I slept deep and dreamed and seemed to travel far. My dreams were all a jumble except for a few strong images that have stayed with me ever since. One was of an owl passing over a lake on which I was floating in a rowboat all alone at night. The stars were out in the millions and the air was warm. The owl hooted and I could hear its wings beat against the air. It made me feel awed, not afraid, but peaceful, as if I knew, as if I understood it. I seemed to know what, “it” was during the dream, though not so much after. The other image was of Judy sitting beside me and stroking my hair as I slept there on the widow’s walk. It felt so real, like she was really there and I could feel the warmth of her, and the sound of her voice saying to me,
“We are stardust, mon chéri, and that is all we ever will be.” Then she kissed me on the forehead.
I woke up. I couldn’t remember where I was. I could hear the waves breaking against the shore a few hundred yards below me. It must have been about two a.m. When I finally figured out where I was and how late it was I sunk into despair, although I couldn’t remember why I felt this way. Then, bit by bit, it all came back to me. The cooty-catcher, the dance at RT, the little kid’s ball rolling down the street away and away and away, breaking into the house, all that I had done. Why couldn’t those things have been a dream? I got up and pulled my jacket close around me. I opened the door of the widow’s walk and stepped onto the stairs. I tried to walk so carefully, but the third stair creaked loudly. I froze. Nothing. No one came. I kept going.
I made it to the second floor and there was Madame DeFarge, the cat, running up to me and crying. I picked her up, cuddling her and hushing her. A door opened at the end of the hall. Again, I froze.
“Who is that?” a young female voice spoke. I couldn’t see her in the darkened hallway.
“Judy?” I asked, “Is that you?”
The figure came toward me. It wasn’t Judy. It didn’t walk like Judy.
“Who is there?” the figure demanded.
I didn’t know what to do or say. I started to cry and before I knew it everything seemed to come crashing in and I was bawling like a baby. The young woman rushed up to me and put her arms around me.
“Are you lost?” she asked.
“Yes.” I said, nodding my head.
I don’t quite remember how it all happened, but Judy’s sister, Gabrielle, took me to one of the bedrooms and sat me down on a chair. She calmed me down and I remember her hand on my forehead and her saying I was burning up. She took off my shoes and commanded me into the bed.
“How do you know Judy?” She was asking.
“She’s my friend.” Was all I could think to say.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to see her right now. She’s very sick.”
“What’s wrong with her? Is she here?”
“Yes, she’s here, but she’s, well she’s…”
I could see by the look in her eyes it was bad. Gabrielle looked to be about twenty-five. She looked a lot like Judy, but she had a different way about her. She was solid and simple like a smooth river stone. Judy was feathery and soft and seemed like she might change shape or drift away at any moment.
“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” I demanded. (Yeah, I know, who was I to be demanding anything? But I was so scared.)
“I might ask the same of you,” she said.
“My name is Carson and I came to see Judy. She’s my friend. She’s the house sitter here.”
Gabrielle laughed, “Is that what she told you? Funny girl, my sister.”
At some point, my father was called. I was terrified of what he would do when he arrived there to pick me up, but all he did was thank them and take me with him. I didn’t get to see Judy. My dad told me in the car on the way home that she had severe renal failure due to complications from a disease she had called Lupus. She was unconscious he told me and hooked up to all kinds of machines. They didn’t want me to see her like that, he said.
“And they aren’t mad at you.” He said. “They understand their daughter made quite an impression on you and they apologized to me for it.”
I started to cry again.
I later learned that the big house in the city was Judy’s family home. She had never been the house sitter, nor had she been homeless, in the true sense, ever for a moment. She was “an eccentric rich girl,” my father said, “who liked to pretend she was some kind of bohemian hippy.”
“She was an angel doing penance,” I said. “She was an alien from another planet,” I said. “She is stardust,” I said. “We all are.”
My dad drove on in silence.
I stayed home from school for a week. My fever would not go way, it kept coming back like it was burning off all the bad feelings I had and all the poison thoughts along with whatever toxins had invaded my body. The last day of the fever week was my birthday and since my mother was away at the hospital upstate and hadn’t reminded him, my father forgot. But when he realized it, somehow at the last moment, as he was getting ready to go out to dinner with some clients of his, he invited me to go along with them.
Mrs. McLeod wrapped up a fancy bottle of hand lotion off of her dresser and gave it to me as birthday present and then she and her husband Charley and my dad and me all went out to eat at the Claremont Country Club. I wore a purple velvet dress and had a shrimp cocktail, fillet mignon and chocolate mousse for dessert, and everyone was really nice to me.
Then it was Christmas vacation.
