I heard my mother answer the phone. I could tell by the grogginess in her voice it was before her early, which in some cases, overlapped with my late. I didn’t have to open my eyes to know it was still dark. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. I have never been a successful morning person, to this instant the thought of functioning before eight in the morning makes me nauseous. Anyone I have ever been acquainted with has known this to be true. By way of fair warning or an unpleasant experience, didn’t much matter, it was nearly folklore.
Something had to be wrong.
My mother yelled up the stairs.
Lisa hadn’t spoken to me for nearly a year, until that morning. A year I would give anything to not have wasted on petty bullshit. I can’t even recall, with any certainty, what we had fallen out over but I am confident it wasn’t worthy of silence, especially for such a long period of time.
She said it just like that. Flat. As if it wouldn’t kill me.
It couldn’t be true. I had talked to him hours before. He was packing his stuff. He said he wouldn’t be late. I could barely fall asleep, too excited to quiet my mind, knowing Wally was struggling identically in his bed across town. I had missed him terribly. Edward joined the Navy, regardless of my tantrum. He was no sailor. I was uninterested in his contention that the uniform was a chick magnet. I had begged him, tears and all. He went anyway. He loved that uniform and looked handsome, like Gene Kelly. None of that mattered anymore. All of that was behind us now. He was coming home.
I had to be dreaming. I was overcome with a numbness; a terrible fog that would plague me again and again.
“Did you hear me?”
I hung up the phone. I got back in bed.
“Is everything ok?”
I couldn’t speak.
I remained in bed for hours and stared at the ceiling. The phone rang incessantly. I heard when Wally called. I could hear my mother comforting him, distraught, herself. He called repeatedly. I couldn’t talk to him. I couldn’t hear the reality in his voice. It was unbearable in the abstract, let alone in actuality.
By noon Wally was at my door. I could hear his choking sobs as he made his way up the stairs to my room.
“We have to go see his mother. Eddie would want us to.”
“You can do whatever you want.”
His voice cracked.
I got up, brushed my teeth, and, put on a baseball hat. My mother was standing at the bottom of the stairs when we came down.
“Erin, do you think you should go over in your pajama’s?”
I shrugged and walked out the door.
Edward’s house swarmed with people. I felt confused, light-headed, as if I was visiting an alternative universe. I walked from room to room. I knew there was noise. I could see the twisted faces of grief in every corner. The kind of grief that is accompanied by wailing but I couldn’t hear it. His mother clung to his most recent portrait, one that possessed the same smirk, as all of his portraits held. He loved having his picture taken. It was remarkable how pleased he always was with himself.
People spoke to me, hugged me, shook their heads in disbelief, patted me on the back, I knew they were acts of condolence but I could only see their lips move. The house felt hot and heavy. I needed to get out.
I sat on the front porch and stared at the house across the street. My old house looked back at me. Still, white in color with dark shutters, innocuous looking to the untrained eye. The site of my earliest and most vivid recollections, the headquarters for all of our adventures and, the last place I had ever felt whole, the place I was originally broken. I was barefoot, wearing sweat pants and a Grateful dead t-shirt, so worn they were barely worthy of pajama’s. I felt my chest tighten and my stomach turn. I leaned between the balusters and vomited in the front bushes. People milled around as if it were a cocktail party. I’m sure they wondered if I had cracked, literally and figuratively.
“You want to go?”
“Nah, I’m okay.”
“Really? Cause you just barfed in the pachysandra and look like a homeless hippie. Your mom dropped off some stuff.” He smiled, sadly. It was the first time I had actually looked at him all day. He had aged overnight, as I’m sure I had, and he had a suit on. I burst out laughing.
“You’ve had that suit on all day? It’s ninety fucking degrees out! I hadn’t noticed how spiffy you were looking!
“Says the shrub-puking, bag lady! Fuck you. And a Sox hat? You know he’s a Yankee fan."
“Yeah. Fuck him.”
We almost laughed. What we could muster.
I took the stuff my mother left and went up to Edward’s bedroom. We joked that it had become a shrine since he had left for the Navy. He was the youngest and the favorite, in that “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, kind of way. I looked at all of the things he had collected over the years. His rainbow suspenders hung from the back of his open closet door. Boy scout badges, posters, drawings, decorated his walls, rocks, seashells, a diorama of Rome he had been particularly proud of from 5th grade, condoms, phone numbers, matchbooks, ashtray, occupied the top of his dresser. A crucifix resided over the bed.
Pictures were tucked into the wood frame of his dresser mirror, various girls, but mostly picture of the three of us. Our high school portraits, the wallet size, of both Wally and me, the three of us from Lisa’s graduation party, me and Wally dressed as hobo’s for Halloween when we were ten. Edward and me at our eighth grade graduation from catholic school, the three of us, smiling, after making a seeming fortune, before we got in trouble, for caroling for a fake charity, Edward’s going away party, the three of us in front of his house, him in uniform, smirking. A Polaroid of Wally and Edward that I took before they left for Boy Scout sleep away camp. I told them I was taking it to remember them because I was sure they were to be eaten by cannibals, when in truth, I just wanted to scare them into staying home, afraid they would have more fun without me and never come back. I don’t know how he ended up with it. Stolen is my best guess. He had total access to everything I owned and rifled through it often.
A framed picture I had made for each of us sat on his nightstand. Us three. Sharing a hammock and a cigarette the Thanksgiving prior. The last time we would see him; our very last moment.
I lied on his bed and held his pillow to my face. I closed my eyes and breathed him in, as much as I could tolerate; a vain attempt to fill a void that would forever exist, Edward, my first penis, my first cigarette, my best friend, my first terrible fog.