The Death of a Friend

Angel by Yuri_B (pixabay.com)Image by Yuri_B

My Real Memoir

It was a forced friendship. True, Craig was an only child like me, but that was the only thing we had in common. I wasn’t averse to taking risks, but Craig was the most reckless person I’ve ever known. Why? What was he trying prove? And to whom?

His parents and mine had been friends since their teens. Mom had married a boyish Marine named Bill, and JoAnne a swaggering entrepreneur named Jack. We frequently attended barbeques at their home so Jack could show off his pool house. And so JoAnne could show off her Jack.

Cocktails flowed nonstop, as did stories. Jack loved to tell how, unsatisfied with conventional designs, he’d spit on the ground and told the pool company, “Make it like that!” And so they did. To please Jack, the pool acquired a defiant shape.

And so did his son. Jack didn’t brag about Craig’s schoolwork, he bragged about his wild side. Perhaps because he’d survived WWII, the man believed he was bullet-proof. And so did his son.

We did what Craig wanted. Always. When I was 11 and Craig 13, while our parents gamed and cocktailed, he insisted we play tag in the dark. “Run!” he shouted. I didn’t trust my footing, but I trusted Craig even less. I turned to look back, hit a rock and tumbled forward, swinging my head around again just as my knees hit the sidewalk and my face hit the edge of a steel wheel barrow. My knees were bruised and my mouth was bleeding. But most devastating of all, my dream of stardom had been dashed with my badly chipped front teeth. If that had been my worst experience with Craig, I’d be laughting about it now. But it wasn’t.

Half a year later, Craig suggested a game of chicken on a nearby railroad trestle. His dog was killed, and I developed a train phobia. But Craig’s sense of invincibility, I think, turned into something darker that day.

The year he got his license, his parents bought him a convertible. Multiple tickets and warnings later, on New Year’s Eve, Craig and a friend left a party saturated with alcohol. When the car flipped over they were going well over 100 miles-per-hour.

The phone rang early the next morning. Through the wall I heard Mom’s muffled, “JoAnne, what’s…?” and instantly knew what had happened. Some unconscious part of my brain had always expected this. The other boy had a permanent brain injury. Craig was killed instantly.

It was my second funeral. My dead grandfather had looked like a peaceful shell. But extensive reconstructive make-up, complete with a “serene smile,” had turned Craig into a cruel cartoon.

His parents, too, were altered forever. Their marriage did not survive. JoAnne eventually remarried, had children, and found a dented version of happiness. But I don’t think Jack ever did.

It seemed like a horror movie with a prolonged build-up to an unspeakably grotesque ending. I’d still had some sense of a God when Grandpa died. But by the time of Craig’s death, I’d abandoned any semblance of faith. I wasn’t sad about it, mind you. Still, optimistic atheist that I was, Craig’s death was a reminder that not all stories ended happily and that, worse than tragic, some seemed to end pointlessly. Still, mine was one of the happy ones. Right? So I chose not to think about it…

Until years later.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
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38 Responses to The Death of a Friend

  1. Pingback: The Most Memorable Year of My Life | Mitch Teemley

  2. robstroud says:

    What a tragic life story (his). I’m not surprised his father felt a sense of responsibility for raising him with a lack of a moral compass… and an apparent absence of common sense too.

    Just returning home from the vet before reading this, I find it abundantly telling that the terrible death of his dog did not avert his chosen course. Before he died, it sounds like others (that dog, the guy riding with him at the end, and even you) paid the price for his disdain for what is right.

    Liked by 2 people

    • mitchteemley says:

      My perceptions were those of a boy, and later a young teenager, Rob, so my guesses now regarding motives and underlying values are just that, guesses. Still, it did (and still does) seem to me that there was a tragic moral vacuum at the center of that family.

      Liked by 3 people

      • robstroud says:

        Your awareness of your age-limited perspective on the story was evident in the way you wrote this post. Your account is nonjudgmental and your genuine compassion and grief come through loud and clear.

        Like

  3. I’m reading another book about WWII survivors (The Rifle. . . Told through an M1 Garand). Those men brought home their nightmares, passed on in a myriad of ways to the next generation. My family included survivors and casualties so there was always an “elephant in the room.”

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Chris Ciccarelli says:

    Thank you Mitch. You’ve brought back memories of dear dear friends of my parents during my youth. My Sister’s birthday was Dec 3 & mine Dec 11. We often celebrated our birthdays together on her birthday. I was turning 5 & Dad was working at Gallow Wine as a truck Driver. He invited Jim, (a friend and fellow driver) and his wife to come to our BD party. From that day on I don’t think they ever missed coming by our home on Christmas Eve. Some day I’ll share the story, It’s pretty good… Out of the blue, I heard from their Son who was with friends & family at Disneyland this year… What a blessing!!! There’s such a deep everylasting family love there….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The object lessons we get in our youth go with us through our lives. Thanks for sharing this powerful story. God bless!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a tragic story! It’s so sad that Craig died at such a young age. But because he took such careless risks with his precious gift of life, it’s surprising he didn’t have a fatal accident sooner.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. To reflect on a story that takes years to unfold makes the wisdom of age so much more. An interesting visit to boys and their families through harsh incidents.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Erika says:

    Such an unburdened person he must have been. Although years ago, I am sorry about this and can only imagine what “another” shock it must have been for you. I don’t understand why there have to be open coffins,most of all, after such an accident. It makes everything only worse.

