September 25, 2010
I NEVER thought life could fuck me in the ass this hard. What a shitty week!
I never expected to feel so much pain. Not at the age of twenty-one.
I wanted to shove my fist through the wall…
I was frozen to the spot as every muscle went limp…
… when I heard the words “he’s dead,” but as I clenched my fists I discovered all my strength was draining right out of my fingers.
… and the strength drained out of me.
I couldn’t breathe.
I couldn’t breathe. The glass of water I was holding slipped from my fingers seconds before I hurled all over my mother’s pink carpet.
Harsh reality seized all logical thinking, pushing my mind beyond its capacity to grasp the truth. I sank to my knees and stared at the wooden floorboards, wondering why the fuck there was a small piece of blue shag carpet still sticking out from the shoe molding. My dad tore that carpet out years ago when he refinished the hardwood. Nothing made sense. My hands shook— my hands never shake—and I tried in vain to block the images flashing before my eyes: images of Jamie.
My hands shook as I swatted the images in front of my face…
I know Darian must have been feeling the same horror and disbelief I was.
… trying desperately to rid my mind of what I saw before me: images of Jamie, dead. Somehow, I know Matt shared what I was feeling right then.
It had to be.
It had to be.
Of course, I didn’t know about Darian then.
I’d never met Matt before, not before the viewing.
It’s so fucking odd, sitting in Jamie’s room. The air’s stale, and the bed’s made up like a hotel suite. Darian should be here with me, but he lacks the balls. I don’t blame him. His pain is worse than mine, in so many ways. I feel like he knew a different person than I did, and in a sense that was true. Darian knew a side of Jamie I will never know.
I can’t bear being away from Matt, but I can’t face Jamie’s empty room. I have to trust Matt knows what he’s doing by going in there. I have to trust he’ll find the answers we’re all looking for.
EVERYONE stared at me before the funeral. Whether they were conscious of the fact or not, their eyes darted in my direction with a certain loathing. As if I’d known he was going to do this and I had the power to stop him. How could I know? I’d known him my entire life, but I never knew Jamie was contemplating suicide.
The wake, if you call it that, was at my mom’s after the “mourners” visited the gravesite. Everyone sat around gossiping about how shocking it was to hear the news. They whispered things like, “How could Jimmy Miller possibly have been so depressed? He was such a nice boy. He was such a pleasant boy. It must have been the strange friends he had. It must have been the music he listened to. It must have been the pressure he was under to succeed where his father failed in life.” It must have been blah, blah, blah….
No one really knew the answer. Not even me.
I stood in his sterilized room, poking around, wondering where to begin my search for clues. All his things were tidied. I know who did it. Why his mother thought his death would be made easier by straightening up the piles of papers and CDs and photographs that cluttered his dresser and desk is beyond me. Jamie had just died; couldn’t she leave his fucking stuff the way it was for more than six fucking days?
I looked in a few drawers before my brain clicked. Behind Jamie’s bed! I snapped my fingers when I remembered the hole I put into the drywall the time we moved the furniture around and used his room as a mock battlefield. We stole two swords from his stepfather’s collection of Elizabethan broadswords, and I swung mine too wide, missing Jamie’s midsection. Lucky for Jamie. Jamie then added to the faux pas by slicing a neat square around the hole. He added hinges and a handle and everything, creating a door to stash his private things inside the wall.
If there were answers related to his death, they’d be in there!
I shoved the bed aside, removed the soccer poster from the wall, and opened up his secret compartment. In there I found his journals. Six in total, one for each school year, starting with 2004-2005 when our school’s counselor came up with the idea he write instead of fight. He started at the end of sophomore year 2004, around March or April, I think. He never let me read them, but one time he told me he’d read me parts of the entries if I were “a good little boy.” Comedian! He never did, though.
“I wonder if Darian read these?” I mumbled as I sat cross-legged on the floor and hurriedly flipped through each one until I found 2010. I needed to read the end. What was his last thought? Who did he write about? Did he think about slitting his wrists and OD’ing ahead of time? I had to know.
As my leafing neared the last few pages, an envelope fell out. It had my name on it. I couldn’t blink as the curves of Jamie’s handwriting held my eyelids open, my eyes fixated on the last piece of mail I would ever receive from him. I tore it open.
