November 6, 2007

When Life Turns To Stone

There’s a little something in my writing which the reader has no way of picking up on. In my novels, I honor my best friend who died when he was only twenty one years old way back in 1985. The Wade Thompson I knew would have scoffed at anyone doing something so trite; but, the way I see it, he may have changed his mind if he was alive today.

In my first novel, I have a character with the initials W.T. In my second novel, the protagonist buries a suitcase full of stolen cash in three feet of snow at a cemetery, in front of the headstone of Robert Wade Thompson. In my last novel one of the characters based solely on his personality. My visits to him in my stories are my homage to his life, and they don’t necessarily reflect my actual visits to his grave.

Frozen in my mind as an athletic, young, long haired man with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his lips, the Wade Thompson I knew remained someone I could visit even after death. He listened quietly, I imagined, as I told him about my life when I stopped by the cemetery. He’s buried just miles outside our hometown in a small, quiet, private graveyard next to his mother. She had passed away a few years after he did. Over the years, I’d make a side trip to see him while on the way to my parent’s home.

Last August when my mother was dying, I went there once more to pay my respects before I headed to see my mom for maybe the last time before she passed away. As I always did, I kept him up to date with the events in my life and I told him about what was happening to my mother. This visit was different, though. Suddenly, when for all these years I’d been able to have my gratifying little graveside chats with my buddy, it lost its meaning.

I stooped over his headstone, looking at the inscribed words “Loving Son, Brother, and Friend” and was no longer able to attribute them to Wade. My head spun. My mom was going to be buried soon, and we made her funeral arrangements the day before. I didn’t want her to go, yet I knew it as inevitable. Still, there I was, asking my deceased friend for help with my grief. It was time I came to terms with the fact that he was dead.

Wade was twenty one years old when he died suddenly from complications due to Juvenile Diabetes. We knew he was getting sicker, yet that didn’t stop the two of us from wanting to go to school for computer science together. Also, it didn’t hold up our plans to share an apartment and split the rent as two pals would. After his death, the reflection of his friendship stayed with me all the way through my acceptance to the New York City Police Academy, my marriage to my wife, the births of my two children, and up until the moment when my mom faced her own mortality. Then, in one moment of clarity, he was gone.

This was not his fault. I was the one who glorified him, both in my writing, and in the way I kept him alive by seeking him out for “chats” at the graveyard. My other friends over the years all learned about him, saw his photos and tried to understand as I explained how much of an influence he had on my existence. There was always the question in my mind when I faced a problem “What would Wade have done?” That day, a little over a year ago on that tiny plot of grass, I couldn’t find my friend anymore. There was just a gray, carved stone. Dirt filled the crevices of the chiseled letters which formed his name. I don’t know how it happened, but I believe he wanted to go on. There had to be a point where I needed to grow up and face my problems without relying on a friend who died twenty one years earlier.

Wade never went to college, never got married, did not have children, never had a career, and he died before his mother did. Maybe he couldn’t be there for me. Perhaps he was never around the way I belived he was and I couldn’t, or wouldn’t realize it. I walked away from his headstone that day and went to my parent’s house, around the corner from where my friend grew up, and watched my mother leave us the next afternoon. It’s okay, they are both gone now, and we are all going to meet the same fate. I’ll continue to hide secrets about my buddy in the paragraphs of my novels and short stories. He’d like that, if he was still alive.

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