    Liked by 2 people

    • mitchteemley says:

      I’ve always wondered why they did that, Erika. He’d been horribly maimed, so maybe his parents wanted to see him looking “normal” one final time. Sadly, he looked anything but normal.

      Like

  9. Such a tragic story!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Craig’s story is a sad memory for you. I was about the same age when a kid in my 6th grade class drowned. I still think about him from time to time, and it’s still sad to remember finding out during a radio newscast.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. revruss1220 says:

    I think many of us had a “Craig” somewhere in our childhoods. I know I did. And I still remember the impact of Tony’s violent death on my as yet unformed mind and spirit. Thanks for writing and sharing so vulnerably with us, Mitch.
    It sounds as if the next installment will be even more heart-wrenching.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      Actually, the next installent of My Real Memoir will probably be pretty lighthearted, Russell, for good or for bad. “Bad,” in the sense that I moved on and didn’t really ponder the ramifications–that fact that Craig’s death, and possibly his life, had seemed so pointless–until years later.

      Like

  12. Wow! Talk about timing. I just drafted a blog about “hurt.” That kind of hurt that we bury deep within our being, thinking it will never show its trublesome head again. Then aomething triggers it years later, and it hurts just as much as it did when it happened. Maybe I souldn’t post such darkness; however, I think it’s human experience from which we can all identify.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. suzannesmom says:

    The dad bragged about the son’s “wild side.” Oh, dear.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I can see how Craig’s death would have a lasting impact on you.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. What a very sad story, may Craig and your grandpa keep resting in peace. That’s the thing, the loss of a loved one alters and changes our loves forever. The pain and grief will always be there, but maybe not with the same intensity but it will be there. And it’s just something that must happen while we are here on earth but even that awareness doesn’t take away the shock and pain when it happens. Loosing my parents and my brother, a lot changed in my life overnight and even after years of their absence, I’m still not the same. A part of me died along with then and now to feel emotions for me is literally impossible. Since then, I’ve not been able to feel anything or enjoy simple human relationships like friendships because there is nothing to connect with. God is helping me and will keep helping me but that’s the thing with grief, it changes us.

    May God keep helping us all and guiding us.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Karen :) says:

    Oh my… what a powerfully sad story, for him and his family, but also for you. There are so many painful lessons here, and yet we can come away with a deeper, more benevolent message – through your own heartache and hurt, you chose a different way to live. We are thankful that you are here, for all the stories you share. Bless you.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. This story is not only tragic; it is profoundly sad. I wonder what drives people like Jack, what demons chase him. Whatever or whoever they are, they chased poor Craig as well. Demons passed one from father to son. It’s a pity when a father doesn’t see what’s unfolding before his eyes. A very sad and lonely tale, one you and Craig’s family will never forget. It all seems so senseless and avoidable. All these years later the wounds are still raw; I send you my sincere condolences. Rest easy, Craig.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. marthadilo3 says:

    How sad. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Ann Coleman says:

    That’s beyond sad… One young man killed, another one ruined, and who knows if the parents every got over it? When we nurture the wrong thing in our children, it rarely ends well. I’m anxious to hear how you dealt with it……

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      I didn’t completely deal with it, Ann (as I told Russell above). I’d seen the potential for what happened, and the devastating effect it had on his parents when it did (and of course the other family), but wasn’t ready to process it beyond that.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. My sympathy and prayers to you and the other two families touched by this tragedy. I’m grateful that you found and chose the wiser path, Mitch.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. This is such a tragic account of a friendship, even if it was forced, between you and Craig, Mitch. I’m so sorry you experienced this. It must have been awful for you and your respective families at the time. My belated commiserations to you all.

    I had a cousin called Joel, who was very much like Craig in some ways. He was the favourite child of my aunt and uncle. He was spoilt rotten, as they say, and expected (and got) everything served to him on a gold plate. He met an early death, too, in similar circumstances, except he was younger when he died. Like Craig in his car, Joel decided to go out on his bicycle to do wheelies in the traffic. Not sure if you’re familiar with the term wheelies? He was hit and killed by an oncoming HGV. He didn’t stand a chance, either.

    Craig’s death was truly horrific, and it must have had a long-term effect on you, even if it was seeing the image of Craig after his death like a cruel cartoon. I understand that experience because when I lost my dear Mum, I saw her in the Chapel of Rest, all made up, looking almost like she was made of plastic – it was horrific, and that memory will stay with me forever. I wish I hadn’t seen her like that, and I do try to remember her as she was, not like that. I’m sorry you had the death of your grandfather to deal with, too, but I’m glad your experience of your last memories of him were better than those of Craig after his death.

    It’s so often the way that when something tragic happens to a family, they end up being pulled apart, and things are never the same again. I often hear of a tragedy such as a stillborn child, severe illnesses like cancer or death coming between a couple. It’s like the experience alters people, and they get lost in their pain and grief.

    Thank you for sharing this life-changing event and time in your life, Mitch. Your story will stay with me for a long time. (Sorry for such a long comment.)

    Liked by 1 person

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