by James Hartman
A few weeks later I saw her at Kroger near the red delicious apples. When I moved to Lexington–where I had used to live with my parents for three years when I was nine–I looked up all my old friends, on Facebook, Twitter, I even joined Match.com. I wasn’t delusional, I expected many of my friends, crushes, etc. to be long gone, married, or unconverted to social media, and I was right. But I never expected to stumble upon, while hiking, a brown bench commemorated to the memory of one Timothy J. Richardson, my best friend when I was nine.
He loved wars, and Gettysburg was his favorite movie. Nearly every Friday night we’d put it on his parent’s big-screen and when watching it no longer tethered our interest, we’d reenact specific scenes. He was always, always, even when I begged him to switch, the Confederate soldier charging Little Round Top only to fall inches short of the Union line, his chest pummeled by bullets. He’d variate the ways in which he’d get shot, but most often he’d take a bullet to the shoulder and spin around fast before somersaulting to the floor, his body convulsing as if still being pummeled. He was, generally, a rambunctious kid, acting up in class and drawing a couple detention sessions a month. I thought maybe he had enlisted and died in either Afghanistan or Iraq and was struck by such an overwhelming mix of awe and pride that I had to sit down to catch my breath, right there on my best friend’s bench.
On Facebook, I found a memorial page–comments filled with happy memories, wishes he were still here, some claiming to feel him always around. His Dad, big gorilla of a guy but calm as a rabbit and grilled you an extra burger if you asked, begged for his support and guidance in making important business decisions. But not one mention of the Army, nor war, nor Afghanistan or Iraq. I scrolled all the way to 2007, the date on the bench’s gold commemorative plaque, the year I graduated from college with a BA in Journalism. June 23rd was soaked with comments–“I had no idea you were struggling so much” and “I wish I would have answered the phone.” A Robert Valentine said, “I hope you have now found the peace there you couldn’t find here.”
Lying in my bed at three in the morning, all the pills and wine boiling me more than assuaging my anxiety, my Macbook on my chest, I cried. I don’t know why, but that night I remembered the day when Timmy and I had been playing Pongs and none of his would flip but all of mine were, and I looked up suddenly and he slapped me quick in the face, stood without a word, and walked away. I didn’t see him again until the next night, Friday. He took a bullet to his shoulder and swung around, smiling as if there were a glorious thrill now to dying, and somersaulted over, his whole body vibrating for a full minute from all the bullets.
The day after I read those comments I friend requested Timmy’s sister Bree. I asked her how she was, if she remembered me. Bree was two years older–smart, the biggest tomboy with the sexiest legs, and she had a crush on me. When my family and I moved Timmy and I weren’t close, but I was in what I thought to be love with Bree.
Didn’t you used to live next door to us in Heartland way back, like 15 years ago???
Her profile photo was of her and a young boy under her shoulder with the same light hair as her own, behind them a handsome guy with black hair and blue eyes.
You do remember 🙂
I wanted to be wrong about Timmy, that the kid who loved Gettysburg and Pongs was not the same young man who could have killed himself so when she asked how I was I gave her my brief history: my parents back in PA, me newly divorced and just moved from Vermont, and my brother, Alex, working and living in Chicago.
What about you?
It was, I believed, a harmless summary and even a more harmless question, but she did not respond.
Exactly 36 days passed when I saw her by those apples, lifting one after the other to her inspecting eye. Taking one deep breath and then another, I found myself standing right beside her, each reaching for the same apple. Her fingers skimmed mine, and when she looked at me I was all too ready to smile. When recognition still did not form in her face I took a step back, regrouped my smile more gently and stuck out my hand.
“Hey, Bree, Michael. Long, long time, huh?”
She stumbled back. Her eyes seemed to dart in two different directions at once. Before she completely swiveled around she strangely grabbed at random a red delicious apple, and when I finally blinked out of my daze she had disappeared.
At home, my Macbook on my chest, full of wine and pills that were having no effect, I typed an apology to Bree but before I pressed send the question nagged at me: What was it exactly you were apologizing for?
It’s been eight days and still that message sits in the rectangle beneath our conversation, unsent.
I continue hiking twice a week, sometimes more, always alone, having made no new friendships nor reestablished old ones. But whenever I pass my old best friend’s bench I automatically jerk my shoulder, twist my body around and around and around and then, dizzy, finally topple to the dirt and leaves.