Updated: Sep 9, 2020
“Time doesn’t heal emotional pain, you need to learn how to let go.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
Benny had to run out and do some more errands so I went back upstairs to clean up the disaster I had made of my room. After getting things organized enough that I could live with it, I went downstairs to see how much food was in the house. I can at least buy some groceries after moving back in without so much as a phone call that I was on my way.
As I was going through the cabinets and refrigerator, my cell rang. It was my cousin, Kelly, again.
I put her on speaker phone. “Hey, sorry I didn’t get back to you.”
“How are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m okay,” I said, leaving out the part that I quit my job, moved out of my apartment, and was living with my brother again. She would find out soon enough. Besides, if I was being true to myself, I couldn’t blame all of those actions on Leigh’s death. It might have been the spark that lit the fire, but it had been smoldering for a long time.
“Are you going to be able to make it to the funeral?” she asked. “It’s on Saturday.”
“Yes, I will be there. I’m actually in town now. I’m going to go to her parent’s house this afternoon. Do you know if they need anything or if there is anything I can do to help?”
Kelly was silent.
“Kelly?” I prompted.
“They wanted me to ask you to do the eulogy.”
I stopped what I was doing. The eulogy. I had been actively focusing on other things besides Leigh to try to keep it together. It was my favorite defense mechanism. Stay busy and lock any thoughts that might lead to a break down in that box in my head, throw away the key, and bury the box next to the boxes of thoughts about grandma and my parents.
Probably not the healthiest way to handle grief.
Writing the eulogy would force me to open the Leigh box and let the thoughts and feelings out. An even bigger fear, the other boxes will start to creak open too.
“Yes,” I said softly. “I can write the eulogy.” Just the thought brought tears to my eyes and made my stomach queasy.
After getting off the phone with Kelly, my thoughts of going to the grocery store were abandoned. I sat down at the small kitchen table. It was a round, wooden table that used to be in my grandma’s house. She fed all of us kids at it when she was babysitting. My uncle had it in his basement after grandma died and gave it to Benny to use in this house after our parent’s died.
Leigh and I ate at this table more times than I can count. Some of my earliest memories of us together are sitting at this table eating and laughing, coloring, playing checkers, and telling little girl secrets. So many memories I hadn’t thought of in years.
I ran upstairs and grabbed my old journal. I stopped writing in it the day my parents died because I was afraid what would come out. But, I also couldn’t throw it away.
I went back downstairs to the little kitchen table, sat down, opened my journal to a blank page, and began to write.
April 13, 2019
I’ve known Leigh for as long as I can remember. She was always at my grandma’s house when I went to visit. We were instantly best friends even though we were total opposites. She was the pretty, girly one that liked to paint her nails and where her hair down. She was also incredibly sweet and kind. And tolerant. She certainly put up with me probably more than she should. Even though it wasn’t her thing, she would climb trees, play ball, and get dirty because that was what I wanted to do. Looking back, we were always doing what I wanted to do. Rarely, did I play dolls or dress up like she would want…
I stopped writing. One paragraph and I felt like my heart was being torn apart. I was struggling to keep the tears from falling. It wasn’t remembering our childhood together that was breaking my heart. It was knowing that I didn’t know what to say about Leigh as an adult. We had not seen each other for two years, and it was my fault. She had tried to keep in touch and kept trying to make plans. I was always too busy. Too busy in a life that didn’t even hold any happiness for me. Could I really have not taking two days off my job that I really didn’t like and left my empty joke of an apartment and go see my best friend?
That train of thought led to even more troubling memories. I had started to check out on Leigh, and everyone really, after my parents died in high school.
I set the journal aside for now and put a lid back on the Leigh box in my head. I needed to get my emotions under control.
Grabbing my purse, I went outside and got in my car. I sat in the driver’s seat and stared out the window. My head was a jumbled mess in one sense but also completely blank. I couldn’t think of which thought running through my head to focus on so I didn’t focus on any of them. Turning the key, I started the car and its trusty engine roared to life. Sending a silent prayer of thanks, I turned around and drove down the long gravel driveway. On auto pilot, I turned left and started to drive down the road.
A few short minutes later, I stopped in the middle of the road and looked out the window. Without thinking about where I was going or why, my natural instincts took over and I was at Jack’s house.
I had no idea if he was there. Most likely not.
