My Life, My Soul

 

The calendar read July, but the air is cold in the cemetery; a cold that rightly set this place apart from the mainstream of life. The life where lovers stayed together.

Right now, it’s summer. According to the calendar. But I know I’m never going to feel summer again.

I know what I’m looking for. I don’t want to see it...but I must. There’s a task that must be done, here and now.

There. The spot’s still partially brown; the grass hasn’t covered it completely yet. A few floral tributes still stand sentinel.

I walk closer -- my eyes involuntarily squinting due to the sun’s reflecting off this big, worthless silver thing I’m carrying. Some of the flowers have been there since the day of burial, but others are fresh, only days old, many with handwritten notes attached.

I stop at the foot of the grave. I place my burden down next to it, and then I stand. Stand tall and still. Stand and face down the simple granite marker. The marker enscribed with a name that doesn’t belong there. Not now, not ever.

Jamie.

My life, my soul.

I get down on my knees and speak to the marker.

“We did it,” I say, as if you were facing me, your brown eyes vibrant with life and love. “I brought the proof right here...and I’d melt it down and turn it into nickels if it would bring you back to me.”

I can still feel that incredible night in my heart, on my skin, in my balls...the night before Game 7...the night when you came to my room (you knew I’d be there alone; Matty relieves pre-game stress differently than I do) and told me straight out that you “got the message” of those shy, secretive looks I’d been giving you since you came here.

“You want to know me, Der. All of me.”

I had nothing to say to that...except, “Yes, Jamie, I do.”

“This is the night before we win the Cup,” you said, beaming. “I say we celebrate a little early.”

Then, you untied the white robe you were wearing...and offered yourself to me. Offered, it was with the tender innocence and pure love of a child’s gift...and I promised both of us that I would not misuse that trust.

That one night we were intimate...the only night we would ever be so close.

And before you and I knew it, the time for tender was over and the time for winning had arrived. And man, were we ready to win. In the middle of the third period, we were up 6-1. We could almost taste the champagne bubbling on our tongues.

And then...he had to make his statement.

Even after it was printed in every goddamn newspaper from Boston to Vancouver, I can’t even think the bastard’s name. If I do, I know exactly where it will lead.

To murder.

And that would mean I couldn’t do what I am meant to do right here.

I’m sorry, he said. I can’t believe this happened. I’d give anything to turn back time.

You dirty motherfucker...any man who is lucky enough to wear the black shield on his uniform had better know that if you check someone from behind when he is an inch away from the boards, and one forearm is aimed at his neck and the other at his lower back...something ugly is guaranteed to happen. Manslaughter, my ass.

You better be glad that it was Matty, not me, who gave you your licks before the ref sent you off. You’d already be in hell otherwise...

Christ. That’s enough about him. I’m here for you, Jamie...

You had his back to him, trying to dig the puck away -- my feisty little seal pup...and I turned to elbow another bastard away from Ed. I heard the boards give way, something cracking -- I thought it was the glass -- and then a low moan from the crowd.

I lifted my head...and saw you lying face-down in the corner. Just lying, not moving. Looking like a broken toy.

I rushed to you and kneeled down. Your neck was twisted in a godawful unnatural angle, and I didn’t dare try to move you. Blood puddled out of your mouth...the mouth I’d taken so hungrily the night before...

That mouth opened a little -- let out a squeaking noise. I leaned closer to you.

“Der...”

“Yes, Jamie, it’s me.”

“Stay with me...”

After that plea, I didn’t even think of retaliation. All I wanted to do was wrap you up in a soft blanket and carry you away to safety and care.

Our trainer ran up to you, and one look told him that it would take more than a few stitches to put you back together again.

The game stood still. Still, it seemed, except for my finger gently stroking your cheek. I did not dare touch you any stronger.

When the stretcher and the EMTs came, I knew exactly where I was going. I followed them off the ice and up the corridor, untying and throwing off my skates, hurling away my stick. From that moment on, I was not a hockey player pursuing a silver cup. I was your lover, sworn to stay with you every step of this new, dangerous journey.

They almost didn’t let me get into the ambulance with you. I gave them the “evil eye”, at only half strength, and they had a change of heart real quick. I almost regretted the decision, because there was barely enough room for you and the EMTs, much less this big old Lumberbutt.

