Time Of Our Death
By Paul D Aronson
“Well, I’m not going to no guidance counselor’s office. I’ve spent enough time there.” Brian looked at us with his usual sneer. It was sign enough he was back in his element. “I wouldn’t go anywhere with you losers anyway.”
I didn’t benefit him with a reply, and neither did Donald. What was the point? It would just get us another haughty answer, as if his high school audience could still hear him. He smirked and headed off down the hall, giving weaker students a push into a locker, or tapping some girl on the shoulder and lower places. Kelly wouldn’t have been too happy about that, I’m sure, but since she was getting ready to do the same, I guess that made them even.
“Come on Don,” I said. We went down the hall, too, but unlike the rest we tried to avoid other people. Sure, it was irresistible to walk through people, but that old human instinct was still there, causing us to dodge around others as we made our way to the offices. There was a dull buzz among our schoolmates, hushed whispers mentioning missing students by name. Pockets of weepy eyes were hard to avoid as some had lost valued friends. In a town this size, everyone grew up together. Most of those we went to school with we had known since the earliest grades, even if we no longer hung out in their circles.
“So, what did you do last night?” I asked.
“I just sat at home. Watched TV with mom.”
I nodded. These little things we would never do again. I knew there were small things I would miss too. Breakfast with dad. Helping mom put up groceries. Sitting in my room with my guitar, trying to pick out chords to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog.’
“How about you? You didn’t stay down there in the bus all night, did you?”
“No, we sat in the rain by the river. Just talking.”
He smiled. “You like her, don’t you?”
“No way , dude. She’s not my type.”
He laughed. “Sure, man. Whatever.”
I smiled, busted. “Yeah, I guess I like her.”
He shook his head, as we passed a group of giggling girls. “You guess?”
“Okay, yes. I like her. How’s that? Satisfied?”
He pumped his fist in the air. “Yes! Well, at least some good has come out of all this.”
“What good is that? Me liking a girl after we are both dead?”
He didn’t answer. After all, it was a bit of a bummer. Your whole school life you wish for a girlfriend or boyfriend, and it never works out. And then, after you die that special someone comes along. Whoever said Death didn’t have a sense of humor had never met him.
The guidance counselor’s office was next to the teacher’s lounge, so we went through there first. A few of the faculty sat around a desk, drinking coffee and eating donuts. My dreaded math teacher, Mr. Harmon, was seated next to Miss Wu, quite possibly the prettiest teacher our school had ever seen. She was single, and though the word was Harmon had been trying, he wasn’t having much luck. We could see that for ourselves here. She was buried in the local newspaper, which gave us the number of dead kids right across its front page.
Apparently, there were now seven listed among the deceased, and now they had listed them all by name. None of us were on the list, so I knew that meant at least a dozen had died in the crash, though the newspaper reported the seventh victim had passed away in the hospital from his sustained injuries. The name seemed familiar, but I could t place a face with the name.
“He was in my science class,“ Donald said. Miss Wu sniffled. She was crying. “She was the teacher,” he added.
“That sucks. I wonder if anyone will cry for us. I mean, besides our parents and all.”
“It’s doubtful, Chris. We were nobody. We’ll always be nobody.”
It was hard to argue that one. I didn’t have the many friends. There were a couple of guys I had a smoke with out at the smoking block, and I had conversations with other rock fans at lunch, but there was no one I really hung out with outside of school. For all my changes in the way I dressed, and wore my hair, and music I listened to, I was still a loner. You couldn’t look at me and know I was a geek or nerd anymore, but inside I guess I still was one of the unwanted. My mind turned to Lori. She had been invisible, moving like a ghost down the hall on a daily basis, but I was that kid everyone knew and yet no one picked for their team. I believe I was far more the lonelier.
I had been so lost in thought I wasn’t paying attention to what Donald was doing. There was a chalkboard on one wall, in which I assume the principal or vice had written out different instructions for the teachers. One of the instructions was to keep their eyes open for students who were having trouble concentrating, exhibiting issues, or moping more than usual. Under that was a blank space which Donald was preparing to fill. If the few teachers had been paying attention, thy may have seen a piece of pink chalk hovering in the air. As he put it to the board and wrote out one word, I knocked the chalk out of his hand. It hit the floor, it no one seemed to notice.
“What are you doing?” I asked him. I looked at the word he had written. Faintly scrawled, it read: WE’RE.
“I was just going to tell them we’re alive.”
“Come on, Don. We can’t do that.”
“Because we’re not alive, that’s why. We are ghosts, whether we like it or not.”
“Being a ghost hasn’t made my life easier,” he lamented. “I wish they’d just find us and get it over with. I can’t take much more of this.”
“Don, look, this is weird and a bizarre situation for sure. But this is what we have. Maybe this is all there is. We just need to try and make the best of it for however long it lasts.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You got Lori.”
“I don’t have anyone, certainly not Lori. She doesn’t like me like that, and what if she did. Neither one of us could do a thing about it. So guess what, buddy? Im just like you. A ghost who’s alone.”
“At least you have her to talk to.”
“Right now, I’m talking to you, “ I corrected him. “I know I haven’t been your best friend this year, but I have been your friend. And now, more than ever, we have to stick together. Forget all the clique bullshit. Headbangers. Nerds. Preps. Jocks. It doesn’t mean a thing now. Were just us. We’ll go through this together, okay?”
He looked like he was about ready to cry. “I wish you’d stayed my best friend,” he said. “Maybe I wouldn’t have done some of the things I did.”
“What did you do?”
He wouldn’t look at me. “I told people how horrible you were. How you had just ditched us and became cool. I’m sorry, but I was angry. We were the best buddies and you were ashamed to even sit at the same lunch table.”
“Oh, Don. It wasn’t like that. I wasn’t ashamed, or cooler than anyone else. I was just tired of being nobody. I wanted to be someone.”
“Well, you got to be, “ he said. “You got Abby Hayes, you got away from us. You found all new friends. If we hadn’t died together, it would still be that way.”
I found it hard to argue that point. He was right. I did ditch all the friends I’d known, just to try and be one of the cool ones. Not cool, as in Brian and Kelly socially upstanding cool, but long hair cigarette smoking rock n roll cool. I hung my head and sat down in the same chair as our math teacher. “Im sorry, Donald. I didn’t mean to hurt anybody. Least of all you. I just wanted out. I didn’t want to get picked on anymore. I was tired of being bullied. Please try to understand, it wasn’t you. It was me.”
“I do understand, Chris. I hate being bullied too.” He wiped back a tear that had been forming around his eye. “But I wish you wouldn’t have sat in the same chair as Harmon. It’s freaky seeing both of you as one. The least you could have done was sat with Wu. At least then you’d be pretty.”
I smiled and shook my head. “Yeah, I suppose so.”
“I think I need to go to the guidance counselor’s office now,” he said. He pointed to the chalkboard. “I think I’m exhibiting issues and moping.”
“I think we all have our issues. We just work them out in different ways.”
“Tell me about it.”
I stood up. “Well, for what its worth. I’m sorry. If I could go back and do things differently, I would.”
“Yeah, you’d tell Lori you like her,” he said with a grin.
“No, I wouldn’t. I’d be too scared of her.”
He laughed, and we both left the teacher’s lounge feeling closer than we ever had before. Sometimes a little heart to heart, fears to fears, can clear the air and bring good friends together again.