My eyes snapped open hurriedly, realizing I had another episode. I absorbed the environment, trying to recall where I was or what I was doing. It was so beyond the boundaries of my reality to actually remember. It was too much work. The grass was the sky, and the twilight was the ground. My seat belt pressed against my shoulder, inducing a sharp pain radiating from my collar bone. I moaned as I noticed blood trickled down my forehead into my left eye. “Holy crap.” I must have fallen pretty hard.
Wait, no, I was in Heath’s car.
And then I noticed the jeep’s window was crashed in, and the ceiling wasn’t right side up. My heart stopped, and I silently evaluated the situation. “Heath, did we crash?” I glanced to my side, and the driver was gone. My gaze shifted to the front window, shattered and broken.
“Heath?” I whimpered.
I unleashed my seat belt and crashed into the ceiling. I coughed as the air escaped my lungs, and I wondered if my ribs were broken. My hands wrapped around my trunk, and my knees pulled to my chest, a mound of whimpering flesh. “Heath?” I whispered.
I pulled myself from my huddled mess and crawled through the shattered window. Glass scraped against my skin harshly, the crystals sticking to my skin and clothing like snow. I groaned as my muscles ached, and I couldn’t imagine why. My hand grazed blades of grass, and then I rolled out of the Jeep. I tumbled three times before I crashed into the end of the ditch. “Ah…Oh God…” My hand fell to my forehead. Mud stained my jeans and t-shirt, the cool liquid piercing my nerves.
Sirens hurdled into my ear drums, and my hands cuffed over my ears. I turned to the Jeep, and the wheels were still spinning. The roof caved in, and the car sat on its back like a dog pleading for a belly rub. Glass littered the grass, a red sheen reverberating off the crystals. My eyes scoured the area for Heath suddenly, frightened. I didn’t know exactly why a sense of terror bit at my heart, but I knew something bad happened. It was just my paranoid intuition. “Heath?”
I pulled myself off of the ground, and my legs shook from the sudden weight.
“We’ve got another victim on the scene,” I heard someone say, and then a strong hand grasped my forearm. I threw my arm away, forcing him off of me.
“Get off,” I whimpered childishly.
“Ma’am, are you alright? You need a hospital.”
“No, no, no, where’s Heath? Where’s Heath?”
“Ma’am, let’s go to the ambulance.”
“No, I need Heath. Where’s Heath?”
“Let’s focus on you right now.” He dragged me by my forearm toward the ambulances lined up on the shoulder of the road, the lights flashing and spinning. The sirens stopped. I leaned back and became dead weight, and the man let me go for a moment before wrapping an arm around my waist as a base and pulling me more forcefully to the ambulance.
My eyes scoured the top of the ditch for Heath. Maybe he was talking to the EMTs, being the social butterfly he was. Maybe he was already getting taken care of.
And then I found him.
A limp body sat crumpled mid-way up the ditch. His black hair splayed out in all directions, but he looked fine. And then the blood drenching his hair caught my attention. “Heath!” I squealed, my voice cracking.
I dropped to the ground out of the man’s grasp and then sprinted to the body. I fell to my knees immediately and began to shake him. “Heath, Heath, what happened? Heath!” I rolled him over onto his back, and I felt a tightness constrict across my chest like a corset. I forgot how to breathe, how to blink, how to do anything. I sat motionless, incredulous.
His green eyes stared vacantly at the stars above us. Blood trickled and dried over his lips and down his chin like the juices of an apple. His chest failed to rise, and everything just failed to work with his body. I checked for a pulse, and none was found.
“Ma’am, you need medical care for that gash…”
I twisted to the EMT and wailed, “Why aren’t you helping him?! WHY AREN’T YOU HELPING HIM?! HELP HIM, PLEASE!” I punched Heath in the chest as hard as I could, hoping to get his heart to start pumping like a read in a book previously. I felt his ribs crunch from the sudden pressure, and my skin began to crawl.
The EMT said calmly, I guess trying to make me calm, “Ma’am, we tried everything we could.”
“Are you fucking stupid?! Help him! Help him!” I turned back to Heath and sealed my lips over his. I gave him two deep breaths and watched his chest rise like the mannequin’s I practiced on last semester in Health class. I sat up and laced my fingers behind my other palm and threw my weight into his chest, circulating his blood for him. “Heath, you can’t do this to me! You can’t do this to me…”
I immediately sat up, my breathing struggling. My hand caught against my bare chest as I stared at the mirror in front of the bed in the hotel room. My hair stuck to my perspiration, sticking to my skin like a Velcro strip. I grabbed my hair and twisted it over my left shoulder as I leaned forward, trying to shake away the frightening image of my nightmare.
