Every human being must find his own way to cope with such severe loss, and the only job of a true friend is to facilitate whatever method he chooses.
How would you feel if you killed another person? And if, further, you were a seventeen-year-old girl and the person you killed was the boy you thought you were in love with? Of course I wished it had been me instead. Of course, I thought of taking my own life. Of course I thought I would never know peace or happiness again, I would never be forgiven, I should never be forgiven. Of course.
To open the oyster shell – it is an agonizing pain. I am haunted by what I did, and yet I can hardly stand to think about the specifics. There were so many terrible moments, a lifetime of terrible moments, really, which is not the same as a terrible lifetime. But surely, surely, the moments right after it happened were the worst.
If I said now that not a day passes when I don’t think of the accident, of Andrew, it would be both true and not true. Occasionally, days go by when his name is nowhere on my tongue or in my mind, when I do not recall him walking away from me toward football practice in his jersey, his helmet at his side. Yet all the time, the accident is with me. It flows in my veins, it beats along with my heart, it is my skin and hair, my lungs and liver. Andrew died, I caused his death, and then, like a lover, I took him inside me.
We both were smiling; every reference one of us made the other would get, every remark was a joke or compliment, and I suddenly though, Flirting.
Then – I couldn’t help it – I said, “Why did you go steady with Dena?”
“Because I was eleven years old.” He still was smiling. “I didn’t know better.”
“But you kept going steady with her. For four years!”
“Were you jealous?”
“I thought it was” – I paused – “odd.”
“When Dena was my girlfriend,” he said, “it meant I got to spend time around with you.”
Was he teasing? “If that’s true, it’s not very nice to Dena,” I said.
“Alice!” He seemed both amused and genuinely concerned that he’d displeased me.
I looked at the ground. What was I trying to express, anyway? The important thing I’d been planning all week to say when Andrew and I were alone – it was eluding me.
“What about this?” he said. “What if I try to be nicer from now on?”
Looking up, I said, “I’ll try to be nicer, too.”
He laughed. “You’ve always been nice.” There was a pause, and then he asked, “Is that a heart?” He reached forward and lifted the silver pendant on my necklace, holding it lightly, the tips of his fingers grazing the hollow of my clavicle.
“My grandmother gave it to me for my sixteenth birthday,” I said.
“It’s pretty.” He set the pendant back against my neck. “I should probably go to practice so I don’t get yelled at. If I don’t see you tomorrow after the game, you’ll be at Fred’s on Saturday, right?”
I nodded. “Will it be more a party where people come on time or later?”
“I’ll leave my house about seven-thirty. You should come then, too.” Andrew was unusually direct, especially for a boy in high school; I think it came from an understated confidence. When I got to college, the guys and girls seemed to play such games, the girl waiting a certain number of days to return a phone call, or the guy calling only after the girl didn’t talk to him at a party or he saw her out with someone else. But maybe, unlike those boys and girls in college, Andrew genuinely liked me. Then I think no, maybe he didn’t. Maybe, because of what occurred later, I invented for us a great love; I have been granted the terrible privilege of deciding what would have happened with no one left to contradict me. And maybe I am absolutely wrong.
After we said goodbye, I turned around, watching for a second as he walked toward the bleachers beyond which were the track and the football field: his light brown hair, his moderately broad shoulders further broadened by shoulder pads, his tan golden-haired calves emerging from those pants that stopped well before his ankles. When you are a high school girl, there is nothing more miraculous than a high school boy.
And despite my concern that I am manipulating the past, whenever I doubt that Andrew had feelings for me and that those feelings would have grown over time, that we had finally reached an age when something real could unfold between us, I think back to him examining my necklace, holding the pendant and asking what it was. That was obviously just an excuse to touch me. After all, everyone knows what a heart is.
She went on in her overalls. She was too busy feeling grief to dress like grief.