The telephone rang early Fourth of July morning, and I scrambled out of bed. The birds splashed around in the birdbath outside as I listened to the voice on the line change everything. Joe was in a car accident and he didnít make it. The boy who changed my life was gone. It didnít seem fair. Joe just graduated from a Christian school and in the fall was going to start teaching computers. His life was finally coming together. He wasnít supposed to die. The phone slipped from my hand, I fell to my knees, and my world stopped.
The telephone rings, sucking me back to that summer, shattering the silence that is now my world. A photo album full of childhood memories: family road trips to the beach, music recitals, and skating on the ice at Christmas, lay open on my floor. An old newspaper, deliberately folded to the obituaries, is strewn across my bed. Teardrops sprinkle the fraying pages. The ringing finally stops. My bones turn cold.
The walls of the church were covered with pictures of Joe, forcing me to relive my past. In those moments of gazing over the pictures, I met a boy I never knew: A boy who loved fishing and working on computers; who lived for God, and wanted to the world to be happy. I met Joe. The last picture I cam across was Joe standing in the middle of a country road. He was walking away form the camera, but his head was craned over right shoulder, and he was laughing his eye-crinkling snicker. It was late in the day and the sun was setting behind the hills, creating a gold halo around Joe. I stood there, trying to memorize that photo. With every line, every shadow, and every passing minute Joe was alive again.
The memories and colors that once adorned my walls are banished. The pictures that I tacked up lay crumpled in the trash. I finger through the pile of baby pictures on my des, stopping occasionally to reminisce about old birthday parties. I fumble as I reach the last picture. A snapshot of Joe falls to the floor. He smiles up at me and his eyes burn a hole through my soul, trying to find the room in the back of my mind where Iíve locked him away and hidden the key. He finds they key to my inner most secrets, and pries open the door, forcing me to look away.
Joeís pastor greeted us by the front doors early that morning. He started the funeral by inviting us to share our memories of Joe. I grabbed a fistful of tissues and let my own memories come flooding back. I was in my own world. Only Joe knew where to find me. The funeral was a blue of saddened faces, lives shattering, and the glimmer of hope that Joe was at Home. Joeís older brother, Jeremy, carried his ashes out of the church. The doors at the back of the room opened, sending a burst of sticky breeze down the isle. The candlelight at the front of the church danced. The flames wavered. The light went out, and Joe was gone.
Iím sitting under my open window, with a candle for light, a pen in hand, staring up at the star-spotted sky, trying to find Joe. I was sitting in this same spot under my window, the night Joe and I snuck out two summers ago. As the moon glistened across his windshield that night, I hurried to him. We ran into my backyard, fireflies ushering us to our world, a clearing at the top of a hill. We sat there watching the moon set, the crickets serenading us with their sweet summer melody, never saying a word. A gust of wind blows through my room, and my curtains dance, bringing me back home. The breeze kisses my cheek, wraps around the candle, and the light goes out.
Itís Joeís birthday today, July 29th. Iím standing at his grave, with a bouquet of white and yellow daisies, trying to convince myself that the boy I fell in love with so many years ago, is laying beneath my feet. Joe taught me many things that other people could never have taught me. Like you can turn your world completely upside-down and still emerge on the other side a better person. He taught me that sometimes you have to let go of everything, and just let the world be. Joe taught me that you have to let people love you, because thatís what makes life sweet. He taught me that you have to go to your loved oneís funeral and wake up the next day knowing itís not the end of the world. You have to know that today might not be better, but someday, everything will be okay. I set down the flowers and turn from his grave. The leaves on the trees start to tremble, and the summer breeze turns cold.