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I was putting laundry away while my curious 2-year-old sat in my bedroom floor exploring the drawers out of my jewelry box. Pulling out all the bracelets and Hemp necklaces from the 90s, I never could get rid of sentimental stuff, claiming that every necklace had a memory. I then heard her exclaim “Santa!”
I paused, looked down and saw her holding the old familiar plastic red and white ring of Santa’s face. To her, it represented Christmas time and saying ho, ho, ho in a silly deep voice, to me it represented something completely different. This particular piece of jewelry did have a sentimental meaning to it…. just one that was hard to remember.
In 1998, with so much conflict at home, my mom thought it would be a good idea for me to move in with my uncle who lived about an hour away. This meant I had to change schools. I was a sophomore. The atmosphere at this school was so different from what I was used to. Everyone was so friendly and I made friends easily. It was such a diverse group of teenagers and I was loving the variety. Not cliquey like my past school. Plus, I was living close to my other uncle and cousins now, who just went to school one town away. My cousins, along with my new found friends would all hang out on the weekends.
I started to take notice of one guy in particular named Chris. He was a senior. A baseball-playing redneck that loved guns and hunting. Country and cute, he had a presence about him that made me take notice. With our mutual friends, we kept ending up in the same place at the same time until we started hanging out on our own. He would come to hang out at my uncle’s and I would go to church with him where his dad preached.
Then one day, he worked up the courage to ask me out and we went out on an official date, just the 2 of us. I can’t remember exactly where we went or what we did but I do remember how sweet he was. He was such a gentleman and opened the truck door for me every single time. After that, my heart fluttered every time I passed him in the hallway. I would sit in class and daydream about him. I would anxiously await the weekends when we could be together.
Then after a few months just like that, the party was over. With Christmas approaching my mom wanted me back home. Apparently, I was having too good of a time and it was time to move back. I was devasted. I left behind all my new friends, most of whom I didn’t even get to tell goodbye. When I told Chris that I would be going back home at the end of the day, he reached in his pocket and pulled out a plastic Santa ring and said: “Don’t forget me.” Then the bell rang and we had to part ways. Nothing could be done. He knew my situation and all we could do is hope we would get to see each other again if I visited and we left it at that.
Once back at home I could still count on my best friend I made there to keep me in the know. We would write letters and call when our parents would let us (back then long-distance calls were a big deal apparently). Occasionally, I could talk my mom or uncle into taking me to stay the night with her. Our friendship stayed pretty strong and she would inform me of what everybody at school had been up to.
One night in February while I was at home in my room, my mom brought me the phone and said it was my cousin.
As I got on the phone, I could tell she was hysterical. She was crying and talking really fast and all I could get out of what she was trying to tell me were the words “Chris” and “accident.” I had so many questions and kept trying to ask her what she was talking about. Then, I heard a beep coming through indicating I had another call on the other line. I hang up with my cousin and switch over to hear my friend from my old school repeating the same news to me. In my head, I was thinking, “okay, a car accident, maybe he will be okay.” So, I asked if he was going to be okay and she said, “no, he was shot through the abdomen and he didn’t make it!”
I was so confused. How could he be shot?
How could he be dead?
Was this real?
At this point, I, myself was hysterical.
Later, I would go on to find out that after school that day Chris and his best friend were outside of shop class in his friend’s truck. They were disassembling their hunting guns getting ready to take them into shop class and work on them (it was a different time back then, obviously) when Chris’s friend’s gun went off shooting Chris through the abdomen.
He was conscious in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and was so worried that his friend would get in trouble, he kept repeating that it was an accident. He died shortly after he arrived at the hospital.
I could not stop crying. I spent the rest of the evening crying so hard my eyes were nearly swollen shut. Once the funeral arrangements were made, my mom took me down there and dropped me off with my cousins.
We went the next morning to the school where his services were in the gym. It looked like the entire school was there. It is so surreal when you see someone so young lying in a casket. They played all of Chris’s favorite songs which included a lot of Hank Williams Jr. and George Strait. After the service, I rode with my cousin and her boyfriend to the burial. The line of cars in the precision was shocking!
I’m not sure if it was because it was my first experience with grief mourning someone so close to my age, the way we never really got to say goodbye, or because we had gotten so close, but I did not get over it for a very very long time.
Back home I would switch from listening to Chris’s favorite country songs to Puff Daddy with Faith Evans I’ll Be Missing you on repeat. I think for a long time I was in shock. It was such a tragedy and being only 16 I had never had to face how quickly death can come and how permanent it is.
It screwed up my head. For a while after that, I felt like I was seeing him everywhere I went. Like maybe it was all just a bad dream. If I was hurting this much from someone, I had only known a few short months then how could his parents possibly get through this? I thought about them often and I especially thought about Chris’s friend. I cannot begin to imagine how he felt.
At 16 everything in the world seems like a big deal and I would often wonder if it would one day get better. And it did, the pain slowly faded away. I eventually stopped listening to the sad songs on repeat, I put his picture away along with the newspaper reports and life went on as it often tends to do. So much time has passed that I rarely have thought about that tragic time until my daughter pulled out that Santa ring. All the memories came flooding back and I realized that Chris deserves to have his story told. I haven’t “forgot you” Chris.
I will keep his picture and the Santa ring he gave me forever.