When I was six I married my best friend, Johnny Curtis Keller, in the front yard of my babysitter’s house in Battle Creek, Michigan. My sister officiated. The ring was one of those plastic and tin prizes from a vending machine. I think we all forgot about it the next day.
Johnny was the first friend I remember. We went to the same preschool and quickly became inseparable. When my mom was planning my birthday party, I insisted that Johnny Curtis Keller was to attend. Up until that moment I hadn’t mentioned him, so she had to figure out who this kid was and if it was okay with his mother. They ended up becoming friends as well.
When I was eight, my mom remarried and we moved to Georgia. They came down and vacationed with us a couple of times and I would visit him when I went to Michigan to see family. However, distance and time conspired against us and we all fell out of touch.
I was in high school, a freshman I think, when I wrote him a letter. I don’t remember what triggered me to write, curiosity or guilt from letting our frienship lapse. I told him the basic stuff like what I was studying in school, places I had been on vacation. I told him that I just wanted to know how he was and if he wanted to write me back that would be great or give me a call, here is my number.
I mailed it not expecting a response. A few weeks later he called. We had as normal a conversation as two kids in high school can have. We laughed at old memories and talked about what we had been up to and plans for the future. When we hung up I felt happy and refreshed.
We didn’t keep in touch after that call, but I don’t think either of us felt it was necessary to. A loose end from our past had been tied. Chapter finished. Book closed.
Years later, I was living in an apartment with my then fiance, now husband, working my way through college when my mother called to tell me that Johnny had killed himself. He drove his car behind a large entrance sign in a neighborhood that was being developed, hooked a hose to the exhaust and ran it in through the window. He had been troubled and supposedly was hearing voices and he made them stop in the most selfish way possible.
I cried. I cried for him and his family and what could have been and the whole sad situation. Then I cried for what I had lost. Because the big, beaming smile of the Johnny that I remembered had become a symbol of my earliest childhood. A childhood where my parents were still married, and we lived in a nice little house in a neighborhood where I could ride my tricycle around the block all by myself and no one worried. A childhood where all my family was close and we saw each other all the time, not just at holidays. A childhood free from the roving eyes and careless hands of a stepfather I refused to even pretend to love.
That childhood, a small shining speck in the long line of my life, died in that car with Johnny. End tied. Chapter finished. Book closed.