But you kept your eyes on me...as if I was the magnet that was holding you to life.

Then we were at the hospital -- not soon enough for my taste -- and they whisked you away, telling me that I could go no further than the waiting room. Not with my sweaty, unhygienic uniform.

They rushed you behind closed doors, and that was it.

I didn’t get a chance to say that I wanted more nights like last night.

I didn’t get the chance to say that I wanted us to explore every magic corner of our new relationship.

I didn’t get the chance to say the words I could only say when it was just the two of us: “I love you.”

I knew everyone around was staring at me. It wasn’t every day that a skateless hockey player came into the emergency room, looking like a 21st century gladiator in their midst.

And the reporters, hot on the trail of blood, came pouring into the place...I wanted to scream at them, get the fuck out of here. Leave this delicate moment be...but of course I couldn’t be angry; they were just doing their job...

They asked me if I knew the extent of your injuries. I said that I knew just as much as they did; I had no time to ask the EMTs.

And then the doctor in charge came and called my name, knowing that I had come with you in the ambulance. I turned away from the reporters and went into the room where you were.

The EMTs stood around you, looking as helpless as

“We did everything possible for him, but...”

I didn’t hear anything after “but”.

“But” was the end of the world.

I pushed past the EMTs to look down at your face. They hadn’t covered it up yet. Except for the dried blood around your mouth, you looked like you were sleeping.

And that was the way I had to think of it for the time being. You were sleeping. That was the only way I could function to do what I needed to do.

Make the calls to your family. Speak to the media. Tell everyone how brave you were, how much of a loss this would be.

I didn’t tell the half of it.

Later, I heard about how “courageous” I had been that awful night. Someone wrote that I had been the “very essence of quiet courage”.

Like hell.

On the inside, I was screaming and wailing and tearing my heart out, offering it as a bribe to God to have you back.

But none of it worked. The experts say if you let yourself grieve, you’ll heal faster. That’s a load of bull.

Even if I live to see the day the sun becomes a red giant and consumes the solar system, I’ll never heal from losing you, Jamie.

I lost more than a teammate and a friend that night. I lost a future. I lost the joy and the laughter and the magical starry nights we could have had.

It hurts. It hurts too damn much.

I can’t stand it anymore.

I brought more than the Cup to your grave...

I hold this small, silver-plated pistol, smaller than my hand, with bullets less than an inch long. If I shoot at long range, it’s not likely to kill. But if I put it up to my temple...as I’m doing right now...

I tried, Jamie. I tried to live without you. I tried to live with knowing that someone like you once lived, and now is lost forever. But I can’t. I can’t, I’m sorry.

I know what you would say if you are watching now. Don’t. Don’t die for me. You are loved and needed here on Earth. And you’re right.

But that does not outweigh the fact that you are not here on Earth. And the pain of that fact is just too great.

Turn away, Jamie. Just for these few moments...

I touch the icy steel revolver to my head...and close my eyes. I don’t want my last visual to be Jamie’s grave.

One more flash of courage, self...that’s all you need to squeeze the trigger...

“Derian!”

What? That voice?

How could it possibly...

“Derian! Wake up!”

I opened my eyes, and the cemetery turned to black.

“Derian...”

And then light came again...light that surrounded Jamie’s beautiful face. His beautiful, alive face.

“Wake up, sleepyhead. We have to catch a plane to Dallas in two hours.”

“Ja...”

I sat up in bed. In a hotel room in New Jersey. Right next to a smiling Jamie.

There had never been a from-behind hit. No rush to the hospital. No press conference, no funeral...no reason to die.

I reach out and clutch Jamie’s wrist until I can feel his pulse.

“Jamie...you’re real.”

“Of course I’m real, Der.” Jamie laughs, and the sound is musical. “Real in love with you...especially after last night.”

I jump onto him, my lips reaching for his, hungry for life, hungry for love. Our chests meet, still sweat-sticky from last night’s exertions. We are both hard. We know what must come next, despite that plane we need to catch.

“Derian...Der!” Jamie lifts his legs to let me in. “What’s gotten into you?”

What could I say, but...

“You, Jamie...my life, my soul.”