“Dev, you okay?”
Heath leaned forward and rubbed my bare back with his soft, large hands. His heat emitted from his palms like a heating pad, and my muscles unrolled underneath his touch. I did not shiver away from his touch as he traced something across my back. His green eyes locked on mine, and he gave me a small smile. “I’m here.”
I nodded solemnly and leaned into him, my head resting against his breast. I murmured, “It was a nightmare.”
“You’re okay,” he whispered into my crown as he fell back onto the bed, pulling me with him. His hand combed through my hair lightly and traced designs against my shoulder as he stared at the ceiling. “I’m here… I’m here…He’s not coming back.”
I burrowed deeply into him and rested my hand on his chiseled abs. I smirked as I noticed the strawberry to the left of his navel he had since he was a kid. I patted his stomach and gently closed my eyes. I whispered, “Please don’t leave.”
“I couldn’t if I tried. You’re so damn heavy.” His hand fell on the curve of the small of my back, and I felt so safe. Like nothing could ever happen to me again. Maybe things wouldn’t destroy me like I thought.
The EMT gently grabbed my arm as I did compressions, but I whipped it out of his grasp and continued as if he never tried to interrupt me. My vision blurred as tears began to fall over my eyelids and onto his chest like rain droplets. A grimace tore my lips apart as I began to hyperventilate. I leaned over to give him another two breaths, but I struggled to make his chest rise—my breaths too shallow from breaking down. I sobbed into his lips, “No, Heath, you can’t do this to me… Please, you can’t do this to me.”
I returned to the compressions until four hands grabbed me fiercely. “Ma’am, you need medical care.”
“NO! NO! HEATH! HEATH!!! HELP HEATH!!!” I kicked and wiggled fiercely, but their firm hands dragged me up the hill. I wailed, “You aren’t helping him! You aren’t helping him! Do something! Do something!” My heels dug into the ground and left a trail as the two men pulled me over the lip of the asphalt and onto the back bumper of their ambulance.
“Ma’am, we did CPR for an extended amount of time. We are sorry for your loss, but you need to seek medical attention currently. You may have some broken bones, a possible concussion—just a whole load of things we need to check on.”
I bit my lip and turned my gaze to the man who had been talking the whole time. I cried, “You have to do something else. You don’t understand. You don’t understand any of this!” I pulled myself off the bumper and eased my way down the hill to the motionless body. I knelt down resignedly and combed my fingers through his hair lightly. I held back a roar as my palm rested on his icy cheek. I remembered how warm he once was—I remembered when his lips didn’t taste of iron and his green eyes held a mischievous glow. “Oh God, Heath…”
The EMT stood behind me, his shadow cast by the light of the flashers. He inquired, “Ma’am, please return to the ambulance. We will take care of him. Who should I call for him?”
I just gave him ten digits.
I pulled myself away from Heath’s body for the last time and returned to the bumper.
After the explosion of sorrow and grief, I abruptly became numb. Nothing physical hurt as the other EMT began to poke and prod my limbs. The one who was talking silently placed a tarp over Heath’s body as if he was some sort of animal. If I had been my normal self, I would have been enraged that they would do something to him like that, but I became resigned.
“Hey, Dev, guess what?”
“Not another crappy joke, Heath. I’ve had enough of those for a lifetime.”
“One more, pretty please?”
“Ugh, just do it.”
“Sixteen sodium atoms walk into a bar, and then Batman comes in.”
What was the point anymore?
I just stared at Heath’s huddled body and the destroyed Jeep wrapping around itself in a knot, and I silently cried, tears cascading down my cheeks like a torrent. Nine stitches in my forehead, a presumed broken clavicle, and a confirmed concussion. I fervently blinked and tautened my hands into fierce fists on my thighs. I swallowed a sob as the realization that I no longer had a companion shot through my heart… and maybe that my life didn’t have a point anymore.
I began to hyperventilate.
“Ma’am, calm down,” said the Asian EMT who was silent for so long. “Ma’am, what’s your name?”
I turned to him and cocked an eyebrow. How the hell was I supposed to calm down? He didn’t understand. He didn’t understand the awful realization that my best friend was dead. He didn’t understand any of this shit going on.
