The sunlight pouring in from the windows was filtered through the glass bottle of orange juice, casting into motion a shimmering mirage of the brightest light. It danced across the surface of the table, its motion matched by the ebb and flow of the orange juice within the bottle, which in itself mirrored the vibrations caused by Jerry’s heavy footfalls through his kitchen. Jerry had only been awake long enough to shuffle out of his bedroom, gracelessly tripping over the boots he had kicked off the night before, enter his kitchen, remove the bottle of orange juice from the refrigerator and set it on the table before he decided to retrieve the newspaper from the welcome mat outside of his front door.
Jerry opened the door and found a man holding his newspaper. The man’s face was pale and he looked as though he had been standing out there, building his courage, for quite some time. He smiled at Jerry.
“Colin? What are you doing here and why do you have my newspaper?” Jerry asked. The man looked down at the paper in his hands and chuckled. He held the paper out to Jerry and smiled again. Jerry took the paper and shot Colin a sideways glance before gesturing for him to come in. He shuffled his bare feet across the carpet and over the linoleum tiles of the kitchen floor until he reached his chair, at which time he sat down and poured himself a glass of orange juice. Colin came in and closed the door behind him.
”Has anyone called you?” he asked.
“No one ever calls me.” Jerry responded with a snort. Colin took the seat across from Jerry and stared at his friend’s face. Colin and Jerry had known each other since high school and theirs was the sort of friendship in which both parties believe themselves to be “the cool one” when, in reality, neither of them were ever very cool at all. Jerry poured orange juice into a second glass and skidded it across the tabletop toward Colin without looking up from his paper.
“No, thanks.” Colin responded. Jerry mumbled something about vitamin C being good for you and took a sip of his own.
“Jerry, I need you to put the newspaper down for a second.” Colin said, “There’s something important I need to tell you.” Jerry finally looked up from the entertainment section long enough to notice the concerned look on the face of his friend.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Carol died last night.”
Jerry stopped breathing for a split second.
“Yeah, Jerry. She’s dead. It was a car accident.” Colin said it quietly, as though the words held some terrible power. A long pause followed as Jerry carefully folded the newspaper and took a long sip from his orange juice, emptying the glass. He sighed.
“Are you okay?” Colin asked. Jerry coughed.
“Yeah. I mean, wow. You know?” he said, “Didn’t she have kids?”
“Two of them, yeah.”
Jerry stood from the table and put the glass in the sink, running some lukewarm water into it. Jerry had met Carol when the two of them were in their early twenties and had carried on quite a heated love affair. Jerry even bought an engagement ring, though for reasons he couldn’t quite figure out, he could never bring himself to give it to her. They were together for over a year before Carol ended the relationship. She told Jerry she needed more out of life, that she wanted a husband and a house in the suburbs with the white picket fence and the two kids playing in the yard. Jerry felt the jewelery box in his pocket. She told him that she couldn’t see herself having any of those things with Jerry. Jerry removed his hand from his pocket and agreed that it was probably for the best that they go their separate ways.
Ten years had passed since that morning. Over the course of those ten years, Jerry and Carol never contacted one another. Through the undeniable power of mutual friends, he had learned that Carol met someone very nice, eventually married him, had one child with him, and then had another. That was the last update Jerry had received. Until now.
“You sure you’re alright?” Colin asked. Jerry thought for a moment and then nodded. He turned the faucet off and returned to his seat at the table.
“Look, if you need to talk or anything, I’ll always be here.”
“Thanks, Colin. But I’m fine, really.” Jerry replied.
“Good, because I really have to get going.”
Colin stood and made his way to the door. Jerry blinked twice, then stood and followed. He couldn’t say that Colin’s actions were surprising, nor were they unjustified, since Jerry had meant exactly what he said: He was fine. Jerry found himself saddened by the news of Carol’s death, but more of a detached sadness —not unlike the sadness you feel when you learn of the death of a celebrity; you feel sympathy toward the person’s family and close friends, but you remain mostly unscathed emotionally— than a profound depression. Jerry silently wondered if this made him a bad person.
“I mean it, man. If you need anything, you just say the word.” Colin said. Jerry smiled at him and closed the door. He stood for a moment, staring at the closed door in front of him, and he thought about how different his life might have been if he and Carol had been married. Would they have had children, too? Would he have been able to provide the white picket fence that Carol so desperately wanted in life? Would she still have gotten into a car accident that night?
The phone rang. Jerry shook his head, clearing the fog from his mind, and answered it.
