His name was Justin Willick. We had been friends since the sixth grade. He was the stereotypical outcast nerd of our class who was always drawing dragons and medieval war scenes. The only reason why girls would envy him was because he always got the best grades in the class, while the boys would envy him for being smarter than they could ever dream to be. But me, I would always envy him for his true smile and his ability to concentrate past the negative in life.
Justin had always wanted to be in the military. It seems so strange now, just standing here. I can almost imagine and hear the gun shots of the three-volley salute paying respect for the years he served although he never had the chance to serve them. So here I am, just standing here listening to myself think and watching them lower the coffin into the pit of foreboding darkness and pretending that I don't want to cry. I can't help but to wish that this had never happened. I wish that I could go back in time to last Saturday, where one mistake destroyed our world.
It was eight in the morning on a cold Saturday, the first to reach below thirty degrees in the daytime hours. I had just finished the early shift and was driving over to Justin's apartment. There were spots of ice on the roads from last night's rain, but the drive was overall quite uneventful. I vividly remember wondering why the sanding trucks hadn't been deployed yet. Oh, if only I had hit one of those ice spots, spun off the road, and hit a tree or something then maybe his life would have been spared. But my mind was void of any ominous thoughts as I let myself into his apartment with my key. I found him passed out in his bed, as usual, after working all Friday night. So I snuck under the covers and wrapped my ice cold hands around his neck and whispered in his ear, "They're here to get you."
"Ughhh no, tell'em to go away. Come back another day," he grumbled into his pillow and jerked my hands away from his neck. "You're so cold. Go away," he whined further.
"Oh, c'mon Justy. You know you wanna get up." I rolled over a few times and wrapped the whole sheet around my body like a mummy's bandages.
"No! The wickedness of you! The pure black cruelness of your heart pierces my soul!" He fumbled around trying to pull his sheet back in vain.
"Oh but come on. You know I'm gonna win anyways." I have always been a bit on the selfish side, but that is just a simple factor of human nature. But I still can't help to think if maybe I hadn't been so selfish and let him sleep; maybe then he would still be alive.
"I hate you." But with those words, Justin was awake and the day officially started for me.
"Love you too babe. I'll go fix some eggs." We had plans for this particular Saturday. It was the first Saturday after our college exams were over and we wanted to have a day full of nothing but our friendship. No work, homework, studying, or any other form of social punishment was required of us that dreadful Saturday.
While we ate our not-so-delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and orange juice, we had tried to think of something to do.
"We could just bum around here for awhile. Maybe play some video games," he had offered.
"Unlike you, my body requires sunlight to live thank you very much. I don't mind that, but I don't wanna be here all day long." Because I had said those two simple sentences, Justin is dead. Of course I know that now, but I wish I had known that then.
"Well alright. We'll go see a movie or something then," he had offered.
"Oh, I know! There is this great new romance out that -"
"Oh, but you'll like this one because-"
"No. I won't."
"Nope. End of story. The last one you dragged me to the dog died when the house burned down, the married couple got a divorce because their marriage was broken by multiple love affairs, both of them lost their job, their child had to go into foster care, and the ex-wife had to move to some far away and distant state to regain her inner self or something. Then somehow the ending was happy because the two lovers ran into each other a few years later and realized their lost love for each other. Blah, blah, blah, I've seen it all before."
"Um, wow, ok then. I was just joking. Didn't mean to push your buttons. No need to go into a monologue rant there." I had been slightly hurt buy his harsh words at the time, but now it seems so insignificant. "I was actually interested in that new Ninja movie. I've heard it's good."
"Yeah, I've heard about it too. Sounds good," he agreed. I can still remember that distant look he had in his eyes that morning. I can only wonder what he was thinking.
"Alright, we can do that later tonight. Oh, we can go out to dinner somewhere beforehand too! We can go to that place you love! It's right next to the theatre."
With that decided, hours of mindless video games ensued. Most of the time was spent on his favorite one, Desert Snowfall. Justin had always been an avid video gamer. Video games were a favorite pastime of ours, but they could almost be considered one of Justin's livelihoods.