“Mrs. Frey?” The other ginger EMT quietly conversed on the phone, cupping the end of it to stifle any sobs or screams I let out of my stomach.
I clenched my stomach as I heard him say those two words.
What had I done?
I ruined a whole family.
I crumpled to my knees, falling off the bumper clumsily. I held myself up with my weakening arms, and acid crawled up my throat as I imagined the horror his poor mother would feel upon hearing of his… I couldn’t even say it.
“Ma’am, what’s your name? Mine’s Isaac.”
I ignored him and blew chunks on the asphalt. I couldn’t tell if I was nauseous from the concussion or if I was just nauseated from the Jeep flipping. I just knew my stomach was in knots. My eyes took one last glimpse of Heath’s body, and I let out a forlorn yelp as I tried to stifle back the torrent of emotions destroying me from inside-out.
The EMTs eventually took me to the hospital after some more cars showed up. I couldn’t tell what they did to his body. I couldn’t tell if the cars were civilian or federal or professional. I wasn’t able to see if they were careful tending to his body or they just threw him around like a rag doll. I couldn’t tell if they respected this wonderful person. I couldn’t tell the doctors on a scale how bad my pain was because all I could mutter that night was, “They didn’t help him.”
“Ma’am, on a scale of one to ten, how badly does this hurt?” They lifted my left arm to my shoulder height, and my body begged for the pain to stop radiating from my chest to the tip of my fingers. But it was like I really couldn’t feel it. The edge of a dull knife.
“They didn’t help him.”
“Ma’am, what’s your name?”
“They didn’t help him.”
“Ma’am, you have to tell us your name.” I snatched the chart from the doctor’s hands and scribbled “Devin Paulina Sebold” on the chart in scratches.
I turned back to my knees and murmured, “They didn’t help him.”
“Ma’am, our psychiatrist is coming in to talk to you, okay?”
“They didn’t help him.”
“She’s here to help you, though.”
I turned my chin up, locking eyes with the doctor. He seemed frozen in his white lab coat and pleated khakis. I languidly shook my head and furrowed my brow. I fiercely stared at him as I choked back a boisterous sob. I griped as I combed through my hair with my right hand. I mumbled, “They didn’t help him.”
My mom shook me awake in the middle of the night after the phone rang. Irritated, I growled, “No, Mom.”
“Ned, this is serious.” She shoved the phone into my hand.
I pulled my pillow over my head and groaned, pushing the phone back into her hand. “Mom, just hang up the phone!”
I finally placed the receiver to my ear, and the voice on the other line was sobbing. Not a sweet sniffle or a petite cry—a fierce wail that couldn’t be consoled. “Hello?”
“Ned, Ned, baby, I’m so sorry,” the voice on the other line murmured. I tried to rip through the façade of mucus distorting her voice, identifying who could be on the other line.
“Who is this?”
“Mrs. Frey.” I sat up abruptly, my world spinning. My mom, ragged, sat at the foot of my bed and buried her face in her hands, gently crying. A tear dribbled down her cheek onto my comforter. Heath’s mom never was out of comfort, calm in demeanor and spirit. Whenever she scolded Heath, she never raised her voice or her hand. She wasn’t one to unfold for anyone.
“Mrs. Frey, what’s wrong?”
She stuttered, “My baby, my b-b-b-baby…”
“Mrs. Frey, what’s wrong?” I repeated.
My heart stopped. “What?”
“The jeep flipped a couple times, and he wasn’t wearing his seat belt. They said he wasn’t in a lot of pain and that it was instantaneous…”
“No, I just talked to him before he left yesterday. He was nervous about the history test today but was excited for the soccer match… What do you mean he’s dead? Are you kidding me?”
“My poor baby,” she whimpered into the phone sadly. “My poor baby boy.”
“But I just talked to him. He texted me after the game. He said USA won… We won.”
“I’m so sorry, Ned.”
And then I suddenly remembered. “Is his girlfriend d—gone, too?” I couldn’t even say that finite word. It was just too real, too solid, too concrete in a world that existed around this surreality.
“No, she’s fine. It shouldn’t have been him. It shouldn’t have been my baby.”
I dropped the phone on the comforter—his mother’s wails could be heard without speaker phone. I stared vacantly into the wall of my bedroom, bare and virgin. I shook my head and slowly turned to my mother. “What?”
That was August 25 of our senior year of high school.
