It was one of those cold, disgusting days in the middle of winter in Nashville, one of those days when it has been hot and the heat is coming back up from the ground to meet you. It is not supposed to be hot in winter, but nothing, it seemed, made any sense to me anymore. His death had really upset me, for a while. Of course, I soon realized that there were other things to concentrate on. School, for instance. It had a way of distracting me from larger things that I had to think about. Larger things, that, you might say, began two Septembers ago when I met an extraordinary fellow in eigth grade.
I didn't know much, none of the athletes did. It had a certain frustrating property to it, my lack of intelligence. Perhaps that frustration was felt by my best friend, James, perhaps not. It had certainly not escaped me. I was a perfect C. Very average, academically. As for athletics, however, you couldn't ask for more. James was different than I was, he was the kind of person that was well-rounded, semi-athletic and he got B-plusses, too. Interesting thing was, he sought out challenges and thrived on them.
Which, in retrospect, got him into trouble. So we're in South Memphis, about 11 PM. James was in front of me, and we were returning to his car from a bar or something, I don't remember. We were always out doing that sort of thing, in our lives back then, and that night it just happened to be in a strange city. I avoid Memphis now because it brings back too many grizzly memories.
Anyhow, we're walking down the street, and these three guys come up to us. They shoved us into a wall, calling us "fags" and "queens" and "ladies". One of them pulled out a piece, and my life and a forty-four caliber bullet both flashed before my eyes at the same time. James, he was not so lucky. The paramedics, called by the owner of a nearby convenience store, pronounced him dead at the scene. I was in shock, but had the sense to follow the gurney into the back of the ambulance.
I was in the hospital at about 12:15 AM when who arrives but Christopher and Sam. Chris, he fit in in South Memphis, but Sam stuck out like a sore thumb. His aunt Latonya arrived with them all. At first, they were worried sick, then crying because I was all right, recovering from that, then crying because my best friend and Chris' ex-lover would need a Y-incision, not a sedative and a good night's sleep, two things which I certainly could have benefited from. I was in no mood to sleep, however. Where did it come from? Where was the shooter? I must have hit my head. Unanswered questions that I carried with me in my subconsciousness into dreamland. I did not realize the impact of a loss of human life. Not yet.
In my dream, I am standing before a black-clad figure of James, in front of that same convenience store. He has a focused look in his eyes, and is translucent, as if he is alive but removed by one frequency from my plane of existence. He is pointing down an empty cross-street.
I awoke, screaming.
"Now, Mr. Richmond, we know this must be upsetting, but we need to ask you a few questions." The detectives leaned over to me. "This is detective Johnson, and I'm detective McCoy."
I told them everything, which was not much at the time, considering my state of disbelief, and they left. I had a lot of thinking to do. It was odd. It didn't really happen. I wasn't there. It was a dream, and James was all right, of course, silly, he had been released last night. Everything was going to be fine.
The next Monday, I went back to school and to Nashville expecting to see James and talk with him, discuss the events of that weekend. I went to school, sat down in my homeroom desk, turned behind me, and his desk was empty. Only then did it hit me. I snapped. Bad. So bad, in fact, that I was scheduled to see the guidance counselor.
"Tom, we're all having to deal with this. It's a very difficult time. You have to understand that bad things happen to good people." I looked at Dr. McCormick with distinct contempt.
"Easy for you to say," I shot back.
"As soon as you get past your anger, you can achieve closure and move on. It's for the best, Tom." How insensitive!
"Listen. I don't know what kind of guidance counselor you think you are, but James was my best friend.I loved him. Just because he's dead, does that mean that I have to close this segment of my life? I have to forget? Why should I move on?" I slammed the door and left her sitting in her office.
As I stormed down the hall toward 4th period, some little punk looked at me and started to laugh. I threw him against the wall and went on. I am not usually a violent person, but there were about a thousand things running through my head. I wanted to search the entire city of Memphis and wring the neck of the freak of nature that did this. I wanted to take his stupid little head in my hands and rip it off. Right there. I was as mad as I ever will be and had ever been. You know how you get really mad and you can feel your blood heat up? I was going through that.
That weekend, I stood outside the South Precinct of the Memphis Police Department, collected myself, and went inside. Two hours later, I emerged having thoroughly recounted the events of that entire night last week. I went home to Nashville that night, pounded a punching bag for three hours, did a sub-average job on my homework, and went to bed.
James looked distinctly different this time. He was clad in white, and stood 12 inches above the ground. This time, he pointed to the cross-street again.
I woke up screaming.
The next night, I was in front of the convenience store. I looked down the cross-street and saw it--the car, a blue '93 Accord. Feeling brave, I approached it. Inside, on the back driver's side, was a .44, nicely polished.
We came down that side street, and there were three guys, tall, black, with short brown hair. They turned to look at us, then one reached into his pants and fired three shots. I remember. I will never forget.
So there I stood, on another one of those freakish Nashville winter days. Jesus, I thought, It was supposed to be cold in January. It had been almost a month, and I was still angry. Below me, carved in marble, the words:
JAMES R. CRONIN, 1986-2001
BELOVED SON AND BEST FRIEND.
For every question I answered in the Catholic Cemetery that day, talking to a headstone, a thousand more presented themselves. The `conversation' gave me an odd gratification, knowing that he could hear me, wherever he was. I stood up, and a feeling of relief and of immediate sadness overtook me. It had all been coming up to this point, I suppose, the point where I didn't care who was watching, I didn't care what the consequences to my popularity might be, I just sat next to that headstone and cried out every scintilla of anger, resentment, and denial I had left, which was about forty-five minutes worth. I stood up and walked back to my car, depressed. It was not until I arrived there that I realized the gravity of my progression.
Now I think THAT deserves some e-mail. Come on, guys.