Tony and Tiffiny
[Stolen away in the vigor of youth]
The last day of school, prelude to what would be the summer before my first year of high school. The world suddenly growing much larger than it had been previously. What would it bring, this pulsating, vibrant moment of chrysalis?
In the last few weeks before vacation, there was a budding romance, my first, a tall girl with blonde hair cut in a bob and blue eyes and an endearingly askew smile.
Her name was Tiffiny.
The first girl whose hand I held who was not my sister. First time of that indescribable experience, anticipation, marvel, longing, exhilaration. The very first time. Full of a longing that had made a familiar world entirely new and strange, I saw her every day, in the next to last class of the day, and I saw her on that last day of school before the blissful release into the early summer sun. Her family name was the word for the art I most loved.
I could not believe the gods had so smiled on me. It was as though this had been planned somewhere. It was entirely too perfect.
On that day, in the last class of the last day, I spoke with a friend. He was a boy I knew well, our mothers worked together, he had slept at my house, I at his, and we had held those conversations in the dark just before sleep that young people have, about dreams and nightmares and hopes and fears. We had eaten meals together, this boy and I. He was thin like me, though not very tall, with longish straight brown hair, a sweet almost feminine disposition, friendly with everyone, a laugh that was easy and full. He was headed after school to the place where our two mothers worked, while I was going home. I told him I’d see him later.
His name was Tony.
We were all so full of excitement and energy, the gang of us, it’s a wonder the room didn’t melt from the heat. Twenty 14 and 15 year olds, chomping at life’s bit, ready to get things underway with abandon as the bell rang and out we streamed into our lives and into the world.
When I got home, after a leisurely, beatific half hour walk, talking with friends, planning the next day’s baseball or basketball, filled with the delicious pleasure not only of what was happening right then but of what was to come in the next several months of bike riding and swimming and sitting on the porch talking to friends and playing guitar and mostly of spending time with the tall blonde girl with the heartbreakingly adorable smile, the phone rang. It was my mother, calling from work.
She was crying.
Tony, my friend, her friend’s first born, the boy I had just seen in that room only a half hour earlier with all of our rowdy cohort of teens, the boy to whom I had with cheer and conviction said “See ya later” as we separated at the end of the school day, Tony, my friend Tony, Tony was dead.
There had been an accident. He was on his bike, on a busy street, a street that bore the name for beneficed members of the clergy, a street therefore symbolically in communion with God, though filled with whiskey joints and broken people. On this holy and unholy street, there had been a tractor trailer turning a corner that had not seen my friend on his bike, who was unaware the metal behemoth at his side was preparing to swerve right into his path. It took a few seconds for this to occur.
A few seconds.
Just before, he had stopped by the place where his mother and mine were working, and he had spoken with the woman who brought him into this world, who could not know then that she was hearing her son’s voice for the last time, for the last time in his life and hers and in the life of everyone else on this planet, the last time he would speak any words at all forever. He had stopped to speak with his mother. As though he knew.
Tony was dead.
The boy I had only just seen with my own two eyes, just heard speak with my own two ears, just touched as our hands clasped in a brotherly farewell, confident we’d see one another again in short order.
I couldn’t weep because I didn’t believe it to be true. I wondered why my mother could tell me such a thing, as I was certain that it could not be so.
A few days later, at the funeral home, all of us from school gathered. Everyone knew him. The casket was closed, so we couldn’t even see his face one last time. He was just gone. Only a box in his place there before the crowd.
Those words we exchanged on the last day of school, before I falsely told him that I’d see him again soon. What were they? What had I said to him, the one who was at that instant that I spoke, all without our knowing, standing at the threshold of the next world? What did he say, the departing one, what words did he speak to me, what might Destiny have put on his lips to give to me as life advice? An occluded warning? A prediction?
I couldn’t remember any of the words, try as I would. I would give much now to be able to retrieve them. I have tried to convince myself many times over the years that I had suddenly remembered what he said, but every time I knew it was invention, my mind creating something to give my heart some peace over something that I should have remembered but that now is gone forever, as my friend is.
As I stood there in the room where his corpse lay hidden, I could plainly see his face, which I would never see again, as though it were there in front of mine. I see it still now, forty years later.
The tall blonde girl was there.
She was crying. I still had no tears, and I was so distraught it didn’t even occur to me how incongruous I must have seemed in that room of weeping teenagers. It was not real.
She came to me, and, wordlessly, I held her while she sobbed.
It was, here, in this place, in this setting, with this on my heart and in my soul, this was the first time I had held a girl in my arms. I felt her warm body beside mine, her budding breasts beneath her shirt, and her tears fell on my neck as she cried, burning with the heat of love and the vigor of youthful life and the anguish before the inexplicable death of a child who should have had sixty more years before him. I wanted to cry, desperately now, but still no tears came.
It was overwhelming, to be here, he in that box at the front of the room, and she, in my arms, at the back of it. Incongruous, yet somehow delicately balanced and very exactly and precisely accurate, a scale of the world set at perfect equilibrium between life and its negation.
I was fifteen years old, just. Was this the world, then? This? Love and death, all mixed up together and inextricable? Was this the world?