It was beyond strange attending school and knowing Heath wouldn’t be there, knowing your best friend was gone. I remember just staring at the inside of my locker because Heath let me borrow his copy of Lord of the Flies for Lit class, his name scribbled on a post-it in the front cover of the book, too afraid to ruin the book with his chicken-scratch. I ran my fingers through my hair, still incredulous that I wouldn’t ever see his stupid smirk or his shitty face again.
My mom and I disagreed that I should have attended school just a few hours after getting the phone call from Mrs. Frey about her son. I didn’t want to go to school, but Mom suggested it was the best thing to maintain a routine schedule to distract from the gravity of the whole situation. Dad just didn’t have a clue what to do, and the whole situation really hadn’t sunk into Lex. I was just stunned that Heath was taken so easily.
Who else was I supposed to talk to and hang out with? Who was I supposed to argue with?
I mean, I just saw him yesterday after school. He was pumped to go watch a soccer match with his girlfriend in Nashville, and he was excited to be alive and ready to delve into college applications and soccer season. Exuberant was an understatement.
“Did you hear about Heath Frey?”
“Yeah, man, that’s freaking awful.”
“No, what happened?”
“I heard that he was breaking up with his girlfriend, and she twisted the wheel as hard as she could, and then they hit a tree. He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt apparently.”
There were few things anyone was sure about. The car rolled at least twice down an embankment. Heath was not wearing a seatbelt. The girlfriend was there, but she hadn’t said anything to Heath’s mom last night. She broke her collar bone due to the seat belt.
All other details were up in the air.
“No way, I bet she was giving him road head.”
“Yeah, Devin Sebold was just so good at it, Heath swerved the car down the road.”
I didn’t know which was worse—not knowing the truth or pretending the rumors were the truth. In my chest, I knew my friend was never as reckless to do such a thing, but he was oddly very secretive about his relationship and intimacy with his girlfriend unlike half the guys who went to our school. Just catching an earful at lunch could unveil the several sex ventures conquered during the past weekend.
“I know that Devin Sebold gets drunk a lot.”
“Drinking and driving, of course.”
“Leave it to Devin Sebold to screw it all up.”
No one knew much about Heath’s girlfriend except that she was a preacher’s kid—a preacher accused and then found guilty of tax evasion and stealing from his church. Her sister immediately pinned the act on her, but no one had any evidence of her framing her own father. But we all knew he couldn’t have done it because he was a good man.
We all were sure Devin was trouble.
I slammed my locker door shut and shuffled off to homeroom. No doubt, the announcements would mention something about Heath’s death, and then more people would just unravel and act as though they gave two shits about him while he was alive.
Brody stepped up next to me and leaned against the desk beside mine. He pressed his forehead into his palm and inquired hesitantly, “How ya doing, bro?”
“Yeah, I know.”
Lily, my girlfriend, waltzed up behind me, embracing me blindly. She whimpered forlornly, rubbing her cheek into my shoulder, “It’ll be okay. It’ll be okay, okay?”
I threw up again.
“Dev, calm down,” Esther cooed, her hand resting on my back as I knelt down in front of the toilet.
I screamed into my thighs silently, my teeth baring into my flesh as I crumpled into a ball of flesh and bone. I cried out, clenching my fists tautly as I was forced to confront the awful reality.
I honestly thought it was all a dream.
My palms pressing into his icy chest.
My blood seeping into my eyes from a cut above my brow.
His pallor eyes staring blankly into nothingness.
My pulse accelerating.
His warmth escaping from his face.
My lips pressed into his, heaving a breath into his lungs before continuing compressions.
His laugh no longer reverberating in his chest.
My mind forgetting the sound of his contagious laugh.
My fingers clawed into the sides of my temples as my teeth clenched down. My chin quivered as I stifled a sob, tears streaming down my face. My collar bone shifted with each movement, rebelling against the stupid sling the ER had given me.
Esther embraced me lightly and cooed, “It’ll be okay, it’ll be okay.”
I didn’t think so. I mean, I lost my best friend.
And it was my fault.
I sat on the edge of the sidewalk in front of the church in a black dress I borrowed from my sister Esther. The caterpillar above my eyebrow had yet to dissolve, and my sling dug into my shoulder as my collar bone healed. I numbly stared at the asphalt. A large bottle of vodka sat beside me in a large brown bag, hiding my insecurity from the world.
What seventeen-year-old turns to liquor?
