Christopher died when I was 11 years old. It isn’t easy to explain how I felt, I mean, how do you describe pain, fear, relief and friendship if you don’t even know what the word ‘bereavement’ means.
We had been aware of Christopher’s looming death for years. He had been born with some strange disease or disorder; I can’t recall the name of it. Most poor bastards diagnosed with what ever it was rarely live beyond 6 or 7 years, so it’s kind of a miracle that he lived for as long as he did. He didn’t just get by, Christopher, he really lived, more than most of us ever do and we have the benefit of 60 extra years, give or take.
Christopher, towards the end of his days, lost the use of his legs and of one of his arms, so he had to be pushed around in a wheelchair. His parents got him one, a huge brute of a thing, all shiny black metal and silver spokes. He looked like a king sitting in a throne that had been built for a giant, not for a skinny 10 year old.
Someone smarter than me once said that the really important things that you have to know, the things that you really have to learn can’t be taught in a classroom. This10 year old boy taught me more about life than any teacher or professor ever could.
I can remember the day before he died. I took him out for a spin around the park to feed the ducks, like we always used to do on Wednesdays after I came home from school. He was quiet, sitting in his chair and just watching the world as he rolled on past it. “Chris,” I said, “don’t you ever get mad?”
“Get mad about what?” he smiled up at me, leaning back so far that it looked like a frown. “Get mad about dying I mean.” I said back. I suppose to a grown-up, it would have been a stupid question to ask, but to a kid, it seemed sensible enough.
“No.” He shook his head and looked away from me, over the grass towards the lake. He waved me in the general direction of the water, ‘ducks need their bread or else they get sick’ he always said ‘it’s like vitamins’.
“Why don’t you get mad?” He was tearing off chunks of soft white bread and trying to pelt the nearest ducks with it. “Why should I bother with getting mad, getting mad makes me tired. And I’d rather feed the ducks.”
He died in his sleep that night. His mother found him in the morning, sitting in his chair looking out the window, smiling. The doctor didn’t understand it, he kept saying that Chris was in a lot of pain and shouldn’t have been able to pull himself out of bed let alone into the wheelchair. He died like he lived, happy.
Years later, I asked his father if I could have his wheelchair. He didn’t say anything; he just went into the attic and fetched it for me. As he lifted it into the trunk of my car, he began to cry. Quietly, silent tears rolled down his cheeks. He turned to me to shake my hand. The shake turned into a hug and I couldn’t help it, I started to blubber like a little girl.
After a bit, he took a step back, looked at me and said, “He was a good kid Mikey, he was a good kid.”
Yes Mr. Barrett, he was.