Thursday, April 25, 2019

Wally and Me (Part 2of 2 Parts) blog post #334

Courtesy of Pixels
Well, what did you think of last week’s post? Any guesses about this one? Part 1 ended with someone falling from the cliff at Webber’s Lake. Shall we see what happened?


        I paced my room for the next couple of days, unable to sleep or read or watch TV… anything. Calls stacked up on my cell phone, but I didn’t have the courage to answer them. All I could do was relive the moment a body fell from the cliff and my absolute premonition it was Wally. The deputy determined everyone had been drinking, and some of the boys were horsing around wrestling near the edge of the cliff to see who’d chicken out first.
          Wally had lost his footing and slipped over the edge unexpectedly, dropping straight down into the shallows. Broke his neck, the medics said. Each time I heard that diagnosis, a loud crack rang in my head and a pain played up and down my back. But mostly, I was empty. Mom had to force me to eat, and most of it wouldn’t stay down. When they talked about going to the viewing, my blood ran cold and I shrank inside myself. I refused to get in the car.
          In private, I cried like a baby, remembering the times we were babies and boys and adolescents. Thinking how good it felt to throw my arm around his shoulders, or better yet, when he laid an arm over mine and talked in my ear like nobody else in the world mattered as much as me.
          My mother spent a lot of time over at the Hamners, helping Wally’s mom through her grief, I guess. Dad suggested I go over, but I couldn’t. My muscles froze. My skin crawled. All I could do was shake my head.
          I got away with it until the funeral. My dad insisted I put on a suit and get in the car with them for the drive to the funeral home. The place was packed, but the Hamners had reserved seats for us near the family. I kept my eyes down as we walked the aisle to our place. Then I glanced up and caught sight of the coffin, which was nothing but a steel box where you’d be locked in the dark from now until eternity. My muscles gave way, dumping me onto the pew. I swallowed a sob.
          I thought the service would never end. Mrs. Hamner cried and Mr. Hamner kept taking off his glasses and wiping his eyes with a handkerchief. I sat dry-eyed. You have to feel something to cry, and I didn’t feel anything. The hymns almost got to me a couple of times, but only because they weren’t the ones Wally would have chosen. He’d want Elvis crooning “Hound Dog” over him, or Johnny Cash roaring about a “Ring of Fire.”
          When it was over, the ushers sent everybody to the front to take a final look at Wally. The family, which seemed to include us, were last, and there wasn’t any way I could get out of it with my dad’s hand on my back propelling me forward. But it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be because it wasn’t Wally lying there in a suit and tie. He looked too peaceful. And Wally hadn't been peaceful. He was on edge, excited, alive! Every day in every way.
          Then we did it all over again at the cemetery, except the coffin was closed, so I didn’t have to look every which way to keep from staring at the Wally who wasn’t Wally. I remained staid and stolid until they started lowering him into the ground. Then I went to wait by the car where I marveled that the sun still shone and the clouds still billowed overhead and the breeze blew fresh on my face. I never noticed things like that unless Wally mentioned them, and he’d been lots more aware of our surroundings than I was. But all those things were still here even if Wally wasn’t. That’s when I said goodbye to him.
          Once the crowd broke up and we were back in our car, dad looked over his shoulder at me in the back seat of the Oldsmobile. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
          I shook my head.
          “I know you don’t appreciate it now, son, but you’ll always be grateful that you went to pay your respects at his laying away.”
          I nodded, my throat too dry to speak.
         My folks insisted I go next door with them to the Hamners’ after we got home. Everyone was gathering there to eat and talk and lend sympathy and support to Wally’s parents.
          I felt like someone slapped me on the back of the head when I saw Mrs. Hamner talking to the neighbors who lived on the other side like nothing had happened. Her eyes were red-rimmed, but otherwise she seemed normal. I spotted Wally’s dad talking to the pastor and smiling. Somebody laughed in a corner of the room, and a line of people waited to fill paper plates like it was the Fourth of July picnic all over again. Some of the football team, who’d been on the bluff that day, stood in another corner talking to girls.
          I reeled back against my father, my mind screaming. What was the matter with these people? They’re all acting like it’s a holiday. But it isn’t. It’s the day we buried Wally!
          A sob I couldn’t stop escaped me, catching Mrs. Hamner’s attention. The moment she started toward me, I bolted, almost knocking down the choir director on my way out the door. I made it to the front fender of the Oldsmobile parked in our driveway before the tears broke loose, blinding me. I hunched over the hot metal and let the sobs wrack my body like blows from a cat o’ nine tails.
          After a while, I heard footsteps. I swiped away enough tears to make out it wasn’t my mom. It was Mrs. Hamner. I backed away, murmuring, “No… no.”
           She folded me in her ample arms and pressed my head to her shoulder. “It’s all right, Bobby. It’s all right.”
          I fought her momentarily, but she pressed me back to her shoulder. “It’s my fault,” I whispered. “My fault.”
          “You get that wretched thought out of your head right now, Bobby Twillinger. It was no such thing.”
          “I-I thought you’d blame me because I didn’t go… go with him.”
          She held me at arm’s length and stared into my tear-devastated face. “Maybe you should blame me because I didn’t stop him from going. Or his dad.”
          “Do you know what made Wally who he was?”
          I closed my eyes and shook my head.
          “His spirit of adventure. His daring nature. His willingness to try things.”
          With a shudder, I nodded.
          “And do you know what kept him grounded. Kept him here with us as long as he was? You. He loved you like a brother, Bobby. Everyone thought he was a wild kid. In a way, he was. But do you know why he wasn’t out of control? Because he listened to you. Most of the time. And he was a better boy… man for it.”
          Clinging together for support, we bawled unashamedly while the sun Wally and I had shared and the blue sky we both admired beamed down on us as if nothing had happened. In the cosmos, perhaps nothing had. But in our reality, the world had fallen off its axis. Our task now was to put it back in place. Not an easy thing to do.

           The next day, Mr. Hamner came to the door and asked for me. When I appeared, he pressed something into my fist. I turned the key to the old Ford convertible I'd ridden in a thousand time over in my hand and stared up at him.
            "Wally would have wanted you to have it."
            I swallowed hard and thanked him before he turned and walked down the driveway. Something happened to my heart as I watched him go. I saw my dead friend as he would have been twenty years from now. A good man. Generous. Strong. Quiet, his wild days firmly behind him.
           I would drive that car until the wheels came off, until like the one-horse shay of lore and legend, it gave up the ghost. After all, it was the last tangible connection between Wally and me.


Did you ever lose anyone when you were young? Not easy, is it? Sometimes we try to take the guilt for mishaps and even deaths upon ourselves when there’s no reason. I hope Bobby can put guilt aside and go on to live his life in full… remembering his childhood friend and enjoying the experiences they shared.

Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!

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See you next week.


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