories are my homage to his life, and they don’t necessarily reflect my actual visits to his grave.

Frozen in my mind as an athletic, young, long haired man with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his lips, the Wade Thompson I knew remained someone I could visit even after death. He listened quietly, I imagined, as I told him about my life when I stopped by the cemetery. He’s buried just miles outside our hometown in a small, quiet, private graveyard next to his mother. She had passed away a few years after he did. Over the years, I’d make a side trip to see him while on the way to my parent’s home.

Last August when my mother was dying, I went there once more to pay my respects before I headed to see my mom for maybe the last time before she passed away. As I always did, I kept him up to date with the events in my life and I told him about what was happening to my mother. This visit was different, though. Suddenly, when for all these years I’d been able to have my gratifying little graveside chats with my buddy, it lost its meaning.

I stooped over his headstone, looking at the inscribed words “Loving Son, Brother, and Friend” and was no longer able to attribute them to Wade. My head spun. My mom was going to be buried soon, and we made her funeral arrangements the day before. I didn’t want her to go, yet I knew it as inevitable. Still, there I was, asking my deceased friend for help with my grief. It was time I came to terms with the fact that he was dead.

Wade was twenty one years old when he died suddenly from complications due to Juvenile Diabetes. We knew he was getting sicker, yet that didn’t stop the two of us from wanting to go to school for computer science together. Also, it didn’t hold up our plans to share an apartment and split the rent as two pals would. After his death, the reflection of his friendship stayed with me all the way through my acceptance to the New York City Police Academy, my marriage to my wife, the births of my two children, and up until the moment when my mom faced her own mortality. Then, in one moment of clarity, he was gone.

This was not his fault. I was the one who glorified him, both in my writing, and in the way I kept him alive by seeking him out for “chats” at the graveyard. My other friends over the years all learned about him, saw his photos and tried to understand as I explained how much of an influence he had on my existence. There was always the question in my mind when I faced a problem “What would Wade have done?” That day, a little over a year ago on that tiny plot of grass, I couldn’t find my friend anymore. There was just a gray, carved stone. Dirt filled the crevices of the chiseled letters which formed his name. I don’t know how it happened, but I believe he wanted to go on. There had to be a point where I needed to grow up and face my problems without relying on a friend who died twenty one years earlier.

Wade never went to college, never got married, did not have children, never had a career, and he died before his mother did. Maybe he couldn’t be there for me. Perhaps he was never around the way I belived he was and I couldn’t, or wouldn’t realize it. I walked away from his headstone that day and went to my parent’s house, around the corner from where my friend grew up, and watched my mother leave us the next afternoon. It’s okay, they are both gone now, and we are all going to meet the same fate. I’ll continue to hide secrets about my buddy in the paragraphs of my novels and short stories. He’d like that, if he was still alive.

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footiam said...

Perhaps, you have grown out of what you used to be. Personally, I think everyone of us always at one time or another, wish for a really good soulmate where we can pour out our hearts and souls to and still be accepted for what we are, warts and all. The one soulmate we really want will always be the one that is not available and out of grasp. The best we have which we can see and feel, will somehow, have some kind of flaws and we would always cling to one that is not there and dress that unavailable one the best we can and the way we want. I do think it similar to devoting ourselves to the Almighty, saying that He is all mighty, all compassionate and so on. When it is a friend who has gone, sometimes, we can see his flaws and try not to mind it, thereby seeing only the good and hence goes on clinging to it. When one day, when we grow out of that, we let go. There are better people around and need to be appreciated before they are gone. I would choose to live my life now.

Kristyn said...

I tell you, before I begin, I've never lost a friend to death. My fair share of friends have come and gone, our lives changed, falling outs, but never in such a final way. I know it must be difficult, my husband has lost more than his share of them this way. I have, however, looked back on things that once meant something to me with less than apt ability to relate to them. I've always equated it to personal growth and change. For me, the one truth, above anything else, is that change is the inevitable and the only thing that never changes.

I'm sure your friend would be flattered to know that you're honoring him with your craft. Remembrance is the one way to be certain that those someone has passed, they will never truly be gone.


Andrew said...

Good thoughts footiam.

Mike, this post hit close to home for me. A friend of mine died when we were 18. Another friend passed away when we were 20. These things, I don't really think about them much. I don't know why. But it's nice to read your post and think about things again.

I'm really enjoying all of your work.


Mr. Grudge said...

Hi Footiam, As always, you have expressed very insightful, and kind comments. Thank you

Hi Kristyn, Yes, I agree that Wade would be flattered that I remember him. It bothered me that many of the "friends" who hung around in our group when we were in high school never made it to his wake or his funeral. It seemed that his health failed, and that's where everyone split. I too believe that the only constant condition is the ever-changing condition. But, I tried to hold onto my friendship in an effort to hold off on growing up. I had no choice, and it took the loss of my mother (my mom was very fond of Wade and his death hurt her too) to finally wake up. Writing this helped me, and words from my writing friends, such as yourself, aid in that process of healing, even two decades later. Thank you for your insights and kind words.

Hi Andrew, I am sorry about the loss of your friends. You are much younger than I am, and your friends needn't had to have died so early in life. Your pain is evident, and you need to remember that grieving is very often a lifelong process, and that it is okay for you to miss them. After I lost Wade, I joined the NYPD and the very first "partner" I had was killed in the line of duty, murdered senselessly while trying to quell a riotous street mob. Several cops I worked with over the years died in the line of duty, and some of them took their own lives. Their memories hant me as I try to escape that world and lead my civilian life where I am now taming the world of computer networks, portals, and databases. This past winter, my friend and longtime partner from the NYPD (I partnered with him after my first partner was killed) Steven died of a heart attack just days before Christmas. Hey, I know we are all going to die one day, but losing friends really hurts. They were all good people, your friends and mine, and we are allowed to feel pain and miss them. Thank you for sharing and for your kind comment.

Thank you all...