The line is moving slowly. An inch a minute. A step, and then wait. Collages line the walls and  people sit in couches and chairs, talking quietly. They laugh and it seems out of place.

Finally, we reach the front. And we see him.

The boy who may or may not have been my first kiss. The boy who always sided with me in games and childish arguments. Whose name always sent a thrill through my brain when I heard he was coming over to play. It had been a few years since I’d seen him…  six, I think.

Now he was bigger, more muscular. His hair, shorter and more stylish. He wore a black band T-shirt. And he lay in a coffin.

The first thing I think is that he doesn’t have a mullet anymore. Then I think how odd it is that Randy is gone.

It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t seem real. How can this kid, who was more family than friend for 14 years, be dead? And then I realize that he’s not a kid any more.

And neither am I.

I was supposed to spend this summer, the last summer vacation I’ll ever get, with my best friends. We had parties and trips planned.

But, instead, I start out my summer at a funeral.

It’s not often that an actual physical event coincides with a big, intangible shift in your life.

I didn’t know Randy well. Not at the end. All I knew were things I heard. He was on steroids. He was in rehab for drug addiction. He was still so sweet. He was unrecognizable from who he’d been.

Through all of it, I never expected anything to happen. Honestly, I thought he would get clean and live a normal and unremarkable life because that’s what people do.

No one thinks their childhood friends are going to end up in jail or in rehab. Everyone thinks that everyone they know will fade into memory until you see them in the grocery store 10 years later and stutter out a forced platitude and a “we should get lunch and catch up some time!”

And now I’m standing in front of his coffin. And the girl he loved since middle school, my best friend Hannah, is sobbing, bawling behind me while his mom hugs me because she remembers the kids we were and she doesn’t recognize Hannah.

His mom is hugging me and asking me about Randy.

Why didn’t he ask for help? Everyone loved him so much so why did no one see it?

Then she asks Hannah how she knew Randy and my heart breaks a little more. She says, “school,” and the two of us move away.

I’d always remembered Randy’s family as close. I knew his parents had divorced but that happened to a lot of people.

When I think of them, I think of playing on the swings with Randy and his big brother. Or that I always thought his mom was so pretty and nice because she had long hair and told me how cute I was.

It’s always summer in those memories.

Randy’s older brother is screaming at his mom in the parlor.

“I’m not going to stand here and play Walmart greeter!”

She turns and goes back to Randy’s side.

I remember Randy’s dad. He had a funny mustache and seemed straight out of the ’70s. He’d laugh with a beer in his hand while the kids played in the pool.

When we stop and say hi to him, he doesn’t know me. And he’s stuttering and slurring and reeks of booze.

So I stand there awkwardly as he hugs Hannah.

We stand together for a minute until she’s ready to leave.

As we walk out the doors, Randy’s friends call after her. They call her Ronnie.

Hannah breaks down again because no one calls her that any more. Randy was really the only one who ever did.

In the car, she tells us about her hair. Since I’ve known her, it’s been curly and wild. I never even questioned it.

Hannah tells us about how she used to straighten it every day. Then, one day, in middle school, she got a haircut and didn’t have time to straighten it.

Some kids pointed it out, but Randy told her he loved it. He said he didn’t think she should ever straighten it again.

Hannah looks out the window and I can see she’s crying behind her sunglasses.

She’s worn it curly ever since.

It hits me in that moment exactly how extraordinary this is. My best friend, someone I didn’t even meet until I was 17 years old, has stronger connections to my past than I even do.

It’s been four months since that day. My last summer vacation has officially ended. Hannah and I are still as close as ever, but now, when I see her, I think about how curly her hair is.

I think about how my childhood is pretty much over. Buried in the ground.

But I can still see it when I look at Hannah.

It’s not as bright as it once was. Not as shiny or easy or flawless.

The summer of those memories has started to yellow. The leaves look ready to fall.

But that’s nature.

burnskl2@miamioh.edu

 

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