The other day, I saw a picture that ripped at my heart and brought back memories untouched for decades.
In the picture, a girl, maybe 8 or so, was standing by a casket; adults were huddled in grief, and the child stood in their midst … with them, yet alone. Inside the casket was another child, a friend of the girl. The girl in the picture showed no emotions, but I can imagine what she might have been experiencing.
When I was about 8, my best friend in the whole world was Danny.
We spent all the time we could together; both of our fathers were in the oil business, and our mothers enjoyed sharing morning coffee.
There came a day when Danny’s father was transferred to another town.
Being the sons of men who worked in the oil fields, we understood the change, but of course, we didn’t like it.
We pledged to be blood brothers forever by taking a pocket knife and cutting our thumbs and then holding them together.
Moving day came, and Danny left with his family.
Granted, they were only about 50 miles away but at a time before cell phones, internet and all the other modern day ways to keep in touch … it might as well have been 50 million miles.
I think we might have each written one or maybe two letters and maybe got to talk on the phone a couple of times, but for the most part, our daily lives were separate.
About every couple of months or so, we would go see Danny and his family or they would visit.
Then one day, Dad met me after school and sat down with me.
“Danny’s been in an accident. He’s hurt real bad. I’m going to drive to the hospital tonight if you want to go.”
Through my tears, I nodded and whispered, Yes.
On the way over, Dad told me that Danny had been hurt at a trampoline center.
Those days, trampoline centers were popular, but unregulated and very dangerous.
A business would buy a plot of land, dig large holes which would be covered with a trampoline and then put concrete all around. That way you could walk to the trampoline of your choice and start jumping.
The problem was … often, way too often, kids would bounce off the trampoline and land on the concrete; there was no protective fencing, no soft landing zones.
Danny had been jumping and jumping and …
When we got to the hospital, Dad had me stay in the waiting room. I don’t know how long he was gone, but when he came back, I asked if I could see Danny.
“They won’t let you, and it’s best you don’t, but I told Danny you were here for him.”
At some point, Dad told me that Danny was hurting so much that he was wishing he would die, but I screamed out, He won’t die.
A few days later, I was at Danny’s funeral.
I had been asked to be a pall bearer along with his uncles.
I didn’t really understand what that meant, but I can clearly remember three things:
Riding in the limo behind the hearse transporting Danny’s body.
Walking slowly with the casket, but I don’t remember any weight to it … probably because the uncles were carrying the the casket while I walked with my hands clutched around the handle.
The third thing I remember was watching the casket being lowered into the grave and hearing Danny’s mother sobbing.
I didn’t cry. I wanted to, but I couldn’t.
I was with those mourning, yet I wasn’t with them … just like the little girl I saw in the picture.