I have a memory, tucked way back in the very deepest corner of my mind. It’s not there because it’s a bad memory. It has almost no emotion attached to it at all, just the standard carefree feeling of being on this planet for 10 comfortable, happy years in a loving home with people that really cared about each other. I did well in school, my family was amazingly normal – life was good.
When I was about 9 years old, my mom had me tested (yes, both Sheldon and I) and The Powers That Be (the school psychologist) decided I should go to a school where I would be more challenged academically. My parents left the final decision to me and, being a child that had more confidence than should reasonably be expected (given the large number of serious concussions I already had by then) I decided to give it a try the next school year
To get to my new school, I had to walk to the back entrance of my old school, deserted at that early hour, cross the playground and weave through the empty buildings to the front of the school. There, a large yellow bus would pick me up and take me to my new school. I remember cold mornings, pretending my icy breath was cigarette smoke, and that people passing by might think I was cool for smoking at the grand age of 10, something I never would have had the nerve to do. I remember the fog and thinking that anything could happen just beyond my limited view. Fog carried so many possibilities as it rolled by. I remember thinking I could actually see the water molecules, which high school later taught me were only the spots on my eyes.
And I remember walking toward the front of the school one ordinary morning, seeing a light on in my old classroom and thinking my favorite teacher just might be there early, correcting papers or thinking up some new project to make her students really think. I can picture myself walking toward the classroom until I’m a couple of yards away, and then the memory just ends, like a projector that ran out of film that flickers and turns white. Snap on the lights and carry on with the rest of your day.
I grew up, got married, had babies, divorced, got married again, divorced again. Somehow I kept the idea that life was good and anything was possible. I still do.
I talk to my mom a lot. She’s stronger than she ever thought she’d have to be. Stronger than you would ever hope to need. Life will do that to you, especially when it throws in things like surgeries and the love of your life having Parkinson’s disease, and even the small gouges that life gives you, expecting you to carry on anyway. I call her at least a couple of times a week. It’s not out of obligation – I genuinely enjoy talking to her.
During one conversation years ago, she told me that her old friend was coming to visit. I’ve always loved this woman, and I told my mom so.
“Well I would think so.”
“I do. Her life has always been so hard that I can’t help but love her.”
“Of course you would.”
“I mean, nothing seemed to go right, so I have a special place in my heart for her.”
“Well I would think so. Especially you.”
“Wait. What on earth are you talking about?”
Long, uncomfortable pause.
“You mean… you don’t know?”
That walk I took to see my old teacher? She wasn’t there. My mom’s friend had a son that committed suicide, and I’m the one who found the body that morning. 10 years old and I’m all alone, standing over a dead body in the earliest hours of the day. And I don’t remember it.
According to my mom, the janitor had just clocked in and was also curious about the light, so he came to see who had been wasting energy all night long. That’s when he found me with the dead body of someone’s son – someone I knew.
Except I don’t remember any of it after the walk to the classroom, and in my memory, I’m still filled with the hope that my teacher will look up, see me and give me a broad, welcoming smile.
I never did know how he killed himself. If it was an overdose, I think maybe I would have forgotten because I might not have understood what I was seeing. Was he sleeping? Maybe he slit his wrists and slumped over them so I never saw the blood. I don’t think he hanged himself because I never would have gone in the room. Or maybe it was so horrific that I just blocked it from my memory forever. Either way, I never really made any attempt to find out. What if knowing what happened brought it all back? What if I couldn’t ever forget it after I knew? Over the years I had acquired a comfortable, if not blasé, attitude about death and dead bodies. Why mess with that?
For Halloween this year, I dressed up as Rosie the Riveter. She has always been a favorite icon of mine because she represents all of the women who stepped up, dirt and grease be damned, and did what needed to be done when the men were off fighting the war. She showed the beauty in being strong and tough, something I learned the hard way after my first divorce.
I sent my mom a picture of myself in costume and she loved it. Coincidentally, my nephew’s wife was also Rosie. Another coincidence, she told me, was that one of her friends was the original Rosie the Riveter, a wonderful idea that turned out to be more legend than truth. This friend, my mom, and the woman whose son killed himself were all best friends when I was a kid. That is, of course, until the boy killed himself. Then the two friends never spoke again and my mom was stuck in the middle, loving both of them and knowing they both needed her. You see, my mom told me, the boy who killed himself took the gun from the other friend’s house.
And just like that, I knew how it happened. After 15 years, I knew the truth. He shot himself. And it makes me so very sad for that boy and his mom, and for his dad who probably wasn’t allowed to break down and mourn back in the ‘70s, even after losing his own son. And for the guilt the friend must have felt, even though the boy would have just found another way. And for my mom who lost a wonderful friendship.
But I still have no memory of his body. And life goes on for the living, whether you want it to or not.