Since Sam and I had grown up across the street from each other for all of our lives, we normally spent Christmas vacation hanging out at each other’s houses. The first thing we would normally do after opening presents on Christmas morning would be to meet at either his or my house and compare our loot. The year he got the tape recorder we immediately started making what we called “instant dramas” in which we would improvise plays on tape. I knew this year he was hoping for a Mosrite Ventures II guitar, like the one Johnny Ramone had. He didn’t think he would get one because he didn’t think his parents could afford it, but on Christmas morning I heard the unmistakable sound of an electric guitar being strummed from the second floor of Sam’s house. I looked up at his window, but he didn’t come out and I didn’t go over to see his new guitar.
When we came back to school in January things seemed to have inexplicably changed. No one mentioned the cooty-catcher anymore and no one was bothering Sharon on the bus, in the classroom or anywhere. As far as I knew no one was even harassing Sam about what I had written in the cooty-catcher. Sam never told anyone it was me who made the cooty-catcher, which of course he knew that it was, so none of the others: Denise, Steve, Michelle ever confronted me about it. I would go unpunished it seemed. Except for one thing, Sam and I weren’t friends. If we were still friends we would be making up songs to play on his new guitar. We wold probably have a band.
I wanted to apologize, but what I had done seemed too big for a mere apology. How could I say I was sorry for something so crazy and stupid and mean? How could I say anything when I didn’t even know why I had done it? I wanted to say that I was hurt. That I had felt abandoned by him. That I had never wanted to infiltrate the other side and become friends with them, but that I had wanted to make him happy. That I had wanted to show him I could be a good soldier. That I had wanted him to admire me, be proud of me. That I loved him and he had hurt me and so I had wanted to hurt him as much as I could and writing that thing in the cooty-catcher was the only thing I could think of, the only way I could stop him from hurting me. But I couldn’t and I wouldn’t say any of that. It was just too hard to say, even to think. So instead I kept silent and he kept silent. We didn’t speak again until the day of Judy’s funeral.
There she was, laying in an open casket. It was May and the casket was covered in white lilies and she was dressed in a white dress. She had died on May Day, 1977 at the age of twenty-two. She looked like an angel.
My mother had come with me. She was sober that day. She stood back and waited while I walked up to the casket to pay my respects. I didn’t even hear Sam come up behind me.
“I guess she finished her penance here.” He said.
I started to cry and he awkwardly put his arm around me and escorted me back to my chair. He smiled at my mother and went out the side door. I saw him later in the parking lot with his dad. We looked at each other, but didn’t say anything.
That summer Sam and his dad moved away. His parents split up and Sam went with his dad to live in Wyoming. It seemed like a really weird place for Sam to be going. I watched from the back of my dad’s pickup truck as he loaded the used light blue Mosrite Ventures II guitar into the back seat of their bronze colored 1967 Pontiac Tempest station wagon and then climb in after it. He looked out the window and I think he might have seen me just before I ducked down into the bed of my dad’s truck. I heard the car engine start and peeked my head back out of the truck to see. Sam looked ahead and then reached over the front seat to tap his dad on the shoulder. His dad looked back at Sam in the rear view mirror and Sam made a face or said something that made his dad laugh. That was my last image of Sam, making somebody laugh. They drove away.
This year I am friends with Clark Winthrop. He’s been teaching me to draw and giving me feedback on the drawings I made for this story. Clark tells me that Sam had it pretty bad in gym class for all the years he’d been at Patrick Henry. He was bullied worse than anyone, Clark said, even Zook. The jocks would hold him down and hit him and shove his head into toilets and smack him with wet towels and even worse things. Sam never said a word to me about any of it, but now I understand why the revolution was so important to him. It wasn’t just for Sharon.
Oddly, Clark said, it had all come to a quick halt after my cooty-catcher went around. Neither of us can figure out why. It just all stopped. Sharon and I are cordial when we see each other in the hallway and the rest of the kids all seemed to have forgotten about everything. No one talks about any of it and everybody is nicer to everyone this year. Some of the phonies are even nice to guys like Zook now. I guess everyone just grew up over the summer, or now they just care about other things. People change.
I never found out if Sam was/is gay. Whether he is or not, I hope he is okay with who he is. I am.
This year in science class I learned that we actually are stardust, as Joni Mitchell sang and Judy told me in my dream. We are made of the same elements as the stars, the very same stuff. I think that’s pretty great.
I never got to apologize to Sam, so in addition to being my term paper for your class, Mr. Ellington, this story is my apology to Sam. Maybe one day he will somehow come to read it and know how badly I feel about messing up the best and longest friendship I ever had and mostly that I am sorry, for never realizing what was happening to him all the time we were friends and for not helping him.
Abaaa aaaaa ababb baaab abbab baaaa baaaa babba, baaab aaaaa ababb.