Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures; tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil.
My best friend is dead. His name was Charlie and he shot himself with his dad’s gun.
A bunch of us were playing ball after school the day it happened. Charlie was playing first base and I was shortstop. Our team was ahead 5 - 4. Charlie made a diving catch that was as good as Galarraga ever did and then threw John Michaels out at second. John was so mad. He almost always gets a run. It was so cool. Charlie just lay there in the grass grinning at me.
Charlie left the game early. He and his dad were driving over to Denver to see the Rockies Game. The Rockies were playing the Marlins in Coors Field and it was the first time Charlie was going to get to see the new stadium. He was really looking forward to it. He’d been talking about it all day. Mrs. Wilkinson told him if he didn’t quit talking in class he was going to have to write lines instead of going out after lunch. That shut him up, but I could tell he wasn’t thinking about his social studies. He was hoping to get Larry Walker to sign a ball for him. Walker was Charlie’s favorite player because he used to be a goaltender when he was playing hockey. Walker can do cool stuff like belch the alphabet, too. Charlie and I had been practicing. The last time I got all the way to ‘L’ and Charlie made it to ‘O’ before we had to stop cause we were laughing so hard.
I was wishing I could go with them to see the game. Sometimes Colonel O’Neill would get an extra ticket and take me too. I’d gone with them a couple of times since my mom and dad got a divorce and Dad took that job in New York. It was always fun. Charlie’s dad would laugh a lot and make up stupid jokes and when Charlie and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes he’d just pull our ballcaps down over our eyes and order us something else to eat. One time there was some guy sitting in front of us who was cussing and yelling really nasty things at the umps. The Colonel got this real funny look on his face. Not funny like when he was trying to make us laugh, but funny like he was mad. He bent down and said something to the guy real low so we couldn’t hear him. The guy stood up and turned around to face Colonel O’Neill. The Colonel stood up too and for a minute I was afraid they were going to get in a fight, but all of a sudden that guy looked the Colonel in the face. The next thing we knew he was muttering some sort of an apology and he was real quiet the rest of the game. Charlie and I talked about it later, but we never could figure out what made that guy back down.
Those games were the best.
Charlie had told me his dad was coming home early and they were going to stop at the outlet mall and get his mom a new pair of Nikes as a surprise. So after he made that catch, Charlie waved and headed home. He said he wanted to do something before his dad got home.
I was late getting to school the next morning. We overslept. I was kind of glad because we’d been working on three digit division and it was hard. I figured I’d miss at least part of math so I was sort of poking along getting dressed and eating the Poptart Mom handed me. I was looking forward to seeing Charlie and hearing about the game. I couldn’t wait to see if he’d gotten Larry Walker’s autograph. I’d stayed up long enough to see Jason Bates drive in two runs with a double and I wanted to hear all the details about the rest of the game. Charlie was great at remembering all the important stuff that happened and I knew he’d have a bunch of stories to share.
When I walked into class I was kind of surprised to see Ms Hewett, our school counselor, standing at the front of the room with Mrs. Wilkinson. I figured she was teaching a lesson. Sometimes she did that. They were usually fun because we got to get out of our seats and do something other than math while she taught us about building character and stuff like that. Usually Mrs. Wilkinson sat at the back of the room and graded papers though, so I thought it was weird that she was standing up there like they were going to teach together. I handed my teacher my late pass and when she took it I noticed she looked kind of funny, like she’d been crying . . . a lot.
I didn’t notice until I went to my seat that Charlie wasn’t in class yet. That really bummed me out, but I figured his mom had let him sleep late because he wouldn’t have gotten home until late. I was hoping she’d bring him after lunch. We had a lot to talk about.
That was when Ms Hewett started talking. She said that there’d been a terrible accident and she had to share some sad news with us. I looked over at John and for some reason my stomach started to hurt. That was when I heard her say Charlie’s name. She said that last night Charlie had been hurt. He had been hurt so bad that the doctors at the hospital couldn’t fix the things that were wrong and he had died.
All of a sudden it felt like there wasn’t any air in the classroom. I felt just like the time Charlie and I had been climbing trees and I fell out and landed flat on my stomach. I thought I heard Kelly Jenkins crying, but I didn’t want to turn my head to look. I know Ms Hewett was talking and kids were crying, but I really don’t know what she was saying. I looked up at Mrs. Wilkinson and saw that she was watching me. Her eyes were really sad and she was biting her bottom lip to keep from crying. I just laid my head down on my arms and tried to shut it all out.
Mrs. Wilkinson knelt down beside me and put her arm on my shoulder. She asked if I wanted her to call my mom, but I just shook my head. I couldn’t talk to Mom, or anyone else right then. I just wanted to be left alone. I just wanted this all to be a joke or a bad dream and when I woke up Charlie’d be there smiling at me and telling about Bichette’s batting.
After a while Ms Hewett left. Some of the kids went to her office to talk to her and a few went home. I just sat at my desk with my head on my arm and stared at Charlie’s desk. It was just sitting there waiting for him to come into class and plop down just like every day. His books were there and his pencils and paper. I could see a comic book sticking out between the notebooks and a piece of paper where he had been practicing drawing Spiderman. His book from the media center was sitting on his desk, ‘The Mouse and the Motorcycle.’ Mrs. Wilkinson had read a little bit of it one day when it was raining and I couldn’t wait to check it out, but Charlie beat me to it. He said he was going to get a motorcycle when he was old enough. I just kept staring at that book and trying not to think about Charlie.