I snatched it from my side and took a long drag on the burning liquid. I peeled it away once I could no longer endure the sour taste and put it back down beside me. I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it through the funeral without breaking down.
Black heels came into view along with a pair of black, leather loafers. My gaze ran up the legs of the Freys. Heath’s dad wore a black suit with his hair combed back sleekly. His angular jaw reminiscent of Heath’s jutted out as he stifled a cry. Mrs. Frey’s black dress accentuated her minute waist; her hair pulled back into a high bun. Her makeup was already running down her cheeks as tears began to fall.
I was always amazed at Mrs. Frey’s beauty and how Heath could ever think I was remotely attractive with his mom looking like that. Black hair usually fell down to her rib in smooth ringlets, and her dusty eyes snuck a serene smile into her features. Her high cheek bones sat high above plum lips with a curved cupid’s bow. Freckles mottled her alabaster complexion that could never be mistaken for wan, and slight curves accentuated her oval face near her jaw.
I immediately shot to my feet, leaving the vodka on the asphalt. I murmured with a furrowed brow, “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so, so sorry.”
A hand smashed into the left side of my face. I stumbled to the right, my hand shooting to my cheek immediately. I turned back to see Mr. Frey pulling his wife back violently as she tried to swipe me again. She began to kick and throw her arms out wildly. She screeched, “It should have been you! You killed my sweet baby! I trusted you! I trusted you with my son!”
“Babe, you have to calm down,” Mr. Frey softly explained, pity evident in his tone. Maybe he was losing more than Heath. Maybe he was losing a part of Mrs. Frey he loved.
Mrs. Frey stopped flailing her limbs. Her eyes pierced into me as she hissed, “You killed my only baby, Devin. You killed Heath.”
I crumpled back onto the sidewalk and buried my face into my knees. I just burst into tears because I was doubting whether I really didn’t have anything to do with his death. Maybe it wasn’t an accident. Maybe an episode killed my best friend.
“You smell like filth and alcohol, you goddamn whore.”
“Stop!” Mr. Frey tore Mrs. Frey away from me and into the church. I heard the door squeal open and then squeal to a close.
I formed taut fists and gently knocked against my face, begging for a sense of anything to come to me. I chugged down the rest of the vodka before stumbling the two miles back to my house.
God stole the main reason I was alive. He stole the person I loved most in the world, and I was so goddamn jealous that He had Heath. It wasn’t fair because Heath was going to do so much for everyone—he was going to do so many great things with his life.
It should have been me.
I sat in the front of the church and sat awkwardly beside Heath’s sobbing parents. They didn’t let his girlfriend inside the church, or maybe she wasn’t allowed inside the church. Her father used to do sermons here. Everyone thought he was framed. I was part of the majority.
A senior portrait of Heath sat on top of a wreath of colorful flowers, and I loathed it. The picture didn’t give the idiot justice. Heath’s hair was primped and tamed, but his hair was usually a mane of porcupine-like tendrils splayed out in all sorts of dimensions. His green eyes rebelled and reveled in mischief, and his alabaster skin usually gleamed. His smile was so serene in the picture, but his face usually split in two with a toothy grin that creased the skin around his eyes like a little hag. He clapped with his boisterous, contagious laugh when he smiled like that.
My hand destroyed the program I received upon entering the church. He was supposed to have a ceremony and then get taken somewhere to be cremated and then spread out everywhere. I didn’t completely understand the whole logistics of it, and I wasn’t sure Heath wanted to have a funeral like this.
His mom tried to begin a eulogy, but she burst into tears mid-sentence and couldn’t be consoled. No one else had the gall to actually speak about my best friend—including me.
A lot of people from our school showed up, but I think most of them just knew of Heath. They never shared a word, or if they did, it was perhaps chit-chat. It irked me in a weird way, as if I wasn’t allowed to mourn my friend privately. Everyone else had to join in on mourning. Somehow, it felt like my burden—no one else’s. His mom had business attending the funeral, but Jimmy who knew Heath’s uncle’s cousin’s sister’s roommate shouldn’t have even attended.
Maybe a few people just attended funerals for the hell of it to understand the feeling of the finite end that was all taunting us. It was weird thinking how far away death is supposed to be, and then it is right in front of us. Everything is so finite, and we have to be reminded occasionally.
The congregation stood and began in unison, “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” And then Heath was gone forever. The last bit of him was lost to the world forever.