To Save a Life
The corners of the picture frame dug into her arms as she held the sacred object closer to her heart. Another tear made its way down her face, before falling on to her shirt and joining the others that had travelled the same path. She hated herself even more for crying about it. She was to blame. It was all her fault. Maybe if she had said something more that day? Maybe if she hadn't taken him shopping? Maybe if she invited him over to her house? Maybe… maybe…maybe…
Something was different about him that day. The way he walked, his feet shuffling along the floor instead of the long strides he normally took. He hadn't laughed at the jokes at lunch, or argued with the teacher's point of view in history. That day, he'd been quiet, passive, hiding away from something.
She wiped her nose on her shirt, feeling the cotton assault the now raw skin. She just stared at the clock hanging from the wall, and watched as the seconds continued to tick by. Life was fading away quickly. But what did it matter anymore? The guilt shot through her with that thought.
He just continued to shuffle his feet through the halls as she told him about her marvelous weekend. It wasn't marvelous – they both knew that. Nothing was great about a weekend of babysitting, but she just wanted to talk. He didn't respond to her questions, didn't even smile at the stories of the silly things the three year old did. He just kept his head down and kept walking.
"I should have picked up on it!" her mind screamed at her. If she wasn't so stupid and cared more about what was going on, she wouldn't have let it happen. She couldn't have let it happen. But she did. My fault… my fault… my fault…
She had tried getting him to talk that day. She had asked about his weekend, about his sister, about his new motorbike. Nothing. Not a single word would escape the confinements of his soul. She didn't press him. She figured he would tell her eventually. Eventually.
The silence was killing her inside, and she couldn't stand it. She closed her eyes and saw him there. She tried to put on music, but only his voice would come through. She tried to distract herself, but she couldn't get away. He would always be in her mind. Why me? Why not me? Why?
He said he needed some new clothes for a dinner party thrown by his parents. She was so naïve, thinking the dinner party was what he was dreading. Of course she'd take him shopping. He only wanted a tie. That simple $15 red tie. He was worth more than that, but he wanted that red tie.
She flipped on the radio needing something to shatter the silence that was suffocating her. So began the few notes of the piano, followed by that simple voice. It echoed her thoughts, and the tears began to pour down anew. "Where did I go wrong?"
He wasn't there for four days, and she began to wonder what happened. She called his house, expecting him to answer the phone and invite her over for movie night like they always did on Friday nights. But Friday nights were a thing of the past. His mother's voice had come on the line, and when she asked for Joshua, she received a loud wailing.
Joshua had hung himself in his closet with a tie. The same $15 red tie they had bought only a few days before. "I'm sorry" scribbled crudely on his closet door with a purple crayon was the only note they ever found.
The tears fell on the glass of the picture as she stared at his picture. A happy boy of fifteen smiled back at her. They had gone to that lake that day to go fishing, and ended up swimming instead. He had dunked her so many times, that fighting him became pointless. He was stronger and taller than she was. She remembered joking with him, telling him he would be her death and that he'd have to write her eulogy.
He had hugged her and snapped the picture. His black hair was soaked with water, and his blue eyes stared at her through the glass. His smile angered her. She hated him: hated him for leaving her here to deal with his death. How could he be so selfish? How could he leave her to write his eulogy, and carry it everywhere as a reminder that it was all her fault?
She threw the picture against the wall, and snorted at the sound of shattered glass. She pulled the paper out of her pocket. It was starting to fray at the areas she had repeatedly folded and unfolded her simple words:
Joshua was my friend, and will always be my friend. He made me laugh. He told everyone how special they were as an individual. He challenged everyone to shoot for the stars. He saw things that other people didn't, and felt things much deeper than the average person. He was going to be a doctor, and find a cure for cancer. He was going to get a tattoo on his eighteenth birthday. He was going to travel the world as a world-renowned pianist. He was never going to waste his life and be an average person, but always planned on doing something spectacular. He will be greatly missed.
Fresh tears fell and smudged the black ink. "If I had known," she sobbed again, "I would have done anything to make sure your dreams came true. I'm so sorry Joshua," she cried some more as she got on her knees and crawled to the cracked picture frame. He still smiled back at her, daring her to smile.
She sat on the floor, not noticing the shards of glass that poked her skin. Cradling the picture close, she began to cry again. Maybe one day she'd get over his death and begin to live her life. Maybe…maybe…maybe…