“Hello? Oh, hi Sean. What? Yeah, I know. Yeah. No, Colin just told me. No, he left. Yeah, that’s just like him. What? Yeah, it’s crazy. She had two kids and- what? No, I’m fine. No. I kind of have a lot of cleaning up to do. My apartment. What do you mean? What’s wrong with my life? I said I’m fine. Of course, I am. No, you don’t have to come over. Because I’m fine. Then because I have a lot of cleaning up to do. No, my apartment. Stop telling me to take a look at my- I’m not being aggressive, I’m just saying that- No, I haven’t been drinking. I’m telling you, you don’t have to come ov- Hello? Sean? God dammit.”
There was a knock at the door and Jerry wished he could be so popular without someone having to die. First, he found Colin on his doorstep, with a paper and some bad news. Then his friend and co-worker, Sean came over with a bag of breakfast burritos and his sympathy. Now this. Who could visitor number three be?
“Jesus, Jerry. I came over as soon as I heard.” Jasmine said, “Are you okay?” Jasmine was one hundred pounds of personality shoved in a ten pound bag. While short in stature, her sense of humor and lack of filter between what she thinks and what she says makes her seem much taller.
“Yeah.” Jerry replied. He was smiling, but behind that smile was a man who was quickly becoming frustrated by how many people were treating him like this.
“What am I saying? Of course you’re not okay.” Jasmine said. She pushed past Jerry and entered the apartment, carrying a covered dish.
“Food?” Sean asked, reaching for the glass lid. Jasmine smacked his hand away.
“I’m fine, guys. I really mean that. I’m okay.”
“That’s denial, man.” Sean said, “It’s all part of the process. You lost someone special to you, it’s going to do some damage, it’s just how it works. The important thing is how we bounce back from that damage.”
“Jerry, stop being in denial.” Jasmine demanded. Jerry closed his mouth.
“You can’t just tell someone to stop being in denial, it doesn’t work that way.” Sean laughed.
“Then how exactly does it work?” Jasmine asked. She was getting huffy.
“You just have to be there for the guy and get him through all the stages of grief. ” Sean replied, trying to peek under the glass lid again. Jasmine smacked his hand away once more.
“Whatever, just snap out of it, Jerry. We’re all worried about you.”
“Wait, who is we?” Jerry asked.
“Sean, me. Your friends.” Jasmine said.
“Colin was here earlier, too. Right?” Sean asked. Jasmine rolled her eyes. Jerry found himself in a very odd situation. The situation of not feeling as upset by the death of someone as everyone else seems to think you should. He felt a pang of sympathy for Carol’s children, for her husband, whoever he was. He felt a sense of curiosity over the many “What If’s” that present themselves at a time like this. But beyond these feelings, he felt no sadness or despair. Meanwhile, his friends were gathering around him as though he was planning the wake. Would there be a wake? Should he go? He would know very few people there, if he did attend. In fact, it may be close family only. That would rule him out, seeing as he hadn’t even seen Carol in over a decade. This made him smile uncomfortably.
“See? You look like you’re going to cry. Here.” Jasmine hugged Jerry, who was trying to explain that he was not going to cry, before he decided to just accept the hug and hope it would bring an end to the hoopla surrounding him. Sean joined in, turning it into a group hug, which made Jerry even more uncomfortable than he had already been.
Jerry sat on the middle cushion of his cluttered couch, which was against the left wall of the very untidy apartment that he had never gotten the chance to clean. There were four friends in his apartment, now. Sean, who had eaten most of the breakfast burritos he had brought, not to mention half of the lasagna Jasmine had brought with her, and was now fast asleep in the easy chair. Jasmine, who had kept Sean away from the lasagna for as long as she could, and who was still skeptical of Jerry’s insistence that he’s not emotionally destoryed. Gloria, Jerry’s middle-aged upstairs neighbor who plays a weekly game of bingo with Colin’s mother, and who simply had to come see Jerry when she heard the news about Carol’s passing. She knew how much Carol meant to Jerry. Lastly, there was Bobby, who worked with Sean and Jerry at the department store, but who no one really liked. Bobby was the sort of friend who is tolerated more than liked.
“Is there any more lasagna?” Bobby asked. Jasmine threw a pot holder at him.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Gloria asked. Jerry rested his face in his palms and sighed. “You know I’m just right upstairs, if you need me. Just tap on your ceiling with a broom handle and I’ll come right down.”
“Or he could call you.” Jasmine said.
“Or you could call me.” Gloria repeated.
“Guys, this is a little much.” Jerry finally said, “I appreciate the food, I appreciate the company, I even appreciate the invitation to poke my ceiling with a stick. But really, I’m fine.”
Jerry stood from the couch, crossed his living room, and opened the front door.
“Now, please. I’ve got a lot of stuff I have to do today. I don’t get days off very often, and I’d like to take advantage of it.”
Gloria and Jasmine exchanged concerned looks. Sean snored loudly from the easy chair.
