I have a little thing about death. Call it a phobia or an affliction. I really don’t care. At the crux of it, I don’t like to see dead people. Ever. Period.
This problem has caused me to offend people over the years, I’m sure, as I avoided opportunities to see dead people. Paying my respects and lending my support and comfort to the living almost always required me to look at someone I once knew – utterly dead – and that’s the only way I can ever remember them thereafter.
I don’t like to remember dead people. I like to remember live people, something that surely causes problems for me in my dealings with others.
Going all the way back, I know where these proclivities arose. It is likely the reason why, the one and only time I watched the movie “My Girl,” I sobbed all alone on my sofa, practically unable to breathe over the death of a little girl’s little boy friend.
When I was in kindergarten, I had this friend. His name was Stacy Denham, a slight little blonde creature who loved me. I know this because he told everyone, all the time. Because admitting that I liked any boy would result in my being teased into oblivion, I was rather mean to Stacy on the surface. Down deep, though, he was my friend, and I prized him highly.
In fact, he was practically the only person who felt sorry for me when I wet my pants in front of my entire second grade class. As I sat at my desk crying afterwards, he came by, and I can still see him standing there telling me how much he knew something was wrong and expressing sympathy for me instead of making fun like all the other kids did. He was innocent and sweet and perfect, a jewel of a friend.
Shortly after that episode, Stacy stopped coming to school. His father died of a rare brain tumor, something that was inherited. Stacy was diagnosed with the same cancer, and he disappeared from my class. I was too little to visit him, but I heard that he always asked about me, for as long as he was able, a kindness that I didn’t know how to return in elementary school. I didn’t understand what was going on; I just knew my friend was sick and that he wasn’t around anymore.
When I was in 5th grade, Stacy died, and I went to his funeral. My mom took me to the front of the church, where his casket was open, and I gazed one last time upon the remnants of my pal. His hair was brown instead of blonde, and he had a mole on one of his cheeks that I didn’t remember. Otherwise, he was exactly the same.
Except for being dead; for not moving or breathing or smiling or telling me one last time any tiny thing he thought. For over thirty years now, I’ve lived with that haunting last image of him, when I wish I could just remember his reassuring face from second grade instead, the one that smiled at me and told me everything would be okay, that no one would recall my wetting my pants in front of the entire class by the next day.
Maybe it’s corny, but sometimes when I pray, I say hi to Stacy. It’s the only way I can conjure to let him know that someone remembers him, that he made an impression on at least one person in his all-too-brief life.