By Marian Overfield
I watch as the final trickles of rain are wiped away by my windshield wipers. The dark morning sky hasn’t decided if it is done raining, but it will definitely stay dark for the foreseeable future. The roads I once knew by heart seem slightly alien to me since I moved away a year ago. I drive past the Village of Williamsville sign that only a week ago had me grinning like a fool with excitement. Now my face hangs somber, eyes half fixed on the road in front of me, half lost in my own thoughts. I almost didn’t even notice the sign this time.
I click on my blinker and make a left.
There isn’t much to see on the back roads I decided to take, besides the airport. This airport has been a common destination for me growing up, so I know this part of my trip very well. However, everything beyond here is foreign and I have to tune into my GPS as it tells me where to go. The cheery voice of my instructor telling me to take the first exit at the roundabout clashing with the sad thoughts and questions that fill my head. With “why” seeming to be the starting word of every question. “Why did he do it?” “Why didn’t he reach out to someone?” “Why did he think this was his only answer?”
A plane drones overhead as it departs from the airport. Departure. This word sticks with me as I notice the outbound plane getting smaller and smaller. This word has many meanings, depending on its context. People who use a mode of transportation to go to a different location are departing. It’s used when someone or something is leaving. Many times, when it comes to flights, unless you know someone who is on the flight, or you yourself will be taking it, you will not even take notice of it. It hurts to say goodbye to friends when they leave. But having them leave without being able to say goodbye is even worse. This awareness of departures stays with me as I watch the plane fly away. My mind goes to a different kind of departure. Death.
Last week I, as a 20-year-old, attended something that I shouldn’t have attended for at least four or five more decades: my high school friend’s funeral. When I learned that he had killed himself I didn’t believe it, I cried for hours and still had a hard time comprehending it. The wake made everything sink in, and now here I am, on my way to visit his grave and say my final goodbyes.
I end up on a winding road just past the airport. I pass the all-too-common banquet hall that used to host some school events. This makes me think of the award ceremonies we used to have for track. He always got an award at the end of the season, and he always deserved it. He was always willing to run any event if it meant getting points, even if it was his first time. He somehow managed to put in the effort at practice every day, giving his all and was still able to check up on other kids, making sure that everyone was happy and laughing. Echoes of laughter and flashes of smiles. His laughter and his smiles enter my head as I continue to drive. The light turns red. I roll to a stop.
I feel another stone added to my shoulders, more weight that I must bear. It takes a lot not to cry in the driver’s seat while I wait.
The light turns green. The memories fade and my mind goes blank.
By now the voice of the GPS has faded into the background. A noise that my body responds to, but my brain isn’t listening. Turning left, then right, then following the road for three miles, I pull into my destination. The massive stone gates, covered in moss and wildflowers, worn from the weather, loom over me, almost hauntingly, and an angel stares down. I know some people find this comforting, to know that an angel is watching over their loved one or to think that their loved one has become an angel watching over them. But he had been an angel to so many while he was alive, and he had always been the one to look over me, but I wasn’t there to look over him when he needed it. Where was his angel?
I climb out of my car. It has started to drizzle again without me even realizing it.
I make my way behind the low but long building that sits in front of me, a school. As I walk past the open windows, I can hear kids laughing with friends, something I won’t be able to do with him anymore. When I get behind the building, I gaze out at the sea of marble and granite. I can tell which ones are newer and which have been there for a while. Beautiful flowers have been set at the base of many of them, some real but many fake. I make my way to the well in the middle of the cemetery and pull up the map my track coach had drawn for me. My coach had been able to go to the funeral and had texted me where I could find the grave if I felt up to visiting.
I can’t find him.
After 20 minutes of looking, walking up and down the rows of this medium-sized graveyard, I call my coach to ask exactly where my friend is. Again, he tells me the same area that he had marked on the map. Distraught that I can’t find him to say goodbye, I sit at one of the benches around the central well and cry. I ended up calling the church that this cemetery belongs to, to ask where he is. The woman on the line tells me that she is sorry for my loss and knew my friend and his family well. She walks out to the cemetery and shows me to the mound of earth that is covering my friend.
I discover that despite all the weight I have been carrying above me for the past week, he doesn’t have a headstone yet. Nothing that signifies that this is where he is. Just last week to see him at his memorial service you had to wait for at least an hour, but you were surrounded by his friends. Now his short but whole life is reduced to a mound of earth surrounded by strangers, not that he wouldn’t have become friends with every single person there in the span of a day or two. That was just who he was, a friendly and happy kid who no one knew was in pain.
It starts to truly rain. I sit on the wet muddy ground, catching my friend up on what life has been like for me. Somehow, I finally bring myself to say my final goodbye, not knowing when I will be able to come back.