The party went on until about midnight, and everybody had a good time. Colleen stayed over and went home in the morning, dropping me off at church along the way. As soon as I entered the church, I could feel s diminished joy. Something was up. As I walked up the stairs, the view of the altar brought the somber mood into balance. There was a large display of white lilies. This particular arrangement was significant in its design alerting the congregation that a member had passed on since the previous Sunday and that arrangements had yet to be made.
Before I could start contemplating who might have died this week, I was suddenly joined by my church-friend Lynn (also not really my friend, but more a friend than Wendy). Lynn was a year older than me and we went to different high schools, but were in the same Sunday school class for the past six years. I had also seen her a bit over the summer at the hippie house. I knew her well enough to be friendly toward her, and she had been at my party the night before.
Lynn and I often sat together making plans for the church youth group or for other church activities. For both of us it was a haven to camouflage our mischievous doings. This is not to say it was false, because it wasn't, but it wasn't necessarily pure. There was an immediacy to the closeness of her body to mine in the pew. Service was not terribly over crowded to warrant this degree of closeness. I was distracted by it enough to not make connections to what Pastor Mark was saying. He was lamenting the sadness we all must be feeling for Sandra having lost James so early in life, and that the phone tree would be in effect later in the week as details for the service became available.. I looked at Lynn and whispered to her asking for clarification of who Sandra and James were. "We'll talk after service," was all she said.
During the benediction, Pastor Mark included those facing challenges and named Sandy. It was at that moment that I remembered I was supposed to see Sandy at church to learn what was going on with Jamie. We stood to sing a final Amen, and the synapses in my brain were suddenly firing on overdrive. Sandra was Sandy. James was Jamie.
I looked to Lynn with hope for her to be able to explain this all away, for her to deny what I knew must be true. I couldn't speak. I couldn't move. I couldn't stem the flow of tears that had began cascading down my face. Lynn took my hand and led me down the stairs and into the pastor's study. Mark was in there waiting for us as Lynn had already conveyed to him a concern about how I might take the news of Jamie's death. She led me to the chair directly across the desk from Mark and then took the chair to the left. we had our Sunday school class in the pastor's study and I was strangely comforted sitting here as my brain was spinning out of control.
Mark spoke softly in a very clinical and matter of fact manner. James had had an episode of his illness that required medical intervention. After he had seen his doctor, Sandy wasn't able to bring him home and thought he was resting peacefully when she finally left him to go home at around one in the morning. James had experienced this several times over the past year and an adjustment to the medication had always overcome his agitation.
Mark had gotten a phone call at 5:30 this morning from the state police. There was an accident involving a tractor trailer on the way into town. The identification found on the victim listed him as the pastor and would he like the courtesy of contacting the family. Mark told me he was as shocked this morning as I was right then at that moment when the officer gave him Sandy's name and number. He knew James was the only family she had. He went on to tell me a few more details and then he let me know that Sandy asked that I wait to see her at the grave side service which would be small and private and held on the following Saturday.
Jamie's funeral was on my eighteenth birthday.
That week was a blur of activity. I have no clear recollection of anything that happened. Did it fly by? Did it drag on interminably? I have no idea. All I know is that Saturday morning found me at a small local cemetery sitting under a huge oak tree watching Billie Mae work the backhoe that was digging Jamie's grave. I was already dressed for the service in a long black dress that fanned out around me as I sat under the tree and wept. I was struck by the cold reality of how much I would miss the quiet charm of Jamie's company, of how little I really knew of him, of how much his presence had meant to me in the short time during which we were acquainted.
I sat there in silence as the backhoe came and went. I was still sitting there in silence as the hearse arrived with Jamie in his coffin. I had no words to say when Sandy was suddenly sitting beside me in her own companionable silence.
Sandy explained to me in detail everything she knew about the accident, starting with Jamie being so agitated in a different way than any previous episode. Something was different and immediate and Sandy knew right away they would be going to the hospital, that is was beyond her scope to deal with on her own. She called his doctor before they left the house and he met them at the hospital. Jamie was compliant enough but also in a near catatonic trance.
Once the doctor determined Jamie was off his meds altogether, new meds were introduced, one a strong sedative, and within thirty minutes, Jamie was asleep and Sandy was filling out his admission papers. That was Saturday night around 10:30. Sandy said she was home sometime after one and went to bed straight away exhausted by the ordeal. the next thing she knew, Mark was at the door shortly before seven with the state police. Jamie was on a bicycle riding toward home when he was killed instantly by the impact of the collision with the truck. No one had seen him get up. No one had seen him leave the hospital. They didn't even know he was missing until she called them to confirm what Mark and the police were telling her. she called thinking they had mistaken someone for Jamie. Jamie must still be asleep in his hospital room.
The service was brief. There were five bodies present in all, Sandy, myself, Wendy, Pastor Mark, and Jamie. Wendy left soon after Mark was done speaking. She had a few brief private words with Sandy and they hugged. Mark was the second person to leave, again, after a private word with Sandy.
Sandy and I sat under the tree as the coffin was lowered into the ground. Soon after that, Billie Mae returned with the backhoe to fill in the grave and by the time she was done, the sun was low in the sky and there was little evidence that someone had just been buried.
I had gotten a ride to the service with Wendy and Sandy offered me a ride back into town. On the way we took the white roses that had been graveside and dropped them on the side of the road where Jamie's death had occurred, not a permanent marker, but a marker just the same.
Sandy didn’t make the turn into the campground but continued on around the corner to the hippie house. The car pulled into the driveway and Sandy killed the motor. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like very much for you to join me for dinner.” As we walked into the house, Sandy smiled as I instinctively opened the porch fridge and grabbed us each a beer. I could smell the vegetable soup simmering on the stove and I didn’t have to look to know there was a loaf of bread in front of the open kitchen window. The table was set for one and there was a note leaning against a candlestick. “You have to eat,” was boldly written in the most elegant script.
I went to the shelf and got another place setting down as Sandy brought her bowl to the soup pot. I exchanged bowls with her and then got a knife and sliced some bread. The candles were lit and we both sat to eat in silence.
Once dinner was done I got up to clear away and wash the dishes. This house functioned on simple routine and I had been around enough that the routines were automatic to me. Sandy marveled at this and let out a soft laugh. She then told me to leave it all and just come and sit. That was fine with me because I wanted to talk to her about getting to know her better and arranging a time when we could hang out much as we were doing just then.
That’s when Sandy broke the news to me. She was only there because Jamie wouldn’t move away when their grandmother passed a few years back, and he could not be left unsupervised. Nor could she bring herself to involuntarily committing him to a facility where he would get the care he needed. The only choice for her was to put her life on hold and move into her grandmother’s house.
For the past few years, Jamie had been her only concern, but now it was time to move on with her own life.
The house had already been sold. The moving company was arriving on Monday. She would be back in her own house by the following weekend in Montana. She said she would keep in touch. She didn't.