During those hours, which seemed like minutes, I was beaten forty-seven out of fifty times, used as bait for Justin twenty-two times, and died for Justin seventeen times. This was normal. I am severely lacking in any video game hand-eye coordination skills, but Justin never made me feel too pathetic about it. He was like that. Most other people have always considered him below their standards just because he did not act as society demanded. I had some other minor friends who I would spend a bit of time with here and there. But the friendship Justin and I had shared was true, right, and perfect in all its ways. If only life was so easy, and I could take the death for him like in the multitude of video games; but that is not reality. Our friendship was a reality that has now faded to become an idealistic desire. I wish I could go back in time to that Saturday, to where we were so peacefully destroying our brain cells in front of the TV screen and change it all.
But no, I was the one who made the wrong decision to drive when there was ice on the roads.
"Let's go paint something," I had said. Soon enough we were piling into his little Honda, an older and stick shift car that was not fit for winter driving. We were going to a local shop where customers could pick out a sculpture, paint it, and gloss it there all in one day. But even at two o'clock that Saturday afternoon there was still ice lining the roads.
The drive there was overall quite uneventful. I was happy that I had persuaded Justin to leave his apartment on our day off. But if I hadn't, we would have just played video games all day, talked, and maybe taken some naps. But now I would give up anything to just have one of those boring days with him again. I miss the way his smile just lit my heart and lifted my spirits. He was one of those few special people who could brighten my day with one of his characteristic smiles, a shrug of his shoulders, and a "It'll be ok." I wish he could be here next to me right now as I watch his casket disappear into the confined blackness.
But he is not. He is only in my memories now. I remember that Saturday in the paint shop. He had picked out the most intricately sculpted dragon while I chose a much smaller and simpler dragon than his.
"What color should mine be," I had asked him. He had always been the artistic one. He loved any kind of visual art, whereas I leaned more towards the auditory styles of art. That was one of the few differences we had.
"I don't know. Go find your own," he had said. So I did just that. I chose the most obnoxious purple color I could find. I will always remember the face he gave me when he saw my choice. I could see the hidden laughter and snickers behind his eyes. But he never said anything against my choice. That was just how he was, always kind and compassionate and not too judgmental; and that's why I loved him so much.
He had chose a light tan and white colors to paint his elaborate statue. It took him the same time to complete his as it did for me to complete mine, which was only two hours.
"What are you gonna call it," I had asked him.
"Is that all you think about, that video game of yours?" We laughed a bit together and moved on with our day.
Again we were on the road. We had decided to forego the movie because we wanted to actually spend time together and not just sit in a dark place devoid of any interaction. So we carefully placed our dragons in the backseat of his car and off we went to the restaurant for an early dinner. It was his favorite place to eat at. It was a homely little restaurant with a variety of American dishes to choose from, and it wasn't too expensive. We thought that we would just have an early dinner, go back to his apartment to hang out, and if we got hungry later that night we could just fix some popcorn or something. I never liked the stuff but he loved it.
I can remember exactly what we ordered and where we sat in the restaurant. We talked about trivial things like how busy we were both going to be with the new classes starting up soon on top of our work schedules. We had both been so carefree and relaxed that evening. But, like most other normal people, we became full and bored of sitting in the same booth, so we left the restaurant.
By the time we got into his car, it was already six o'clock that evening, and the sun had just set behind the horizon of dark pine trees. The world was covered with a thick blanket of blackness.
We should have known; I should have known. I had seen the ice all throughout today, but didn't pay attention. I had seen it before every winter, but I never thought of just what could happen, of what did happen that night.
We were driving back to Justin's apartment. There was darkness, because it was night. There was ice, because the previous night's rain had frozen. Then there was a deer. I don't know why there was a deer, but there was one. And then the deer did as most other deer do, it ran.
It wasn't our fault; it wasn't Justin's fault, even if he was driving. The accident was meant to happen.
A car was coming the opposite way towards us in the other lane like any other normal car, until the deer ran across the road. The other car, a black pickup truck, swerved to steer off to his side of the road, hit a patch of black ice, and swerved back onto the road and over the yellow line.
The next thing I knew was the wild flashing of lights. Those lights were everywhere, chasing away the darkness of the night and ice. When I looked up to see a strange man much closer to me than would be considered normal for a stranger to be, reality slapped me in the face. The lights and the strange man, they were from the fire truck and he was a paramedic.
I don't remember much after that until I woke up in the brightest and whitest room I've ever been in. I had a broken collarbone, a slight concussion, and a bunch of bruises and cuts, but I was alive. And so was Justin, I soon found out. But apparently he wasn't alive for long. The truck had swerved and hit us right where the driver was, right where Justin was. Both cars had been going a pretty decent speed; it was estimated to be around fifty miles per hour.