Don’t let Darian read this book. Burn it. Burn all of them. Take my secrets to the grave and let my pain end here. I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be, the person you would want. I’m sorry. Know that I loved you more than the stars have power to kiss the night sky.
He loved me? Of course I knew he did, but he’d never stated it openly in all these years. I dropped the note and frantically found the last entry. What I saw was nothing like I expected to read. I’m not sure what I was looking to find, but this wasn’t it!
I started crying, like my little sister had when our dog died, as I thought back on the moments he and I shared. I knew he had a lot going on. I knew he was under pressure and how much he tried to please everyone. No matter how hateful the words were, why would one comment push him over the edge? Knowing the end wasn’t enough. I had to know what was going on in his head from the beginning.
I picked up 2004 and thought to myself, “Who the hell was Jamie Miller?”
April 16, 2004
I punched Joey Taylor for calling my dad a loser. I got suspended, and now I have to write down my feeellliiings. FUCK!!! I’d rather punch something.
May 21, 2004
I don’t know why I have to write down my fucking thoughts. What if I don’t have any thoughts?
School’s out. Fucking Hallelujah!
My dad says he has to move again. I feel bad for him. My mom tells me I can’t visit until he gets his house shit figured out. That totally blows. I miss my dad.
August 14, 2004
Happy fucking birthday to me!
I thought turning sixteen would be a big deal for me. Like maybe my mom would view it as some sort of rite of passage and she’d treat me different. I guess that only applies to girls, or to moms who give a shit. Obviously my mom couldn’t care less. She sent me to my dad’s this weekend: no presents, no cake.
I don’t know why I feel so angry about it. I normally jump at the chance to see my dad. I miss him like hell most of the time. I only get to visit one weekend a month since my mom kicked him out and filed for divorce. I guess I should have started this fucking journal talking about the divorce and shit, but oh well.
My mom is such a bitch. What did my dad ever do to her? Seems to me he worked his ass off so we could afford to live in that big house she wanted. But what the fuck do I know? I’m just some dumb kid who gets in the way.
Jimmy looked up at the sound of his dad’s voice. He grinned and closed his notebook.
“What you got there, buddy?” Dan Miller asked as he walked through the small kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee. “Thanks for making my coffee, by the way.” He smiled pleasantly as he added creamer to his mug.
“No problem.” Jimmy shrugged. “It’s a journal,” he explained, keeping his eyes on the table in front of him. “The school’s counselor suggested I keep one after the fight I had with Joey Taylor back in May.”
“Did she say why?” he asked, concerned, dumping copious amounts of sugar into his coffee.
Jimmy pushed the crumbs around on the table. It wasn’t like keeping the journal was a big deal. He just didn’t know how his dad was going to react to the reason. “Um, she thinks I have anger issues over the divorce.”
Mr. Miller paused. “Oh, I see.”
Jimmy knew his dad was not an irrational sort of man. He always held his tongue in lieu of saying the wrong thing. Jimmy witnessed his behavior time and time again when his parents were still together—fighting, but still together. His mom would blow up, and his dad would stop midsentence and bite back his response. Seeing him go quiet now made Jimmy wonder what he was thinking. He just stood there, stirring his coffee incessantly.
“Dad, it’s no big deal, really. She suggested if I write down my feelings instead of slugging people, I might learn how to control my temper. So far it’s been fine.” He rose and walked over to his dad. “Joey was the last bloody nose I dealt out.”
His dad finally smirked. “Okay, as long as it’s fine by you. I don’t want you to feel obligated to express your feelings like a girl. Your mom never understood that boys show their emotions different than girls. I was proud you kicked that boy’s behind.” He winked and reassuringly squeezed Jimmy’s shoulder. “But I also know fighting excessively spells more detention. I see the counselor’s point. If writing in that thing helps, go for it. School starts in about two weeks. I’m hoping it’ll be a better year for you.”
“Thanks, Dad. Me too.”
“Now,” Dan turned his attention to the bread lying on the counter, “I need to make myself something to eat and get to work. I’m sorry I couldn’t take off, but I didn’t expect you for another two weekends. Your mom made my lack of visitation rights very clear to the lawyers. I’m hoping she’ll bend a bit and give me every three weeks instead of once a month.” He sighed, “Oh well. This isn’t a great birthday, is it?”
