Jack in the Box

(EL Revisited)

Chapter 1

Andy Stark - Arlington Road: July, 2000

Jack Murphy died three months ago in a tragic school bus accident. It was the kind of senseless incident that you couldn't really blame anyone for. It happened during a late season snowstorm, a real whiteout. Six other people had died with him -- the bus driver, two teachers, and three other students. Our small town and the other towns that make up our school district pulled together and did what they could for the families who had lost someone, but there are few meaningful things that you can do at a time like that.

There were some buildings and a scholarship named after Jack. I'm sure that at some point in time his family will come to appreciate that, but right now it's still too new for all of us. Sadness permeates everything around here. It has been a hard time for everyone involved, but particularly hard for young Mike Waters.

We have lived out here for many years now, and the change in Mike was the hardest thing I've ever had to watch. We are close friends with his parents, Joe and Lucille. We were delighted for them when Mike was born, delighted again when they asked us to become his Godparents, and delighted continuously as we watched him grow from infant to toddler, school child, adolescent, and finally a teenager.

Mike always had a curiosity and eagerness that seemed to rise from his toes to spread throughout his being. He had a bright disposition, and a seemingly endless need to know everything about everybody.

All that's gone now. Gone to Heaven with Jack Murphy.

Mike hasn't become a sullen teenager, far from it. You can watch him trying achingly to resurrect the happy boy that he once was, but he just can't seem to find him. Things really aren't the same anymore.

Mike was more than best friends with Jack Murphy. Those two boys truly loved each other, and acknowledged that it was a gay relationship. Their love for each other had cost them dearly at school. They had been harassed for the entire school year prior to the accident. They had accepted the harassment as a fact of their young lives, though. Having each other, along with understanding families, was all they needed. They managed to shrug off the rude comments that they got all the time and just reveled their friendship and love.

Now Jack was gone, and Mike looked like the most alone person in the world. Everybody, and I mean all of us who knew him, tried to get him interested in something. He wasn't a loner, and he did try to make things work, but every time he laughed at a joke there was pain along with his laughter. You could just see him thinking 'Jack would'a loved that one'.

None of us really thought he would ever consider suicide, but we tried to watch for signs that he might. We all cared for him and tried our best to help him not feel alone, but he wasn't very responsive most of the time. He had turned into a shell of the boy he had been, and it was a frightening thing to observe.

The Murphy family moved away shortly after the accident. Losing Jack had been devastating for them, but the insurance settlement had been ample for them to give up their careers to attempt writing, something they had always wanted to do. Their house sold quickly and they moved to New Mexico.

The new owners haven't moved in, but somebody has been taking care of the place. All we've heard about the people who bought the place is that they're northerners. My son and his wife were disappointed to hear about the sale after the fact. They've been making noises about moving back here for some time now, and would have liked to bid on the house themselves.

It's shaping up to be a quiet summer around here. Our friends Joe and Marty Goldman managed to get the whole summer off, and they rented a beach house in New England with two other families. It's a small town, and something like that makes a notable depletion in the population.

Mike's father, Joe, is my best friend in the area, but he's working second shift now. I only see him on weekends when he's not golfing or fishing.

My wife has gotten seriously into aerobics over the past few years. She goes for a workout almost every evening and it's to the point where I only spend a few hours a night with her.

Most days after work I stop at Bob Surdiak's house for a beer before coming home. He's a good solid friend, too, always cheerful and always with a lot to say. It's a great place to catch up on neighborhood news and local politics. I was there today and the talk turned to how quiet things were this year. That led us to both voice our concerns about Mike. Neither of us had seen him since school let out, and we were worried about how lonely he would be without at least classes to distract him.

When I left Bob's I stopped at the Anderson house hoping to see the oldest boy, Jed. He was the closest thing to a friend Mike had since Jack died. Jed's younger brother Kevin had been one of the boys killed in the crash, but the Anderson family had recovered better than most. They had a lot of kin in the area, and an abiding faith in their religion. Those things combined had helped them see things through and emerge as a stronger, if sadder, family. Kevin's twin brother Pat had been seriously injured in the crash, but was on the way to a remarkable physical recovery. Pat was the only one home and I kidded with him for a while before asking him to leave a note for Jed to call me or stop over as soon as he could.

* * * * * * * *

Jed left about two hours ago. He's also terribly concerned about Mike. He can't get him to do anything anymore, not even go fishing. He said that Mike's living in a dream world and he finds it harder and harder to get through to him. He'd shared all our hopes right after the crash that Mike would bounce back and become the happy kid we all once knew, but Jed was becoming more and more convinced that it wasn't going to happen. He didn't think Mike was suicidal, but he did think that what he was doing to himself might be just as bad in the long run.

Jed got me concerned enough to drive up there and talk to the boy. I'm glad I did, but sad about what I encountered. I could see that Jed wasn't exaggerating about Mike's state of mind. A long talk with the boy didn't help either of us to feel better, but I did get Mike to agree that writing his feelings on paper might help him. That's what you're going to read next.

This is Michael's story.



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