As soon as I was fully coherent, and the doctors had finished their tests on me, I had demanded to see Justin. That was when a doctor told me the news. Justin was still in surgery for an abundance of injuries. His left leg was broken in three places, he had a cracked forehead from the impact with the window, three broken ribs that were puncturing his lungs, and a multitude of other muscle injuries. Justin was bleeding in so many places, and most of them could not be seen from the outside.
From that point on I remember there was screaming. Lots of screaming and tears and anger. There was anger towards the other driver, anger towards the deer, and anger at myself for offering up the whole idea of leaving the apartment that Saturday. Because of those, Justin was in surgery with a ninety-eight percent chance of death. That is what they told me, not a two percent chance of survival. Those doctors were not saviors, but the deliverers of death and evil and suffering.
So I waited. I waited for four hours for Justin. I waited until the doctors came and told me that Justin was alive. My heart burst with such joy, relief, panic, worry, longing, surprise, grief, guilt, and elation when I heard those false words of hope. For those words of encouragement and health were soon followed with a time limit. They, those destructive doctors, gave Justin an hour to live, one dwindling hour. My heart was crushed with desperation and sorrow. They tried to make it better, saying that I should go visit him. They were saying that I should enjoy him while he is still here. As if that mattered to me anymore. My best friend, my life's meaning, was in another room dying and those doctors said that I should enjoy it, those insolent malefactors.
But as soon as I was able, I had a nurse wheel me to go see him, my Justin. If I hadn't been so selfish and insisted that we go out that Saturday, none of this would have happened.
We passed into the intensive care unit on the third floor and into room 2312-B. I can draw exactly where everything was in that room, from the heart monitor to each light switch. But what drew my attention was the sickly and broken young man resting on the white bed. Justin was covered with so many bandages and his whole left leg was in the biggest cast I have ever seen.
I can remember going to hold his hand and when I looked into his eyes I saw pain, so much pain. There was hopelessness also. Justin, my Justin, was broken.
"Hey." His voice sounded so distant, so unfamiliar to his usual warm tones.
"Hey. I'm ok. I'm ok if you're wondering. Couldn't be better." I had tried to make him not feel the guilt, hurt, and sadness that I could see so clearly in his eyes.
"Good . . . That's good." His voice, it was just his ghost whispering words aloud, it sounded so ghastly. His skin had been so pale, it seemed as if all of the pigment had just vanished along with all of the rest of the color in that miserable building; all but red had vanished. Red was everywhere. Red was on his head, chest, arms, legs, and even his fingers. The red so vividly contrasted the bleak whiteness of everything else, even Justin's eyes which are usually filled with such color and vivacity seemed dreary and dead.
"I love you Justin. Do you know that?" I had asked with words filled with such sorrow.
"Yeah, yeah I do."
"Then know that I will always love you, forever and ever. Even longer than when the stars all die out." This is when the tears finally broke through. It was not like a flood released from a dam, but more like the slowly trickling life-force slipping from Justin's cold body. "You're hands are so cold. Stay here. Stay with me, please."
"I don't think I can this time."
"Sure you can." Those words were lies, dirty and hopeful lies.
"Do you know something?"
"Do I know what?" The thought that these were his last words kept running through my head, and I wanted them to be pleasant.
"You are my desert snowfall."
"Wow, how could you seriously be thinking about video games at a time like this?" I thought that he was crazy, and that the blood loss was affecting his stability.
"No, silly. I meant that you are my desert snowfall; something considered so impossible and unreachable, considered to be such a true miracle. You took me in when no one else would. You are like the desert snowfall, giving coolness and relief to the stranded wanderer who was lost and forgotten in the desert. You are my desert snowfall. I love you too."
It wasn't long after that when Justin passed on. Now as I watch the black hole containing my Justin inside his coffin be filled and completed with dirt, do those tears come back. Those tears that resembled his ever dwindling life-force during that solemn hour have come back with a vengeance. I stand there holding our two dragons that miraculously survived the crash on that dreaded Saturday. Justin had named his Desert Snowfall, but I have now named mine Justin. And now, now that Justin is laid to rest, I know that the lost wanderer from the desert had lived a happy life. It may have been short, but it was wonderful while it lasted. As the cold tears fall down my cheeks, I place the two dragons on either side of his tombstone, guarding each other and him. As I turn my back and walk away I feel a sense of peace. That sense of peace came from the death of the one individual who meant everything to me. But I can live on to carry his memories and his love, and I will survive.