Jimmy sighed also. “No, but I don’t care. At least I’m not stuck at home with her.”
“Hey,” he said, pointing a finger at his son. “Don’t disrespect your mother.” He stopped threatening with his finger and turned back around, continuing the conversation with his back to Jimmy. “Do you want me to drop you at the mall? I could leave you there for a few hours and pick you up when I’m done with my shift at Walmart?”
“Nah, I’m gonna go exploring around here. Since you moved into this farmhouse, I haven’t had time to look around. The summer flew by, what with you moving twice and Mom giving me all kinds of chores to do. I want to see if there are any good places to mess around.” Jimmy picked up his notebook and headed toward the steps.
“Sounds good. And Jimmy….”
“Yeah, Dad?” He stopped with one foot on the step.
“Be careful. Some farmers around here don’t like trespassers. They’ll shoot first and ask questions later.”
“Dad,” he objected, sticking up one eyebrow, “this isn’t the hills of West Virginia. I’ll be fine.”
“I’m merely letting you know.”
Jimmy shook his head and walked up the steps.
The farmhouse was small, with only two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor. Jimmy brushed his teeth and stared into the mirror. His tired green eyes stared back. “I should go back to bed,” he whispered. With a huff and a sigh he trudged out of the bathroom, grabbed his journal, and headed out the front door.
There had to be something interesting to do around here.
JIMMY walked down the country lane, looking at the surrounding fields and farms. A lot of corn was planted here. The state was known for sweet corn. He liked corn. It was great on the grill with barbecued chicken, or better yet—crabs! He loved steamed crabs the way the little shop around the corner made them. Loads of Old Bay made anything taste good. He remembered eating crabs in Massachusetts once, when he was a kid. The restaurant boiled them. Yuck! No flavor at all. Blue crabs were awesome steamed with Old Bay, a little vinegar, and sometimes beer. He licked his lips, thinking how yummy they would taste right now. If he only had a couple of bucks. His pocket produced lint upon inspection, so he kicked a rock and just kept walking.
He turned left onto the next crossroad and followed its winding path through the trees and cornfields. As he passed a dirt driveway on his left, Jimmy paused. Dirt driveways sometimes led to abandoned houses or hunting shacks. His eyebrow shot up. He was feeling rather inquisitive and decided to check it out.
The driveway was rutted and obviously rarely used. Grass grew in the center, at least a foot tall. No one could have driven up here lately unless they had four-wheel drive. The forest on both sides got thicker, obscuring his view. The birds in the trees were singing and chirping happily, so Jimmy wasn’t bothered to be so completely isolated. Quiet always accompanied danger in the woods, like a precursor. Silent birds meant something was wrong. It was the same as growling dogs in the house at night. He felt safe when the dog was sleeping soundly, and now while the birds were chirping.
Something glinted through the hemlocks and oaks, and Jimmy stopped. Water? He could swear it was sun reflecting off of a pond. What a great place to explore! A few more feet and he noticed an overgrown path heading in that direction. He took it, and in five minutes Jimmy found the path opened up to reveal a hidden paradise. “Paradise” because it felt like it was solely his. It was a huge pond, surrounded by hemlocks and sycamores, a willow tree and a few redbuds, with just enough grass to lie back and enjoy the view of blue skies above.
He was about to walk to the water’s edge when a voice from his right stayed him. “Who are you?”
Jimmy jumped. He looked to the person seated on the grass and stuttered, “Um, I, m-my name’s J-Jim.”
“This is private property, you know,” the boy said, glaring at Jimmy from underneath his shaggy black hair.
“Oh, I’m s-sorry. I didn’t mean to trespass.” His dad’s warning flashed through his mind. Did this guy have a gun? He certainly looked scary.
The kid, dressed all in black, got up and walked over to Jimmy. “I don’t care.” He shrugged. “It’s not my property. I’m here illegally too. Got a light?” He took out a cigarette and tapped the butt on the pack.
“No.” Jimmy shook his head. “I don’t smoke.”
“You’re better off. I wish I never stole my mom’s cigs when I was eleven. It’s a bad habit to get into.” The kid’s expression lightened and Jimmy felt much less threatened. “So, what’s your name again?”
“Jim. I don’t mean to bother you. I can leave.”