Jack’s family owned the farm next to the little house that Benny rented and eventually bought when we lost our small farm. Whereas our farm was small and more of a side gig for my parents than anything else, the Hallowell Farm was a business. They had deals to supply meat, chicken, and produce to large commercial food distributors. Running a large farm and keeping distributors happy is a large, stressful business. The Hallowells earned every cent they made with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears running that farm year after year.
It was a family farm, meaning the whole family worked on the farm. It wasn’t even questioned that there would be any other way. When Jack wasn’t at school or playing baseball, he worked on the farm until dark. His desire to pursue photography was at best ignored and at worst somewhat ridiculed by his family. They weren’t bad people though, just human. Like most humans, they had their ideas about things and weren’t easily swayed to think differently. That doesn’t change the fact that they did love their sons. So, while they may have not been completely on board with Jack’s photography passion, or understood it, they did help him buy all of the cameras, film, computers, and equipment it required.
Tom Hallowell, Jack’s dad, helped Benny get the little house we moved into. Jack and I went to school together. Leigh lived in Harrisonburg and went to school there so Jack was my best friend at school. In elementary school, I was a tomboy and always playing games with the boys instead of the girls. We became friends when I was in kindergarten and he was in second grade. I wanted to play kickball with him and some other boys on the playground. I was younger and a girl so the other boys didn’t want me to play. Jack told them to shut their pie holes and let me play. I often wondered if he regretted doing that because I would find him at recess every day after until he went onto middle school and I was still stuck in elementary. My dad did some business with his dad for the farm so I would tag along and find him at home too. He had no escape from me. Eventually, it went both ways and he would find me to hang out too.
We managed to stay friends through middle school awkwardness and high school drama. Until, one summer, we became something more.
Jack was good-looking, smart, friendly, athletic and from a family that most people knew and respected. To say he had no trouble getting a date was an understatement. But, for all the interest he generated among the female teenage population, he didn’t hook up a lot like some of the other guys at school. I think that was in large part due to his parents. One, they kept him too busy on the farm. Two, his mom would’ve skinned him alive while his dad watched if she found out he was fooling around with different girls all the time. And, she would have found out. They weren’t necessarily strict parents but they were very involved in their boys’ lives and set in their beliefs about what is right and what is wrong.
I think that’s why they took so well to my family. My parents were much the same way and a business relationship soon turned into a genuine friendship between our families.
I was a sophomore when Jack was a senior. You wouldn’t normally see seniors hanging out with sophomores but Jack never cared about what other people did. Plus, even though he was two years ahead of me in school, he was only a year older than me. He was set to graduate at 17 having skipped a grade in elementary school.
The summer before my sophomore year and Jack’s senior year was almost like any other in the sense that every free moment, Jack, me, Leigh, and sometimes Benny and Jack’s brothers were hanging out, four-wheeling, or going to the lake to swim. It was easier now since a couple of the kids in the group had their driver’s licenses and could pick up whoever needed a lift instead of nagging our parents until they caved.
One night, we were all camping out at my parent’s farm. This was something we did often in the spring and summer ever since we were kids. Usually, everyone’s parents were there too, hanging out by the fire and “shooting the shit” as my dad would say, until we were ready to go to our tents and sleep. This particular night, the last camp out before school started back up, the parents turned in early and so did most of the friends. It had been a busy day on the farms digging up potatoes, picking the last of the green beans, and starting to get things ready for the fall. People were tired.
Jack and I were sitting by the fire, just the two of us. Things had started to feel different between him and me for some time now. Really, ever since I started high school though neither of us would acknowledge nor talk about it. He dated some other girls here and there and I had short-lived relationships with some other boys but not anything serious.
Sharing a blanket on the ground, we were sitting next to each other, leaning against the logs my parents had put around the fire pits for seating. We were staring into the fire, not talking, when he slowly moved his hand to mine. I looked down as he slid his fingers down my palm and between my fingers. We both closed our fingers over each other’s hands at the same time. I looked over at him and met his gaze. He always had the prettiest hazel eyes. Then, he leaned over and kissed me. It was soft and a little hesitant. I opened my mouth just a little and the kiss turned a bit more passionate.
I stared at his parent’s house, still sitting in the middle of the road, lost in my memories when a car horn broke my train of thought. I looked in my review mirror and was about to wave out the window in apology when I saw who it was in the truck behind me.