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And as you sit in the hot tub, the February day is cooly blazing around you, apathetically beautiful, stationary and unchanging and random as f***. You can’t plead with February.
It all happened in February. The white snow that never seems to stop falling is piled up on the ground, surrounding you from every single imaginable side- snow that doesn’t seem to care about funerals or a fourteen year old kid being murdered along with the rest of his family, or a care about a room with white walls and blue carpet and mints in little quaint pots (you keep coming back to the mints through the whole funeral, too, stuffing your pockets full and popping one in and then crunching it, tasting it and the best thing about the situation is the the bowl can never run out because the funeral home director is watching it diligently with a sense of security and the noble thought of guarding something minority precious. If mints can be guarded and replenished why can’t lives why can’t the stab wounds on his stomach heal and soak back into the flesh of his skin?) But that’s not how it works.
And now, in the valley of it all, you feel as if you’ve gained a sense of clarity, a nauseating loss of innocence that is more like a loss of lunch than a rite of passage: sure grandparents die but damn, they’re old and usually they die as they send you a birthday card and at least they’ve lived long enough to be at peace but Joshy was fourteen-damn-years-old and died when you we’re fourteen-damn-years-old. You lived to see your best friends coffins, and the coffins of his parents. Three hardwood coffins in different colors: Pink, and red; red flowers on top for the boys, and pink flowers for the son- a Wife, Husband, and Son (and the coffin for the son even has a little compartment for the dog and you remember that and think ‘Jesus Christ, the dog died too?’
Husband Son and the Holy Ghost, you don’t know much of anything else biblical because you we’re never mightily good with religion and now you don’t know if you ever will be. To a fourteen year old kid, I guess the last thing you’d want to see is a damn priest.
And as you sit up and the hot water allows you to be shirtless in twelve degree weather, you stare up at the piercing blue sky and think “Joshy’s up there, but why isn’t he down here, with me?”
You keep thinking, thinking until forever seems short.
You mutter, “He belongs in this hot tub, right here, with me and we should be dunking each other and talking about girls and Jackass and normal fourteen year old bullshit, and I, sure as the salt of tears that have become a friend to youre cheek, can tell you what we shouldn’t be doing,
Joshy, we shouldn’t be remembering, we shouldn’t try to bring to life memories that could turn against the kid who fathered them; and you realize that you have begun talking to yourself in third person and that each emotion that you encounters takes on a different shape and name- sadness has it own personality and so does happiness and so does anger and all you can do when sadness kicks in (which it does more often than not, it seems) is hold on and feebly kick at it, saying “Stop it. He’s not dead. Stop it.”
You are loosing yourself. You are loosing what you had.
When Mr. Normality would visit you for a few brief, wonderful moments and you would thank god, but carefully, because you know that if you became too aware of the return to Mr. Normal Sadness will again leap on you; so you visit with Mr. Normal with the careful sense of a child creeping around the house after dark, and eventually sadness comes in with “Yeah, thats all well and good, I’m glad you enjoy it, but guess what. Joshy’s dead. And not just Joshy, no, but Chris and Carol and Spike. Yeah even the dog, Spike... Sorry, just thought I’d remind you.”
“And you could die too.” It’s not even about sadness at that point: It’s about fear. It’s about not understanding anything at all. It’s about loosing what knowledge about everything you ever had: it’s about becoming obsolete.
It all drags you down again and your at the bottom like a solider trying to drag his friend up from a s*** field that grasped him and won’t let go with decaying hands- were all the same f***ing skeleton bone underneath, right? We all decompose. Joshie is decomposing. And that makes you weep harder that you ever have.
You’re in the s*** field. Your own f***ing body has to keep itself a float; a house on divided cannot stand, my ass; I managed it, although I don’t know how.
And you keep thinking through the goddamned funeral, This is the worst thing that will ever happen to me; this is the worst thing that will ever happen in my life, good thing it happened to me now.”
Or you’d think about it more, divulge deeper into the memory and remember the way the headline ‘3 Confirmed dead in Old Orchard Beach House Fire’ invaded the screen of your TV- you remember looking up from your laptop that you had been playing Pirates of the Caribbean Online on. You remember that as WSH News Center 6 Flashes on, the damn thing fell off your lap and bounded onto the floor. Your mother let out a primal scream of anguish and grief; as you leapt from the chair in your Snoopy Merry Christmas pajamas and ran into your bedroom, you collapsed onto the bed. You felt the frame of it shake, and you stuffed your head in your pillow and screamed and the salt from the god damned tears (who arrived late on the scene this time- sorry guys, couldn’t save you a seat, the show’s already begun) mixed in with the screams, and everything was like a s*** field, and you were caught, caught in the fucking s*** of the world, trying to claw your way out from the bottom.
The only thing keeping you going was the anguished thoughts of “They won’t ever come to my wedding;” a thought so irrelevant and off kilter that it was strange in hindsight, but this whole journey into the s*** fields of life was irrelevant and off kilter, so what the f*** do you expect?
You keep thinking, in anguished busts “Is this normal?” but, again in hindsight that was the wrong question to ask. Teachers lie through their teeth when they say there are no wrong questions- sometimes a question is so offensive and blatantly wrong that it just screams “don’t ask” but the whole situation, the whole f***ing situation was ‘The wrong situation” so why shouldn’t the god damned questions follow Why shouldn’t one question the wrong situation with the wrong question? It all fit, looking back.
Looking back, you can remember everything. Looking back you can remember the way the reception of the funeral was- in a big, long building called the Italian Heritage Center with wooden floors and a gigantic chandelier and a buffet table and a bar to the left side that all the men family members frequented and got progressively quieter when they should have been loud and drunk. I guess s*** turns things upside down.
Looking back you can remember before the TV, when you sat in your Snoopy pajamas, thinking it was only a fire and that there was no way Joshy was dead- just a house fire, standard operating procedure, that the fire would get put out, and hell, if it was bad enough and Joshy was trapped, he could always just jump though it, run though the door and smolder the flame that latched onto his clothes in the snow- but what you didn’t realize is that he was already dead by the time the fire started. He could have been dead since the day he was born.
The waitress was very soft and careful when she asked “Do you want some more mountain dew?”
You can remember the way you met your grandparents at the local Italian pizza joint near the day of the funeral and the way the conversation started of as frail and disjointed, and erupted as the salads came out. They talked about the situation and what the Bolduc family would have wanted- you can remember the way the waitress looked, daunted by the atmosphere and the shards of conversation she must have caught: weighed down by the atmosphere emitted from the table. As everyone else in the restaurant left the gloom that followed you everywhere like a trail of breadcrumbs rotted.
I can remember sleeping, I can remember going to my best friends house in the morning after the pajama shock fire night because my mom didn’t want me to be left alone in our actual house- I can remember the way my grandma shrieked as I was called up to be a pallbearer for Joshy and carry his casket out of the funeral home toward the hearse; I can remember my other grandparents tentatively asking me if I wanted to be a pallbearer, and I said yes, because I wanted to carry him some final time. I remember holding the coffin by one of the bronze handles and whispering “Don’t drop Joshy now, be careful, Joshiy under that lid’ and I can remember the way everything gradually changed from you to me as the gloom wore off as the years passed.
But most of all I can remember the way the flowers above his coffin in that horrible room with white carpet and gray walls and folding chairs and pots of mints were so red and so depressing. I looked at them cut off at the stems while they were in a vase and I thought “These look alive, but really, they are dying, they are withering, and then I crouched down on the little footrests beneath the coffin and asked god if Joshy had always been dying, like those f***ing red flowers on top of his grave.