After lunch our teacher took us out on the playground, but no one felt like playing. Everyone just stood around in little groups and I knew they were talking about Charlie. It made me mad, all of them talking about him like he was their best friend or something. I walked over to the jungle gym and climbed to the top. I wanted to be alone and this was where Charlie and I would climb and sit and talk when his dad was gone on missions. It bothered Charlie a lot, because he was afraid something would happen to his dad. I didn’t understand until after my dad left just how hard it was. Charlie told me he didn’t want his mom to know he was scared because she’d just worry. And he figured she worried enough about his dad anyway. I promised I wouldn’t tell. Then I thought about the baseball games and the campout we’d been talking about and the model airplane Charlie was helping me build that my dad had sent me for my birthday. We were going to attach the wings next. And all of a sudden I started to cry.
Mom took me to the funeral home. It felt weird to be dressed up and not in church. I guess I was too little to remember when my Grandpa Paul died. Before we went in Mom gave me a kleenex and told me what to say to Mrs. O’Neill. I asked her what I should say to Colonel O’Neill but she got a weird look on her face and just said not to worry about it. That sick feeling was in my stomach again. There was a long line of people all talking quietly. I caught words like ‘gun’ and ‘not locked’ and ‘unforgivable.’ I looked up at my mom, but her face was hard and angry so I didn’t say anything.
There was lots of flowers, some even had baseball stuff attached to them. Charlie was laying in a white casket. He sort of looked like he was sleeping, but I knew the Charlie I had known was gone. There was a big bouquet of flowers on top of the casket with a piece of pretty blue ribbon that said ‘Beloved Son’ in fancy white letters. I just stared at this person who was Charlie, but wasn’t.
The Colonel and Mrs. O’Neill were standing there. They weren’t holding hands. They weren’t touching at all. Mom spoke to Mrs. O’Neill and she bent down and hugged me tight. I could feel her shaking. I started to say the words my mom had told me to, but my throat got all tight and dry and they got stuck, so I just hugged her back. When she finally let me go I could see her eyes were red from crying. She just stared at Mom and didn’t say anything. I saw my mom reach out and squeeze her hand and Mrs. O’Neill nodded and whispered thank you.
I looked up at the Colonel. He was wearing his blue uniform. The one with all the ribbons. Charlie and I used to sneak in his mom and dad’s closet and look at that uniform. We even took turns trying it on once. Colonel O’Neill caught us, but he didn’t get mad. He just showed us the proper way to stand at attention and salute. I wanted to salute him today, but it was like I wasn’t even there. I figured he had to know I was standing there, but he never looked down at me, never looked at my mom. He was staring straight ahead like he was standing at attention. His face was hard and his eyes were cold and lost. He didn’t even look like the man I knew. The man that played catch with us and made up those stupid jokes. The man who took us out for pizza after batting practice and made us swear not to tell our moms so he didn’t get in trouble for spoiling our supper. It was as if he was just like Charlie. It was Colonel O’Neill standing there, but it wasn’t.
Mom didn’t speak to him. She just pushed me past and went to talk to some other people. I saw Charlie’s Grandpa Mike. He patted me on the shoulder and spoke to mom and wiped his eyes before walking away. I sat down over in a corner until mom was ready to go. I looked at the people, a lot of them I knew. Mrs. Wilkerson was here. She came with the principal, Mrs. Cade. My teacher looked funny in her nice dress and high heels. I guess I was used to her wearing teacher clothes. All those people: our Little League coach, the parents of some of the other kids, neighbors, and only a few of them tried to speak to Colonel O’Neill. He never spoke to anyone. He just stood there stiff and cold. If his eyes had been closed he would have looked dead, like Charlie. It hurt to look at him, even more than it did Mrs. O’Neill. Her hurt was outside where everyone could see it and share it with her, but the Colonel’s was inside, hiding, where no one else could see what it was doing to him.
It seems like a long time has past since Charlie has been gone. It hasn’t been long enough for the hurt to go away. Sometimes I wonder if it ever will. My teacher said our homework tonight was to write about something that makes you sad. I don’t know if this is what she wanted, but I know I miss Charlie and I wish it had never happened. His desk is empty now. There aren’t any books or pencils, no comic books or pictures of Spiderman. ‘The Mouse and the Motorcycle is probably back in the library waiting to be checked out, but I don’t want to read it now.
I ride my bike past Charlie’s house sometimes. His bike is still propped up in the garage - waiting for him- like me. There are so many things I want to share with Charlie. I got a new puppy. His name’s Jet. I wish Charlie was here to help me teach him tricks. Andres Galarraga is having a great season and it looks like the Rockies might have a chance at the division. Charlie would have loved that.
I heard Mom tell someone that the Colonel is gone. She said Mrs. O’Neill would be better off without him. I don’t see how that’s right. It seems like Charlie’s parents need each other because no one else knows how bad they miss Charlie. After a while no one talked about the Colonel much anyway. I guess most people are just glad he left. It’s easier to forget about bad things when you don’t have to look at someone else’s pain, even someone as good as hiding it as Colonel O’Neill. I miss him.
Charlie’s desk is empty and waiting in the classroom for someone else to fill it, kind of like that empty place in my heart where my best friend used to be.
** fin **
Author’s Notes: Many thanks to Yllek, Shanilka, Hoodat, and Pat for their invaluable assistance in research. As always a huge hug to Charli Booker for her encouragement and polishing skills.
© March 2004 They’re not mine, sigh, a girl can always dream. SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (ll) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. No Copyright infringement is intended. They don’t earn me a dime, just new friends, a few smiles and some time away from my laundry. That’s entertainment! The original characters, situations, and story are property of the author.