I wrote this a few weeks ago. It’s a near and dear story for me for personal reasons and I think it appropriately conveys the confusing feelings that each party involved would feel.Scott McKinney
Jonathan’s phone dinged once. He picked it up to see a text from someone that he hadn’t talked to since his senior year of high school. It said, “do u care if I call you?”
“Sure. But why?” Jonathon asked, pushing himself to his feet. He was sitting next to his mother watching reruns of Family Feud. He walked to the front porch and sat down on the rough fabric of the outdoor loveseat. Kicking his legs up on the pillars that made up the waist high fence surrounding the porch he awaited the call, pondering what it could be.
Nicolas responded, “I’ll call you in a minute or two,” then he sent another text that said, “it’s bad news.”
Jon scrolled through his newsfeed while he waited, trying to figure out what Nicolas wanted to talk to him about, but didn’t want to scare himself by thinking of the possibilities, so he tried not to let his thoughts wander. What he knew for sure was that it had nothing to do with Nicolas’ college education since he had dropped out after one semester and it wouldn’t have to do with Jon’s brother or parents because otherwise, he would have heard it from someone else. He continued to scroll through his newsfeed and tried to contain the anxiety that was tickling his stomach and brain, making his hairs stand tall and his mouth dry.
“R u ready?” Nicolas sent.
“Yeah,” Jon replied.
The second that Jon sent the text, Nicolas was already calling him. Jon held it in his hand and felt the vibrations as he contemplated not answering at all. He took a deep breath and picked up, staying as strong as he could in the uncertain circumstance that he was handed.
“Hey, what’s up?” Jon said.
“Sorry about calling so late. I just thought you should know as soon as I found out.”
“Don’t beat around the bush. What’s up?”
“Did you know CJ Wilkinson?” he asked after a drawn-out pause.
“Yeah. I knew him a little bit. My brother knows him better than I did, but I know him.”
Jon’s throat constricted and he felt his heart jump. Not only did his brother, Devin, know CJ, but they were best friends. They met years ago when they were in second or third grade and they actually hated each other at first, then they got into a pretty big argument that ended in some punches, but soon after they developed a mutual respect for each other, that eventually blossomed into the relationship that they have now. Knowing that the news was bad and about CJ gave Jon tunnel vision as he braced for it.
“What about him?” Jon asked, since Nicolas hadn’t said anything for a few seconds.
“He’s dead,” Nicolas said.
“What do you mean?”
“What happened!” Jon yelled, then hushed his voice so his mom didn’t hear him from inside.
“I don’t think anyone knows for sure yet, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that it was suicide.”
“Are you serious?” Jon said in a whisper. “How did you find out?”
“I don’t feel comfortable saying. The news isn’t out yet, but I heard from someone else and felt like you had the right to know.”
Jon stayed silent and looked up at the stars that shined with the same brilliance that they had every night of his life, but they were mocking him tonight. Nicolas was breathing heavily on the other end of the call, sniffling every few seconds.
“How are you holding up?” Jon asked.
“I’m fine I guess,” he said, then sniffled. “I didn’t know him too well either but I was really close to his family. He was a good guy. He didn’t deserve to go so young.”
“I know he didn’t. Thanks for letting me know. I know it wasn’t easy telling me about this.”
“I’ll be okay. I just feel bad for his family. I’m going to pray for them after we get off the phone.”
Usually Jon would make a sarcastic remark about how religion wouldn’t help, but he didn’t have the heart. He just wanted Nicolas to feel better and hoped that the prayers really did work. He really hoped that there was something out there that would make CJ’s family feel better.
“Thanks for letting me know,” Jon told Nicolas. “I’m gonna let you go. I need to make another call.”
“Okay. Sorry that I only called to give bad news. I wish it could have been for something a bit happier.”
“It’s okay. I’m glad I know.”
“But don’t tell anyone that I’m the one that told you. I don’t know if the Wilkinson’s are ready to make the news public.”
“I won’t. Have as good a night as you can. Give them my prayers.”
Nicolas sniffled one last time and hung up the phone. Jon leaned back, resting in the chair. After a few minutes, he stood up and walked back inside, sitting next to his mom on the couch who was still watching reruns of Family Feud.
“What was that about?” his mom asked.
Jon said, “It was Nicolas.”
“You haven’t talked to him in a while, have you?”
“No. It’s been a while.”
“What did he want? You look as white as a ghost.”
“What!” his mom yelled, muting the TV. “What happened?
“No one knows for sure yet, but Nicolas said it may have been suicide.”
“Suicide, really? He always seemed so happy when he came around.”
“I thought so too,” Jon said. “I guess he was good at covering it up.”
“Your brother is going to be devastated.”
“I know. I’m thinking about calling him.”
“Do you want me to do it?”
Jon ignored his mom and sent Devin a text saying, “Hey, can I call you for a minute?”
“Do you want me to do it?” Jon’s mom repeated.
“No, I can do it.”
Jon walked back to the porch and sat on the rough fabric of the outdoor loveseat and waited for Devin to respond. Ten minutes later, he responded saying he stepped away but didn’t have long. Jon dialed his number and listened to it ring once, then heard Devin pick up and say, “hello?”
“Hey man,” Jon said. “I have some bad news for you. Are you at a place that you can take it?”
“Yeah,” he laughed as his girlfriend mumbled something that Jon couldn’t hear clearly. “I mean, how bad can it be?”
“Are you sure you’re in a good place to talk?”
“I’m fine. Stop delaying whatever it is that you need to tell me. Out with it.”
“Okay. CJ’s dead. I heard that it may have been suicide.” The noise died on the other end of the phone as Devin said something and stepped away from his girlfriend. “I’m sorry. I know this must be really hard for you.”
There was nothing but silence for a minute before I heard Devin clear his throat and take a breath, then he fell silent again. Jon didn’t know what to say, so he waited, keeping his head clear so as to not assume anything about what Devin was feeling or thinking.
As time progressed, thoughts of how Jon had never experienced this form of grief flooded his head, and maybe that was why he was so comfortable being the one to tell him the bad news. Jon thought to his kindergarten friend who passed of heart complications and to a tragedy that affected his school when he was a freshman and three seniors drove their car into a lake, unable to escape before tragedy befell them. He was too young to understand the pain of loss in kindergarten and was too self-obsessed to understand the loss of the three boys in high school, since he had never met them.
Time passed and the stars continued to mock Jon, who was starting to feel his thoughts bombard his brain. “Should I have been the one to tell him?” he wondered. “Should I have told him in person? Would it have been better for me to let him find out through the grapevine when the family was more ready to make the announcement? Was I acting selfishly by believing he’d handle it better coming from me?” His thoughts spiraled, but the last one to enter his head was, “Is Devin okay?”
“It’s fine. Thanks for letting me know.” Devin hung up without saying another word and Jon was left alone on the porch with only his thoughts and the mocking stars to keep him company. He stood up and leaned against the railing on his porch. He breathed in as deeply as he could and held it in, then when his lungs were going to burst, he let it out.
The door opened behind him. Jon’s mom stood there, staring at her shrunken son with watery eyes. “Are you okay?” she asked him.
Jon let out another breath as his lungs were going to cave in and said, “Yeah. I’m fine.”
“Did you tell Devin?”
“How did he handle it?”
“Do you want some time alone?”
“No, I’m okay. I’ll be in in a minute.”
She closed the door slowly and quietly as Jon took one last deep breath. He let the air out and walked inside, sitting down next to his mom and watched reruns of Family Feud.