Diane lay with her eyes closed, just the slightest smile. She seemed so peaceful, without a care. I wanted to lean forward and kiss her; to wake her. Just hold hands, as we often did. To tell her how much I loved her.
We would never have those moments again. I’d failed her.
Stepping back from the coffin, I closed my eyes. I wanted to scream, to cry. It was wrong; unfair.
“Be a man,” my father complained when I cried after her death.
How do you ‘be a man’ when the girl you love is dead, and you are forced to share these last moments with people who drove her to this? I couldn’t look at them as I walked past to take a seat. I hated them. I hated myself.
Sitting, waiting for the service to begin, I cried, remembering our first conversation, less than six months earlier.
I had been standing outside this church. Rooted to the spot, unable to enter. Inside, the funeral for my best mate, Richard, was about to begin. He’d crashed into a truck parked without lights.
“He was your best friend.”
I turned towards the voice. At first I didn’t recognize her. The girl looked little like the Diane I knew from college; normally camouflaged by a knee length pleated skirt and baggy blouse. First in form for three years, and one of only five, now four in Advanced Math, she always seemed indescribably sad and alone, with no real friends. I’d never spoken to, or even acknowledged her outside of class.
I just nodded, worried if I spoke I’d cry. My best friend was gone.
I remembered my father’s warning. ‘men don’t cry.’
Diane saved me. “Could we go in together?”
I nodded and walked slowly. Diane walked alongside.
Once inside, we sat together. I couldn’t talk.
As the service began, I found myself blinking rapidly. Men don’t cry I reminded myself. I felt a soft hand hold mine, giving a gentle squeeze. I glanced at Diane, looking at me, tears welling in her eyes. I gently squeezed back.
Leaving the service, I was surprised when she walked close, holding my hand, with one hand, and grasping my arm tightly with the other, as if afraid to let go. Standing outside, Diane hesitated for a moment. “Thanks for letting me sit with you.” She smiled just a little.
For the first time, I saw her. In three years, I’d never bothered to look.
Her smile disappeared, and she stepped quickly away from me. “I have to go.”
Confused, I stood watching her hurry to a couple standing beside a car.
She seemed to cower away from the man as he opened the door, and she slid inside.
As they drove away, she looked at me and gave a slight, quick wave, as if not wanting to be caught.
I was snapped back to the present by the priest. “We are here today to mourn the passing of Diane, and offer what support we can to her loving family.”
I wanted to stand and scream. “What loving family? The father and mother who helped drive her to this end?”
I remained seated. I had failed her yet again. I could only bury my head in my hands and weep, trying not to attract attention. I could hear the priest drone on about faith being a source of strength in such times. I just wanted the service to be over.