He gave Jimmy the once-over. “No, it’s okay. You look all right.” The boy tucked his cigarettes back into his tight black jeans and stuck out his hand. “My name’s Darian. Darian Weston. I live up the road. I was just messing with you about the private property shit. I mean, it is privately owned, but the owner hasn’t been around for years. My mom says he’s trying to sell this land, but no one wants to pay the asking price. Whatever. I come here to be alone.”
Jimmy shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Are you sure it’s okay if I stay? I mean… you don’t even know me.”
“No, but most people won’t even talk to me. So, if you aren’t afraid, and you aren’t gonna beat the shit out of me, then I’m glad for the company.” He pointed to Jimmy’s notebook. “You write? Or draw?”
Jimmy looked down and lifted his notebook. “This? I write.”
“Cool. I draw. You write poetry, or what?”
Jimmy chuckled. “Poetry? Um, no.” It finally clicked; this kid must be emo. Or goth? What was the difference again? He unquestionably had the look of some high-school clique. Black T-shirt, black jeans, abnormally black hair, purple nail polish, pierced eyebrow, and Jimmy even noticed black eyeliner under his long lashes. Most assuredly emo and possibly gay, Darian was no longer a threatening presence. Jimmy felt his insides relax. “I write… stuff,” he answered ambiguously. “Whatever comes to mind. Kind of a project my school’s counselor suggested.”
“What? You got emotional issues?” Darian asked bluntly.
“Something like that,” he answered with a shrug. Maybe he wasn’t vague enough.
“Me too.” Darian bent down and picked up a stone. He skipped it sideways into the pond; five hops and then it sank. “I was cutting last year. My gym teacher freaked when he noticed the marks. I had to sit through weeks of bullshit.” He held out his arm, removing the leather wrist cuff. “See. I still have three scar lines.”
Jimmy swallowed a lump in his throat. “Fuck.” He’d never thought of cutting before. Sure, he was upset a lot, but he never thought of hurting himself by dragging a blade across his skin. Mostly his frustration came out in the form of fistfights. Darian didn’t even seem to mind showing him. Jimmy wasn’t sure if he was proud of the scars or just didn’t care about them at all. “What school do you go to?”
“Winter’s Mill. You?”
“Westminster High School.”
“Ah, Heroin High. Too bad. How come you go there when you live out here?”
Jimmy sat in the grass and set his book down. “I’m just visiting my dad this weekend. Most of the time I live with my mom on Larson Court. I used to live practically across the street from the high school, but we had to move after the divorce.”
Darian’s eyebrows shot up. “To the richie-rich part of town!”
“Not really,” he said defensively.
“It’s cool. I’m not judging.” Darian picked up and threw another stone. “I live with my mom as well. Never knew my dad. My mom has a different boyfriend all the time. Got four siblings, all from different sperm donors.”
Jimmy’s eyes went wide. “Damn!”
“Yeah, we’re a fucked-up family. Do you have brothers and sisters?”
“Two stepsisters and a half brother. Tommy is six months old. My mom only seems to have time for him, lately.”
Darian came over and sat in the grass next to Jimmy. “And let me guess, you get left out of everything?”
“Yup.” Jimmy grinned, looking at this very congenial fellow. How could people not like him? Jimmy’s normally reticent personality took a back seat in light of Darian’s charm. It wasn’t so much the things Darian said that drew him in as the way Darian’s eyes lit up when he looked at Jimmy. He found himself asking, “You got a book of drawings I might get to see sometime?”
Darian smiled and nodded. “Sure, I’ll see what I can find.” He lay back in the grass and closed his eyes, folding one arm behind his head and the other across his stomach.
Jimmy grinned and did the same.
The clouds floated by and drained away every care Jimmy had in the world. He closed his eyes. His ears picked up a blue jay, off in the distance. He heard a bullfrog. He heard rustling in the leaves, somewhere behind his head. A squirrel, maybe? It didn’t matter. The birds were chirping, and he felt safe.
Jimmy also heard Darian breathing, slow and steady, as if he were sleeping. Jimmy knew he wasn’t. The boy was just lying there listening to the sounds of nature and enjoying the quiet. Jimmy’s insides fluttered. As he lay there with Darian, listening to the smallest of sounds and sharing the most peaceful moment of his life, Jimmy knew meeting Darian Weston was going to be one of the best birthday presents of all time. He took a deep breath and relaxed more fully than he had in years.