For Sonny and Those Who Know His Struggle
This is the time to remember
‘Cause it will not last forever
These are the days to hold onto
‘Cause we won’t although we’ll want to…
Each afternoon when I gave Sonny a ride home from school, we would rewind the Billy Joel song over and over.
“We’ll always hold onto these days, won’t we?” he laughed.
“Always!” I enthused with all the certainty of a sixteen-year-old girl who’d not yet experienced enough life to know the toll time would take.
But eventually, life brought marriage, babies, and hard work. Over the next thirty years, Sonny’s laughter faded from my mind, and promises of a forever friendship were forgotten. But upon seeing his gravestone, memories that had long since grown dim came rushing back with brilliant clarity.
Our friendship developed from a mutual need for acceptance, and laughter bonded us so deeply that it became comfortable to also share our tears.
He was an artist, and I was a budding poet. He drew beautiful pictures for me, and I gifted him with original poems that made him smirk, but which he promised to cherish forever.
My crush was embarrassingly apparent. One day, our Spanish teacher took me aside.
“You need to stop pining and focus on your work. You are too smart to sacrifice good grades for a boy.”
“But I love him.”
“And he loves you. But do you understand that he can never love you like you want to be loved?”
The truth of her words sank into my brain. I knew Sonny was unique, and I hated how unkind other students were because of it, but I’d never recognized the magnitude of his struggles.
With new eyes, I watched our friendship continue to develop as one of genuine acceptance. Without the expectations of the average boy/girl friendship, we were able to enjoy one another simply as two human beings. We talked for hours about life and our dreams for the future. I wanted to be a writer. He wanted to be happy.
We spent Halloween lying on the floor, hands clasped, watching MTV until the wee hours of the morning. He suggested Truth or Dare, but never spoke of his deepest secret, and I never asked.
I invited him to my house for a bonfire, but he was hesitant.
“Your dad is a preacher. Preachers don’t like me because I’m sinful.”
“We’re all sinful, Sonny. Please, come. I promise no one will preach at you.”
I didn’t understand what his experiences with church must have been like in that small Tennessee town, or how uncomfortable it must have made him to be in a preacher’s home. But because it was important to me, he showed up.
I can still hear his laughter ringing out on the old wagon as he initiated a hay fight. When some of the other boys began to come close, he instinctively wrapped his arm through mine. Not for my protection, but for his own. However, we were all misfits trying to sort out our place in the world, and no harm came to anyone that night.
When February rolled around, the photographer for the school newspaper was taking candid shots for the Valentine’s edition.
“They’re about to take our picture,” Sonny informed me, “Everyone will think we are a couple.”
I turned from the camera.
He pulled me back, “It might help if people think we’re a couple, but I’m not sure what to do.”
“Just look at me, and pretend you love me.”
“I don’t have to pretend,” he smiled.
Our picture appeared surrounded by a heart. I don’t think it even temporarily lessened the taunting, punches, and name calling that he endured on a regular basis.
When Sonny graduated a year ahead of me, he just disappeared. Ten years later, I heard that he died of a “complicated illness.”
Another twenty years passed. I was lying in bed one night when he crossed my mind, so I did a quick Google search for his obituary. I found nothing but a startling picture of his gravesite:
May 10, 1969 - December 20, 1997.
December 20th, 1997. I remember the day well. It was my 28th birthday, and the last birthday that I would see my mom.
Pulling the blankets over my head, I sank deep into the covers, and turned on Billy Joel’s “This Is The Time.” Memories washed over me as tears washed over my pillow.
I dreamed of sunshine, and laughter, and promises to never forget. There was acceptance, unconditional love, and the handsome grin that lit up his entire face. Once more he hugged me close and told me he didn’t have to pretend to love me. And then he looked me in the eye, and said, “You’re a writer now. Tell my story. This is the time to remember.”
Ginger is an author, motivational speaker, and mother of five. Follow her on Facebook, find her on the web: www.claremohr.com, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.