Jerry finished what little lasagna there was leftover from lunch and looked around his newly cleaned apartment. The couch was much tidier, the floor less cluttered, and aside from the dish he had just eaten the last bite of lasagna out of, all the dishes were done. He was enjoying the warm feeling of a job well done, when there came a knock at the door. Jerry cringed, wondering who else would come to give their condolences about someone he barely knew anymore. He opened the door and, before he could say “hello” —or what he had been going to say, which was “What the hell is this?”—, he found himself being pushed out of the way by a group of about seven or eight people. They each took a place in Jerry’s living room and each of them were holding a folded piece of paper.
“What the hell is this?” Jerry was finally able to ask. As he closed the door and looked around his living room, he noticed Gloria and Jasmine, Sean and the faces of many other friends. Each of them looked somber, yet strong.
“Jerry, we’re here because we love you.” Gloria said, “We’re here because we want you to know how much you mean to us and to ask you to please don’t do it.”
“What?” Jerry asked, “Don’t do what?”
“Don’t kill yourself.” Sean choked. Jerry’s mouth fell open.
“Who said I was going to kill myself?” he shouted.
“It’s not important.” Gloria said, “What’s important is that we’re here for you.”
“Gloria told us you were going to off yourself.” Sean said. Jasmine rolled her eyes.
“Thank you, Sean.” Gloria replied. She turned to Jerry, “We each wrote a little something to share with you.”
“Are you seriously giving me an intervention?”
“We all know how hard it is for you, Jerry.” Jasmine said, “But the first step to healing is to give in to your feelings. Admit that you’re destroyed inside and let us help you move on.”
Each of his friends faced Jerry, all were very concerned for his well-being, some were even crying. Jerry felt like he was about to explode in frustration, but he was somehow able to keep it under the surface.
“Look. I’m going to explain this to you all, very carefully, because depending on how I say this, or how you hear it, it might make me seem like a truly awful person.” Jerry said, as calmly as he could muster. There was another knock at the door, as it opened. Colin poked his head around the corner.
“Sorry I’m late for the thing, did he admit that he’s depressed yet?”
“I AM NOT DEPRESSED!” Jerry shouted, “I HAVEN’T EVEN TALKED TO THE WOMAN IN TEN YEARS! SHE DUMPED ME, REMEMBER?! IT WAS A DECADE AGO! I’VE HAD SEVERAL OTHER WOMEN SINCE HER, FOR CHRISSAKE! I FEEL FOR HER FAMILY, BUT I AM OTHERWISE UNAFFECTED BY THE DEATH OF THIS WOMAN! DO YOU ALL UNDERSTAND THAT?!”
The room fell silent. Tears began streaming down Gloria’s face, Jasmine resembled one of the old cartoon characters whose face turned red and whose ears spewed smoke whenever they became incredibly agitated, Sean looked disgusted. Everyone balled up the folded piece of paper in their hands and threw them at Jerry.
“What the hell-“
“You’re sick, man.” Sean said, pushing past Jerry and out the door. Each of the others followed, each had something different to say.
“I can’t believe what an insensitive prick you are, Jerry.” said Jasmine.
“You horrid man. You sociopath! Show some human kindness, she had children!” Gloria choked through the tears.
Jerry stood in the middle of his now empty living room. Colin still stood just inside the doorway, as the door slammed behind the last of the group of formerly concerned friends.
“Colin. Jesus, you seem like the only one sane enough to realize what I meant when I said-“
“I don’t want to hear it, man.” Colin interrupted, “I know what you mean, I know you’re not a bad person, but I still don’t want to hear it.” he walked out of Jerry’s apartment without another word and the slamming of the front door echoed in Jerry’s head.
Jerry shuffled into his bedroom, mentally and emotionally weary from the day’s events. He changed into his pajamas and climbed into bed. He thought about Carol and the time he spent with her all those years ago. He again thought about what his life would have been like if he had actually proposed to Carol before their little chat that fateful morning. He wondered how Carol’s husband was going to raise two little girls without their mother. Jerry sat up in bed and cleared his throat. He wondered what everyone had written in their folded pieces of paper from earlier in the evening.
Jerry fetched a large box out of his closet and set it on the bed. He fidgeted with the latch until it opened and began taking everything out of it. Old letters and yearbooks, certificates and photos, and in the bottom was a small cloth pouch. He set the pouch aside and replaced everything else into the box and put it back into the closet. He climbed into bed and opened the small pouch and removed the small jewelry box from inside. He opened it and looked at the ring he almost gave to Carol ten years before, the ring he had held on to in hopes of finding someone else to give it to. It held different meaning now. Now, he wasn’t sure he could give it to anyone else.
He put the box back in the pouch and placed the pouch inside his nightstand drawer. He switched off the light and lay his head on the pillow. He felt the sting of tears in his eyes.